For many of us, the closest we get to anything remotely resembling adventure is sitting curled up in our Snuggie, captivated as Bear Grylis wrestles a water buffalo into submission somewhere deep in Bhutan. For others, going on a real adventure means putting yourself in a place with the thrill of real life danger. Nothing says danger quite like getting up close and personal with a pissed-off volcano, and what better way to venture to the Pacific Rim of Fire than on skis?
If you have a fantasy apocalypse team comprised of ride-or-die road dogs, you probably won't be fully satisfied until you ski through deathly lava spewing out of a mountain top. Don't worry, we'll help point you toward the fire. Mount Tolbachik is the dream destination for you and any innocent virgins you may need to sacrifice. Some of you may be asking yourself, “Self, where in god’s name is this Mount Tolbachik?” While it sounds like a remote locate not far from Mordor. Mount Tolbachik is, in fact, in Russia. (No, you are not smarter than a 5th grader).
Tolbachik is part of a volcano range that sprawls across the eastern peninsula of Kamchatka, which some may recognize as being a province in the board game Risk or the part of Russia that Sarah Palin could see from her house, but in real life it is one of the last untamed wildernesses left on earth. The Peninsula is full of earth-shattering volcanoes that are often covered in snow. Imagine being dropped onto the mountain by way of helicopter and shredding through snow in the company of blistering volcanoes. Oh- did we mention that Kamchatka has the tensest current geo-political climate around right now?
Ditch the car. There are no roads connecting Kamchatka with other parts of Russia. Your best bet will be to fly into Moscow, Siberia, or Saint Petersburg and then grab a connecting flight to Petropavlovsk-kamchatsky "Elyzovo" Airport (PKC).
It can be hard to get around Kamchatka by yourself. There are two reasons – permissions required and the lack of public transport. Most of the area of Kamchatka is a closed and secured area. Some of it by the military reasons, some by the ecological ones. So, to move around you need to obtain special permissions. You can avoid obtaining any permission by opting into the Winter Safari Tour that can be purchased at 56th Parallel. The same tour that action photographer Tristan Shu and professional skier Adrien Coirier experienced on their trip to Kamchatka (see photograph 4). The tour includes helicopter tours, snowmobile safaris, skiing and a snowcat trip to Avacha Volcano.
Where to Stay
The Winter Safari Tour includes accommodations, three meals each day, entrance fees and any necessary equipment rental. While adventuring Earth's outer realm, stay in the North Adventures Hotel or Hotel Kamchatka as part of the tour package. Wake up to views of the sun as it rises up from the Pacific Ocean and greets the summits of smoking volcanoes.
The shimmer of heat coming off the lava provides a startling aesthetic contrast to the snow capped peaks that surround, creating a dramatic visual contrast that is literally insane to behold. Tolbachik last emitted lava out of its crevices in 2012, so things at the summit of the mountain are still pretty heated up. Think of it as a trip to the top of the Rockies, only with molten rock warming you instead of a campfire.
Being immersed in the sheer, unadulterated awe of our natural world usually provides for some pretty intense introspection, and with this journey you get the added bonus of refining your survival skills in the case of (possible) death by liquid magma engulfing you. It is a profoundly visceral experience.