Kolyma ports-of-call – No. 2: the Indigirka Tube (no place for delicate cars).

Despite these hard times, we continue our work saving the world from all manner of cyber-maliciousness. We adapt; we carry on. Meanwhile, I hope my travel notes and photos will bring a little cheeriness to all who view them – because there’s hardly a better way to do that than with the beauty of nature (and a spot of adventure).

Our second turn off the Kolyma Highway on our Magadan–Yakutsk–Baikal road-trip was onto the Indigirka winter road, to take us to Bolshoy Ushelye (Big Gorge), aka Indigirkskaya Truba (Indigirka Tube) frozen river rapids (set amid a particularly pretty, wide valley; see below). And both the winter road and the rapids were breathtakingly beautiful…

Here we are in the “tube” ->

And this is our day on the map:

Now, what needs doing every morning first thing? Remember?…

That’s right – fill up with gas. Actually – not gas, but diesel, which all our vehicles ran on. So we filled up – with the outside temperature in Ust-Nera around -50°C. Brrr…

It seems the further we get from Magadan, the more brutal become the filling “stations” ) ->

And the price? Diesel in Magadan was 64 rubles a liter; here – 87!! ->

Wow – check out this vehicle that pulled up. Now that’s the kind of thing you really need for the temporary winter roads round here:

Then it was onto the winter road, heading north:

Much of the winter road was cleared of snow and perfectly flat: you’re actually driving on the ice underneath! ->

Meanwhile we check the outside temperature…

Remember – at around -40°C the onboard thermometer stops working; therefore, we’d attached special ones to the outside of the cars. Sometimes analogue technology works best ).

Morning ice mist:

The views all around – we were starting to get used to them :-0)! ->

Though only a temporary road, it’s still signposted occasionally:

Some of the signs are… odd:

“Pustoti” (Emptiness)!

Like I say, the road’s mostly smooth…

But occasionally you see signs warning of bumpiness:

And the signposts are there for a reason! ->

The winter road is sufficiently wide most of the way. A few times it was a bit too narrow for comfort and we radioed slow-moving vehicles to let us pass:

Other times, even thinking about overtaking was out of the question. And these trucks were heavily laden; result – the going was slow when we got stuck behind one:

We passed a few settlements:

On and on and on… We never tired of the views round here – they seemed to get better and better the farther north we drove…

The Momsky District, and another time zone. Yakutia has a full three of them!

Mist above the river – that signifies rapids. They’re cold, but all the same the create a mist as if they’re piping hot!

Ice blocks – probably frozen rapids! ->

Here we stop to let some oncoming traffic pass:

On the way back down south the trucks are empty, light, happy ) ->

A little further… And here’s the Indigirka Tube:

Here’s a “warming cabin”! ->

The tube:

The views are rugged everywhere you look. Inside the vehicles it’s nice and warm; outside – we can’t really tell, but we’re guessing it’s bitterly cold judging by the cleared ice (snow blown off it by a high wind) ->

We got out of the cars and, though it showed only -40°C, the wind made it seem twice that – yes: -80°C!

The views all around – oh my grandiose:

Fascinating ice:

Multicolored ice:

The river’s frozen right down to its bottom: you can see the rocks lying thereupon:

Whereas this boulder is hanging in the middle of the ice! ->

And another! Yakutian river-boulder magic! ->

So yes – a wholly unusual place. Just wrap up super warm if you ever come here yourself.

And that was that. Done. Next – about turn and back down south…

The “943” is the distance to the end of the winter road to the north. It’s 180km down to Ust-Nera:

Another day, another… technical hiccup…

The suspension on two of our cars – not the one in the following pic – failed:

The “autopsy” later showed that the much-touted pneumatic suspension of the vehicles had simply frozen! Driving along the smooth ice – the busted-up state of the air suspension wasn’t noticed: driving back down to the Kolyma Highway, the only thing we noticed was that the cars’ undercarriages seemed to be hitting on rocks (which didn’t happen on the way up), but we didn’t pay it any mind. It was only the day after when we sped up on not-the-smoothest road that we realized finally there was something badly up: the folks in the two affected cars felt as if… their spines had been pneumatically compressed into the seat of their pants! We made it to the village of Tomtor (40km from our designation that day – Oymyakon) to have the cars repaired in the nearest heated garage.

So how did the suspension fail? It seems it was… a bit too cool for such coldness. See, this pneumatic suspension – you can raise it and lower it, depending on the terrain you’re on at any given time: rough off-roadiness: you raise it so the chassis is lifted high up from the axels; smooth plain-sailing highway cruising – you lower it. Gangster rapper stylee, kinda. Sometimes it goes up and down itself reacting to sensors, or you can control it manually. Anyway, on our way up toward Big Gorge it was lowering itself on the flat ice, and we had to raise it manually plenty when we slipped onto the shore from time to time. All that up-and-down in ~-50°C – it just wasn’t up to the task.

For European off-road driving and euro-winters, these Land Rovers are fine (if you ignore the on-board navigator and media system hiccups). For Yakutian winters: not fine.

Some of you may be thinking something like “but, of course they’re not suitable for Yakutian winters; not much is!” And you’d be right. But these Land Rovers of ours had been very specially prepared for the intense cold and rough terrain beforehand by the extreme-motoring tour-company Avtorazum, which we were using for the third time. They are extra-insulated; all the oil and other fluids are changed out for special arctic-suitable ones; all unnecessary fancy stuff that doesn’t work at minus 50 is removed, and so on (I’m no mechanic, so precisely what was removed, I don’t know). It seems they did their best, but preparing the suspension for the intense cold and rough terrain didn’t quite work out.

There was one other issue we had that they couldn’t fix: the cars would occasionally catch a mobile network signal and suggest updating the onboard software. This was categorically forbidden since the updates wouldn’t work with the “Yakutia-optimized” “hardware”. We never did update, but we were told some other folks did – back in Magadan. After doing so, the car in question coughed and sneezed every now and again – and even vomited a few times – but it always managed to carry on. Eventually though, after a few days, it finally gave in and broke down and wouldn’t start up again. It had to be towed to the nearest village, and from there it was carried on the back of a flatbed truck all the way to Yakutsk. We didn’t want a repeat of that!

In closing, a few more pics. First up – full moon! ->

This mountain – clearly a wannabe volcano! ->

We arrive! Distance marker 1123. Woah (a quick look on the internet) – this means the winter road goes all the way up to Chokurdakhhere!

And that’s all from the Indigirka winter road. Here we are back at the junction with the Kolyma Highway:

The rest of the photos from the MYB expedition are here.

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