All translations for this page: Other translations for this page:

In the hell valley of Genesis

»Don’t hold it against us that we often travel over you as though we forget all fear. We are afraid enough. But what’s to be done?« That is how in 1774 the adventurer and researcher Georg Wilhelm Steller once acknowledged his respect for the land of Kamchatka. And today? We set off with a good portion of positive tension.

Text: Matthias Mederer Photo: Matthias Mederer 06.09.2019 4 min

»There is only one possible color for our expedition vehicle,« I let my colleague know at the airport in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the capital: »Lava Orange«. He hesitates briefly, pointing out that this was already the launch color of the Cayenne Coupé and that this combination had perhaps already been seen in the media once or twice. But I remain stubborn. Then I show him a report from the German Press Agency: »Extinct believed volcano bubbles again«. And the text goes on to say that volcanoes in which there hasn't been much activity for a long time are particularly dangerous. With active volcanoes the energy cannot accumulate inside, with inactive volcanoes it is different. »An eruption can be catastrophic,« says one expert. If the Bolschaja Udina volcano actually erupts, the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research writes in June, the consequences could be devastating, not only for Russia. Of course, only a car in Lava Orange makes sense. This now also makes sense to my colleague. It doesn't make him any more relaxed. We roll off. Everything is still quiet.

We are nine time zones east of Moscow, between the Bering Strait and the Sea of Okhotsk, a place about which it is said that nowhere else hell and heaven are so close to each other as here. It is the middle of August, the brown bears leave the woods and go hunting - preferably for salmon. The adult Grizzlys are said to weigh almost 900 kilograms, the largest of their kind. Around 30,000 bears live on the peninsula, which is as big as France. They share the land with about 350,000 people. On average, around 30 people lose their lives every year in a bear encounter. While on a trip through Germany we like to rely on safety features such as an automatic distance control with lane departure warning system, here, in most situations we rely on a ranger with a rifle. One thing up front: no animal was harmed for this story. People, neither. Apart from the occasional mosquito bites.

Driving the Porsche Cayenne Coupé through Kamchatka is not a big problem in some parts. The off-road capabilities are sufficient for the roughest unevenness of the existing paths and tracks. Only there, where one takes offroad literally, it becomes difficult even for the Porsche. But basically this applies to any form of vehicle. Unless it is an aircraft. We switch to the helicopter. And with that we switch our perspective.

Many regions of Kamchatka can still only be reached by air today. Fortunately for the Grizzlys. If there were roads or even only halfway passable roads, poachers would have dramatically decimated the bear population long ago. Over 1,300 kilometres, from north to south, Kamchatka stretches as an almost deserted subarctic wilderness, characterised by green tundra and black lava rock. From a bird's eye view, the country looks like an idyll from an advertising film for untouched wilderness. But the sight is deceptive. In fact, a powder keg lies beneath you. And it's only a matter of time before the pressure becomes too great.

For two million years, the tectonic elemental forces of the Pacific Plate have been working their way under the Eurasian Plate. During the last major eruption - in 1984 - the Goreli volcano blew off the entire tip of its cone in a gigantic mountain of fire. What remains are crater lakes with boiling sulphuric acid - hot, stinking. »The forecourt to hell should be pretty much like this,« the colleague yells over as we fly over the landscape in a helicopter again. I nod in agreement. Although I also have no idea of the forecourt of hell, but to imagine that this is a true biotope for ghost and demon stories is not difficult. Until 100 years ago the volcanoes were a taboo for the natives, only the shamans came here to ask for mercy from the gods. Meanwhile geoscientists cavort here regularly. For them, Kamchatka is a gigantic open-air laboratory. A Russian extreme sportsman and former skysurfing world champion performed a particularly crazy stunt in 2009. Valery Vladimirovich Rosov jumped with a wingsuit suit from a helicopter over the active Mutnowski volcano and landed on an ice surface in the crater. We stay at a safe distance.

It is almost impossible to experience and process the impressions of this country in just two days. Adventure trips to Kamchatka usually take longer. One should plan two to three weeks for this. Everyone at the campfire agrees on that in the evening. Local youths perform a traditional dance. In addition there is red caviar on white bread with butter. And a glass of vodka. To make the volcanic spirits mild. It helps. Because everything remains quiet until the next day's departure.