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The Kamchatka peninsula is almost 800 miles long. There are few roads.

 

It is among the emptiest and least-touristy places in the world, but that is changing a bit.

 

Tour companies have refurbished old military helicopters (MI-8) and they are being used for visiting the volcanoes and the geysers. They are also used in winter by European heli-skiers. Bear hunters use them too and are quickly wiping out the Kamchatka large brown bears. Fishermen use them to get to remote rivers as Kamchatka is full of rivers that contain the world’s greatest diversity of salmonoid fishes.

 

The helicopters all have wheels (not skids) and they are used even for landing on snow for the skiers. They are usually large and some can carry 40 people. They “taxi” around like a plane, and even can roll a bit on takeoff.

 

There are only 300,000 inhabitants, mostly Russians but also ethnic minorities, the largest being the Koryaks (13,000). More than half of the population lives in the capital, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

 

The volcanoes of Kamchatka are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are 150 volcanoes, 28 of them are active. Two of the active ones are on the “outskirts” of Petropavlovsk.

 

They have snow from October to late May.

 

 

Kamchatka-teacks

Our tracks in Kamchatka include helicopter flight paths (the straight lines: one to/from the Geysers, the other to/from Esso to the reindeer).

 

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Although the locals refer to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky without a nickname (non-locals sometimes refer to it as PK) we will refer to it as Petropavlovsk, our “compromise”. 

 

Our first morning we were driven to view spots to see the harbor and the city.

 

Across Avacha Bay is Russia’s largest submarine base, the Rybachiy Nuclear Submarine Base which was established by the Soviets.

 

We had cloudy skies and rainy weather for 6 of the 8 days we were in Kamchatka.

 

The climate is boreal with average precipitation about 45 inches; most falling as snow. Winter is milder than in Siberia, with a typical January day 19 degrees F.

 

The city is 4,204 miles from Moscow and 1,380 miles from Vladivostok where we just were!

 

It is lovely to see a place not overrun with people.

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We were scheduled to have a “harbor cruise” so were given this nice boat for the four of us.

 

Only two others signed up for the tour and we were lucky they did, because the helicopter flight to the reindeer would not have happened for just the two of us.

 

We are sure that MIR, the tour company, ran this part of our tour due to the fact that each of us had private tours following it.

 

The two men had been in Russia numerous times, even riding the entire Trans-Siberian railway more than once. They didn’t know each other before this tour.

 

From the harbor cruise, we were supposed to see the wonderful volcanoes which are backdrops for the city.

 

We couldn’t even see the edge of the bay the weather was so bad!

 

The captain decided to go outside the harbor into the Bering Sea, but when we got to the entrance the waves were too big to do the sightseeing he wanted to do.

 

We went back into the harbor and to this place where we took the boat into some caves.

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The Three Brothers Rocks (Tri Brata) are located at the entrance to Avacha Bay.

 

Local lore says they are three brothers who went to defend the town from a tsunami and turned to stone.

 

We were on our cruise from 11am to 8pm and were continuously offered things to eat.

 

A woman prepared and cooked for us in the galley the entire time.

 

Here we have an ample serving of crab legs that were yummy.

 

This is our guide Alla. She has lived in Petropavlovsk all her life. She taught English, among other things, at the University, but decided to quit and tutor instead. She also guides. Along with about 10 friends she belly dances every week. They all perform for friends at events! She loves the costumes.

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The captain was really nice and decided we could fish; which he did also. He has sailed boats for people single-handedly across the Pacific.

 

Only Juergen took him up on it. He caught one flounder which they cooked for us on the boat.

 

It was not enough for everybody…

 

From the car some days later we had this view of one of the volcanoes (Avacha) we should have seen while on our harbor cruise.

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The feature in the center is called “Camel Mountain.” It is within hiking distances of two volcanoes (the base of Avacha is at the right).

 

Yvonne climbed Camel Mountain in less than ideal conditions. Juergen had more sense (and lacked waterproof clothing) so stayed behind.

