Kamchatka Part 3 - Waiting for a weather window at base camp

Trip report from day 3 of our expedition to ski the highest volcanoes in Kamchatka

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Kamchatka Part 3 - Waiting for a weather window at base camp

A lot of what is written in these Kamchatka Expedition trip reports has been taken from the notes and diary I kept. It appears this blog will be in more than four parts, I have more photos and writing than I thought. Again there are a mixture of photos from Martin Hartley (do go see his work) and our own photos.

Emergency camp and the view after the worst of the weather had past

14th April :- Very bad night sleep due to the high winds, man tents are so noisy during high winds. This morning the temperature is -15C (all the temperatures are not including wind chill), everything is frozen. You move inside the tent and ice falls on to you from the roof, the wind knocks the ice off the tent and on to you, then everything starts to get wet. Breakfast at 9am, discussion about plan for today, we are going no where, conditions are too bad. It is dangerous to wander too far from the tents because you loose sight of them. Towards dinner time the weather begins to break, if the weather holds we shall make a move tomorrow.

Packing our tent away, ready for the off to base camp. Photo courtesy of Martin Hartley

15th April :- Good night sleep the wind died down during the night. Have breakfast and leisurely pack up camp, we are on the move. Igor takes most of the kit by snowmobile the 5km to base camp. The rest of us put on our skis and skins and start our ski to camp. Once we reach the plateau the sun is out, it's hot by Kamchatka terms and we get incredible views of Kluchevskoi and Kamen. As we get closer we can see the steam coming out the vent of Kluchevskoi and the closer we get we realise she is not the white mountain she looked, she is covered in ash and just gets bigger and bigger. Igor arrives back to take anyone who wants a lift, we all decide to continue but due to skinning over ash and volcanic rock Richard, Martin and myself hand our skis to Igor so we do not damage them and continue walking to aid acclimatisation. Elena goes with Igor to set up the kitchen tent and have lunch ready for our arrival. I have gained a blister from one side of my heal to the other. We all eventually arrive at camp to cheers from Igor and Elena. Before eating we set up our tents, never trust the weather. Richard has been loosing energy and has a cough. We have a quick lunch, Richard retreats to his sleeping bag to stay warm, I finish off making snowwalls around the tent. What an amazing situation for a camp surround by volancos, can't stop taking photos. Martin is making the most of the good weather and taking plenty of catalogue shots for Berghaus. Dinner at 7pm of buckwheat stew. Decision is made that we will skin up the 800m to a volconolgists hut, our high camp tomorrow, for altitude training and get a look at the route up the volcano. Once again bad weather returns and we seek shelter in our tents, my feet are always cold, there is no room for errors in this place.

Walking down to the plateau from emergency camp. Photo courtesy of Martin Hartley

On the plateau. Richard pulling the pulk

Walking closer to Kluchevskoi. You can see the smoke and ash coming from the summit

Martin taking a photo with volcano Ushkovsky behind him

Doesn't seem right walking towards an erupting volcano. Photo courtesy of Martin Hartley

The girls having a chat. So close to Kluchevskoi now she does not fit in the photo. Kamen has vanished into mean looking cloud

Not too far to base camp now

Walking now and very close to base camp

A misty lunch

Warwick, me and Richard having lunch

Base camp established, enjoying the views

16th April :- Slept okay. Richard is still ill and will not make the acclimitisation trip. Tent frozen again. Breakfast at 8am. It's a beautiful morning for our acclimitisation trip, layers are being removed as we make our way through the volcanic scenery towards the glacier that runs between Kluchevskoi and Kamen. As soon as we reach the glacier the wind howls down it funneled by the two volcanos, the layers are quickly put back on. Igor, Julia and Warwick set a quick pace for the 3km to the high camp and soon leave me and Martin behind.

