Red, green, and violet lights filled the cabin. I gazed out the window sleepily. Fireworks soared through the camp: it was time to climb Avacha. My mother and I dressed quickly and warmly. We headed down towards a gathering crowd at the banks of a river. Close to 500 people were going to climb Avacha on that cold July morning. Babushkas, veterans, sports men, children, teachers, musicians -it seemed everyone was going to make the climb.
My mother and I arrived in Kamchatka after traveling for two months through Siberia by buses, trains, planes, and at times even horses. A taxi driver who picked us up at Petropalovsk international airport told us that there would be a communal climb up Avachinsky Volcano in memory of a local philanthropist and musician. The next morning we were part of a colorful crowd loading up into old Soviet buses. It was dark when we arrived at base camp. We went to sleep in our cabins soon after. It wasn’t until morning that I saw where we were.
The peak steamed like a warm bowl of borsht on a cold winter day. The route started off steep and everyone found their pace quickly. After a few hours I was in my own world. I watched the clouds envelop people below and above me. One moment I was only inside of a cloud it would become cold and disorienting. Where had the volcano gone? Where was I? Then the sun would come out and I would see for miles across the Kamchatka wilderness: grizzly country.
On approaching the last stretch of the climb I began to breathe heavily. I had never been up so high in my life close to 9000 feet. Generally it is better not to look down but on that day I found that looking up was more dangerous –it didn’t seem like I was getting any closer to the peak. I was exaughsted and my feet were beginning to give out on me. I entered some kind of a trance and before I knew it there was a rope in front of me and I grabbed onto it and pulled myself up to the peak. I lay on warm volcanic rocks and breathed sulfur for the next hour. People slowly trickled entering over the rim of the volcano. I was impressed to see the colorful bunch of locals make the same difficult journey I had just made.