Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kamchatka rocks my world

I'm sure I can work a geology joke from the title... - stay tuned.

Last post left me just arrived and already found some nice people to spend time with. One cool thing was Vasily's prospectus for studying in Australia. The photos for Sydney Uni were of the St Paul's College quad, and the harbour bridge from Milson's Point, which is a ferry wharf, not a uni. UNSW same story. Kudos to Macquarie for actually having a photo of their campus!

In other news, I was also published. Some honours work from last year finally matured to the point of being accepted by Optics Letters, so yay! Here's a link:
If you actually click it, and then read the abstract, and don't want to pay 35 dollars for further confusion, and your curiousity has not been quashed by the limpid prose and completely oblique subject matter, send me an email - I have a copy!

I heard some Russian jokes which I thought were funny. Probably after I tell them here they'll be eviscerated from the national memory (at the least), but here they are!
The Russians say that east of European Russia, there are no roads, only directions. *cue laugh!* This is actually not so far from the truth.
In response to one of my maps a friend stated "We have no maps of Magadan, except for one that Russian spies stole from the CIA - which must be that one!" Think about it!

Back to the narrative. Yesterday I got in touch with four local couchsurfers (and friends), and hung out for the day. The first problem was that none of the tour agencies I had researched on the web seemed to be in business anymore - the ghost web. Fortunately, the first Cser (Anna) works for a hotel which does tours, so I went there and signed over my life's savings for a helicopter ride (in a Mi-8!!!!!) to some valley with geysers or something. The important thing is that I nearly melted the ATM paying for it. 

The next couchsurfer I found was a 20 year old linguistics student called Julia, who spoke better English than I did. I knew nothing about her prior to our meeting except her telephone number, and was somewhat surprised to see such a young Cser, even with braids and stuff. Not to worry, Julia told me about her solo travel experiences in Japan last month, which was pretty impressive. Also, at long last, I found someone willing to swap swear words in the 10 or so languages I know them in! You would have thought any of the 15 truck drivers in Magadan could have taught me one each, but they were too bashful. Nevermind - the school girls know them all! (And most of the English ones too). It reminded me of a time in Japan a few years back when I conversed painfully with a girl in French (those of you who have heard me speak French will understand the pain), but who was very enthusiastic when it came to swapping dirty language. 

It wasn't all fun and games, however. We also discussed physics, atheism, stone skimming, dance styles, travel styles, and a few hundred other things! At some point we saw a police Uaz jeep in hot pursuit of something. That something is safe, however. Uazes have many virtues, and speed is not one of them! That evening we met some more people and climbed the central hill (again) to watch the sunset. Following this I went home and cooked an excellent dinner, then stayed up WAY too late using the internet.

Doing what, you may ask! Since no more photos have yet appeared. I did a backup yesterday. There are about 5000. I'm less than keen to start climbing that mountain! However, I was watching science revu ee videos on youtube. They've shot some really funny advertisements, (but for some reason they're not on youtube... =P). Still, the ones that are can be found here:

Other cool stuff in town is Vladimir Putin, who arrived yesterday (maybe). He will shortly be joined by Medvedev (the president) and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. They're opening a new church in town, and probably closing the airspace on the one clear day I have to fly around. But in any case, it's nice they could make it here for me!

4:30am the next morning I woke and took a cab to the rendezvous point for the climbing tour. We piled into minibuses and departed at 6am. The bus drove to the edge of the city then wound up a ashed filled creek, with plenty of bumps to test if 10 days had really mended my back post crash. No problems, and after the van navigated impossible potholes and washouts, we arrived at basecamp, where the advantage of paying became evident - free (sort of) food! After we took about 4 million photos of Avachinsky and Koryaksky volcano we set off. At this point I discovered on our tour was a translator from Moscow, who also spoke better English than me, so we had a great chat (while everyone else was huffing and puffing) about linguistics, case structure in Latin (and the untimely demise of the instrumental in said great language), walking style, volcanoes, helicopter maintenance techniques, and so on. Our guide insisted on maintaining a 10cm per step pace, which I (probably alone) found rather frustrating. I'm a great believer in minimising the number of steps by taking huge ones, but since the climb took about 6 hours over all, some degree of pacing wasn't a bad idea. Early on a few people flaked out - later on a few more people who should have flaked out opted instead to slow the group down, meaning that by the time we got to the summit we had a great view of the inside of a cloud. However, all was not lost - during a few moments on the ascent (sliding on 40 degree scree slopes with permafrost above terrifying glaciers, etc etc etc - think Mount Doom only with less hobbits) and on the summit the clouds cleared, affording an excellent view to more distant clouds covering the ground and surrounding volcanoes. Over the course of the day no fewer than 7 other major volcanoes were visible, the closest being (of course) Koryaksky, which is about twice as steep and also erupted last year.

Disapointingly, no eruption occurred today, so the climb was uneventful in that respect. A steam/ash plume from Gorely was visible in the distance. At the top the wind was very strong, the smell of sulfur pleasant (in my mind!), and the mountain steep. The summit is at 2714m, which is high enough to feel the effects of a thinner atmosphere. When climbing the more active volcanoes altitude sickness kicks in earlier and harder due to CO2 inhalation! SO2 forms sulfurous acid in your lungs, and thus climbing volcanoes is something which probably shouldn't be done every day!

The climb down could have taken about 15 minutes, but our guide decided instead to not opt for a 15% fatality rate and picked a speed that I would have liked going up! Even so, once the tricky permafrost section had been negotiated, thick gravel on a very steep slope made for a quick and soft descent. Often climbing down mountains is as hard as up, due to the constant jarring motion. In this case it was more of a semi controlled slide. I opted at the beginning not to take walking sticks (bipedalism is confusing enough for me!) and to everyone's surprise managed not to fall over, despite about 100 close calls! We dropped down 3 or 4 steep slopes in quick succession, filling our shoes with gravel and our hair with mist. At the bottom we piled into the almost sliflingly warm kitchen and were served salad and potato soup (the Russian staple) with an option for tea, biscuits, etc. Due to a series of complicated events I had been carrying food for someone who gave up very early on, so I had plenty to eat the whole day. Happiness!

We swapped email addresses, got back in the vans, and bounced back to the city. I returned to my (Denis') flat, had a wonderful hot shower (hot water works again in Russia after a month of repairs in summer = yay!), bought ingredients for anzac biscuits, but forgot to buy pasta (no matter, I'll live on biscuits for a week!), and made some plans for tomorrow.

In the meantime, I need to catch up on some sleep. I have photos, I have internet, if I have boredom, you will have photos. In the meantime, sit tight! (I uploaded five from the first day to facebook, if you're desperate!).


  1. I'm studying optics. Could you send me a copy of your paper mentioned in this article?


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