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Can any body tell me the way to Novosibirsk?

Can any body tell me the way to Novosibirsk?
Vladivostok, Russia

Vladivostok, Russia


Back in Vladivostok for a brief airport transit. Misty and cool. It’s mid-evening. And nobody in transit seems to be able to tell me where and when the flight to Western Siberia’s capital, Novosibirsk, is leaving! They’ve all headed for the smokers room. That Kamchatka air must have been too much for them.


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Old Flares & Rauschak Ravines

Old Flares & Rauschak Ravines
Radygina, Russia

Radygina, Russia



The climb up Avachinskaya Volcano (2741 m.a.s.l.) on Wednesday 18th July 2012 has to be one of the toughest walks I’ve ever done!

I got to base camp on Tuesday afternoon (with some great help from Martha at the Yelisovo B&B) and as I grabbed my greatly reduced backpack with pure essentials for my 24-hour time in this land of volcanic giants (volcanoes Koryakskaya (3456m) and Avachinskaya loomed above me), Vladimir, who’d driven me in his 4WD the 35 km up the dusty track that follows the rough pyroclastic-filled washout (from snow melt) to base camp, turned to me from inside the car and handed me a cardboard cannister. I looked at the faded text in Russian on it’s surface. It had pictures of Siberian tigers on it, but I assumed it was a bear flare. He quickly instructed me on its use, showing me with mimed actions, which amounted to “pull here and point at bear there”. This is favoured Russian self-defense device. Given it had come from his glove box and was so worn from rolling around in there for so long I doubted it’s field worthiness. But I took it with gratitude and grimaced couragously as Vladimir sped off in a plume of dust. He’d be back at 18:00 hours tomorrow to pick me up.

I explored this amazing location, made friends with the Kamchatka marmots, dreamed when the cold mist came through and bound me tight as I sat on the lime-lichen encrusted rocks and the alpine herbfields over light volvanic tuff, and marvelled at the spine-tingling views when it lifted as calmily as it came.

I stayed in a little hut in my sleeping bag. Starting the next morning at 05:15 local time from base camp at an altitude of 900 metres I set off alone across the various ravines, rock hopping and snow-pack crunching at times. The wierd fields of ant-hill-like soil structures (conical in shape and of varying sizes) atop the snow-packs had me wondering how they ever formed.

Many guided and private groups were to be trailing me up the mountain by the time I summited alone after seven long hours of solid pyroclastic scree-sliding-backwards-steps to the sulfurous and lava-field-plugged cone. The last hour was interminable. I was seriously fatugued. I even felt a slight vertigo, which is rare for me. And I thought to myself why go on. Why? But I did. And I’m glad. But I can tell you that as I approached the slope change where the grey-black pyroclasts turn to oxidised red and the angle of repose on the cone changes from around 33 degrees to at least 40 degrees (that’s bloody steep, considering that when one stands on a 45 degree slope it appears almost vertical to the climber on the slope’s face), I nearly considered packing it all in. I must be outta shape!

I spent almost two hours up there. And was soon joined by Russian, Germans, Japanese (among them some +75 year old Japanese women – Respect, Respect I say!). The Russian’s who sat with me (I had plonked myself out of the fiercely chilly wind behind a chunk of lava at the point where the rope is anchored – the last 100 m of the sliding pyroclast ascent track is aided with a big hand-over-hand style rope lying on the ground) were soon offering me their food. After I had plyed them with shots of vodka from the little hip-flasked sized bottle I’d bought and carried up for the occasion and zakuski of gerkin cucumber (I think they were a little taken aback that an Australian was offering them vodka at a place like this). Probably not advisable to drink alcohol when I was feeling a little dehydrated. But it was just a celebratory toke. I like the ritual of it. And after all I was in bloody Kamchatka. The one litre of water that I took wasn’t enough. I had thought we’d pass more snow pack melts but as it was the ascent track only passed one. But gladly my Russian summit friends were happy to share theirs, as well as their chocolate and salami and soaked almonds and prunes….

The views were so awesome. It’s hard to describe. The views to other Kamchatka volcanoes were incredible. Koryakskaya especially loomed right before me across the yawning gap. Snow packs still unmelted mid-summer fluted the volcanoes’ gorging ravines and accentuated the valleys and gravel-lined water courses below me. At one point on descent, taking a marvellous rest on a promontory of a rock on the gravity-defying slope I suddently saw Rauschak Test diagrams, the snow packs dendritic outlines forming wierd patterns before me.

