Kamchatka geographical review

The Kamchatka peninsula in the East of Siberia, an area of almost 370,000 square km, stretches 1,200 km from South to North, and is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of about 100 km across, and is the only place in the whole of Russia which has a number of active volcanoes.  Twenty-nine of these volcanoes are arranged in a line (bar one), which follows the Eastern range of peaks — beginning with the Kosheleva/Cambalney group of volcanoes on the Кuril islands which extend to the south of the peninsula, and ending in the north with Shiveluch beyond the settlement of Klyuchi. Besides these, the Kamchatka landscape is formed by 400 extinct volcanoes, many ancient but with comparatively young lava streams, and from the West of the range to the seaboard of Okhotsk, a gigantic marsh extends the whole length of the peninsula.

Also in Kamchatka is one of the most active volcanic areas on Earth — if measured according to the amount of excreted (erupted) material. In the centre of Kamchatka there is a group of volcanoes, which include Shiveluch, Bezymyanny and Tolbachik, and ahead of them all is Klyuchevskaya (now 4,750m), which is the most active volcano in Eurasia.  From the beginning of October to the end of May their slopes are covered in snow and for the majority of areas in Kamchatka, there is a short summer which begins in May-June and ends with the first frosts at the end of September.   The South of Kamchatka, washed on the West by the sea of Okhotsk and on the East by the Pacific, is characterized by unstable weather, particularly by a large amount of precipitation in very late Autumn. The Mutnovsky volcano area, for example, 80 km to the south of Petropavlovsk is, according to average snowfall, a record-breaking  part of the world and only concedes to the southern ice cap in Patagonia (Chile).

The climate in central Kamchatka , which is cut off from the sea by long lines of peaks, is more continental, with a cold winter and hot summer and with less precipitation and more varying temperatures.  Areas with a high concentration of volcanoes, especially the ancient volcanic plateau, have a microclimate that is sometimes strongly different to the climate of nearby valleys.

The specific character of tourist activity in Kamchatka is dictated by the specific and climatic conditions of the peninsula.  Kamchatka in itself is unique in that it is a very attractive place to tourists.   It is possible to pick out four main types of activity in which Kamchatka finds few comparators from different parts of East Siberia – these, of course, are going to see active volcanoes and hot springs, observing bears in their natural habitat, fishing salmon and going on skiing tours right up to mid-June. At the present time the volcano with the most visitors is the Avachinsky (2,741m), which is situated 30 km from Petropavlovsk and next to volcanoes Gorely (1,828m) and Mutnovsky (2,323m).  All three are active and potentially dangerous to nearby inhabitants and, for this reason, they are kept under close observation.  However, the most active volcanoes, Klyuchevskaya Sopka and Bezymyanny, are situated in the centre of Kamchatka and are susceptible to the potentially catastrophic eruption of Shiveluch.  These volcanoes also pose a direct threat to the Klyuchi and Kozairevsk settlements and, for this reason, are closely observed by the Klyuchevskaya science station.  Furthermore, in the centre of Kamchatka is situated the not-very-high, (just under 1,500m) but extremely active volcano Karimsky, which is under episodical observation cause of its far away outstanding.

Traditionally, on the weather-front, the best month to visit Kamchatka has been August.  However, recently this has not been the case.  In 2003, for example, there was heavy rainfall in the southern part of Kamchatka during the first half of August, which only ceased in September.  But, as if to make up for it, the central part of Kamchatka in July was unusually hot.  This year, 2006, is quite the contrary as, in the South, spring was very late and surprisingly hot, there was practically no rain in July and August and the rain only began in September, when, statistically, would be expected cool, clear days.  Also, in the centre and in the South, during the middle of October 2000, there were snow-storms and steady snow while the October of 2003 was surprisingly warm and very wet.  In the beginning of May 2002, the snow on the plateau bordering the central volcanoes unexpectedly thawed, while in 2006,  in April it was still full-blooded winter with low temperatures and hurricane-force winds.  Such statistics make it very difficult to know the right time to visit Kamchatka.  However, it is most likely that companies offering summer tours stick to the same timetable: the end of June to the end of September and for the winter — April to May (but up to June in the south).

Just a little about bears and fishing.  Bears pass through the rivers independently of the migration of salmon and of the quantity or alternative feed in the tundra zone.  In the case of a late spring, like in 2006, the majority of bears, even in September, depend upon the river for food because of unripe berries and cones of dwarf Siberian pines. On the other hand, when they ripen too early, as in 2005, even in August, there are comparatively few bears in the.  Regarding salmon, the first, and the strongest type of salmon – chinook — begins its journey along the rivers according to the flow of the Okhotsk sea in the middle of June, but the longest-travelling salmon – the kizhuch – carries on right up to December.   The greatest number of bears can be seen in the rivers flowing west in the middle and end of July.

With regard to skiing, as experience has shown, the slopes of the volcanoes in southern Kamchatka are far more suitable for ski-tours than those in the centre, which have cause of strong winds, stones and ice above 1500 m.


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