 

One of the men was active and also climbed Camel Mountain. He took these photos.

 

Our guide was Sacha, a “famous” guy in Kamchatka because he founded, and ran, the Beringiya dog sled races there, starting in 1990. Some of these races were 950 km long.

 

This is Camel Mountain. The three of them climbed to the highest “peak.”

 

This was the approach to the mountain. A research station is at the right.

 

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Fortunately Yvonne had taken waterproof pants and windbreaker, otherwise it would have been impossible to do without getting sopping wet – and cold.

 

The background for this photo is the base of Avacha Volcano. We were supposed to have a fantastic view of it from this place !!!

 

Part of the way down the walk was on a glacier. This wasn’t a very warm place!

 

It was raining, occasionally sleety, and blowing so hard here that Yvonne practically crawled to this spot.

 

We spent a fun evening with the “Singing Farmer” about an hour out of the city in the woods.

 

The guy was a classical musician in Moscow who retired to live in Kamchatka. He is 64 now and his wife is 28.

 

He gathers ferns and other plants, prepares them, and serves them for groups. Each container on the table contains a different herb of his.

 

It was cold, note the fire. He built this tent several years ago and the piano stays here all winter.

 

A short movie clip shows him and his wife performing. It also gives a feeling of the nice mood.

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We were supposed to walk his land to see the wild plants growing that we would eat but it was raining too hard.

 

His wife who was a local girl who immediately developed a huge crush on him, helped cook and sang. They married when she was 21. They have a 6-year old son.

 

She has a pretty voice and sang traditional Russian songs. He played classical music and famous Russian songs and sang. He also played guitar.

 

He was an interesting and amusing guy; One way he was different to others we met is that he was very happy doing this and never had any interest in traveling outside Russia.

 

If you like puzzles:

The last two times we travelled in Russia we memorized the Cyrillic script before we went. While there we tried to sound out words when we saw them on signs. The fun is finding words that turn out to be close to the European words that are used in Russia, of which there are many. Of course, if the word starts out not resembling a western word we give up.

As examples, we are including a few signs from the little museum in Esso. One thing that makes it difficult is that many letters that look like ours are pronounced differently: P is R, B is V, etc. We really enjoy travelling in Russia doing our “puzzles.”

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The first and sixth letters T and M are much like English. The “Y” is “oo”. The “P” is really an R sound. The backwards N is an “I” sound. The “S” is like an “S”. “Tourism”

B is pronounced V, The backwards N is an “I” the 3 is a “z” so the first word is visit. In the second word, what looks like a “U” is pronounced “ts”, H is pronounced N, P is pronounced R, so it is “center”. Visit Center.

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That funny delta is a “d” so the word is director.

The H is pronounced “N”, the phi is pronounced “F”, another “U” being pronounced “ts” , the “3” sound is an “s” and lambda is “L” so this is “Konferenzsaal,” the German word for“conference hall.”

Russians use many German words. E.g., the Russian word for sandwich is “butterbrot” (buttered bread).

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B is pronounced “V”, lambda is “L”, H is pronounced “N”, P is pronounced “R” so the word is “Volunteer”

Another “visit center”.

Isn’t this fun???

 

 

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There aren’t many roads in Kamchatka. We took the one north through the center of the peninsula for 333 miles; all but 60 miles of it was dirt.

 

About halfway between Petropavlovsk and Esso we stopped for lunch in Milkovo, an old Cossack village on the Kamchatka River.

 

While the driver refueled our van, we crawled around this replica of an old Cossack fort.

 

The dirt road we drove for many of the 333 miles was usually not as muddy as this place where it was being repaired, fortunately.

 

This was our view for most of the day: trees on both sides of the road!

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The drive to Esso was up a wide flat valley between distant mountains.

 

In all those miles, this was the only place where we pulled off to see a view.

 

 

 

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The school in Esso is only two years old.

