Chris and Laverna are an adventurous couple from Canada, who are not afraid of challenges. She’s 50 and he’s 54. They have visited several dozens of countries so far, on walking tours, ascents, rafting, with hundreds of new people met and cultures learnt. In 2013, the adventurers came to Russia.
Refined tourism is not for us
The delights of urban tourism didn’t attract the couple in Russia. What they were spellbound by was wild Kamchatka, its volcanoes, mountains, and vast expanses.
“It was long ago when I heard about your peninsula for the first time. In 2004, I lived in Montreal and once I watched a TV program about the Kluchevskaya Volcanic Group. I was so much impressed by a bird’s eye view of the local scenery that I decided to go here by all means,” Christian says with enthusiasm. “Then, we read a lot about Kamchatka in the Internet: about the Germans who biked across your forests, about a Canadian who lived in the Reserve for several years and grew up bear cubs… We were inspired by other people and made up our minds to go here.”
The couple arrived in Kamchatka in late May, 2013. They decided to explore the peninsula on their own, and neither poor infrastructure, nor ignorance of the Russian language could prevent them from doing it. The so called “refined tourism” was not what they wanted. The tourists settled quickly in the region’s capital after a number of failures to find a hotel for 3,000 rubles (about US $ 100 dollars in that year’s currency rate). As the hotels were reluctant to deal with foreigners traveling without a package tour, the couple put up in a hostel recommended by their Kamchatka friends from social networks.
Laverna and Christian are not rich. She cleans in private houses; he’s an engineer repairing household electric appliances. During their holidays, they like traveling. Chris has attained 10 personal achievements. He has ascended mountains in Argentina, Mexico, and Canada; he has biked a thousand kilometers and gone kayaking along the Amazon.
Laverna’s can’t boast with such experience. She’s a professional skier. But on difficult mountainous routes, she doesn’t compete with her husband; instead, she waits for him at the piedmont.
“Once, when my husband was ascending a mountain in Canada, I remained at the foot. I was waiting for him for 14 hours by the tent all alone. I was awfully nervous and didn’t know how to fill up the day. I looked in the binoculars, filed my nails, washed, walked, filed the nails again…. Thanks God everything was fine, and he returned unharmed. Of course, I’m scared when he leaves. Nevertheless, I let him go. He feels happy on the top of a mountain,” Laverna says.
Fear is a bad companion
It took Laverna and Chris a couple of weeks to see the city, go to the ocean and hot springs located near the region’s capital. They were surprised by high prices in the city and also by the residents’ careless attitude to nature. But they also underlined that Russians are kind and generous. Later, they set off for a big journey, which our fellow-townsmen called impracticable.
They aimed at the top of Kluchevskaya Sopka– the largest active volcano in Eurasia, located 800 km from Petropavlovsk. Tourists usually go there by all-terrain vehicles, buses, and off-road vehicles. Rarely, they do it by motorbikes. Chris and Laverna went there… by bikes.
“Aren’t you afraid of bears?” their friends questioned.
“We’ve heard hundreds of stories about bears; we saw them in the wild in Canada. If we run into a bear in Kamchatka, we know what we should do. As Russians say: ‘fear is a bad companion,’” the couple replied with a smile.
Not a bear but a cat
Their incredible adventure lasted over one month. Cold and picturesque landscapes, cutting winds and hospitable residents, fatigue and happiness of success… The Canadian travelers shared all details of their journey with the correspondent of Kamchatka Explorer.
“Yelizovo, Milkovo, Esso, Kluchi… Sometimes it was very hard, and we felt depressed, but very often everything was perfect, and we were happy we had come to Kamchatka. Luck accompanied us all the way. For example, on Mutnovsky Volcano, Chris lost his gloves, and we had to bike back to Yelizovo (about 200 km) to buy a new pair. You can’t travel without gloves. Later, we found the lost gloves in… Milkovo village! Chris turned out to have left them in one man’s car who had given us a lift. He accidentally met us in another village several days later.”
It was not the end of their troubles, it was just the beginning. In Milkovo, they were prisoners of an emergency situation. Due to high water in some areas of the peninsula, the road to Kluchi village (their destination) was closed by the local authorities.
“As we couldn’t stay in Milkovo long, we had to resort to a trick,” Laverna smiled. “After we had left Milkovo and reached the checkpoint, we outflanked it through the forest and continued moving in the direction of Esso village. The road was covered with water by 30 cm. It was hard and scary to bike. Therefore, we tried to stop trucks to hitchhike. First, Chris took the bikes and went to the wood where he remained while I was thumbing a lift, smiling. It took from 20 minutes to 4 hours to stop a truck, but finally some drivers picked us up.”
