Russia : Kamchatka : #17 Cinder Cones; Tolbachik Volcanic Region

It was Saturday 31 Aug 2013 and we were camped at 1680 metres on the outfall of a couple of cinder cones which were the result of eruptions that lasted from July 1975 until December 1976.  The temperature hadn’t fallen below freezing during the night but the stiff breeze added a considerable chill factor.  Rain threatened and we would need warm, wet weather gear for our exploration of the cinder cones.  There we would see for ourselves the types of basalt that had been thrown out during the eruptions and also the damage that had been caused to forested areas here in the Tolbachik Volcanic Region.


P1120274  ©  DY  of  tdytravels

P1120274 © DY of tdytravels

A carpet of moss and lichen covered the cinders beside the track to the cones.


P1120275  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120275 © DY of jtdytravels

It wasn’t just small cinders and scoria that had been blown out of the volcanoes.

Some very large rocks had made it to the valley floor.


P1120286  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120286 © DY of jtdytravels

With wet weather gear on, we set off up a fairly steep track for the top.  Some of the group only got half way before deciding they’d had enough.  But a few us kept going; after all this is what we had come a long way to experience.


P1120288  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120288 © DY of jtdytravels

We trudged on up to a saddle where two cinder cones met, only to see a fog roll in which obliterated any view we may have had from the top.  We stood around for about 10 minutes to see if the fog would clear as fast as it had arrived.  No such luck.  So we decided it was futile to continue.  We hadn’t gone 50 metres back down the track when the fog cleared – so back up we went.  By now, I’d discarded three layers of clothing into my back pack and was happy in just a shirt and Gortex raincoat.

Looking down, we realised just how far we had climbed – quite a long way, really.  No wonder we had warmed up. The view down to our vehicle and across the yellowy-grey lichen and moss covered plain below was pretty impressive.  Wheel tracks leading off into the distance added to the effect.


P1120289  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120289 © DY of jtdytravels

This mis-shapen rock was formed when the lava was still hot and pliable.


P1120291  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels
P1120291 © DY of jtdytravels

As we approached the summit, we found that moss had taken hold in sheltered places.


P1120293  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120293 © DY of jtdytravels

What was even more impressive though was the volcanic activity on the top.

Fumaroles emitted hot air and some of the rocks were warm to walk on.


P1120301  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1120301 © DY of jtdytravels

You didn’t stand still for too long in any one place in case your boots started to smoke and melt!  Sasha had his boots burned on a previous expedition up here not so long ago.  He demonstrated just how hot the gases escaping from the fumaroles are by placing a small piece of wood into a crevice.  In no time at all, the wood was alight.  This was a place demanding of respect!


P1120294  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120294 © DY of jtdytravels

This rock would have been very hot when expelled from the volcano.

 It probably cracked on cooling down.


P1120303  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120303 © DY of jtdytravels

There were patches of bright yellow sulphur mixed up

with the reds, oranges, and greys of the majority of the other rocks.


P1120295  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120295 © DY of jtdytravels

The green of copper stood out against the red and greys.

The whole place was really fascinating and well worth the effort of the climb.


P1120290  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120290 © DY of jtdytravels

On the way down, we stopped to admire the view once more and took a minute or two to reflect on the story of these cinder cones.  An eruption that started July 6th,1975 and continued until December 10, 1976, provided all the cinder ash and scoria that we could see around us.  There had been an earthquake in the area in June 1975 and that was a precursor for an explosion that proved to be the largest basalt eruption in recorded time across the Kamchatkan – Kuril belt of volcanoes.  The eruption resulted in four new cinder cones.  The eruption cloud sometimes reached 13km high and ended with a covering of ash across 40 square kms and up to 80 metres thick in places.


P1120284  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120284 © DY of jtdytravels

Back down at the bottom and reunited with the rest of the group, we had some lunch under a wooden shelter which provided us with at least a bit of shelter from the weather.  It was also home to a lovely little orange-brown coloured short-tailed mouse.


P1120285  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120285 © DY of jtdytravels

The dear little thing scampered around the place looking for food but wouldn’t stay still long enough for a good photo to be taken.  Not a very co-operative little mouse was he!


P1120280  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1120280 © DY of jtdytravels

A tiny dianthus plant made a brave show of survival on the ash.

The last of its summer flowers were not in good shape.


P1120304  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120304 © DY of jtdytravels

After lunch, we drove on to explore a forest of dead trees.  This forest of larch had died over a period of two or three years after the explosions because their roots were covered by thick ash and starved of oxygen.


P1120308  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120308 © DY of jtdytravels

The green pine trees and the autumn-tinted Willow herb had established in the new ash.


P1120332  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120332 © DY of jtdytravels

Willow herb is a great coloniser in a variety of harsh and disturbed conditions.  In summers to come, there’ll be a great show of their bright pink flowers in this desolate place.


P1120312  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120312 © DY of jtdytravels

I climbed a small hill to see if I could gauge the extent of this dead forest.

As far as the eye could see, trees had been reduced to sticks;

stark reminders of the force of nature.


P1120316  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120316 © DY of jtdytravels

It was still raining so I took the opportunity to photograph a reflection in a raindrop.


P1120326  ©  DY  of  jtsytravels

P1120326 © DY of jtdytravels

A few very strange little fungi grew amongst the scoria.  This one belongs to the coral fungus group.


P1120323  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120323 © DY of jtdytravels

They were damp and hard to focus on, but the coral-like structure needed a closer look.

A delightful piece of natural sculpture.


P1120329  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120329 © DY of jtdytravels

Nearby was another unusual green fungus growing amongst some pioneer moss.


P1120333  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120333 © DY of jtdytravels

This fungi could have come straight from the corals of the sea… delicate and beautiful.


P1120334  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120334 © DY of jtdytravels

And this, believe it or not, is Moose poo!

We did not see the animal but it had obviously been around fairly recently.


P1120335  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120335 © DY of jtdytravels

I know I said that I hadn’t taken any photos of a bird except for a lbb…

but I had forgotten this one; a black crow in a black tree.


P1120311  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120311 © DY of jtdytravels

The short drive through the forest back to the camp was through the rain.  It continued for the rest of the afternoon; not that I saw it because I climbed into my sleeping bag for an hour’s nap.  I fired up my laptop around 17h30 with the intention of doing some diary writing but no sooner had I poured a whisky and entered the password than “dinner” was called.  That posed a problem for me.  I suppose I was hungry but I could only think of the whisky, and the battery power that I had just used to fire up the computer; I knew there would be no power for days to come so would have to carefully budget my computer usage.  But on the other hand, there would be plenty of time to write after dinner; time to fill in before I could again check out the inside of my sleeping bag.  We’d all gone to bed by 20h30 the previous evening.  There had been nothing to do as there was no fire and nowhere to shelter except the mess tent.  And that hour was far too early for me to get to sleep.  So dinner it was.


P1120336  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120336 © DY of jtdytravels

As it turned out a fire was lit under a temporary covering so we could stand around it and perhaps think we were warmer than we really were.  There were flames and smoke but the wet birch and larch wood gave little warmth.  The rain continued to tumble down.  There was some talk of leaving this camp site a day early if the weather stayed bad.  We could head back down to the main north-south road.  This would have effect of getting out of the cold and fog and hopefully also the rain.  It would also cut the very long 13 hour drive from here back to PK into two more manageable parts.  The weather in the morning would determine that decision.  In the meantime, there was nothing for it but to get back into that sleeping bag and try to sleep.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of jtdytravels

More stories and photos of our travels can be found on


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