Interview with Secret Compass’ Phil de Berger: Life on an Adventure Expedition in Kamchatka, Russia.

Photo credit: Secret Compass

Secret Compass is an expedition and adventure travel company operating in the world’s wildest places. They run high-risk and extreme projects for brands, TV & film. Expedition leader Phil de Berger who has run Kamchatka trips for several years, discusses his personal journey in adventure travel and life on expedition in Kamchatka.

Q: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and Secret Compass. Why did you decide to pursue a career in the adventure travel industry?

I’ve always been into climbing and the outdoors, when I was 16 I spent a week doing work experience as a computer programmer. I was working on a vacant desk as the usual occupant was away on a snowboarding holiday. I read some of his snowboarding magazines and decided I’d rather be the guide than the guy desperately waiting all year for his trip. I then studied outdoor education for two years before starting work as an outdoor instructor in Scotland. I worked in Scotland for 3 years teaching survival skills on a series of small Hebridian islands. Between the seasons, I was fortunate enough to get on some big expeditions climbing new rock routes through Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt one year, Skiing 300 miles between Resolute Bay and Grise Fjord in the Canadian Arctic the next. The following year, I won a competition to go to the North Col of Everest with Ellis Brigham and Mountain Equipment! This catapulted me into big expeditions. I’ve been in the Outdoor industry for 12 years now and I’ve been working with Secret Compass for the last 4 years.

Secret Compass is an adventure travel company based in England. They tend to go to places that are less well travelled. I’ve led for them in Iraqi Kurdistan, Kamchatka, North Sudan and Georgia.

Photo credit: Secret Compass

Q: What is a typical day on the job and what do you enjoy the most?

There are no typical days. I fly out before the teams to sort logistics and contingencies. Once an expedition is going we generally get into a bit of a rhythm. Because it’s an expedition the team is involved. In Kamchatka the team gets involved with the cooking and water collecting.

Photo: Volcanologist hut in Kamchatka, Courtesy of Secret Compass

Q: For those who have never been to Kamchatka, what are the top 3 reasons to go in the summer?

The biggest draw for me is the wilderness. In the Himalayas I’m generally no more than half a day’s hike from a village but in Kamchatka we can be a several days walk from anywhere. The Salmon is also an attractive feature, I’m not a fisherman but I do enjoy some smoked Salmon for lunch. You also have to see Klyuchevskaya Sopka, it’s a stunning volcano that looms over it’s neighbours.

Photo credit: Secret Compass

Q: What is your personal favorite place or activity on Kamchatka and why?

I enjoy hiking up the volcanoes, it’s magical when you have the cloud below you and then volcanoes all around you breaking through. I also like to look down the craters. Often we get to see the lava coming down some of the volcanoes and a few of them puffing away.

Photo credit: Secret Compass

Q: What countries do your travelers come from and what are their interests and/or expectations?

Our groups come from all over. They come for very different reasons. We’ve had professional geologists drawn by the volcanoes, players of the board game RISK wanting to visit that ever so strategic square, photographers drawn by the potential for stunning photos, some come for the wilderness and others for the wildlife.

Q: What do your travelers enjoy the most in your Kamchatka expeditions?

The teams love seeing the brown bears, we normally see around 9. However we have to stay quite far away from them, so a good zoom lens DSLR is a handy bit of kit to have.

Q: Could you share some travel advice for westerners who come to Kamchatka for adventure travel?

Kamchatka has lots to offer, sea kayaking, heliskiing, volcano trekking and fishing are pretty popular. I’d suggest you plan well ahead to make the most but my preference is to get into the wilderness and hike some volcanoes.

Photo credit: Secret Compass

Q: Can you share one or two of the most memorable experiences from your recent expeditions?

We’ve been lucky enough to see some bear cubs on the last two trips, this was pretty special.

Q: What are some of the mistakes you often see when people plan their Kamchatka travel?

It’s definitely worth having a local guide to organise transport into and out of the wilderness, help with visas and permits and to break down the language barrier. They also provide a lot of useful knowledge in the hills. I work closely with a local guide and we share the leadership responsibilities.

Photo credit: Secret Compass

Q: You are regularly doing things “at work” most of us only get to do on vacation. What do you do when you are off work?

Right now I’m studying for the Diploma in Mountain Medicine with the University of New Mexico but normally I like to go to the mountains with my friends, this is when I get to challenge myself. Most years I go to the Karakoram with my friend Pete, to climb 20000+ft virgin peaks.

Q: Is it possible for travelers from the US to join your trips? How would they learn more?

Yes, they can check out

Published on May 8, 2018

Useful Links & Resources:
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Interview with Rene Limeres: On Kamchatka, Writing and Fishing.

Adventures in The Russian Far East: Interview with Vadim Mamontov, Director & Founder of RussiaDiscovery Travel Company

Alaskan’s Adventures in Kamchatka: Interview with Scott McMurren

How Was Your Trip to Kamchatka? Traveler Janet Read Answers Our Questions

Interview with Michael Schneider, Adventurer & Founder of 56th Parallel

Questions with Martha Madsen: Adventure Travel Specialist on Kamchatka, Russia

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