Krestovsky (Крестовский, 4108m) extinct stratovolcano also known as Ploskaya Blizhniaya (literally, the “Nearest Flat” mountain to Klyuchi town) is the third highest and the second technically challenging summit in Klyuchevskaya range of Kamchatka peninsula.
The vast majority of climbers visit the area with the sole purpose of bagging the highest active volcano in Asia - Klyuchevskaya sopka. More adventurous souls often go for its Matterhorn-like neighbour - the imposing Kamen. These mighty volcanoes capable of satiating any climbing ambitions are understandable choices for the first visit into the area. However, if you have a few extra days, consider venturing 5 kilometers across the ice plateau to the base of Krestovsky. You will be rewarded with an incredibly diverse PD+ grade climbing and a unique chance to appreciate the Himalayan scale of the two giants you might have ascended a couple of days before.
It all starts with inconceivable non-stop flight from Moscow which perhaps is the longest flight in the world over a single country’s territory: it lasts about 8-9 hours. The main airport of Kamchatka (PKC) is located in Elizovo town which is 30 minutes away from the City (capital case since it is the only city in the peninsula).
All main roads go through Elizovo which makes it a convenient transport hub. Since the main city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is positioned in the dead-end of the road and itself is rather featureless, the only reason to go there is to see the bay, do some fishing daytrips or fix up any permits. Besides, short-stay apartment rentals are cheaper in Elizovo (80-100 USD per day for a 2-bedroom flat was a reasonable price in 2013) and seafood is somewhat cheaper and fresher in the local market where the notable portion of the clientele are flight attendants from Moscow.
Buses 101 or 103 will take you from the airport to Elizovo bus station in 5-10 minutes for approximately 2 USD (beware, this is not the final stop!). Then in order to get to Klyuchevskaya area from Elizovo you need to follow the longitudinal axis of the peninsula for some 600 km until you reach a small village of Kozyrevsk - a day’s ride on its own due to gravel road. Consider yourself lucky as until 2012 you would spend an extra hour or two waiting for the ferry across the peninsula’s main river which is now crossed by a bridge.
All regular buses depart Elizovo early in the morning (around 8:30) and do not connect with the arriving planes thus you are bound to stay for one night in Elizovo or Petropavlovsk unless you have pre-arranged a private bus. Regular bus costs around 50 USD (plus 8 USD for any large bags). Tickets are sold at the bus station and must be booked at least one day in advance but there are chances that the driver will let you sit on the floor if you could not get a ticket. Check actual timetables with Optimus company (www.autobuspk.ru).
From Kozyrevsk it takes another half a day of bumpy riding in a mighty military ATV through the wild taiga forest to get to the base of the volcanoes. Alternative entry point is the village of Lazo to the south but it is separated from the volcanoes with Tolbachik river which is impassable till early July even for heavy ATVs due to melting snowfields.
There are two drop-off points reachable from Kozyrevsk: one to the south of Tolbachik volcano and another to the north. The one to the south is situated on the ash fields of the Great Tolbachik Fissure Eruption and since the eruption of 2012 is much less convenient to access (factor in 5 hours of nightmarish uphill offroad through dense woods) but nevertheless spectacular. Bring your own water supplies for one day if you intend to drop off here. Choosing to travel from this point to Klyuchevskaya group of volcanoes will add 2 extra days to your itinerary as you will have to circumnavigate Tolbachik volcano counter-clockwise.
The other point is called Stol (“Table” in Russian) and indeed features a wooden table, shelter and recently built two-storey hut with basic amenities. Factor in 2-3 hours to get there from Kozyrevsk. Both drop-off points are approximately at 1200 meters elevation.
This route was first climbed in 1968 and is arguably the most diverse route on the mountain. The rocky ridge begins at the col between Ushkovsky and Krestovsky which can be reached by gaining approximately 600 meters of altitude via the enormous icefall flowing from the col. Camping should be possible on the ice plateau at the base of Krestovsky but we managed to pitch our tents on a spacious snow ledge at the foot of the icefall, just about 50-100 meters above the ice field. The site seems to be relatively safe from any falling ice but beware of crevasses!