A seemingly wafer thin line of cloud mist hung at 2000m (according to my watch’s altimeter, which proved accurate to within 55m) and when I passed throught that it was noticeable, like I was now able to see my correspodning height on all the other volcanoes that had this thin mist band drawn across them.

The descent took just under four hours, as I mastered the pyroclastic slope surfing technique that someone had tipped me off about. You simply charge down the slope in leaps and bounds and the loose volanic stones mechanically breaks your steps impact. With straight legs on impact it’s a soft landing and the pyroclasts crunch and grid your boots to a momentary standstill before you launch kamikaze-like down the slope again. It’s far easier than the alternative: a slow thigh-burning(and in my case, knee jarring) descent step by step. When the deepness of the loose pilled volcanic scree is insufficient to do the leaps-and-bounds technique then you do the fast shuffle and surf slowly down.

My Scarpas have never seen such abrasive action. And the dust! When I arrived back at base camp I had a visible layer of volcanic dust all over me. Serously thick.

Coming down I’d taken time to drink from the pristine snow pack melts. And in my water bottle I captured some of the black volcanic grit as well.

My rapid trip to Kamchatka was worth it just to be in this precious landscape. I felt blessed. And as I feel the stiffness and soreness especially in my thighs, I’m happy to have the reminder.

Vladimir was there to pick me up as I arrived back after 12 hours of exertion. And as the dust-coloured sweat streaked my forehead and neck, he shook my hand and laughed. Not for him I think he said, as I, unfathomably exhausted, slumped into the seat beside him. And as I handed him back the bear flare unused, I simply said “Thank you Vladimir, thank you!” He knew my gratitude was for much more than just the old flare.


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Plus Eight Hours and a World Away

Plus Eight Hours and a World Away
Yelizovo, Russia

Yelizovo, Russia


I’m in a beautiful hostel in Yelisovo (the town closest to the airport just outside of Kamchatka Peninsula’s main town of Petropavlovsky-Kamchatky) run by an Alaskan lady who was inspried to moved over to nearby Kamchatka many years ago, herself being from the pre-1867 part of Alaska that was occupied by Russians (the US government bought Alaska from a cash-strapped Russia for US$7.5 million).

I had two offers of a lift to the hostel from strangers: one from the lovely 19 year old Ireny who I sat next to on the flight and who was born and raised on Kamchatka and who plays drums in her band called ‘Sly Life’. The other was from people I’d met in the car park waiting for the luggage room to open. I’d overhead them greeting their teenage son arriving home off the plane and the mention of Australia. I asked the son if he’d been to Australia. Turns out he was returning from a 6 week exchange staying with families at Noosa Heads, Queensland. His father, through the son, introduced himself as the purveyor of all things outdoor tourism. Turns out it was his business. And with his son still as the shy translator he offered to take me to the hostel. He knew Martha the operator. But when Ireny, my 19 year old flight companion came over to say that her uncle was OK to give me a lift, I politely declined the other offer.

Ireny’s uncle was 22 years old and bare-chested, as men like to be during summer in Russia, with a seriously swollen and scabbed-up tattoo on his chest and stomach. It was very new and it looked very painful. He proudly assured me that it wasn’t as he zoomed his right-hand drive luxury Land Cruiser (imported as so many do from Japan, hence being right-hand drive) amongst the busy town traffic and then out of town to where the hostel was situated with a clear view to the volcanos.

As the never ending good-will and good-nature of Russia’s people continues to soothe me, I’m getting ready to make an ascent of one of the many volcanoes. Only got three days to make that happen. In the short time I have I’ve began the process of gathering local intelligence in order to determine what is necessary for an ascent of the volcano closest to Yelisovo, that being Avachinsky Volcano (Avachinskaya Sopka). Flying the three hours northeast of car-mad Vladivostok (the smokey haze mixed with the Sea of Japan’s mist and fog this morning was choking) I was greeted out the window with amazing classical cone-shaped volcanoes rising up all over the place, and radiating out from below their rocky skirts were myriads of taiga-encircled lakes of all shapes and sizes glistening back up at me as the jet raced overhead and the sun reflected in quick succession in each lake in turn. The volcanoes, of which Kamchatka has a significant proportion thereof of the planet’s total number, are still streaked with flutes of mid-summer snow lying starkly on their bare flanks. Already other guests at the hostel, over a wonderful salmon meal prepared by wonderful host Martha, have shared with me their enticing tales of bear sightings and of the famously large sea eagle in these parts.

