JUMP INTO THE VOLCANO - KAMCHATKA / RUSSIA
Russian extreme sport star Valery Rozov accomplishes an incredible stunt... jumped from a helicopter on into the active Mutnovsky volcano on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. Fire and ice of volcano at Kamchatka was just a small part of this my incredible photo shooting.
Kamchatka... a wonderful country which was discovered by the Russian cossacks more than 300 years ago. Even today, the Russian people know little about it, not to mention the rest of the world, since there are a lot of people who have never heard of it. But that is, actually, not surprising at all!
Kamchatka, an isolated peninsula in the Russian Far East, located on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, is a serious wilderness without any roads from the Sibirian region. During the Cold War, this area was entirely empty – not even the Russians came this way. Those who wished to see Kamchatka with their own eyes had to overcome all the obstacles. In old days, the trip to Kamchatka took over a year, and only a few enthusiasts dared to go on that journey for solely one reason – to tell the others about it. The expeditions of geologists and volcano explorers discovered parts of Kamchatka over and over again: the black ocean coast beaches, smoky volcanoes and blue mountain ranges coloured with the white snowy cones with paths leading directly to the land from a fairy tale.
Lately, everything has changed, and today the adventure-seekers from the West come to Kamchatka, i.e. to the cradle of the volcano activity. This is completely unusual tourist destination, and glaciers, bears, ice, smoke and volcanoes are just this story beginning.
The expedtion organized by RED BULL and the EXTREME RUSSIAN PROJECT, as an idea, came into existence a few months ago only as a thought in the mind of one of the best jumpers in a wing-suit in the world, Valery Rozov. Upon asking, "Why Kamchatka?", Rozov simply answers, "Because it is a wild and unique place in the world."
There were three different types of our project. The first was flying over the slopes of a large number of volcanoes in Kamchatka. By the way, this kind of flying is at the same time the most popular one among the jumpers all around the world (down a slope, as near the ground as possible). For this kind of flying, good estimation before a jump and good self-control during flying are of the utmost importance. The snow and whiteness make visibility and the assessment of the height you are actually on additionally difficult.
The second part of our plan was flying through the smoke (and everything else a volcano can hurl out) of an active volcano named Karymsky. This was very difficult to plan ahead, since everything related to a volcano can change in no time.
The main and basic plan of our project was jumping into one of the active volcanoes in Kamchatka. Was it possible or not? There was only one alternative... to go to the wild regions of Kamchatka and find it out.
The predicted time for the whole expedition was 11 days. Red Bull made up a team of the people from different countries (Austria, Italy, Turkey, Germany and Russia). Of all the people, only Rozov and I knew each other from before, since we had already worked together in 2007 in Italy (on the Dolomites), which is when our friendship had officially started (by the way, at the time we had taken one of his famous photographs which has been published over a hundred times in various magazines all over the world). For a good team selection, the knowledge of climbing and mountaineering techniques, as well as professional snowboarding or skiing experience were required. Our team was final – eight people altogheter and Rozov himself!
We all assembled in Moscow, wherefrom we set out together to Kamchatka. After eight hours of flying from Moscow by a huge Aeroflot plane IL-96-300 and covered 9000km, we were greeted by snow and ice in wild Kamchatka. A group of local guides and a helicopter were waiting for our arrival. www.helipro.ru The transport to the camp which was located in the heart of wilderness, totally isolated from any kind of civilization beneath the volcano itself, took over three hours by a special OFF ROAD vehicle.
Our next step was a thorough equipment preparation and the planning of the following day, which was, at the same time, the first day of our project.
A beautiful sunny day with the blue sky was a good beginning of our project. If there is a downside to skiing here, then, first we have to point out numerous avalanches and unpredictable climate conditions, so that the first part of our project was introducing to the avalanche beepers and the ways of avoiding and escaping avalanches themselves. On the stroke of noon, we set out for our first flight!
The famous Russian helicopter MI8, loaded with various equipment, our whole team and the local guides, spinned its propeller precisely at noon. As we had previously agreed upon, we were heading for the slopes of one of the volcanoes closest to us. The flying conditions were perfect, windless and with remarkable visibility. The helicopter slowly lowered to the height of one, two meters from the very top of one of the slopes above the volcano where we all jumped out, for it was not possible to land the helicopter on that site. With our snowboards, we slowly began the exploration of the terrain and planning of the potential positions for the cameras. The view from the top discovered an endless landscape on the scale beyond description with an occasional feeling that you were transferred to a totally new universe.
Skiing through the untouched snow and thus far probably never touched slopes was more than a dream of perfect skiing. We skied down the craters of the active smoky volcanoes to the completely empty Pacific beaches, and the two jumps Rozov made that day were more than enough for the preparation and coordination of the whole team. The day ended perfectly – because of the feeling we then experienced finding ourselves, to say the very least, in the landscape from a fairy tale and because of the realization itself that a man definitely can fly.
