For once, I was cheeky: on the flight to Petropavlovsk I just sat on a window seat on the left hand side, while I officially had the centre seat. When the passenger for the seat arrived, she was too tired to protest, and slept during the flight. Even though I had skipped two nights, I was too excited to sleep: I had read that the approach was not to be missed, and that the best side to be, was on the left. After overflying Sakhalin and the Sea of Okhotsk, I noticed snow-capped mountains in the distance. As we approached, there appeared more and more mountains, and their pyramidal shapes easily gave them away as being volcanoes. My face was glued to the window, and my eyes were trying to take in the constantly changing landscape below me. The lower and closer we got, the more spectacular the views. The highlight was flying right next to the summits of Koryaksky and Avachinsky volcanoes. I looked straight into the crater of the latter volcano. On one side, black ash and stones were lying on top of the freshly fallen snow, smoke was constantly coming out of one of the most famous volcanoes of Kamchatka. After making a turn over the Pacific coastline, I saw Kamchatka from the other side, and the clear sky allowed me to see a chain of other volcanoes: Mutnovsky, Vilyuchinsky and Gorely among others, before flying over Avachinsky Bay to touch down at the airport. Wow - this surely must be one of the most beautiful approaches of all airports around the world! Once I was on the tarmac, I turned around to look at the mighty volcanoes that now looked so imposing with their whiter than white surface.
It is therefore with a lot of excitement that I look forward to the heli flight to the Valley of the Geysers, and back, two weeks later. In contradiction with the weather forecast, the skies are clear and this time, all passengers have a window seat, even though in these Russian MI-8 helicopters it means sitting with your back to the window. We all turn around to be able to see the great views below. Koryaksky and Avachinsky both look great, with clouds around their snowy peaks. But now, I am curious to see what lies behind: I have seen these sister volcanoes for more than a week now. We are heading north, and overflying a region with several groups of volcanoes. We see Zhupanosvky and Dzenzur, Vershinskaya to our left, fly low over mountain passes on our way north. After overflying a river snaking itself through the landscape below, excitement rises in the cabin as we are approaching Karymsky, one of the most active volcanoes of Kamchatka peninsula, and the last to have a big eruption. On our right, we see Lake Karymskoye, and then, a grey-brown cone with a thick plume of smoke coming out of its circular crater. The quintessential volcano. The pilots are so kind to fly around the cone, so we can all enjoy the spectacular views of the cloud of grey smoke filling the sky. We fly right at the level of the cone, giving us a very close look of the mountain. When we finally leave, we clearly see the black lava field contrasting sharply with the older green landscape surrounding and containing it. Shortly thereafter, we see another crater, this one filled with milky water - here, the pilots make sure we all get good views of the rugged beauty.
Before we even reach the Valley of Geysers, we see a large waterfall plunging down the edge of brown cliffs surrounded by vegetation that still has patches of green. We then see canyons where landslides presumably have taken their toll on the valleys and the forest that must have once covered the slopes. After visiting the Valley of Geysers and Uzon Caldera, flying out over the rim of the enormous caldera is yet another experience where you cannot but look in amazement about so much natural rugged beauty. We now head south, over plateaus which seem to have enormous ruts carved out by a giant hand. While some of the passengers now fall asleep, I am still nervously looking out of the windows on both sides of the helicopter, afraid to miss out on spectacular views. Mountain after mountain, we continue north until we land to take a dip in the Nalychevo hot springs. Our last stretch is to fly past my familiar friends: Koryaksky is partly covered in a layer of clouds, and Avachinsky still has a plume of smoke coming out of its snow-covered crater. Apart from seeing the Valley of Geysers and the Uzon Caldera, the flights over and past some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth has made this day unforgettable. When I leave Kamchatka a couple of days later, I am seated on the right, and take-off is towards the northwest, giving me the opportunity to say goodbye to the sight of both white crowns of Petropavlovsk from the sky.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kamchatka from the air (Russia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Kamchatka from the air. Read more about this site.