Me, I'm just a plodder, Martin is carrying ridiculously heavy camera gear. Around a third of the way up my right foot freezes solid, panic sets in. I've had frozen fingers before but never a foot freeze like that without warning. It was like a wood. Decision time for me, continue up and risk doing permanent damage to my foot, maybe even loosing it (dramatic I know but it's possible), or turn around and hope I find my way back to camp. Clouds are coming up the valley, decision is made I have to head back to camp.

The 3 in front are too far away and it is far to windy to get their attention. I manage to attract Martin's attention, who is over to one side taking photos, and signal I am heading down. I walk very very quickly back down the glacier, quite strange walking when you can't feel one of your feet, once off the glacier it starts to get warm again, but I can not rest as the cloud is quickly moving up the valley to engulf me and I'm concerned the wind will blow all tracks away. I follow my footsteps back to camp and arrive a bit of an emotional wreck.

I was disappointed I didn't make it to high camp, scared I'd done permanent damage to my foot, scared from being split from the party. Richard and Elena give me big hugs and make me some jam tea, have you ever tried jam tea? Wow it is good and sweet. Took my boots off and started the process of warming my foot up which was not solid anymore but the skin is a waxy white yellow colour meaning I was well into the middle stage of frostbite. The big toe on my left foot was purple a sure sign that the left foot was heading for frostbite! Relax in my sleeping bag and recompose myself, eventually seeing the funny side of my panic. The clouds start to engulf camp and the others are spotted through the clouds on their way back.

Can you spot the 5 of us heading towards the glacier. Me, Igor, Julia, Warwick and Martin

Martin making his way towards the glacier

Igor and Julia on their way up the glacier towards the volconologists hut (high camp)

The lava erupting Tolbachik with the cloud coming up the valley

Spot the 3 little people on the glacier and see how icy the slope of Kamen is

Warming my feet up in my sleeping bag

Dinner is at 7pm. Elena somehow manages to cook amazing food with such limited utensils. For me it was soya, bean, rice and veg stew. After dinner we discuss (Warwick films) the plan for a summit attempt. Original plan was to make high camp at the volconologists hut, go to summit and ski/board down. This is the shortest route. BUT with half the mountain covered in ash this route is not possible for skiing. Discussions are then held about another line that Warwick had seen on the North West face. A lot of logistics to make this work and we need the weather gods to be on our side which they are not at the moment it's due to be bad for the next 3 days! 9.15pm and the tent is not frozen yet!

Dinner for tonight. Elena does an amazing job of feeding us

In the kitchen tent having dinner. Photo courtesy of Martin Hartley

17th April :- A rather warm night, -10C is considered warm these days! Going no where today, letting my foot recover, which it has done. Richard is still bad. I spent the day building a higher snow wall around the tent. Building snow walls has become a bit of an obsession. I also built an emergency toilet next to the tent, when the weather comes in real bad again I won't have to fear getting lost while out on a toilet mission. Rather proud of my toilet. After lunch the weather is not to bad so Igor, Julia, Warwick and Martin head out to look at the North West face to see if it is doable. Funnily enough they bump into 12 Russians who are on their way to the volconologist hut to make a summit attempt tomorrow. Igor warns them bad weather is coming. The rest of the afternoon for me is spent helping Elena build a higher snow wall around the kitchen.

The others arrive back with good news, the face is ski-able we just need a weather window. The snow around camp is turning black from the change of wind direction which is bringing the ash that the volcano is throwing out onto us! Had dinner, weather forecast is not good for the next 4 days, 100km winds and snow due. 9.15pm and again the tent is not frozen, strange as it feels very cold.

Kluchevskoi and Kamen looking spectacular. Photo courtesy of Martin Hartley

Berghaus catalogue shot. Warwick, Julia, Richard and me. Photo courtesy of Martin Hartley

Snow walls are growing. Richard stood next to my emergency toilet with Kamen in the back ground

Kluchevskoi turning blacker and blacker and the snow around camp is starting to become contaminated by ash fall


Jean Entwistle: Hi Kiersten , I am thoroughly enjoying reading your version of the Kamchatka Expedition and seeing it all in writing. Exciting but also rather terrifying at times I should imagine.

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