Rozov, as the leader of the whole project, proved that day that he is not one of the best jumpers in the world quite by accident, and that he is, on the other hand, a man who with his calmness simply motivates the people around him in every possible way.
The following day we had much worse weather. Nevertheless, we decided to go to the potential volcano Rozov wanted to jump into so that we could find out if our project was realistic in the first place. The moment the helicopter left us the same way as the previous day, the weather conditions changed as if following someone’s order. Thick fog and strong wind made us descend to the crater, which was our mutual goal, slowly and in groups. Upon a very difficult descent, which probably would not be possible without the professional local guides, we came to the rim of the crater named Mutnovsky. Since our altitude was a little bit lower, the visibility itself was somewhat better. In front of us, an incredible scene came into view. Ice and steam were competing for superiority! You have the impression as if the icy glaciers franticly put out the volcano heat. Our first impression was, “Our project is not possible!” The thick smoke from the edges of the crater seemed like a defensive shield which brought out in all of us two completely different thoughts – admiration for something unbelievable that nature created, and at the same time, that makes our project impossible!
Upon our return to the camp, more bad news was awaiting us – the weather forecast for the next couple of days was terrible!
So we spent a few following days solely expecting nicer weather. Rozov had already begun planning how to make our stay longer than 11 days, as previously had been scheduled, in order to manage to make our project somewhat successful! After a couple of days spent in everyday relaxation and bathing in the local thermal springs, caviar, smoked fish and other blessings of Kamchatka, the promising nice weather forced us to believe again in the reasons we had come there in the first place – the unique and the first ever made jump into a volcano crater!
Big time lag of 11 hours from the European time made us be out of our beds already at 7 o’clock, as was the case every morning. A perfect sunny day brought out a new belief in the reasons why we had come there. Rozov himslef was that day in a different, better mood than previously – which was a great sign to all of us. At 9, we were all on the helicopter ready for taking off towards our challenge named Mutnovsky. Additional fuel tanks and all the equipment which may or may not be necessary made our helicopter fully loaded. The possiblity of lacking something on the spot was literally minimized.
Thirty minutes of flying to the crater were enough to agree all over again on all the details concerning our jump that day. We landed a little bit farther from the foot of the volcano where we planned to set our base and started unloading that extra equipment we had taken along just in case. The first flying over the volcano and the assessment of the situation were enough to conclude that the weather conditions were more than perfect – forcing us to think that we deserved it for all out persistent waiting and observing the sky during the previous couple of days.
Finally, after he had flown low over the volcano and had descended to the rim of the crater, Rozov decided to make our persistence worth while. He said, "Let’s go for the jump!!!"
The sound from the radio stations rent incredible silence which dominated all around us. Every moment we received confirmation from some member of the team concerning taking the position and possible suggestions. So, everyone took their position. We knew the exact route of Rozov’s jump all too well, but there are always some surprises with the projects like this one was – we simply did not want to leave space for surprises of any kind.
After a couple of hours of preparation, the sound of propeller began to rend the silence surrounding us. The team which was by the volcano kept a vigilant eye on every move the helicopter made in the air while it was reaching the previously planned height of 500m. One photographer (it was me, in this case) and one cameraman were the only ones, besides Rozov, who were on the helicopter. The sign we gave to the rest of the team, "One minute to jump" brought most of them back to reality. The thoughts which were at that moment present in the mind of some vanished completely. Only 60 seconds separated us from the fulfilment of the dream of, I can freely say, all of us.
The next sound coming from the radio station was 30 seconds till the jump... 10 seconds…3, 2, 1, "JUMP"!!! With a backward salto, Rozov jumped off the edge of the helicopter and set out to accomplish something no one had done before – JUMP INTO THE VOLCANO CRATER!!!
A lot of birds could well envy Valery Rozov his perfect jump. His silhouette, which with every moment became smaller and smaller, was still very visible due to beautiful red and blue colour on the suit itself. The view from the helicopter at that moment will definitely remain something that you never forget! Passing by the rim of the crater with the speed of 180km/h, Rozov slowly disappeared in the smoky silhouettes which were coming out from the depth of the volcano. The moment when he completely vanished from my field of vision made me feel some current which ran throughout my body within seconds. All of a sudden, a white silhouette with an open parachute mixed with smoke caused the familiar feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction, which one can experience only in rare moments, to appear again. Some 80m from the bottom of the volcano, Rozov’s parachute started to slide towards the spot we had previously anticipated as being the landing spot. Shortly afterwards, the sound from the radio sation of the ground team pulled us all confirming successful landing!
After the safe landing in the crater, there was no time to celebrate -- because it was vital to quickly get back out on account of the poisonous gases contained in the volcano's steam. Upon safe landing, part of the team quickly threw the ropes and all the climbing equipment to Valery, this being their task, so that he could come out of the smoky crater as soon as possible.
At that moment, there was nothing in that place that could compare with the feelings of Valery Rozov and our whole team!!!
We spent even more time on the rim of the crater retelling the jump the way all of us had seen it from their point of view, until dusk chased us away. Only later after returning safely to the base camp we celebrate the successful project.
