See More Photos from Kamchtka on our Flickr Gallery!

Kamchatka is a land shaped from fire and ice. A remote, spectacular part of the world with 30 active volcanoes and vast tracts of unexplored wilderness. The Eastern Seaboard of the Kamchatka peninsula on Russia’s Pacific coast has been protected from modern development by decades of Soviet rule.


2 women, Justine Curgenven and Hadas Feldman, set themselves the challenge of kayaking over 400 miles along the exposed, lonely coastline. Big surf, unpredictable weather, the world’s largest population of brown bears and a complete lack of infrastructure add to the challenges. But the biggest difficulty of all is that they have to take a novice Russian kayaker with them!

And we did it. 650km in 19 days with only 2 rest days. The surf was always intimidating and at times downright scary. I got knocked over onto my side on the first day and my heart sank as I thought I was going to have to try to roll. Luckily I got away with it and hip flicked back up. Alexey swam many times when the surf was big but he did amazingly well and managed to stay in his boat on days when Hadas and I felt sure we’d be fishing him out of the water.

After our very first day of paddling we had just set up our tents and thrown our gear all over the beach when a tank arrived. 8 soldiers jumped off and slung their rifles over their shoulders. One man stepped forward and demanded to see our permits. It was quite exciting for a time, and Hadas and I watched Alexey and the soldier talking and pointing. Then Alexey told us that there was a problem. Not only did we have to go with the soldiers to their base, but we had to take all our kit and our kayaks. Hadas looked horrified as I point blank refused to move. I had spent such a long time planning this trip and probably seen too many films. I was paranoid that we’d be thrown into a jail by corrupt Russian soldiers and told we couldn’t leave until we produced 5,000 dollars. NO, I said again. However, the soldiers weren’t budging and it became obvious that we had little choice. The Russians helped us load the kayaks onto the tank and off we went over sand dunes and across a river. Hadas and I had to wait on the tank outside the base while god knows what went on inside. But after 3 hours Alexey emerged and told us everything was OK. The soldiers followed him and took us back to the exact same spot on the beach. What an adventure – and I got it on camera!!

Back on the water, we saw our first brown bears and we were very nervous about landing anywhere. Massive foot prints seemed to be on every beach, no matter how steep the cliffs. On day 3 we arrived at the perfect beach for a campsite but it was so good that there were already 2 bears there foraging for seaweed. Fortunately they ran away when they smelt us and we were treated to the spectacle of them clawing their way up an impossibly precipitous cliff. The only problem with that was that they’d be able to come back down again. Hadas and I tried to believe Alexey when he said that the bears would stay away now that they knew we were here. I’m sure Alexey knows his stuff and I can only imagine that the bear that wandered within 100 metres of our campsite later that night hadn’t got the message on the bear grapevine that this beach was out of bounds.

Hardly anyone lives along this stretch of coast but we visited most of the people that do. Our first encounter was at the fishing village of Jupanova. A few dozen men work there for 8 months of the year with no contact with home. They looked after us in the fashion that everyone we met would. They let us use their Russian sauna and fed us salmon and caviar for dinner and breakfast. They also let Alexey salt some salmon that he had found in a washed up fishing net that morning.

The most touching contact we had was with 2 couples who man a remote lighthouse. Their outpost is so isolated that we were the first people they had seen for 8 months. We delivered 2 letters to one man and it nearly made me cry to watch the joy on his face as he read news of his son. The letter had been written 6 months before but that didn’t matter to him.

Overall the trip was very exciting and full of different challenges. We had thick fog for several days which kept us on our toes navigating – especially as there were many offshore reefs and rocks. At one point we couldn’t tell if we were kayaking around a small offshore rock or if we were right by the mainland. For the last 4 days our fortunes changed, the sun came out in force and we found we were too hot in our winter thermals. Kamchatka was experiencing an unprecedented heat wave. Even the swell died down and we enjoyed sunshine, calm seas and stunning views. I even paddled in a bikini one day!

We pulled our kayaks on shore for the last time in the fishing town of Ust Kamchatsk, 19 days after leaving Petropavlovsk. We’d made it safely to the one road back to the capital. As always at the end of an exciting and challenging journey, our heads were full of conflicting emotions. Happiness and relief to have achieved our goal, and sadness that we have to leave it all behind and face that thing called real life again.

You can see a 1 hour documentary of this expedition on the National Geographic Channel and Adventure One. It’s programme 17 in a series called “Adventure Challenge” and is called “One Risk Too Many”. The highlights of the expedition can be seen on the DVD “This is the sea


Hadas and I would like to heartily thank everyone who helped make the Kamchatka expedition possible.

Nigel Dennis Kayaks | Lendal | Reed Chillcheater | Peak UK | Snapdragon | Teva | Powerbar | The Welsh Sports Council Overseas Expedition Fund

Extreme Vision Systems (makers of the waterproof minicam system) | The North Face | Martha Masden from Explore Kamchatka