Attempting the first ski and snowboard descent, respectively of Eurasia,s largest active volcano. Klyuchevskaya Sopka 4750M.
Now thats a volcano!!
Kamchatka, Eastern Russia. Our expedition was achieve the first successful ascent and descent by ski and snowboard respectively, of the largest active volcano in Eurasia. Klyuchevskaya Sopka. At 4750M and part of the ring of Fire, A mountain range containing the most active volcanoes on the earth. This was not going to be a walk in the park.
After a plane journey across Russia followed by a grueling 10hr 4x4ride across gravel tracks, we arrived exhausted at the remote outpost of Klyuchi. This was the closest starting point, just above sea level, to the massive volcano we were attempting to climb. We settled into the only hotel for a night, not even worthy of a one star rating, but this would be our last bit of luxury for the next two weeks. From our window we could see clearly the summit of the volcano poking out proudly from the surrounding foothills.
We loaded the skidoos and trailers and set off for our intended basecamp 25km through the sprawling foothills to the open plane above the village where the mountains started to get steep. Alas the weather gods were not on our side and a brutal wind made navigation in the blowing snow impossible. After a welcomed extra night in the hotel, we tried again in a couple of days with more success.
We searched for a relatively protected basecamp out of the wind on the lower slopes of the volcano so we could dig in and figure out which would be the best and safest way to both climb and descend the volcano. It was very bleak on the high plato and we knew we were exposed.
Halted once more by the wind and tough conditions for the snowmobiles, we opted to continue the approach on foot pulling the weight on pulks to make the foot of the mountain where the climb would start properly. As we got nearer the scale became apparent.
After a few acclimatisation outings, The volcano started an eruption cycle spitting out large clouds of volcanic ash which settled on the snow giving it an negative image. Our ski lines showing white on the black snow backdrop. It was actually quite fun to ski as the heat of the ash and the salty effect was melting the surface mimicking spring snow skiing conditions in minus 20oC temperatures.
After returning from a higher camp at a volcanologist hut
high on the shoulder of the pass, we were hit by a severe storm, Despite the tents being heavily protected by double layer snow walls, the strength of the wind, picking up falling rock from the eruption, then firing them like bullets. Three of our tents eventually gave way and collapsed under the onslaught. All we could do was wait it out patiently in an emergency snow-hole.
This time the mountain quite convincingly said no. Despite all the planning and research on the best time to attempt this, we just never got the weather window. The eruption was always a possibility and that just added to the danger. The reason the mountain has only been summited a handful of times is apparent. Many climbers have died trying. The lines remain un-skied from the summit crater. I hope that the first descent will be from a ski-mountaineer good enough and brave enough to climb it, and not rely on an endless budget a helicopter trip to the top.
The aftermath of the storm left us with a difficult decision to make. With the tents damaged beyond repair and another onslaught forecast the following day according to our sat phone uplink. There was just one day to push for the summit. The temperatures had dropped further and with high wind still visible on the top, it would have just been to dangerous to continue.