Klyuchi is a wooden-shack, mud-street village of ethnic Russians about halfway up the Kamchatka Peninsula near the end of the one dirt track heading north from the capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, 500km to the south. As with most of Kamchatka it gets buried in depths of snow rarely seen elsewhere in Russia. Located about 25km away and fully visible from the village towers the magnificent, constantly smoking Klyuchevskaya Sopka, Eurasia’s largest active volcano.

A house in April in Klyuchi, nearest village to Klyuchevskaya Sopka volcano, Kamchatka

A house in Klyuchi in April

A bus leaves Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky every day at 7 or 8am for Klyuchi, costing around 1000 roubles one way and taking 10 hours due to the poor condition of the road. When coming from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky the road forks shortly after Milkovo. The left fork goes to Anavgay, Esso and the start of the zimnik (temporary winter road) north to Palana and points further. The right fork goes to Klyuchi and the port town of Ust-Kamchatsk, where the road ends.

After the fork there is a river that needs crossing. The trouble is that there is no bridge (at least there wasn’t in April 2011, although construction of one had begun). The bus solves this problem by driving across the frozen ice until mid-April, when officially the ice is too thin for vehicles. Private cars keep crossing it though into May and sometimes even June. In summer there is a ferry that takes the bus and other vehicles across, but there is a time in between spring and summer where the ice is too thin for vehicles and too thick for the ferry. At this time of year Klyuchi is isolated from the rest of Kamchatka.

You can also easily get to Klyuchi from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky by hitch hiking. Get a city bus to the outskirts of Petropavlovak-Kamchatsky on the road to Yelisovo or get one of the regular buses to Yelisovo itself and start from there. You will most likely not get a lift direct to Klyuchi, but do it in stages stopping off at towns such as Koryaki and Milkovo on the way.

In Klyuchi the only place to stay is at a makeshift guest house set up by a volcanologist who has been stationed in Klyuchi for the last three decades. His name is Yury – ask around the village for him, everyone knows him. He can also give you information on finding the track to the volcanologists’ cabin located at the base of Klyuchevskaya Sopka which can be reached on foot in winter and summer. Of course in winter there is so much snow that it would be easier on skis or a snowmobile. In summer the track is good enough that you can reach the cabin by bike. If you want a guide to take you to the volcano, ask Yury or anyone in the village to put you in touch with Andrey who used to work for the volcanologists.

Klyuchi is located in a closed area. This means that anyone not registered as a permanent resident, Russian or otherwise, needs a permit to come here. This can be obtained by applying to the border division (pogran otdel) in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky long in advance or by going through a tour agency in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. See this website’s main Russia page for information on how to obtain a permit.

Click here for my blog about hitch-hiking from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Klyuchi and my time in Klyuchi. It’s 8088 words and 33 photos.

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