This week we’re off to what just might be the crown jewel in my quest to one day climb and ski the world’s most exotic volcanoes – Russia’s Klyuchevskoy volcano (alternate spelling “Kliuchevskoi.”) Located 220 miles north of Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky, this enormous and nearly conical volcano is vigorously active, averaging an eruption every other year.
Klyuchevskoy is one of the largest volcanoes in the world and is also the tallest active volcano in Eurasia, towering 15,584 feet above sea level. The first recorded eruption at Klyuchevskoy was in 1697, and eruptions have continued unabated since. Klyuchevskoy spouts forth nearly 50% of the total amount of ash and lava erupted annually in Kamchatka, on average.
Klyuchevskoy was first bested by Europeans in 1788 when Daniel Gauss from the famous Billings Expedition made it to the summit. The mountain remained unclimbed until 1931, when members of the next summit attempt party were killed by flying lava bombs during an eruption that caught them out in the open when they were descending.
Klyuchevskoy is considered a scared mountain to the indigenous Koryak and Itlemen people of Kamchatka. These people hold in one version of their creation myth that their creator raven-god Kutkh made the world by dropping a feather which fell to the sea and formed Kamchatka. At first, only men were crated by Kutkh, and they roamed the land hunting and fishing. Eventually, a woman was made, and the men began to burn with passionate desire for her. When they died, their hearts became the volcanoes, spewing fire as they burned for the woman.
Geologic Background and Eruptive History
Like Erebus, Klyuchevskoy was in eruption when it was first sighted by explorers. At Klyuchevskoy’s summit sits a nearly 700m-wide crater, which is the locus of most of the volcano’s largest eruptive events. There are numerous smaller “parasitic” craters located around the volcano along strike of various radial fissures, and these are the sites of most of the smaller, more frequent eruptions. More than 100 flank eruptions can be discerned in the geologic record over the last 3,000 years.
Klyuchevskoy shattered the Kamchatkan calm on September 30th, 1994, spitting rocks, gas and rocks gas and ash nearly 60,000 feet in the air in its largest eruption in nearly 40 years. Strong winds in the region dispersed the ash down into the lower atmosphere to levels heavily travelled by commercial and cargo air liners, and flights were disrupted heavily during the first three days of the eruption.
Last year, Klyuchevskoy experienced a few explosive eruptions in the last week of October. Ash was spewed up into the atmosphere to 30,000 feet, and spread nearly 300 km north of the volcano.
The first ski descent of the volcano came in 2004 at the hands of an Australian Geographic Society expedition. Australians Dan Colborne, Sam Maffett, Stu Coleman, Jarrod Paine, and Steve Curtain climbed and telemarked Kyluchevskoy, with just 8 good weather days out of 23. Although their ascent came in the early summer, it’s hard to not think of skiing Kyluchevskoy with mid-winter conditions.
One could feasibly imagine making turns down about 5-6,000 feet of 30-35 degree slopes, let alone another few thousand below that if things were ripe. The corn skiing in the early summer would be legendary. If you do go, late March to June are the best months to plan your attack on the volcano, as days are long, spring weather is relatively mild, and there should still be ample snows from winter.
I came across an account in Russian that I think might be a trip report of some people climbing and maybe skiing Klyuchevskoy recently – but I’m not really willing to let Google Translate verify for me that people have actually skied the volcano. If anyone out there speaks Russian and can read the original article and verify that the content, I’d be interested to know that someone has actually skied Klyuchevskoy in the last few years. Summitpost.org has some good beta too, including good advice on making sure to bring a multi-fuel stove like a MSR WhisperLite international.
When you’re ready to embark on your own mission, several tour companies offer 14-day and longer expedition-style trips to Kamchatka, and one of these specifically offers a guided trip to the top of Klyuchevskoy – Kamchatka travel group. Their tour package price, for 14 days, is a whopping 1,862 euros (~$2,500 USD), and will take you to the top of Klyuchevskoy, Ushkovsky and Krestovsky as well. The package includes double accommodation, visas and registrations, food and lodging, helicopter flights, a guide, an interpreter, and local transport. “Blat” are not included. Here are two other tour companies offering tours to the Klyuchevskoy area – EcoTours Russia and Travel Kamchatka.
Given the recent geologic history of Klyuchevskoy and its propensity to blast off flank eruptions at random all around its edifice, it is worth reiterating that extreme caution must be taken to familiarize one’s self with the most up to date volcanologic information, as well as whatever you can learn about weather, snowpack conditions, and of course – let’s not forget the local wildlife.
The nearest large town to Klyuchevskoy with an international airport is Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky. Named after the two ships of great Russian explorer Vitus Bering (“Peter” and “Paul”), this great city is your initial destination in mother Russia on your way to the great volcano. This great eastern city was a stronghold of the Russian military from World War II until the 1990s, when travel restrictions were eased and westerners were allowed to travel there.
Checking with Orbitz, and starting off in Reno, you’ll need 31 hours total to get to Petropavlosk – and your wallet will be nearly $2,200 lighter for the experience. The route came up as Reno – Phoenix – New York – Moscow – Petropavlosk (Yelizovo – PKC). It seems insane to need to travel east to get to Kamchatka, and you might be better off trying to get there through Japan if the seasonal Vladivostok Airlines flghts are running.
Once in Petropavlosk, you would be wise to hook into a guided tour unless you have previous experience operating your own expeditions in eastern Russia and a solid handle on the language. And really, $2,500 for a 14-day guided expedition is just not that much money when it comes down to it.
As with Cleveland volcano in Alaska, Klyuchevskoy is in a region known to have a large population of ferocious and hungry grizzly bears. It’s probably not very wise to try and bring a .44 into Russia, which is yet another vote for hiring a local tour company so they can worry about most of the bear repelilng strategies. Remember – you’re only as fast as the slowest person in your group, so hit that treadmill and bring plenty of bear spray!
Where to check in with the Local Scientists
Klyuchevskoy and its counterparts along the Kamchatkan peninsula are monitored by the Russian agency KVERT, which shares information closely with its US counterpart – the Alaska Volcano Observatory.
Like most volcanoes in the modern age, Klyuchevskoy has it’s own web cam, which you can view here. In the winter months, the feed tends to show more snow than volcano, as the winters are quite fierce.
KVERT had it’s funding cut by the Russian government in January of 2010, but appears to be back operating as of the writing of this article in late December 2011. The Alaska Volcano Observatory hosts KVERT warnings on their website.
The above links should be your first daily online stop on your way to Klyuchevskoy, and it is extremely advisable to check in with KVERT scientists (or make sure your guide service does this) so you have a radio link to someone who is actually monitoring the volcano in case of increased seismicity, gas flow, imminent eruptions, etc.
Klyuchevskoy is indeed a jewel, and if it really hasn’t been skied in the last few years, then a grand prize awaits the lucky and determined few that will brave the slopes of the volcano and make the summit in 2012. I can only dream and hope that one day I will be lucky enough to visit Klyuchevskoy, and if I do, you can bet I’ll have my touring setup on board.