Articles by Julia Phillips

Kamchatka Observer: Goodbye

In her final post for the Kamchatka Observer blog, author Julia Phillips writes about saying goodbye to the snowmobiles, bear cubs, and superlatively kind people of Kamchatka.

Highlights from the blog:

Twenty Years With the Gerasimovs (Nov. 15, 2011)

At War With Poaching in Protected Areas (Jan. 25, 2012)

A Fiery Win for Dog Musher (April 13, 2012)


In her final post for the Kamchatka Observer blog, author Julia Phillips writes about saying goodbye to the snowmobiles, bear cubs, and superlatively kind people of Kamchatka.

In Valley of the Geysers, a 'Month of Silence'

Every spring for more than 15 years, Kamchatka's famous federal nature reserve has announced a temporary restriction on visits to two of its best-known sites to encourage bear population growth.

Lessons in Itelmen

The Itelmen language, spoken by an ethnic group indigenous to the Kamchatka peninsula, is both tantalizingly rich and worryingly rare.


At a corner of this huge country, at the very edge of the world, the Kamchatka Peninsula juts 1,500 kilometers into the Pacific.

Building Burton Park

Snowboard manufacturer Burton's official distributor in Russia held a countrywide contest rewarding cities with new snow parks, and the comparatively small Petropavlovsk was in the running.

Post-Election Petropavlovsk

Between the lava, geysers, ice fields, and brown bears that roam the peninsula, Kamchatka could not seem more distant from the protests that blistered across the rest of the country this winter.

A Fiery Win for Dog Musher

Winner of the Beringia dog race Andrei Semashkin learned days into the three-week competition that his house had burned down.

Off to the Races

"The dogs," we shouted to each other, and pressed closer together. Someone called out and pointed to a hill on the horizon. A dark sled was zigzagging toward us.

Outside Looking In

It's one thing to stand at a distance and say "Kamchatka" as shorthand for a certain remote experience. It's another to visit, travel through, and depart from this peninsula still insisting that Kamchatka stands for only the icons of its landscape.

Cost of Living

Relatively high salaries have been instituted to compensate for the peninsula's remoteness, but consumer prices are marked up to a ludicrous degree.

From One Extreme to Another

Linda Bortoletto spent two months with eight reindeer herders, two cooks, and 2,000 reindeer in a stunning landscape ringed by rivers and mountains.

At War With Poaching in Protected Areas

A naturalist adopted three bear cubs in an effort to protect them from poachers, but his project ended tragically.

Revolutionary Times

The other side of the country spent last month counting Facebook event attendees and shouting on the streets. But those who mention the protests here often say in the same breath that Kamchatka needs stability more than activism.


Recently, I spoke to a woman who moved from Moscow to work in a Kamchatkan nature reserve. "Every time I close my eyes, no matter where I am Е I'll see these volcanoes," she said. What is it about this place that is so hypnotizing?

Learning to Mush

In January 2011, Lisa Strecker returned to Kamchatka from Germany to begin training for the Beringia dog sled race, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest mushing trail in the world.

Cohabiting with Natural Disaster

Like Iceland, Patagonia, and Alaska, Kamchatka has been called a "land of fire and ice". Taken literally, this title is a perfect fit: the peninsula is sealed with permafrost in the north and lined with glaciers, and it holds 160 volcanoes.

Duma Vote on Kamchatka

"We said itЧWe did it!" read a United Russia campaign poster pasted to the window of one of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky's buses. Under its caption, the poster showed a steamroller flattening new pavement on a city street.

Paradise in the Kronotsky Reserve

In 1933, the prominent Soviet volcanologist Boris Piip visited the Uzon caldera. "Here there is no September, no summer, no fall Ч here, now is paradise," he wrote. Seventy-eight Septembers later, I had a chance to see Uzon myself.


Winter is coming to the peninsula. In the past couple of weeks, the sky here has lowered and started shining orange at night. Three blizzards have settled on the city so far. Car brakes are becoming useless, and the sidewalks are sealed with ice.

Visiting the Capital

"Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is not a city. It's a phantom," journalist Dmitry Gubin wrote in a recent article in Ogonyok magazine.

Cannonballs and Missile Tests

After leaving Alaska, Korean Airlines Flight 007 veered off course, flew steadily to the north of its planned flight path, and eventually passed into prohibited Soviet airspace over Kamchatka. A missile test was planned that day, and the plane's appearance was interpreted as an act of war.

Bear Country

When the weather was better, the bear warnings were constant: don't walk alone; when in the woods, make noise by talking or singing; carry fireworks or horns. The risk of attack is slim but constant.

Twenty Years with the Gerasimovs

In 1992, Nikolai Gerasimov constructed a facility outside Petropavlovsk that would assume sole responsibility for the recovery of the Aleutian Canada goose in Asia. With the help of the federal government, Kamchatka businesses, Alaskan outreach teams, and a Japanese zoo, he and his wife raised 500 birds over eighteen years.

Day of National Unity

"If you're not doing anything," he said, "you should come to the Russian March with us." I stared at him. "But I'm not Russian," I said. He stared back at me. "Are you trying to tell me something?" I asked. "Why would I go to that?"

In the Valley of the Geysers

Seventy years ago, Tatyana Ustinova and Anysyfor Krupenin, a geologist and a guide respectively from one of Kamchatka's nature reserves, set out to find the source of the Shumnaya River. They took dog sleds deep into the mountains, set up camp, and skied along the riverbed for a long while.

Welcome to Kamchatka

Your day starts here. First the sky brightens over Big Diomede Island in the Bering Strait. The sun rises next on Chukotka Ч frozen, barely populated. Light comes then to the long strip of land called Kamchatka. In another eight hours, it will get to Moscow.