Russia : Kamchatka : #18 Plosky Tolbachik Volcano

There are two major volcanoes in the Tolbachik Region.  One is the Ostry Tolbachik Volcano, a stratovolcano of 3,682m.  It looks the way we generally envisage volcanoes, an upside down cone, tall and peaked.  The other is the  Plosky Tolbachik Volcano of 3,085m, a flat or shield volcano. That’s the one we were scheduled to visit; and that’s the one that is still active; very active, with the last major eruption occurring only two months before our visit!

I say, scheduled to visit; but the weather seemed to have other ideas.  It had rained most of the night but it sounded heavier than it really was when heard from the inside of a tent that is only inches away for your nose.  At least I had been warm and there was no need to rise early and brave the day.  We didn’t even have breakfast until 09h00.  And it was a lazy couple of hours as we waited for the weather to clear; some read, some stood around the fire.

P1120344  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120344 © DY of jtdytravels

There wasn’t much to photograph;  just a clump of grass (Leymus sp.) refreshed by rain.


P1120340  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120340 © DY of jtdytravels

The weather didn’t improve so we just headed off in the rain and bitterly cold wind uphill towards the Plosky Tolbachik crater.  We couldn’t see where we were going and were not a particularly enthusiastic group.  It was a case of one foot after the other – in the rain following our ‘Pied Piper’, Sasha.


P1120346  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120346 © DY of jtdytravels

Not far from our camp we came across a lava flow which had started in November 2012.  This eruption moved at a rate of 200-300m per day, was 2km wide and reached a point 4km from its source.  The front of this lava flow was still moving just two months ago!  It was rather eerie standing next to lava which exhibits such tremendous forces so soon after its formation.


P1120352  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120352 © DY of jtdytravels

Many different shapes, sizes and colours were there, right before our eyes.

It was awesome.  Our spirits rose.


P1120357  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120357 © DY of jtdytravels

Some of it formed what is called rope lava… just like shanks of rope, folded and twisted.


P1120363 ©  DY  of  jtdtravels

P1120363 © DY of jtdtravels

A pavement of rope lava.


P1120359  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120359 © DY of jtdytravels

Some looked as though it had just been squeezed out of a toothpaste tube.


P1120362  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120362 © DY of jtdytravels

A shattered ‘tube’ full of gas holes.


P1120364  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120364 © DY of jtdytravels

We walked beside the lava flow.  To get some sense of scale, see the two people top left, one in a yellow jacket and the other in blue.  Hot steam still rises from pockets in the lava which only arrived in this spot about 16th August 2013!


Photo courtesy of Kert

Photo courtesy of Kert – Russian Volcano update site.

My photos above were taken on 1/10/ 2013.   This was taken on 16/08/2013.  That’s only 49 days between shots.  This is a living volcano.  As this very hot, rolling, moving lava cooled, it formed the ‘toothpaste’ lava.


P1120360  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120360 © DY of jtdytravels

And as we walked on and beside this lava, here and there in the mist, puffs of steam indicated that, not very far below us, there was still considerable activity in this volcano.  It was exhilarating, despite the cold.

And consider this: as we wandered our way in the foggy conditions along a rough path through the lava, we were allowed to be so close, and to walk on it without guide fences and signs warning of all sorts of calamity.  This was Far East Russia.  We were not in Australia, America or the UK where it seems someone else is so often sought to blame for our own ill-conceived actions.  Here, we were each responsible for our actions and had to take into account for ourselves the consequences of those actions.  Food for thought!  Mind you, we had been warned, verbally, to be very careful and our Russian guides kept a very close watch on each of us as we walked.


P1120365  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120365 © DY of jtdytravels

Wierd and wonderful shapes rose out of the mist.


P1120368  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120368 © DY of jtdytravels

Amazingly, some small plants growing in cinder beside the path, had been missed by the lava flow. This one, Saxifraga merkii  or Merk’s saxifrage,  is a pioneer plant on volcanic material.  It occurs from Eastern Siberia to Japan.