 

The owner of our B&B takes this old vehicle for 60 miles each winter and stays at his cabin for 3 months. He uses this to carry his supplies and to return with the hides in the spring.

 

The wife’s job is the B&B.

 

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This is the style of fish trap they use. The salmon swims upstream and ends up first in the rhombic fenced area and then in the trap.

 

They only take the fish they want and release the others.

 

We forgot to take a photo of the all-terrain vehicle we used to go to Avacha Volcano for the hike.

 

This one is 6-wheeled, ours was 4-wheeled as there were only 6 of us.

 

Inside, ours had velour seat covers and was really cozy. It was actually a comfortable ride even when the road was really rough.

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There are only 1500 Even people in Kamchatka, half of which live in the Esso area.

 

Choreography was designed for this Even troupe over 40 years ago using their folk dances as the basis.

 

 Since that time new generations keep the troupe going. Many “ages” of them have toured the world entertaining, as have these we watched.

 

 

 

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It was a very enjoyable performance with lots of rhythm.

 

A short movie clip shows the infectious energy and the fun they’re having.

 

These girls are using juice harps.

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They were cute! Many of them go to college, and they keep up the routines there so they can come “home” is summer and perform.

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This photo was taken from our MI-8 helicopter as we flew to visit a reindeer camp. It is of a portion of the town of Esso where we spent three nights.

 

There are so many hiking areas here that people can stay in town and make 8-hr day hikes every day to a different place.

 

Esso is situated in a hot spring area. The hot springs are used to provide heat for the entire town!

 

 

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We had a great experience going by helicopter for 45-minutes over completely uninhabited mountains where we “found” and visited a reindeer herd.

 

The helicopter landed near the herders’ tent about 1.5 miles from the herd.

 

The flight engineer (one of three crew members) jumped out (!) when we were a few feet from the ground and then moved uphill, backward, stumbling occasionally until he found ground for the landing. We almost touched down once and then they changed their minds. The prop blast sort of flattened the grass, but the pilot still couldn’t see what he was really landing on. It was an interesting experience for us.

 

The interior of the helicopter which usually carries 20 is designed so the tourists have windows.

 

This is Alla, our guide, and Sasha, our driver who got to go on this, his first flight, because our tour company had “paid for the flight” as no one else signed up.

 

Note the seat belt use. It was convenient because we moved side to side taking photos.

 

 

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There were three pilots: the captain, co-pilot, and the engineer. We could see through the little window to the co-pilot.

 

The engineer who had to jump down to find a landing site (that’s part of his job!) was sitting in the jump seat with his back to the cockpit door. All of this was new to us.

 

Once we flew away from Esso, this is the scenery we saw. No bears were sited on the way; we really eyeballed the areas between the mountains which often had streams.

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This is the biggest volcano we flew by on this ride.

 

This was our first view of the herd from the helicopter.

 

It was unbelievable to us that two guys and one dog got all of these reindeer into a tiny pack and herded them back toward camp at a fast walk through this area for about 1.5 miles in about 1.5 hours!

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Another view of the reindeer herd from the helicopter.

 

 

We landed near the Even herders’ tent.

 

Four guys and two dogs are responsible for the reindeer herd of 1500 animals.

 

Two of them rotate with the other two every two days: two days with the reindeer, two days with the tent (and horses).

 

A dog is in both places.

 

 

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We had tea inside the herder’s tent.

 

The guy on the left flew with us to “find” the herd; he’s the Even manager who is in charge of three different large Even herds.

 

The guy on the right is one of the four herders.

 

 

 

 

We chose to climb a bit to watch the approaching herd.

 

The herd was on a distant hillside the first time we could discern it. At first, it seemed like vegetation slightly moving, but then we could slowly make out the herd.

 

Here, one of the herders is visible with this super tele shot.

 

 

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This is the herd as it passed by below us.

 

The plan was to go past us behind a hill so the reindeer wouldn’t spook. By this time they’d come nearly a mile in high vegetation.

