Kamchatka bohemian style

Once again, it is Swiss skiers, people known for their precision and organisation, who are shaking up normality. Hardy Helvetians, impervious to the heli-skiing sirens who reign over the immense volcanoes of the Kamchatka peninsula, the crows Loïs Robatel and Arnaud Cottet, accompanied by Vincent Fournier, went to explore this land denuded of road networks armed with their athletic bodies, their inner suns and their freebird skis. Lois tells us about this turbulent adventure.

Lois Robatel&Arnaud Cottet

Yet another check of equipment caused by the excitement of the imminent departure. That moment when thoughts oscillate between the guilt of going to the other end of the planet to do what one could do two steps from home and the desire to discover far off lands. It is as if the sight of these wild and unspoilt areas grant us a window of breathing space away from a life which is too prone to actions and interactions. The external world always influences our way of thinking.

« Shall we do a project in the spring lads ? » It was Arnaud, as is his habit who got us together, Vincent and I, in the hut at the Diablerets glacier, on a day of heavy snow in January. The descents accumulated while ideas for the trip developed during the pauses. « Russia wouldn’t be bad, we don’t really know it and if there is no snow we can get drunk ! »

Lois Robatel&Arnaud Cottet

It was decided that it would be the Kamchatka. Names like Timbuktu, Ouagadougou or Tbilissi, entice us to travel due to their phonetic melodies. Through our friends, we found several contacts in order to study the possibilities of this vast peninsula without using helicopter transportation. This region is renowned for this airborne activity. As for us, we were going to try and sleep under canvas as much as possible and move around under the force of our own muscles.

« Hello ! Have you got everything ? All’s well, the visas came this morning, and I’ve bought a lot of chocolate ! » Beneath these nonchalant airs, Arnaud is a serious guy. Everything that he undertakes is done very professionally and he is an ideal travelling companion. It wasn’t our first trip together and I was delighted to be experiencing another adventure in his and Vincent’s company. Thus, we found ourselves together at the airport en route for Moscow. A lightening visit to this cosmopolitan city. A brief squint at the Red Square and we were ready for more serious things. Petropavlovsk we had arrived… Arnaud had reserved, by chance, a room in an inn run by the Kamchatka Freeride Community. This inn was to become our backstop base for all our adventures in the Kamchatskis.

Lois Robatel&Arnaud Cottet

After several phone calls and meetings, we organised our means of transport for reaching the snowy summits. The team at the inn offered to drop off us by snow-scooter near a chain of mountains in the centre of the peninsula. We filled several bags with food and above all smoked salmon, then we piled into the minibus to get to this snow that we had been looking forward to. Chance is often with us on our trips. Arnaud and I have travelled far and wide with skis on our feet, and I believe that our joy of living spreads around us. Encounters are always highlights. I have also got to know Vincent who completes this marvellous team. It’s as if the human heart is the sun. The more that it shines, the more that those around about are lit up and warmed up. We try to diffuse it as much as possible around us and it seems to be reflected in return. Thanks to the Kamchatka Freeride Community for accompanying us. Wrapped in a two-stroke engine smell, we glided over the plains towards a mountainous horizon. Technology is good when it comes to being towed for a good hour behind a snowmobile… Without accounting for a week’s supplies and all the camping gear.

We arrived on a plateau below several beautiful mountains and we immediately pointed out the gullies which were facing us. We installed the camp and slid our paraglider canopies into our packs. No wind, we climbed to the summit of a pass and took off for a visit of the birds’ world. Floating above the birch forests, following with our eyes the meanders of the rivers that extended far into the distance. We couldn’t stop ourselves from shouting with joy ! In the air, I thought about of my friend Greg, who had recently died, he had also visited this peninsula. We had shared this passion for flying, and in my heart, I dedicated this aerial moment over the country of bears to him.

Lois Robatel&Arnaud Cottet

The next day the weather conditions weren’t good, but sufficiently stable to attempt a hemmed in gully which was visible from the camp. A great first ! Upon our return we built a big wall around our camp. The wind was to get stronger during the following days and it was better to be prepared. Good intuition, the following day was spent in the tent in the teeth of a storm. It was cold, the wind must have been blowing at 100km per hour. I would have been much better at the hotel or even at home… There are those moments when I ask myself why I inflict myself to this type of trip.

I put on my boots and went out of the tent. That was enough to refresh my spirit. I watched the wind dancing on the peaks, singing in the trees, lifting the snow to whip my face. I felt the cold numbing my hands. I felt alive, intimately linked to this universe. I was like one of these particles blowing in the wind. I found a way of justifying my presence there and looked forward to more clement days in which to explore !