P1120367  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120367 © DY of jtdytravels

We walked on ever upwards, here, with Vika contrasting against the grey lava.  Autumn was nigh as these few leaves attest. Eventually,  we took a sharp right turn onto the flow itself and headed for an area that looked a bit hotter than elsewhere.


P1120369  ©  Dy  of  jtdytravels

P1120369 © Dy of jtdytravels

A deep hole of perhaps 50m by 50 m appeared in front of us.  Sasha took us one by one, by the hand, to the edge of that hole.  I heard the gasps and wows of appreciation, as well as some other expletives, as each of us took our turn to peer into the hole.  I thought, “Oh Yeah!  What can be so great that we haven’t seen before.”  Then it was my turn.


P1120370  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120370 © DY of jtdytravels

I looked down and only about 20m away, I saw the red hot magma, the stuff that the centre of the earth is made of!   WOW!   I, too, joined the chorus of expletives.  A truly unexpected moment.


P1120371  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120371 © DY of jtdytravels

With Sasha holding me steady with one hand, I took a couple of closer shots.


P1120372  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120372 © DY of jtdytravels

It was truly awe inspiring!   A moment that made all the travails of the day worthwhile.


P1120375  ©  Dy  of  jtdytravels

P1120375 © Dy of jtdytravels

We had been just in time to see this amazing sight.  As the last member of the group arrived at the edge of that hole, the weather turned for the worse.



Not only fog and rain but light snow had started to fall.  It was well and truly time to find our way down that track and get back off the mountain.


P1120383  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120383 © DY of jtdytravels

At one place, the path zigzagged around some slippages.  It was good that the light was a little better by the time we got to this spot!


P1120381  ©  DY  pf  jtdytravels

P1120381 © DY pf jtdytravels

 An exploded end of a piece of lava shining like silver or mercury.


P1120382  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120382 © DY of jtdytravels

Nature’s abstract art – lava; cooled, twisted and broken.


P1120386  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120386 © DY of jtdytravels

Eventually, at about 14h45 we arrived back onto the flatter part of this strange landscape.  We were wet, cold, tired, and very hungry … but so happy that we had taken that walk!


P1120387  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120387 © DY of jtdytravels

Lunch was a warm soup and it did us a world of good.  There was nothing planned for the rest of the day so some sat in the bus and did crosswords.  I, on the other hand, took the opportunity to curl up in the warmth of my sleeping bag for an hour of much needed rest.  My cold hadn’t left me as fit as I am usually.  But I was very glad I did that walk.


P1120388  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120388 © DY of jtdytravels

When I woke, it was all but time for dinner.  On this cold evening we had a warming and hearty fish soup with lots of chunky potatoes in it.  Bread and butter, tea and coffee and the inevitable sweet biscuits, chocolates and sweets followed.  It was still cold and wet but the rain seemed to be easing and as the night wore on the sky started to clear.


P1120392  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120392 © DY of jtdytravels

Steam and smoke could now be seen rising from the volcano.


P1120391  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120391 © DY of jtdytravels

The sky lightened a bit more and a few of us decided to take one more walk before bed.


P1120393  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120393 © DY of jtdytravels

It is indeed a strange landscape to walk in, especially at dusk.  These leaves again indicate that autumn is fast approaching in this part of the world.


P1120400  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120400 © DY of jtdytravels

There was no path, we just walked across the cinders.  Here and there were lines of plants, presumably growing in depressions caused by earlier walkers.


P1120401  ©    DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120401 © DY of jtdytravels

I was well rewarded with a very Turneresque sunset.

P1120404  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120404 © DY of jtdytravels

By the time I got back to the camp, some were already soundly asleep in their tents.  A couple of hardy souls were just leaving the fire, and I too, decided it was time to call it a day.  It had been a very good one…. despite the weather.


All photography Copyright  ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

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