National Geographic : 2001 Aug
/1 One of Kamchatka's full-time volcanologists is Eugene Vakin. Much of his work has been on Mutnovsky, a complex struc ture with multiple active craters on a single massif. In March 2000, steam blasts rocked one of the craters while within it a glacier began to collapse. A large section of the glacier JK vanished, and a green acidic lake, 650 feet in diameter, F appeared amid the broken ice. This kind of activity, Vakin 0 told us, indicates that Mutnovsky is heating up and sig nals the possibility of even bigger eruptions. We set out just after dawn to follow a turbid river up into that crater. Our path led across slopes of wet, slip- Milkovo pery ash, past fumaroles belching steam. Scrambling across the glacier, its surface a mass of dirty ice and cinders, we skirted the lake and climbed to a narrow divide. Standing on ice, we felt the hot breath of fuma roles; around us rose the steep crater walls lined with red and yellow deposits of crystalline sulfur. Slabs of gla cier peeled off and crashed into the sour pea green water. Carsten was ecstatic. When he and Franck decided to crawl under the glacier into a dark ice cave carved by a river of warm, acid water, I followed. Feodor just shook his head. We crab-walked under huge blocks of ice that had fallen around the entrance, then waded through shallow water to the edge of darkness. Pale light shafted down from crevasses in the roof, barely illu minating a world of gray: gray shadows, gray ice, gray volcanic ash, gray river. The inner walls, scalloped by steam and flowing water, were hung with icicles. The ice groaned above and around us-the internal workings of the glacier as it melted and moved. The hairs on my neck rose, and with them dreadful imaginings. Not only could the tunnel implode at any moment but also the lake, held back by only a wall of ice, could drain in a flash. It looked as if part of the cave had collapsed a few weeks earlier-what if another eruption, or even a slight earthquake, occurred while we were down there? As Car sten cheerfully put it, "The lake is above you, of course. You should feel as in a mousetrap." As Carsten and Franck's flashlights winked out of sight ahead, I did what any prudent mouse would do. I made my way back to open ground and sat with Feodor on a dusty block of ice. Roiling sulfurous vapor filtered the sun with the hint of violence, a reminder that this peaceful afternoon was just a brief respite from the ongoing storm of rocks and fire. Feodor and I chatted about our lives and our families as the sun sank toward the crater rim. I was content just to be there, sitting on the sidelines as the gomuls did their work. Share Jeremy Schmidt's field notes and learn about vol cano photography from Carsten Peter at nationalgeo graphic.com/ngm/0108.