 

Then they came up behind the helicopter and grouped on a hillside near us.

 

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This was the herd going slowly uphill past the helicopter at a distance so we wouldn’t spook them.

 

We asked why the dogs were not actively herding and it turns out that’s not their job.

 

These dogs are trained to smell bears from 1.5 miles, even upwind. Bears are the big threat for this herd.

 

The movie clip accessed by the next photo shows the reindeer “flowing” on up the slope.

 

 

The herders somehow (!) got the animals to slowly circle into ever tighter circles until they were packed this closely.

 

We were all amazed watching this.  Our driver didn’t know English, but he exclaimed it was like “Animal Kingdom!” He enjoyed it as much as we did. A short movie clip shows the reindeer passing the helicopter and then being herded into a packed circle.

 

It was fun hearing their antlers clinking into each other.

 

The next month they would be fighting with these antlers!

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We had to have a “group” photo!

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After driving back to Petropavlovsk, we were lucky to have our second good-weather day and took a 90-minute helicopter flight to the World Heritage Site, the Valley of the Geysers.

 

On the way we flew by, and around, several volcanoes, one actively steaming!

 

Karymsky Volcano is the most active on the peninsula. It’s been erupting continuously since 1996.

 

In the background is the crater lake of the Akademia Nauk Volcano.

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We were given noise-cancelling headsets – helicopters are quite noisy!

 

This is the way our guide indicated which volcano we were next to at the time.

 

This helicopter carried about 40 people, 4 across with an aisle down the middle like an airplane.

 

Maly Semyachik is a compound stratovolcano in a 6-mile wide caldera within a 9x12-mile mid-Pleistocene caldera.

 

A hot, acidic crater lake fills the historically active crater which formed during a large explosive eruption about 400 years ago.

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As we were landing we had our first view of the Valley of the Geysers.

 

This area was unknown until 1941 when it was discovered by scientist Tatyana Ustinova.

 

The Russians, via a newspaper project in 2008, selected this as one of the Seven Wonders of Russia. Lake Baikal is another one (we saw both this trip)

 

Only 3,000 people visit the Valley of the Geysers each year! It’s very remote and can only be visited via helicopter.

 

The Valley of the Geysers is the only geyser field in Eurasia and is the second largest concentration of geysers in the world. In the 3.7 mile long basin are about 90 geysers and many hot springs. The largest geyser erupts twice a year with 60 tons of water.

Within the valley a volcanic cone collapsed approximately 40,000 years ago forming the Uzon Caldera, which continues to steam in places where magma can heat groundwater to a near-boil.

The area is less than eight miles wide and holds at least 500 geothermal hot springs, mud pots and other similar features.

 

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Our helicopter after landing at the valley of the geysers has a great view.

 

Kronotsky (Кроноцкий) Nature Reserve is a nature area reserved for the study of natural sciences. It was created in 1934 and its current boundary contains an area of 4,240 sq mi.

It also has Russia's only geyser basin, plus several mountain ranges with numerous volcanoes, both active and extinct.

It is mainly accessible only to scientists, plus approximately 3,000 tourists annually who pay a fee equivalent to US$700 to travel by helicopter for a single day's visit.

Kronotsky Nature Reserve has been proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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It’s very hilly so they have prepared five helicopter pads.

 

This helicopter is about to touch down at a pad just above ours.

 

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There are very nice wooden walkways and stairs throughout the area.

 

 

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Among the geysers is the Velikan (giant) Geyser, which erupts with tons of water that shoot more than 75-feet into the air during a minute-long eruption approximately every six hours.

 

This photo and the next were taken just after an eruption.

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This mud pot was fun to watch.

 

Notice the one “spitting” at the lower left of the photo!

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We flew on to the Uzon Volcano Caldera where we landed and walked around on Kamchatka’s largest geothermal area.

 

Again the wooden walkways were very practical.

 

This is a picture from the helicopter of the above the area.

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