Wake up early, rope up and ascend the icefall until you reach the col. You can either choose to climb about 3 full ropes of ~50 degree ice in the rightmost side of the icefall until you reach more level ground and continue to the col. However, we were lucky enough to have all the crevasses open and visible so we chose to find our way through the ice maze right in its middle part.
When you have reached the col, it’s time to unrope and do some gentle grade II rock climbing following the ridge until it merges into the snow dome some 700 meters above. The rock is actually quite solid russet-colored lava. On the snow dome it’s time to rope up again as there can be hidden crevasses. Cross the dome in north-west direction where it narrows into a knife-like snow ridge blocked by two consecutive gendarmes. Don’t come too close to the right side of the ridge as there may be cornices dropping onto north-east cirque of Krestovsky.
It is relatively easy to come over the gendarmes but some prefer to bypass them from the left. In both cases belaying is essential. The summit plateau is right beyond the gendarmes and is of a soccer field size. The highest point is somewhere to the far right corner. Again, beware of hidden crevasses.
Count for about 8 hours to the summit from the ice field. In good weather conditions you will be rewarded with a magnificent view of the two giants - Klyuchevskaya and Kamen - just across the valley. To the north it is possible to see Klyuchi town some 30 kilometers away with its military airstrip. Beyond it an ugly grey dome of Shiveluch volcano protrudes into the sky. To the north-east there is a shimmering delta of Kamchatka river flowing into the Pacific ocean.
On your way down it is possible to abseil to the col right from the summit in order to avoid downclimbing the ridge, however beware of crevasses near the col. It took us at least 10 full rope lengths and in July we had certain difficulties with making Abalakov threads in the melting ice.
This is the easiest route but long and tiresome. It was first climbed back in 1955. It is convenient to access from Klyuchi town which, as mentioned above, is currently off-limits for foreigners. The route effectively circumnavigates the brim of the north-east cirque counterclockwise.
Some trip reports mention ascending the north-east cirque heads-on via the icefall but the difficulty is unknown.
Krestovsky is located within the Klyuchevskoy Nature Park and you are expected to pay a small fee for its “recreational services”. As of 2013 the fee was about 10 USD per person/visit and the services were little more than several huts available on first-come first-use basis. It would be wise to ask the park workers to do sanity check of your intended route and give you an advice on the current conditions. The park’s main office is in Elizovo. Alternatively, if you are starting from Kozyrevsk you can find the park’s instructor or he will find you himself.
More importantly, the entire area to the north of Klyuchevskoy is restricted for foreigners since there is a missile test range nearby. In the mountains there will be no one to enforce that rule but if you end or start your route in Klyuchi you must obtain a permission from FSB office at Petropavlovsk requesting via fax (of course, in Russian) or in person at least one month in advance. Even if you manage to conceal your foreign chatter in Klyuchi, there is an operating military airstrip right to the south of Klyuchi, in between the town and Klyuchevskaya sopka where you are very likely to be stopped and questioned.
Failure to provide a permission will definitely cause you major delays in Klyuchi, fines and potentially deportation, while your Russian trip mates will be subject of severe brainwashing too. Keep in mind that faxes tend to be lost and you have to call FSB multiple times to get the process going. Note that local travel agencies are generally reluctant to help with getting the permission and that is the reason why most commercial tours start and end in Kozyrevsk or Lazo, not in Klyuchi.
End of July is probably the best season for summer climbing, featuring the warmest weather and fewer rains. There is still a considerable risk that the ice plateau will be covered with ankle-deep slush.
Another possibility is early autumn, in the beginning of September. The August rains are gone, the weather is cold and shiny but there are chances of early snowstorms.
Finally, skiing access is possible from the end of March till mid May. Be prepared to strong winds and bitter frost on the plateau. Digging a snow cave may be your best option.