Matya Island and Yankitcha Islan - Friday 17 Aug, 2007
We woke up at 6:30 a.m. on a beautiful sunny morning. Right in front of us was a magnificent view of Sarycheva volcano which is located on the northern side of Matya Island. The island itself is a volcanic complex with old volcanic structure eroded into an almost flat plateau on the south with traces of an old caldera now filled in with lava and pyroclastic material from the Sarycheva volcano. This is one of the most active volcanoes of the Kurils. At 8 a.m. zodiacs brought people on shore. The back parts of the beach used to be covered with thick vegetation hiding the nasty artifacts from the Soviet military presence. Most of this vegetation and sand on the beach was washed off by the tsunami wave that hit the coast of Matya Island in January of 2007. The tsunami wave exposed rusty pieces of machinery, diesel fuel containers and other junk that was left behind by military after they left the island in the early 1990's.
Daria led a group of 16 hikers up the trail to the plateau. The vegetation along the trail was very thick and tall. Once we hiked up to the level of plateau the clouds moved away and we saw the peak of Sarycheva. We wandered around the abandoned military station where so much had been left behind, including uniforms, electronic gear, rubber boots, film rolls and even a tripod. We toured the territory with caution because of the sharp metal scrap and broken glass sticking from the ground.
While Wayne took six people on a hike to an airfield where they saw old bunkers and huge antenna and other equipment associated with it, some of us decided to come back to the shore to join zodiac cruises around the island. Our zodiac drivers circumnavigated the island so we could see the vast number of birds, the harbor seals playing in the water and the beautiful old rock formations from previously existing volcanoes on the island.
After lunch we heard an announcement from the bridge to look at the starboard side of the ship where several orcas were spotted. When Cheli tried to count how many orcas were by the side of the ship she stopped at 13. Then our captain Mike turned the ship and followed a group of orcas breaking the waves and probably looking for lunch. We were lucky to watch this game for more then an hour and saw more than 20 orcas.
After the excitement we had a little rest and prepared for very interesting trip to the caldera of Yankicha in the afternoon. Captain Mike anchored the ship about quarter of a mile from the entrance of this caldera which is filled with salt water. The passengers in four zodiacs arrived at the northern side of the caldera to explore with Daria hydrothermal field with steaming fumaroles, sulfur crystals, hot springs and boiling puddles. After we smelled enough of the hydrogen sulfate, we divided into three groups. Several of us climbed to the caldera rim to see a brief view of a steep wall of volcanic tuff abruptly dropping to the ocean. The inside of the caldera was covered with a light fog giving it a mysterious appearance. Wayne led a group to explore the wooden buildings on the lake shore used by researchers, while Brent took birders to find whiskered auklets. After a short cruise of the lake Brent's zodiac spotted six polar foxes. Wayne's group hurried to the zodiac and not only to see the foxes but establish a bit of communication. When the last zodiac came to the scene everybody in Wayne's zodiac worked their cameras taking one picture after another of Wayne sitting on a rock at the shore and a young fox trying to chew on his rubber boots, undo strings on his pants, nip his hands, and do other silly things. Such entertainment for the fox and us could have continued for hours, but we knew there are other things to see outside of caldera including hot chocolate and a well deserved dinner on board. After swinging along the cliff, watching the birds. and trying to sail through a narrow sea arch, we finally made it back on board. What a great day it was!