Walking the river’s edge this evening, amidist the bull dust of the roads trasversed by cars (hard to believe but the soil is so easily disturbed when it’s dry), I observed the camouflaged-clad menfolk blowing up their outboard-fitted zodiacs and heading out to their favoured fishing spots. Camouflage outdoor gear seems to be the preference here. Maybe a post-Soviet hangover. I don’t know. But it’s noticeable.

Wierd little yellow-brown flies caught my attention, swarming over moist cow pats near the grassy banks. Some had other flies perched on top of them. I’ve never seen such coloured flies before.

Avachinsky and her neighbours were viewable through banks of clouds wherever I walked along the swiftly flowing stream, braided in places. Each time I looked up over the stream toward her new parts of her were exposed as the fog ceiling shifted and/or the roaming cloud banks moved. All the while the stream flowed quietly toward an unknown coast, a fraction of which I saw from the airplane above. What I saw was delta and braided into large sweeping bays.

I was enthralled to discuss Neuro-Linguistic Programming and neural awareness with them, subjects that they are both learning to be trainers in. Bottom line of all discussions in this area: living in the moment and taking responsibility for one’s own feelings and thoughts. Couldn’t agree more.

The other guest Prof Fred, an older guy with young thirsty heart and eyes, is an environmental lecturer and writer from Yale, New England region of the United States. He alsmost bounded down the stairs when he heard me arrive. Seems he likes to talk and passionate is his tone. I’m engaged by him in ways that I’ve forgotten after these two months on the road and not meeting other western academics. He’s researching the little known fact of Russia’s protected area system – the zapodevniks (see subsequent blog entries) – that was in place, if I have understood Fred correctly, long before the soviets came to power.

Martha, the host, also seems to know the WWF people in Kamchatka well. I’m not sure if I’ll say hello. With time short and my objective clearly defined, I need to stay focused. Three words: volcano, volcano, volcano.

Earlier, on the way back to the hostel I bought a couple of the Baltika beers, Baltica Number ‘9’ to be precise. Baltica make a range of beers labelled ‘0’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ”5′, ‘7’, ‘9’. And respecively they have the following alcohol contents: 0.0%, 1.5%, 2.8%, 4.0%, 5.4% and 8.0%. As it turned out the wonderful young Swiss couple who’d just rocked up from parts unknown with the bear and eagle and fox tales, had also bought a couple of Baltika Number 9 beers. We all agreed that of all the Russian beers we’d tasted it was the stronger beers +7 or 8% that had the best flavours and aromas.

Anyway, less of beer and more of ascents.

I’m now eight hours ahead of Moscow and a world away.


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Gestation Period: One Month, Three Days

Gestation Period: One Month, Three Days
Vladivostok, Russia

Vladivostok, Russia


Yesterday, after a gestation of just over one month, I slipped, it seemed, out onto the decidely empty station of Vladivostok. End of the line. It was 13:15 local time. Seven hours ahead of Moscow.

With its starting point in Moscow the Trans-Siberian memorial on the platform reads ‘9288 kilometres’. I remember I tossed a coin at Kilometre Zero in Moscow back in mid-late June. But with my train journey having started in Helsinki and with the major Arctic Circle loop, my journey must surely be far greater than 10,000 kilomteres. Not to mention the days on hydrofoils in sub-arctic rivers and crossing azure abyssmal waters of Baikal.

But no rest for planet lars. After a late night out exploring Vladivostok with my new Vladi-friend, today it’s Kamchatka Peninsular.

The three days on the train from Irkutsk were by turns wonderful and interminable. My kupe companions for the greater part of the journey were babushka Ireny and her sweet grand-daughter Katya (11). And above me on the top bunk was tall dark and incredibly lanky Sasha (Aleksandr) who was heading to Khabarovsk to continue his studies.

