Mutnovskiy volcano (Kamchatka) | Ants in Pants

Mutnovskiy volcano (Kamchatka)

Русская версия The trip to Mutnovsky volcano became one of the most unforgettable Kamchatka memories for us. The volcano is still active, but mainly with its fumaroles thar emit steam and gases. The volcano’s activity became useful for the geothermal power plant built nearby.
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Even though Mutnovsky volcano is only 80 kilometers from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, it is not so easy to reach it. At first, we planned to get there on foot and by hitchhiking – this was rather naïve during the anomalously cold summer of 2015. Pay your attention: the photos were made in July!
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At first, we have to reach the Termalny settlement by the asphalt road (you can do it by public bus) – then the gravel road starts, and then there is no road at all. You can of course walk (we got ready for that by having all the tracks on our GPS), but you must take into account your own experience, preparation, equipment, and major dangers: weather and bears. We saw how the wonderful weather changes into the thick fog in 30 seconds, and that is how the hikers mainly get lost. If there is no snow, there is a trail; in case of the snow, there is no any guiding line. Leaping ahead, when we went to Tolbachik volcano several days after, our guide who had been working in this natural park for 30 years, got lost in the fog.
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One more danger is a bear: there are currently 20000 bears at Kamchatka per 300000 humans. Every local has a story about meeting a bear, sometimes more than one, so do not think that the bear has nothing to do on the volcano. At the time we were visiting Mutnovsky, all the drivers knew that there was living a young male and a mother bear with her kids. The latter could be one of the most dangerous encounters. The bears are cannibals, eating the small ones, that is why the mother is extremely cautious, destroying everybody who can damage her kids (the bears also have poor eyesight, and the mother bear will easily mix you up with a grown up bear). Similarly, encountering the bear on the river is no good: the bear, but not you, is an owner of the fish there. There is no reliable way to escape from the bear – even using the gun does not give any guarantees, since the wounded bear is more dangerous that the healthy one. You should make a lot of noise frightening the bear away, use the flares and sprays (available in Start shop in Petropavlovsk), climb the tree or just pretend you are dead. The internet has a lot of advice on the topic, and since we do not have our own experience of encountering the bear, it can be a better authority.
After considering all the dangers, we found two guides, Igor and Maxim, driving a group to the volcano. For only 5000 rubles (around 85 euros) we did not get frozen, lost, or killed by the bears; seeing the conditions the drivers had to drive at, you understand what you pay for. Also, we were considering hiring a 4WD for 3500 rubles a day and going on our own – this was a funny thought. Interestingly, the car hiring agency even tried to persuade us that we could reach Mutnovsky on our own.

Before the gravel road, we stopped to let some air out of the tires and thus make them more flexible. Maxim and Igor taught a new word to us – kishkotrias – literally meaning “shaking the gut” and essential for talking about Kamchatka roads.
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Then we stopped at the spring Zaikin kluch to get some drinking water and at Mutnovsky pass. There are several very expensive skiing resorts on the way.
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After the pass, there is no civilization at all, and the level of snow gradually grows.
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In some places, the life tries to get through the snow, although there is little hope that this year something will grow before the new snow arrives in September.
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After the pass, Igor and Maxim let even more air out of the tires to increase the maneuverability of the cars. This may cause losing the tire, which happened to us too.
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We were following the road, or sometimes making our own path. Maxim and Igor were talking on the radio, notifying each other about the dangers. Still, we got into the so-called “lens” – a thawed patch, or a thin layer of snow covering water which has already melted. The car had to be pulled out with the winch; in case there is no other car to pull, this can be done by attaching the winch to a spare wheel, and digging this wheel into the snow.
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But soon the sufferings of our drivers were rewarded: we saw a tarbagan marmot! Maxim probably knew where the hole was and stopped there. The tarbagan let us come quite close before running away to the hole.
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At some point of time we stopped – it was only possible to walk. By the way, Igor and Maxim had all the necessary ammunition for the stupid tourists who may have not enough clothes. We started to climb up to the crater. The ascent took about one hour; it was still foggy.
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Finally, we reached the crater. Mutnovsky volcano is very kind to tourists: even if it is foggy, the volcano’s most interesting places are in the crater – visible in any weather (unlike other volcanoes offering the landscape around as a major point of interest, invisible in the fog). First of all, we had a look at the so-called fumaroles – the cracks in the crater serving to emit steam and gases (sometimes also can be encountered at the slopes and feet of the volcanoes). The cracks are often yellow due to the sulfur coating, they smell with rotten eggs, and when the fumarole emits steam next to you, you must not breathe!
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Next to fumaroles, there are the boiling mud pools.
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The volcanic activity of Mutnovsky is one more reason due to which the trip on one’s own may result in a tragedy. You do not know how close you may come, especially in case the fumaroles are covered with snow. The cross not far from the crater is a sad reminder of such a danger:
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The cross has been placed to commemorate the volcanologist (or volunteer? – the story varies) who fell into the fumaroles. As the story goes, the fumarole evaporated a cloud of steam when a group of people was next to it, everybody got out of it, except for this guy in his 20s. At that point of time, nobody could believe he died, as he was well acquainted with the volcanoes. His girlfriend was even sure that in such a way he escaped the army he was due to go to – and was hiding somewhere in the mountains. After some days, his boot was caught out of the fumarole.
To see the fumaroles and boiling mud, the tourists often take a helicopter flight to the Valley of Geysers. In 2015, the cost of the flight (per person) was 37000 rubles, while in Mutnovsky volcano you can see all these wonders much cheaper – apart from the geysers, which, by the way, mainly do not function nowadays in the Valley.
On the way back, the fog suddenly dissipated to let us see the Mars landscape of Mutnovsky.
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Try to find the ground squirrel!
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Or the mountain river!
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Our next destination was the Opasny canyon – indeed a terribly scary hole.
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Saying goodbye, Mutnovsky even smoked for us a bit; so did Gorely volcano next to it:
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At dusk, Viluchinsky volcano opened:
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We returned to Petropavlovsk late at night to go back by almost the same road next morning: to see Mutnovskaya geothermal plant.
We would like to thank Igor and Maxim for the coherence of their team, safety of our trip, and lots of impressions! Try to find reliable partners for the trips like that! The phone of Maxim is +79146244138.