Kamchatka is famous for its volcanoes, epic lava and fumarole fields, rivers of hardened volcanic slag, and acidic lakes. All this makes a proper impression on those who are encountered with volcanic nature for the first time. These lifeless spaces, sometimes without a single tree, can both discourage and delight. But Kamchatka can also offer a completely different hiking experience - through the Vachkazhets Mountain Range - which is immersed in greenery and flowers. It’s easy to get there by car (you can make a deal with locals) or simply take a one-day tour.
Vachkazhets is no longer a volcano. Once upon a time it erupted so powerfully that it fell into three parts and became extinct. However, some scientists claim that Vachkazhets never even was a volcano. But it's actually not that important. Is there really a big difference if the mountain smoked the sky centuries ago or simply formed because of some earthly processes? The truth is that this is one of the most beautiful places on the peninsula that is easily accessible.
Well, you should understand that 'easily accessible place’ on Kamchatka means you can make a roundtrip from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in one day. The distance to the city is only 80 km. But only a very upgraded SUV can get to the mountain range. The ruts and potholes that I saw a little later in the forest were almost human size. How someone drove through it is a mystery. But, you know, the Russian people are very stubborn…
Because of the broken road, guides leave their cars in an improvised parking lot in the forest, where all the groups have lunch after trekking. From this place to the circus (a rounded open space) Vachkazhets, it is about 4 km through the forest. The walk is very pleasant, in general, except the mosquitoes will bother you a little bit and there is a small fear of bears (well, after all those tales from the locals). You have to look around all the time - what if a bear is in the bushes! But our guide Pavel reassured us: he has everything to protect the group from bears; mosquito sprays are in the backpack; there is also a whistle, a knife, a rope and everything we may need if something happens.
I liked this business approach. Well, the experience proved if you left your car somewhere and seem to be ready for 'whatever can happen', you will definitely need something very strange but very necessary. We walked through the woods and chatted, I even stopped thinking about the bears, and as soon as we got to the lake we ran into a little bear right on the road. Who was scared the most is a big question. The bear hid in the bush and looked at us thinking whether he needs to come out to the road or just run away. Pavel shouted at him. The bear obviously did not understand what he needed to do, he was just sitting there and looking at us.
The guide shouted louder, added menacing notes to his voice and dirty words, but the beast sat rooted to the spot. Pavel, grumbling at a young animal who was not smart enough, then took out a red handheld flare and lit it. The bear, was surprised to see the “sparkler", it seems that it was his first experience, and just out of curiosity he was about to come back to us. But Pavel, waving the flare, looked like a formidable creature, and the bear decided to run away. He looked at us from afar for a long time, while we walked around the lake, took pictures and had a small picnic. I even felt sorry for him somehow. He looked bewildered and even cute. I wanted to caress him somehow and calm him down. Well, maternal instincts sometimes occur in strange situations.
Lake Takhkoloch lies at the foot of the Summer Transverse (Letnyaya Poperechnaya) and the Vachkazhets Mountains (could they give it a more interesting name?) like a mirror - calm, dark and reflecting all the beauty of the peaks of the South Bystrinsky ridge and the Khalzan ridge. The highest point above sea level is 1556 meters, but when you stand on the shore of the lake’s looking glass, the mountains seem much higher. Life there is in full swing - irises, bells, and golden rhododendrons are blooming. If you are lucky you can even see a rare large-flowered cypripedium. Hedgehogs are running, birds are chirping, and insects are swarming.
Mikhail Prishvin could write a novel there. But I prefer to compare this beauty with pleasures: the nature there is so beautiful, as if your daughter falls in love for the first time. Well, you got the point.
In the Vachkazhets Valley it’s nice to breathe, the air is so fresh, as if after a thunderstorm. And you can feel so comfortable and calm inside - the Itelmens (native people) believe that there is a lot of positive energy, this is Kamchatka's place of power. The longer you sit and look at the mountains and the lake, the more tranquil you become.
But the lake is only one of the stops on the route that leads to a waterfall. After admiring the lake, we wanted to continue the journey, but we noticed bears in the distance - a whole family, a furry mother and two cubs. They walked along their bear path, but too close to ours, the human one. And this meeting could be dangerous. Pavel suggested to wait a little, and I watched through binoculars as the animals went further and further into the green forest.
The path to the waterfall winds through Siberian dwarf pines and bushes, goes uphill a little, and then down through the river. “Let's sing a song loudly,” Pavel suggested. In such a dense shrubbery, you can easily miss a 200-kilogram beast looking for pinecones, but loud voices scare him away. Especially when most of them can’t sing in tune. Well, all the suggestions of some pop or soviet pioneer songs seemed pretty embarrassing in this situation. And the poor bears didn’t deserve to listen to this nonsense. While it was being decided what we would sing, we made our way through the cedar and went out to the meadow, where an Arctic ground squirrel crawled out of its burrow and began to beg for food.
The Arctic ground squirrels (locals call them Evrazhka) rummaged around everywhere - all around you, you could see holes, their burrows. This time I didn’t have anything to feed to the gophers, but then I found a vitamin bar with honey and muesli in my pocket. Evrazhka was delighted, gnawed all of it in a second. Then a funny animal, probably as a thank you, or maybe it wanted more goodies, ran ahead of me for a long time and seemed to show me the way to the river.
Takhkoloch River turned out to be very deep, it was raining the day before and there was no way to cross the river without getting wet. There were two options: take off our shoes, roll up our pants and wade barefoot through ice cold water, or borrow rubber boots from a tour group that has already crossed over to the other side. We borrowed the boots. But on the way back I got wet anyway, I was barefoot and stumbled on a slippery boulder.
Slightly above the river there is a small waterfall. The landscape is just perfect. So much so that it seems someone "up there” got an A+ in landscape design: carefully sorted the perspectives, beautifully set the peaks, added a glacial texture, added a waterfall composition, scattered flowers throughout the meadows, stretched a ribbon of river, and filled the space with green. No doubt, the brightest photos of Kamchatka can be taken during a trip to Vachkazhets Mountain range.
I asked Pavel what the name of the waterfall is; it turned out to be nameless. It is amazing that so many people come here and no one has yet come up with a name for the waterfall. “It seems to be Takhkoloch, like the lake,” the guide suggested.
On the way back, all the obstacles must be overcome in the reverse order - the turbulent river, the meadow with Evrazhras, who were waiting for us as their friends, the cedar bushes, the lake, the forest. Maybe it was just my feeling, but I was literally charged with the energy of this place. We got back pretty quickly, and even though we got wet the trekking was very easy and pleasant. And the way back to Petropavlovka-Kamchatsky was also very pleasant, especially after sandwiches with fish and hot tea.
The Four Seasons of Russia project is supported by the Russian geographical society www.rgo.ru
A trip to the Small Valley of Geysers is recommended by the Russian geographical society.
Also read about Kamchatka:
Mutnovsky Volcano on Kamchatka: How I climbed into the crater of an active volcano
Kuril Lake: something about the life of bears and humans
The Valley of Geysers
Volcanoes of Kamchatka
Climbing Mount Camel
The Small Valley of Geysers
Kamchatka: Life-hacks and tips
Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1