Kamchatka Part 2: The Volconology Meetings. October 13 2011

Kamchatka Part 2: The Volconology Meetings. September 24th-30th 2011 Topics:  Getting here; Hotel; Meetings; Helecopter Trip; Hiking Excursions; and Banquets. Getting to Kamchatka: It is nearly 21hours of flying to travel from DIA to PKC. This of course does not count the:
  • 3.5hr drive from Glenwood Springs to Boulder;
  • 2hrs round trip drive from Dillon back to Avon where Dudley graciously brought me the computer which I'd accidentally left behind... Thanks Dudley!!!
  • 0.75hr drive from North Boulder to DIA airport
  • 4hr layover in Moscow
  • 1hr shuttle ride from PKC airport to the Hotel Flamingo

Yes it is a long journey going from UTC -6 to UTC +13 (thats 19 time zones going the long way around). But, although we think we have it bad- for some it is worse: Mike and Krista live in Fairbanks, Alaska and also fly the long way around for the meeting. Kamchatka does not have an international airport, customs, security, etc. thus international flights must fly through an a hub airport to get there. Per my knowledge, there are about 4 hubs that fly into PKC, ours is Moscow (only 9 time zones west). My parents meet up with us at the gate in Moscow, and we all boarded for PKC together. So, needless to say- we should have been tired upon arriving in PKC... yet with sunny skies we did pretty good during the first day.

You can always count on my mom to be disappointed with the quality of hotels... but this place really earns it! The beds are (I don't know the right words to describe) and we are bitten by bugs all night long. The good thing about spending the night awake and suffering is that eventually (ie. days) you will get tired enough to sleep through the suffering. The long term solution is to wear mosquito head nets when going to bed. In theory, enough Vodka should work too, but we do not go that route.
More about the hotel: The major bonus to the Hotels in Kamchatka is that they have lots of hot water. The hot water comes from the geothermal activity going on underground, and there are above ground 1-2ft diameter pipes with insulation on them going everywhere around town. In the shower: the hot water is hot... and so is the cold! Give the faucet some time, and it will keep getting hotter... thus you better plan on showering quick if you don't want to get burned! They also have large heated pools. It seems that the quality measurement for a hotel in PKC is the number of hot pools that they have (ours had 2). They don't add any chemicals, filter it, circulate it or anything... instead once per week they empty one of the pools and refill it (which takes about a day). Throughout the rest of the week the pool gets colder and full of moss... you always get in the pool that has been filled most recently. Hotels with more pools can cycle the water in each pool more frequently.
Hotel food: 'Its always fun trying new things'. My association with this statement varies a bit when it comes to the hotel food at the Flamingo. The funky sausages for breakfast are a bit weird and hard to eat after a few consecutive days. The dumplings(think yummy Asian style dumplings filled with meat) for breakfast is also a weird concept. One morning, someone brings their meal ticket for the previous dinner to breakfast (accidentally) and without hesitation the hostess brings out the plate of last nights dinner.On Day 2, we go to the institute for the opening meetings. There is a limited bit of English... but basicly: picture the oldest least interesting of your college professors in a large lecture hall speaking in Russian... Actually I had a number of old Russian accented professors throughout college, and easily doze off. After the first hour we escape the meetings and do not return (except for the cookies) for the rest of the trip.

On Day 3, we go on the Helicopter trip... I don't want to encourage helicopter trips... I think they are silly and cheating. But, none the less it is pretty cool to fly around! One can experience most of the components of this trip by simultaneously performing the following:
  • Watch National Geographic films (or Planet Earth) on a small Ipod screen. Hold the Ipod on your shoulder and rotate your head to view the screen (you may switch shoulders every 10 minutes)
  • Listen on your Ipod (with maximum sound) to 'Sounds of Trains', 'Sounds of Aircraft Take Off', or similar... remember it needs to be loud and cause a headache.
  • Take a museum tour of defunct machinery... ie. The types of semi functional mechanical parts that you might find in a tractor repair shop, or helicopter that was designed in the 1960s.

Actually... the MI8 Helecopters must be pretty safe since so many of them still work after all these years. (note, there are 6 functional MI8 helicopters on the pad and 2 defunct skeletal remains of MI8s hidden behind the trees 100 yards past the pad only viewable once the helicopter is off the ground... hmmm). It requires three pilots in the cockpit to fly this helicopter. Our helicopter charter normally costs equivalent to $16,000 (divide that by our 25 souls on-board in the cargo bay). We fly north out of town for an hour and after the first 15 minutes all signs of human activity disappear. We see some cool volcanos, craters, plumes of ash from the active volcanos, waterfalls, lakes and more!. We land, eat more sausage, listen to a speech, then fly home.  

Day 4: Hike into the Mutnovski Crater. So, I keep asking around trying to find the Russian translation to “Alpine Start”... I guess that they don't have one. So at 9am 30 of us assemble outside the hotel as instructed... by 9:45 the monster trucks with people carrying boxes on the back are taking us to the Volcano. By 2pm we have parked at ~6000ft next to a large geothermal power plant (50MW), finished eating lunch and begin the hike. At 2:30, our guide assembles us and explains that it is typically a 9hr hike round trip, and we may have to hurry (thats 12km each way plus elevation gain associated with climbing a volcano). By 10pm we have returned to the trucks in the dark. After 1am we are back at the hotel totally exhausted. The inside of the crater was pretty cool... but for many purposes, similar to our more local volcano crater: Yellowstone National Park, glaciated ice, and a moonscaped mountain all in one place.The meetings ends with a big banquet, an unlimited amount of salmon caviar, smoked salmon (yum) vodka, and a whole lot more. To be more specific: we sit down at a table for 4 where there is 6 full plates of appetizers (each worthy of being its own meal) 2 bottles of wine, a bottle of vodka, and a bottle of cognac. I think they had an unlimited supply of Vodka in the back just in-case. After the eating of appetizers, the moderator initiates the process of proposing toasts... for each toast it is expected that everyone will have a drink. All toasts are made from the center of the room, and if you forget your shot glass when going to make your toast (some toasts take longer than 5minutes) the moderator will refill it and bring it to you. The banquet also includes a singer in a dazzling sparkly silver dress, a DJ, and nearly 1hour of club-style dance music (yes we participated, and yes there was a disco balls & laser lights)... This all before the main course is served.
In Summary, its good that these scientists know how to have a good time. The rest of the population is perhaps mislead by the dungeon like life-style... crammed into small dark offices crunching masses of data... there's more to the volconalogist than just that!