It all ended the way we had been planning all the way, and that day will be recorded in history as the day when the first man landed on the volcano bottom! As far as I am concerned, this is definitely an adventure which remains throughout your life as something you cannot forget or describe in such a short text.
And regarding Kamchatka itself – the more I talk about it, the harder it is to find all the right words to describe it.
WHO IS VALERY ROZOV?
The Russian Extreme Project (REP) is the only independent team in Russia whose goal is to organize unique sports expeditions and events. Most of these events are easily recognizable and highly rewarded.
The founder, its leader in the ideological sense and the first man of REP is Valery Rozov, a 45-year-old multitalented extreme sportsman. He founded this company in 2000 where he gathered highly-qualified sportspeople who, along with him, make a perfect extreme team.
Rozov’s specialities are: climbing, BASE jump, flying in a wing-suit and a comperatively recent discipline, which, it can be said, was invented by him – BASE CLIMBING.
He got into mountain climbing in 1982, when he was 18, and he has climbed a lot of mountains and mountain tops, taking part in many competitions. Between 1994 and 1996, he took part in the project "Seven peaks" within which he climbed Elbrus (5642m), Mont Blanc (4810m), Akonkagua (6960m, South America), Kilimanjaro (5885m, Africa), Karsten (5040m, New Guinea)... He first jumped with a parachute in 1993 and since then he has made unbelievable 7000+ jumps and has won numerous awards in national and world competitions!
He holds over 550 BASE jumps and since 1998 he has won various awards. He is also one of a few best BASE climbers in the world (climbing the extreme and almost inaccessible tops, then skiing from them in a regular or a wing- suit). So far, he has done this in: Venezuela, Norway, Switzerland, Mexico, France, Italy, Malaysia, Polar Canada, Kamchatka, New Zeland, Pakistan, Chile, Argentina, Greenland etc.
In addition to this, Valery Rozov is also the first man who has jumped into a volcano crater. You cannot easily find or meet this kind of man and sportsman with clear mind and spirit!!! www.basejumper.ru
Kamchatka is reraly that what you see on photographs. This is not owing to the fact that a shot is just a shot, but also to the fact that Kamchatka, as any other landscape from a fairy tale, is always changing and is always different.
The capital of Kamchatka, Petropavlovsk is, to say the very least, gloomy, but its ugliness is diminished by friendly people and surrounding landscape.
In the region of Kamchatka there are two national parks, 17 animal preserves and 169 unique natural beauties, including natural shrines, 5 natural parks. 27% of the territory is lawfully protected area. 5 natural areas are under UNESCO protection in the list of world cultural and natural habitats named "The Volcanoes of Kamchatka".
Kamchatka is also very rich with water. There are about 14,000 rivers and springs, about 100,000 big and small lakes and 414 glaciers on the official surface of 871.1km2. There are also 29 active volcanoes and about 150 inactive ones, then 274 mineral springs of which 160 is with thermal water, there are 37 kinds of wildlife and many types of Pacific fish. The forests are rich with berries, bushes, animals such as gluttons, beavers and otters (furry mammals).
The presence of active volcanoes, mountain peaks whose height is over 3000-4,000m, severe rivers and seas, coastal region rich with fauna and historical sights, still draw attention of native and foreign visitors and tourists alike, as well as of scientists and researchers who study birds, animals and plants, and the rest of the untouched nature.
Endless blue. Indiscribable silence. There is no reality, there are no sounds… you can hear only silence! Flying, desiring time to stop and to stay in the air till the end of one’s life... if there is an end!
When you separate from the place from which you jump and after strong wind, strong noise that an aeroplane makes, there is everlasting silence, peace, quiet and happiness!
This is all only one part that one can describe and say about the felling "people-birds" have!
Wingsuit flying represents the art of human body flying through the air in a special suit produced with the parts between legs and under arms sewn up and made of the material used for parachute production. When a jumper, upon a jump, spreads his legs and arms, this material makes his flight longer than during a regular jump with a parachute, consequently making the pleasure and feeling that a man can actually be a bird longer.
PHOTO EQUIPMENT USED FOR THIS PROJECT
This is not my first travelings to the some cold location and I was completely ready for this trip. Knowing what to expect gives me sufficient peace of mind to be able to concentrate on the project. Temperature was between -5°C and -20°C and my two bodies Nikon D3 are totally oblivious to the forces of nature. The cameras also withstands the damp caused by the snow flurries without problem. Even though I have brought along several batteries... one batterie is enough for a few days photography in the cold with Nikon D3. Incredible!
Batterie for D300 and D200 isn’t enough for an entire day's photography!
Photo equipment used for this project: Two cameras Nikon D3, Nikon D300 and Nikon D200. Nikon lenses 16mm/2.8, 17-35mm/2.8, 18-35/4.5, 12-24mm/4.5, 50mm/1.4, 80-400mm/4.5. 3 x Nikon flashes SB900, Pocket Wizzards and Manfrotto equipment.