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Kamchatka & Kuril Islands: Regional Map and Introduction

Kamchatka #
    Kamchatka is one of the most varied and active volcanic regions in the world. It is a 800 mile (1300 km) long peninsula in the easternmost part of Siberia, separating the northern Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Okhotsk. Rapid subduction of the Pacific Plate beneath the Eurasian Plate along the offshore Kuril-Kamchatka Trench fuels the intense volcanism. Nearly all forms of volcanic activity are displayed, from classic stratovolcanoes and shield volcanoes to Hawaiian-style fissure eruptions spewing streams of lava and building chains of cinder cones many miles long. In addition, the world's second largest concentration of geysers and hot springs (behind Yellowstone) is found in the Valley of Geysers in Uzon Caldera.
    There are over thirty active volcanoes and hundreds of dormant and extinct ones in two major parallel ranges, the central and eastern. Most current activity occurs in the east, beginning in the north at the Shiveluch massif, which sits at the junction of the Aleutian and Kamchatka volcanic arcs. Just to the south is the famed Klyuchi volcanic group, containing the twin 15000+ ft (4500+ m) cones of Klyuchevskoy and Kamen, the massive shield/stratovolcano complexes of Tolbachik and Krestovsky - Ushkovsky, and several other large stratovolcanoes. The only active volcano in the central range is found west of here, the large isolated cone of Ichinsky. Farther south, the eastern range continues to the southern tip of Kamchatka, crowned by dozens of stratovolcanoes including the nearly perfect cones of Kronotsky, Vilyuchinsky, and Opala. Throughout the peninsula, the northern latitude and maritime climate ensure plenty of snowfall, and most of the higher peaks have permanent snowfields and glaciers.

Select a mountain from the clickable map above

    Kamchatka has long been cloaked in myth and mystery, extended over the last half century by its isolation as a secret Soviet military region closed to all foreigners. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kamchatka has slowly opened to tourism, although services are still generally primitive. There are few good roads, and the only practical methods of transport are the omnipresent Soviet-era helicopters and all-terrain vehicles. Since there is no organized trail system on any of the peaks and the ground is generally waterlogged tundra, such transport is a necessity for any mountaineering. Despite the difficult access, skiing and mountaineering are quite popular with the locals, especially on the peaks near the major city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, such as Koryaksky and Avachinsky. There are now several companies which organize trekking and mountaineering trips in Kamchatka (more info coming soon).

Kuril Islands #
    The Kuril Island chain stretches for over 700 miles (1100 km) from the southern tip of Kamchatka to the northeast corner of Hokkaido in Japan, forming a perfect example of island arc volcanism. There are about twenty major islands, all of which are the summits of stratovolcanoes which rise from the sea bed starting at depths of about 10000 ft (3000 m). Only 120 miles (200 km) to the east lies the subduction zone of the Kuril Trench, reaching a maximum depth of over 34000 ft (10500 m). Thus, despite the relatively modest elevations of the volcanoes of the Kurils, their true vertical rise is extremely large. The arc is quite active, with eruptions nearly every year, and most of the peaks are quite youthful and symmetrical in form. The climate is cold and wet, with snowfall in winter and rainfall year round, and only the northernmost and highest peak, Alaid, bears a few small glaciers. Only a few of the Kurils are inhabited, and access is quite difficult to all except the southernmost island, Kunashir (home to the strikingly beautiful somma-volcano of Tyatya). There is irregular ferry service to the other inhabited islands and no air service, so any trips there would probably require a private boat or floatplane for access.

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