It’s not unusual, when I’m off on an adventure in some far-flung corner of the world, to be eating some unfamiliar fare… But this gritty feeling inside my mouth was something else entirely. How did I get these minute lava particles between my teeth? Oh yes, it must be that huge volcano erupting some 9,000 feet above my head!
I spit out the grit, and grin — I’ve just had a taste – literally – of the enormous eruption of Mt. Karymsky on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far-eastern Russia. Our small group of Nat Hab Expedition members is camped in the flowering white rhododendron fields just three miles from the one of the most active volcanoes on earth. It erupts every three to five minutes, sending glowing chunks of magma and black dust thousands of feet into the air, accompanied by booming explosions.
What a great place to be feeling alive! Here, you can really sense how our earth is constantly being re-created by powerful natural forces, and there’s no better place to experience it than in this remote spot along the northern arc of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
And remote it surely is — there are no people here but us. In fact, in the seven years that our experienced guides have been running our Kamchatka Hiking & Kayaking Adventure, we have never met any other travelers. Absolutely zero tourists! It’s hard to believe, given the spectacle above us. As my tent partner exclaims in wonder, “This is how northwestern Alaska must have looked before humans came along!” Indeed.
The only inhabitants we are assured of meeting are Kamchatka brown bears (Ursus arctos beringianus), also known as the Far Eastern brown bear. The Kamchatka Peninsula is home to the highest recorded density of brown bears on earth. On our trips last year we had a half-dozen bear sightings – some of them very close. One occurred while we were paddling down the mellow Zhupanova River: as we rounded a bend above a small rapid, we spied a big female bear standing in the middle of the river. She raised her head, snorted in a friendly sort of way and slowly meandered ashore while we stared in awe and held tight to our paddles.
Our Russian guides assured us that the Kamchatka Brown bears are not aggressive – they haven’t been acculturated to humans like the Alaska subspecies that is their close relation. That’s what they said, anyway (and I guess we survived to prove it).
The other special wildlife sighting on this trip is the Steller’s sea eagle – one of the rarest and largest eagles on earth. We always see them near the Pacific Ocean, where our two weeks of traversing the Kamchatka Peninsula by foot and kayak comes to an end. This muscular bird’s most distinctive feature is its enormous yellow beak, with which it catches the huge Pacific salmon for which the Zhupanova River is famous.
I could go on with tales of unplanned events on previous trips (such as climbing with backpacks through the treetops to cross swollen creeks, and being interrogated by the KGB when they swooped down on us in a helicopter in the deep wilderness to essentially extort a bribe, gorging on fresh-caught salmon caviar with large spoons) — and I am sure the next trip will create some new adventures as well.
And that is the point – to expect the unexpected on these kinds of Natural Habitat Expeditions! In my mind, that is what true adventure is all about. Of course, this trip is not for everyone. But for the hardy, fit and avid who have a burning desire to see some of the last true wilderness on the planet, who won’t be bothered by a little virgin grit in the mouth – this trip is for you!
I would love to tell you more about this amazing adventure. If you have kayaking and hiking experience, and that desire to go the extra mile when you’re out there, then contact me at (800) 543-8917 (ask for Olaf) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll talk further. You do need to be prequalified for this expedition, so let’s get going!
Yours for True Adventure,
Olaf Malver is CEO (Chief Exploratory Officer) of Natural Habitat Expeditions