After first Ireny and Katya said goodbye and then Sasha a few hours later at midnight, I was joined in my cabin by for the last 12 hours of the journey, by first bank director Natalia en route to Vladivostok for business and then the brothers on a weekend of R&R in the same town.

I made other friends tooon the train. Smiling Ludmilla, the waittress in the restaurant carriage, who helped me each night with my orders.

And lovely Anvar from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who being Muslim was happy to sit and tell me of his country while I drank my beer or vodka alone.

But it was Sasha who became my train buddy as the trip wore on. He enjoyed listening to my iPod. And he always requested I sing La Bamba on the guitar.

By trip’s end, my cabin was representing a party zone of sorts, with other carriage occupants sticking their nose in as my songs carried down the corridor. When Natalia the bank manager came in I wasn’t sure what she was thinking, as there wasn’t much room for her to sit down.

I have to say, that during my entire stay in Russia, I have been helped all the way by friendly, approachable Russians. Yesterday afternoon as I wandered the steep streets of Vladivostok with its Sydney-esque bays and Sanfrancisco-esque (new and nearly completed) suspension bridges (yes two big ones!) and mist, I asked a passerby in the high hill top suburbs (a bit of a run down area) the way to the very top of the peak. He promptly turned around and headed up there with me in tow. In his mid-30s Sasha (yes another wonderful Sasha!) ended up showing my around town til well after 1am! What a guy! A star of Vladi and a man with a gentle heart.

The sunset though from Eagles Nest lookout (a little tricky to find) was spectacular, with 360 degree views of the winding and convolute bays of the Primoyre peninsular (on which Vladivostok – 750,000 population – sprawls) and the multitude of islands, tapering off into the southern and eastern horizons. A mist hung over the Sea of Japan. And I looked to the south thinking of the land down under.

But not before a volcano or thirty-three!

PS: Oh, I forgot to mention that I went to the house here in Vladivostok where famous actor Yul Brenner was born many years ago. Yes, just a little factoid that I didn’t know about.


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РЖД (RZhD), My Friend!

РЖД (RZhD), My Friend!
Vladivostok, Russia

Vladivostok, Russia


“RZhD is my friend”, I started saying some time into my trans-Russian trip to my new Russian friends. They knew what I meant as they knew I’d been travelling on the RZhD trains for some time.

РЖД -Росси&#1 081;ские Желез&#10 85;ые Дорог&#10 80; (Russian Railways, or if literally translated, Russian Iron Roads) is the incredible company that manages the most incredible system of rail lines and rolling stock. Surely the biggest network that a single country on this planet has ever built and operated.

All except for my last trip was on precise time (the Irkutsk to Vladivostok train somehow lost three hours – must have been while I was sleeping, or was that singing!).


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Ten Thousands Kilometres To Her Door

Ten Thousands Kilometres To Her Door
Vladivostok, Russia

Vladivostok, Russia


After I’d farewell my train friends, Natalia, Evgeny and Vadim in front of the Vladivostok Station, I wandered back down onto the platform to look for the 9288 kilometres from Moscow obelisk. I sat down at its marbled-lined base and pulled the mini guitar out from its tattered plastic bags. I felt the joy of an objective realised and the sadness of a space and time ending, of friends met and farewelled. So I pulled out the guitar and started singing To Her Door.

Maybe it was to soothe myself. I was playing only for me. There was noone else around, expect for some people on the overhead walkways staring strangly in my direction. Maybe, it was a way for me to re-connect with a sense of place and a sense of home. Paul Kelly does that for me.

And so there I was. Alone. Sitting at the base of the Trans-Siberian end-of-the-line monument. And singing my heart out. And feeling good.

As Japanese tourists approached to take their photo of the monument, I concluded my song, stowed the guitar in its plastic bags and quietly slipped away up the platform in search of a Kamachatka airline ticket office and domicile for the night – in that order.


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Train route to Vladivostok

Train route to Vladivostok
Khabarovsk, Russia

Khabarovsk, Russia


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Train route to Vladivostok

Train route to Vladivostok
Skovorodino, Russia

Skovorodino, Russia


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Train route to Vladivostok

Train route to Vladivostok
Chita, Russia

Chita, Russia


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Train route to Vladivostok

Train route to Vladivostok
Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia


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