“The high water and the closed road happened to do us a favor and we could stay in Esso for two days,” Chris says. “We arrived there late at night. We failed to put up in a hotel as nobody opened the door, so we stayed in an ethnic-style tent – yurt. We were so tired that it even didn’t occur to us we could have settled in somebody’s place. At night, we heard a strange noise and thought it was a bear… Fortunately, it was only a cat (they’re laughing). By the way, we didn’t see any bear during the month traveling. We saw some footprints, not real animals.”
“We enjoyed Esso a lot,” Laverna adds. “We received a very warm welcome there. We slept in a hotel on good beds, talked to locals and ate salmon soup. It was delicious!”
Rusty-colored and mesmerizing
The salmon soup wasn’t the only treat the Canadians enjoyed. En route to Kluchi, the couple ran out of drinking water. In search of water sources, they came to a fisherman’s hut.
“The fishermen gave us some fish soup, vodka, and some provision to take with,” they smile. “We were happy to meet good people. But for them, we could have been in trouble. Snowmobile drivers, automobile drivers, and villagers – all these people helped us: some of them with water, some with food, some with advice. But there were also people who passed by ignoring us…”
When the Canadians were approaching Kluchi, they saw something unexpected. The giant Sheveluch Volcano began erupting on June 27. The villages located in its proximity were covered with volcanic ashes. However, Chris and Laverna didn’t realize at once they were witnessing an unusual phenomenon.
“We thought it was the dust from the passing cars. But the dust was weird. There was a plenty of it, covering the grass for one centimeter. We knew it was ash only when we arrived in Kluchi. We had never seen this before. Rusty-black ‘snow flakes’ falling from the sky in July is a mesmerizing sight.”
A house by the volcano
The most difficult test for the Canadians was the ascent to Kluchevskaya Sopka and … permanent fog.
“The fog had been with us all the way, since we came to Kluchi. Upon arrival, we were eager to see Kluchevskaya Sopka, but everything was hidden in the fog,” Laverna says, “suddenly, the grey veil disappeared, disclosing the giant’s peak.” “Laverna, look here! It’s Kluchevskaya Sopka!” Chris exclaimed. “However, while I was turning my head in its direction, the veil had covered the peak in just two seconds. I could see the volcano only two days later.”
It was Yuri Demyanchuk who showed a path to Kluchevskoy Volcano. On the site, they used maps.
“Most of all we were afraid of running into military people (there is a military camp and “Kura” missile test site nearby Kluchi – editor’s mark). We didn’t want to be mistaken for spies; therefore, we tried to leave the area as fast as we cloud, although it looked totally deserted,” Laverna laughs. “After we had reached Kluchevskoy, we began looking for a good place to stay overnight. A strong wind was blowing all the time at the volcano’s base. A powerful gust blew our tent away. We caught it finally, but it was ripped and all in holes, and reminded one of a sieve. We had to patch it. Then Chris, looking for a shelter, found a house. It was totally unexpected. The house stood at the foot of the volcano! Before the ascent we had told dozens of people, including volcanologists, about our plans, but nobody mentioned the house. We were so much excited that we had found it. It seems to have been built by Kamchatka mountaineers…”
God thanks you are alive!
The ascent to the volcano lasted 12 hours. Laverna was waiting for her husband at the bottom, as the climb was too difficult for her.
“I set off early in the morning,” Chris recollects. “It was very cold, but several hours later it became much warmer, and rocks began to roll down the mountain on the melted snow. Suddenly, I saw a huge boulder falling in my direction. Then it broke into pieces, and now I was threatened by an array of smaller boulders. It’s a miracle I could survive. I hoped to rest a bit on the top, but my plans changed. Atop, it was hot like in a furnace. I could feel my trekking boots melting. In a minute, it was difficult to breathe – volcanic gases almost choked me. I realized I couldn’t stay there any longer. The self-preservation instinct made me run down. Usually, I spend an hour or so on the summit, enjoying the view and my personal triumph. But this time everything was different. The fact I could escape death on Kluchevskoy, astonished me most of all. I was unbelievably happy I could survive…”
Lean and happy
The Canadians returned home happy, but they lost 10 kg each.
“When we leave for Canada, Chris always feels light nostalgia about the place he’s visited,” Laverna says. “I’m, on the contrary, absolutely happy that I’m going back home. I’m happy not only to return to Canada, but also to sit on my sofa again, to see my fridge, my bed, to take care of my flowers… But it doesn’t mean I dislike traveling…”
“We think if everything goes smooth during the holiday, it’s a bad holiday,” Chris adds. “We love adventure, and Kamchatka is a perfect place for this. Maybe, someday we’ll come back here…”
The Canadians left the peninsula in late July. In Alberta, Chris and Laverna’s family awaited – their parents, son, and a little granddaughter. Next year, the adventurous couple is thinking of going to the Himalayas. They also dream of conquering several caves and of kayaking near Alaskan shores.
To learn more about schedules, tickets, and fares from Alaska to Kamchatka, click here.
This article was published with permission from The Kamchatka Explore Magazine. Author: Natalya Panina