Lois Robatel&Arnaud Cottet

The storm ended and we set off early in the direction of the summits that we had observed from the air. Several hours of exertion and we were overlooking dozens of small valleys through which a multitude of rivers must wind during the summer. We took advantage of the view while looking for the best photographic view points. It is often very personal, but when one of us has an idea, each of us heeds to their instructions. It was a beautiful afternoon and the clichés reported were fairly accurate reflections of our feelings at the time.

The next day would be the last and there were several more gullies which had attracted out attention. Vincent, as was his habit, was the first to get up and he woke us with his famous « Prrrrrriviet », then he prepared the daily porridge. Stomachs full, we set off to explore the slopes. The snow was good and we made the most of it. The sentiment of gliding is what has allowed my to live the most beautiful life on this earth. It is as if I am not affected by the forces of nature but I am made by them. Whether it be on snow, water or in the air , it offers us the chance to write as elegantly as we please, leaving an ephemeral trace in the beauty of the world.

Lois Robatel&Arnaud Cottet

There is neither superiority, nor inferiority, but rather an equality in order to create in harmony with our planet. If only one could act like that for all out actions… Our three packs were once again loaded behind the motor scooters. We returned to Petropavlovsk to organise the rest of our stay. There we found Alexei, one of the founders of the Kamchatka Freeride Community. « Friends, tomorrow we are putting our boat into the water, we are heading to Russkaya Bay. We have room on the boat. Are you interested ? Departure at 5 am… »

It seemed that chance had smiled down upon us once again. With hardly time to restock our provisions and there we were navigating on the Pacific Ocean. Seven hours on the boat which will remain forever engraved on our memories. We spent the whole trip outside despite the cold air contemplating the views, at times volcanic at others alpine, of this land. The sea-birds, the elephant seals and for sure the grandeur of the ocean. We arrived at the end of Russkaya Bay. A completely timeless area where nature and the residual traces of humans mix. The old boat which was acting as a mooring pontoon is the wreck of a tanker which carried silver-enriched water. It was sold to Petropavlovsk for its beneficial virtues. At the end of the bay, an ancient fishing village, the remains of tanks and helicopters. We regained our childhood spirits by visiting these ruins. Collecting our various treasures – chairs, tables, books – we set up our base camp for the week. Above us the possibilities were enormous.

Lois Robatel&Arnaud Cottet

Awoke, breakfasted and there we were in line aiming to find the best itineraries for our skis. How good life is when the day’s objectives are so simple. During the hours of walking, I think a lot about my work routine in Switzerland, my objectives for the future, about all that is accomplished and of those which pose a problem for me. I take all this on my day’s skiing. I see the objective in front of me, I choose the difficulty. Then it is up to me to apply the necessary energy to realise the project. I choose the itinerary, sometimes with the help of my travelling companions. I achieve my objective by arriving at the summit ! It is a moment of joy and reassuring satisfaction. I am capable of getting to the end of a project and profiting from it ! Skis on our feet we slid across the Pacific Ocean . The sun made its appearance for the first time in the day and gave us a grandiose spectacle. The royal blue of the ocean with a breathtaking décor as a backdrop. It was with the sentiment of accomplishment that I tackled the last slope towards the camp.

The following days were windy and fairly unsettled. All the same we skied several near-by slopes but the wind often over-rode our motivation. Time became relative and the rhythm of the day was set by the number of thermoses of tea consumed. It snowed outside and our tents were covered with this soft white layer. The next day would certainly be a day for skiing.

Lois Robatel&Arnaud Cottet

The wind seemed to have calmed down, we decided to head towards a slope emerging from the ocean. Half-way, the light morning breeze transformed into a tempest. I fought against the gusts and the following thoughts came to mind : if the ground breathes, it is with the wind and I had to breathe even harder to succeed against its force ! I started to breathe deeply, slowing my steps, accelerating so as not to lose my balance. I reached the top with a smile on my lips despite the wind which whipped my face. Man’s premier food : the air.

Joined very quickly by my two companions, we hastened to remove our skins and set our sights on where we would arrive on the beach. I went several metres along the ridge, skis on my feet. A small slab fell away and carried with it considerable quantity of snow. This drew a magnificent white frieze of snow in the ocean, thousands of feet below. We quickly chose a different aspect for our descent while still watching this frieze the disappearing in the blue of the bay.

Lois Robatel&Arnaud Cottet

We had to wait for the last day to finally have the conditions of which we had dreamed; Blue skies and above all… No wind. We were picked up by an MI-8 helicopter heading to Petropavlovsk. A flight at sunset with as a backdrop, volcanoes, mountains and the Pacific ocean. Returned to our back stop base, we only had a few days left in which to profit from this peninsular.

We decided to go in the direction of on of Kamchatka’s numerous volcanoes. The snow conditions were bad, the view was sensational and the wind started blowing again.

Thank you Kamchatka for all that you gave us.

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