Kamchatka wild and untamed

The Kamchatka Peninsula is wild and untamed. It measures 1250 km long and 480 km wide at its largest point. The landmass is a 370,000 km² peninsula. Kamchatka peninsula is wild and untamed. Furthermore, the peninsular juts into the Pacific Ocean and juts off the eastern coast of Russia, north of Japan, and across the Bering Sea from Alaska.

Map of Kamchatka
Kamchatka wild and untamed
Map of Kamchatka

Kamchatka opened for tourism in 1990. Before that, it was closed, as it was a military base for missile testing. As a result, transport, accommodation, and infrastructure remain very limited. Travelling throughout the peninsula is either by converted all-wheel-drive KAMAZ trucks or Mi-8 helicopters. Because of high security in the area, permits are required for all travel and tourism in Kamchatka.

Trekking the wild and untamed Kamchatka
Kamchatka wild and untamed
Trekking over the snowy landscapes

The climate in Kamchatka is very unstable and comprises several climate zones due to its geographical location and thermal activity.

Kamchatka volcanic landscape
Volcanic landscape

As a result of its location, the Kamchatka peninsula has frequent strong winds, fog, snowstorms, and rains, typically all year round. Additionally, the surrounding seas and air currents all influence the weather. Summer is dull, rainy, and cool, with an average daily temperature of 10c. Winter is snowy, with strong winds and an average daily temperature of -20c. January is the coldest month. For 50% of the year, Kamchatka always is covered in snow. The best time to visit is during summer, from July – mid-September.

Ilyinsky volcano at Kuril Lake
Ilyinsky volcano on Kuril Lake
Picturesque

Notably, Kamchatka has been described by many as “one of the most picturesque places in the world”. Two main reasons come to mind why one would want to go to Kamchatka. Firstly, one is brown bears, and secondly volcanoes. Lastly, trekking, fishing, rafting, surfing and mountain climbing are also popular reasons. Heli-skiing is a popular favourite in winter.

Volcanic landscape of Kamchatka
Kamchatka wild and untamed
Volcanic landscape

There are around 300 volcanoes in Kamchatka; 29 are still active. Four to seven volcanoes erupt annually. UNESCO has deemed Kamchatka ‘a world heritage site.’

Karymskoye Crater Lake of Akademiya Nauk
Kamchatka wild and untamed
Karymskoye Crater Lake of Akademiya Nauk, and active volcano
Karmysky volcano, Kamchatka Peninsula
Aerial view of Karymsky volcano, currently the most active volcano on the Kamchatka peninsula
Maly Semychik volcano
Maly Semyachik volcano crater lake. The turquoise waters of this lake are poisonous due to the content of several types of acids and other chemical compounds.

Kamchatka has the largest density of brown bears globally, estimated to be 20,000 of these magnificent individuals, roaming the enchanting forests and lake areas. The peninsula also has beautiful mountains, lava fields, forests, and geysers.

Enchanting forests
Enchanting forests
Spring flowers, Kamchatka
Kamchatka wild and untamed
Spring flowers
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky ~ the Capital

Kamchatka’s capital is Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the second-largest isolated city in the world. The other is Iquitos, in Peru.

Flying into the capital city, you can see snow-capped mountains and Kamchatka’s natural harbour. Kamchatka is home to around 240,000 people, half of Kamchatka’s total population. Unfortunately, the peninsula has no roads or railways which connect to the rest of Russia. 

Aerial view of Petropavlovski-Kamchatka
Aerial view of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
Avacha volcano
Kamchatka wild and untamed
Avacha volcano from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
Kamchatka’s mode of travel

Travelling around the peninsula is either by large all-wheel-drive KAMAZ converted trucks or Mi-8 helicopters. 

The advantage of travelling via helicopter allows for great aerial views of the landscapes, the volcanoes and craters. 

Mi-8 helicopter
M1-8 helicopter travel
Kamaz truck
Kamchatka wild and untamed
Converted KAMAZ truck for travelling overland on the rough terrain and typical accommodation!

Kurilskoye or Kuril Lake

A 200 km helicopter flight south to the bottom tip of the peninsula takes you to the very remote Kuril Lake. The crater lake is the epicentre for the brown bears of Kamchatka.

Kuril Lake is home to around 20,000 brown bears ~ a must for wildlife and bear lovers. It also has the largest concentration of spawning sockeye salmon in Eurasia. As a result, millions of salmon swarm the lakes between July and September, attracting hundreds of brown bears to gorge on fresh salmon.

Lucky catch for brown bear
Lucky catch
Spawning salmon
Spawning salmon

Russian bears are amongst the largest bears globally, which is due to their rich diet of salmon and berries (blueberries, cranberries, and honeysuckle berries). Therefore, maintaining their body weight is crucial for survival for the long periods these bears spend in hibernation during the winter, which can be up to 6months. They can weigh up to 700 kg and eat up to 45 kg of salmon a day. 

Dancing brown bears
Dancing bears

Many bear crazy photographers frequent this area each season with their huge 600mm lenses, and thankfully, the bears do not seem to be bothered by human presence and telephoto lenses. However, armed guards are always present combined with the mandatory 10-metre distance from all wildlife.

Checking out the scene
Checking out the scene
Standing bear
Standing bear
Camera shy bear
Camera shy bear!

Some of the trip’s highlights were the amusing exchanges between bear cubs as they playfully pawed each other on land and in the water.

Brotherly love
Brotherly love
Kuril Lake reflections
Kuril Lake reflections
Kuril Lake accommodation
Kuril Lake accommodation
Valley of the Geysers

Valley of the Geysers is 180 km northeast of the capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. It has the second-largest concentration of geysers in the world. There are around 90 geysers that periodically expel huge volumes of hot water and steam up from the ground. Situated in a canyon 4 km wide, 8 km long, and around 400 m deep, the Geysernaya river flows through this canyon. 

Valley of the Geysers
Kamchatka wild and untamed
Helicopter ride to Valley of the Geysers
Geysernaya River flowing through the Valley of the Geysers
Kamchatka wild and untamed
Geysernaya River flowing through the Valley of the Geysers
Kamchatka Conservation status

The main threats for the Kamchatka brown bears are poaching and over-harvesting salmon (their primary food source), and habitat loss.

Poaching

Bear poaching is very common, due to the high demand for bear parts in China and other parts of Asia. An estimated 500-1500 bears are poached annually. In addition, excessive over-fishing of salmon has significantly decreased the bears’ food source.

Hunting

Quota systems are in place to control the hunting of the bears, however, they are poorly regulated. Uncontrolled trophy hunters target large, dominant male bears, which changes the social dynamics of the bear population. Approximately 300 bears are killed annually from the Kamchatka Peninsula. Local hunters also kill the bears as a source of dog food and recreational activity.

Sow with her two cubs, Kamchatka
Habitat Loss   

Kamchatka is rich in minerals (gold, platinum, and other minerals). However, unmonitored oil, gas, and mineral exploration and development also threaten the wildlife habitat, leading to smaller wildlife habitats. In addition, the exploitation of Kamchatka’s mineral resources allows poachers to access previously inaccessible areas of the peninsula, affecting both the salmon and bear population.

There are no regulations to protect bear habitats, control hunting and poaching of bears and salmon, and uncontrolled tourism.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) works in Kamchatka to control bear poaching and overfishing. They are also working with mining companies to reduce their negative impacts on the environment and protect the natural resources and ecosystems and the bear’s habitats. 

Resources

https://russia.wcs.org/en-us/wildlife/kamchatka-brown-bears/conservation-threats.aspx

https://wwf.ru/en/regions/kamchatka/

https://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/2520

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