Kamchatka: Alaska's Wild, Russian Cousin
Kamchatka is a peninsula at the far northeastern end of Russia. Filled with volcanoes and reindeer, Kamchatka is place off the grid. We spoke with Matthew Reichel, a film producer who has location scouted all over the world. He gave us a bit of insight on his thoughts on Kamchatka, his time there, and why it’s a place the adventurous need to check out.
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself?
My name is Matt. I’m one of the co-founders of Inertia Network. We started Inertia Network as a way to bring more people to different parts of the world and give them an authentic local experience. We want to empower local guides and curate adventures for people that genuinely crave adventure and are curious about learning.
Previously, I was working in a lot of film and media where I did a lot of location scouting. I’ve worked with CBC and the Canadian Armed Forces in the Arctic, and I’ve also done recent shoots in Iceland, Greenland, Korea, China, New Zealand and Russia amongst other places.
Q: Why Kamchatka?
Kamchatka is an intriguing place because most people haven’t really heard of it. The first time I heard of it was playing the game Risk as a kid. You see that funny word and you know that you have to claim it to take Asia.
I’ve seen images from Kamchatka that show these giant towering volcanoes that seem to dwarf something like Mt. Fuji. Geographically, it’s closer to Japan and Alaska then it is to Moscow. Kamchatka always seemed like this intriguing corner of Russia and upon further investigation I found that it’s the heartland of the Russian wilderness.
"You’ve got volcanoes and hot springs and this pure wilderness that’s largely untouched. It's what Alaska would have been like in the 1980s, before the tourism industry developed and these tourist towns began popping up."
It’s surrounded by water and it has remote Tungusic groups living in nature. There are volcanoes and hot springs everywhere, and it's just this fascinating place that was closed off during Soviet times. These things interested me, that’s why I originally wanted to go to Kamchatka a couple of years ago. When the Ruble tanked about three years ago, it was a good time to go there and explore.
Q:You’ve been all over the world tell me what you found special about Kamchatka?
Kamchatka is straight up wilderness. It's a fly-in only destination. There are no roads connecting Kamchatka to any other part of Russia. You have to fly into the capital, which is this Sovietesque port city of about a quarter million people called Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. It’s the only real city in Kamchatka.
Within an hour of leaving, you are in the forest. You’ve got volcanoes and hot springs and this pure wilderness that’s been untouched. It's what Alaska would have been like in the 1980s before the tourism industry developed and these tourist towns began popping up. Kamchatka is raw; it’s still wild, and there are still people herding reindeer like their ancestors have been doing for hundreds of years.
Q: Tell me a of memorable moment in Kamchatka?
We led a reconnaissance trip there last year and on the first day we were really unprepared. I didn’t have a ton of winter clothing and I thought “yeah we’ll be fine, I’m from Canada, we’re used to the cold." This was a huge mistake. Especially on day one when two of us decided that we were pretty tough and we could do it in normal pants and a light jacket.
Our Russian team became seriously concerned because we were lagging being the group, and we looked visibly cold, I mean our lips were purple and hands just frozen. Our Russian expedition leader Roman looked at us and said “if you guys don’t have more clothes you’re not going to make it any further.”
We had to stop early that day; we were supposed to cover another 50kms of snow, but it was dark, cold and hard to maneuver the snowmobiles in low visibility.
We found a cabin in the middle of nowhere and there was an old man who lived alone. He said that he hadn’t been in contact with civilization since 1985. He had all these old soviet era books and maps strewn about, and the only other living creatures around were his dogs and cats.
He was living his life in the middle of the woods when we show up out of nowhere and asked him if we can stay with him. He was excited just to have visitors and said the Russian equivalent of “hell yea you can stay with me.” So we ended up spending the night in his cabin drinking vodka around an old iron stove.
We hardly slept that night but the experience was excellent, meeting someone who lives their life off the grid surrounded by untouched nature.
Q: What’s the nature like in Kamchatka?
Kamchatka is an interesting place because it's highly thermal. It continues on the tectonic fault line that comes all the way up from Japan and has these wild conical snowcapped volcanoes speckling the landscape. You can see steam coming off the top of these volcanoes and it’s pretty remarkable.
You get out into the backcountry and there's just nothing created by humans. There are trees as far as the eye can see, streams, volcanoes, tons of snow, and wildlife. Very rarely you may come across another human. Other than the reindeer herders we were staying with, the only other person we saw was an Itelmen hunter on a snowmobile. We stopped to chat with him for about five minutes, discuss trail conditions, and then we continued on our way.
There are no roads nor paths, you just follow faded trails from other people's snowmobiles. The locals use old broadcast radios to communicate with one another. Out there you’re off the grid, you cut your firewood, you live with reindeer herders, you prepare your own food, and you exist within a life that is so easy to forget is still in existence in the world today. You’re surrounded by nature.
Q: For someone going to Kamchatka what would you tell them?
Kamchatka is wild. It is true wilderness. And it's culturally fascinating. Kamchatka is a very unique and distinct part of Russia. It's not like Moscow or St. Petersburg. It’s hearty, it’s friendly, it’s raw, and it’s a great place to experience another part of the world while being surrounded by some of the most incredible nature on earth.