Que sera, sera – in Ust-Nera-Nera!

Our next overnight stay on our Yakutsk-Tiksi-Yakutsk road trip was in Ust-Nera. As you can see on that Google Map – that’s a long way: 560 kilometers, which should take around 10 hours (!). However, all those 10 hours were to be spent on the Kolyma Highway, so, we were like: yes, bring it on!

I’ve told you plenty of times already – this isn’t just a fascinatingly beautiful road-route to be taken through the deep-frozen Siberian countryside, this is a candidate for one of the most beautiful road-routes in the whole world! Yes, that is a bold statement; but it’s not as if I haven’t driven on some of the other contenders for that title around the world; therefore, I’m sticking with my boldness. I mean – just look! ->

Still need convincing? How about our decision to drive along Kolyma Highway already a third time in as many years? Still need convincing? Read on…

Our first road trip along Kolyma was in the month of January – in 2021; our second time was in February – in 2023; while this time we went for March – when the outside temperatures are normally above -40°C. And above -40°C meant we didn’t need to take any notice of the temperature the thermometer fixed to the outside of our windshield gave. Why such brazen carelessness? Because above -40°C you don’t need to limit your speed simply due to the extreme cold. You can use regular – “consumer” – instruments like the speedometer in the dashboard display (next to the temperature shown on the dashboard too, which only displays above the “magic” -40!). Below -40°C you need to be real careful to keep your speed low; otherwise something on the car is bound to break or snap and you’ll be broken down out here (in the middle of nowhere) in the cold: not advised! But I think I’m repeating myself! All righty. Onward!…

Not long after leaving Khandyga we came to this here sign with several road-hazard warnings all together. And those warnings actually relate to a whole 188 kilometers of road ahead!…

As mentioned, our first day on the road was a rather dull one. That all changed on day-two – but not straight away…

The first hundred kilometers or so were mostly like the previous day – utilitarian and boring. The only highlight – passing through the delightfully-named village of Tyoply Klyuch – Warm Spring (here)!

Where it got its name from I’ve no idea ->

And soon enough after Warm Key snow-capped mountains started to appear; specifically, the Verkhoyansk Range ->

We came to a junction: to the left (north) there’s the road to Topolinoye (here). The plan was to be coming back down that road to rejoin Kolyma in around two weeks’ time; let’s see how that worked out!…

We carried on along Kolyma heading for the Indigirka river ice-road – the views getting better and better ->

As you can see – hardly a soul on the roads, which was nice. The odd time we did pass a slow-moving truck, it would always flash its right-hand indicators to let us know the coast was clear for us to overtake…

White expanses, mountains all around, good road, good cars. Wonderful!

Occasionally, given the icy conditions, we’d switch to manual control of the vehicles’ gearboxes to improve control… We took a right off the main road here…

…Up an emergency off-ramp near the bottom of a hill. It’s meant for trucks in case they lose control of and the brakes can’t cope. But we went up it just for the tourism factor – for the views and the photos thereof ->

This sign indicates a “dangerous zone” is coming up…

It refers to the infamous “Black Clamp”. In the past it was not just dangerous but deadly: it used to be single-track and featured sharp inclines/declines combined with just as sharp turns – with sheer drops down the side of the road. Thankfully since then it’s been widened and the bridge has been raised, but it’s still dangerous to this day…

Here’s the especially dangerous section:

A few remains of trucks that recently careered off the road are visible still visible; alas, they could have been fatal crashes ->

Since we were all “smalls” – the professional term of long-distance truckers for any vehicle smaller than a truck – we were ok: we reduced our speed in good time and didn’t have tons and tons of cargo in the back creating hard-to-control momentum.

Here are our smalls, btw – shown simply to inject optimism back into this narrative:


The good thing about driving along Kolyma in March is that the days are longer – you tend to arrive at your next overnight-stay town/village in daylight. Of course, it’s warmer too – well above -40°C. The downside, as mentioned – is less snow and hoarfrost covering everything…

With still more than 200 kilometers to go to our next port-of-call – Ust-Nera – the road ceases to be smooth and well-maintained and gets all bumpy. Still, at least this isn’t just neglect: the road is actually undergoing repairs: it’s being widened, straightened and resurfaced, and new bridges are being built…

We pass the turning for Oymyakon – the Pole of Cold – as this year it didn’t figure our planned route. Later, though – we ended up in… Oymyakon! But more on that another time…


Of course – we just had to stop off at “Cuba” for eats. It’s already a Kolyma tradition (2021, 2022)!

Let me quote what was written about it in 2022: “Interesting place. The service leaves much to be desired, yet simply everyone passing drops in. But then – they’ve hardly much choice: one way it’s 240km to the nearest eatery-cum-filling-station (in Ust-Nera), the other way – 250km (in Tyopli Klyuch)!”

The one thing I will say about Cuba – this one, at least – is that they serve up some seriously scrumptious scran. And no greasy-spoonishness either. Of course, on the outside it doesn’t look promising ) ->

…But once inside in the warmth – aaaaaaah.

This was our fourth visit to the café. And Annya, the stern and strict server, even recognizes us now – and even managed a smile ).

Fully sated, onward we drove. With 560km left to go, such a prospect somewhere else would be a mood dampener. Not here: we were on Kolyma; moreover, the road was back to smooth, the scenic views all around went on forever, and there was sufficient whiteness for added meditativeness ->

We approach the most beautiful spot on Kolyma – Olchansky Pass…

This is the most beautiful spot on the Kolyma Highway. Here it is in January 2021, and in February 2022 ->

Harsh, frost-bitten, beautiful…

The sun was shining, but you sure couldn’t feel any of its heat!

The following photo was taken this year – in March. I’d never noticed the large mountain on the horizon before through the mega-frosty air. This year it was clearly visible, standing proud among all the lesser mountains ->

Ah, no – it was there; just less conspicuous somehow ->

The road that snakes over the mountain pass ->

Olchansky Pass – as the crow drone flies:

Here’s a good example of how different things look round here given the different temperatures typical of different wintry months. This first pic of this cross on the Pass was taken in 2021 when the mercury showed around -50°C ->

Here it is in 2022 with the temperature around -40°C ->

And in March 2024 – at just under -30°C ->

And that’s why I think it’s best to go when it’s the very coldest.

Here’s another pair of photos of the same place taken at different times. First, February 2022 – way lower than -40°C ->

Second, in March 2024:

Another stretch of road: February 2022 ->

And March 2024 ->

Sure – when it’s mega-cold the days are much shorter, but while there is sunlight the scenes are so much more special – with clearer skies and a sprightlier sun, or so it seemed (as the previous two pics illustrate).

However, we didn’t fancy going all the way to Tiksi in the dead of the Siberian winter: things are just a bit too extreme up inside the Arctic Circle as it is without adding never-ending nights and even colder weather to the mix. Accordingly, we had to forego some Kolyma beauty for reasons of common-sensical safety…

Meanwhile, we climb up toward the Olchansky Pass:

And there’s the peak:

Our traditional stop:

Then it was down the other side of the pass toward Ust-Nera, where warm lodgings and a tasty dinner awaited us. On the way down – we see a reminder of needing to watch our speeds:

You see that kind of thing all the time here – especially after heavy snowfall.

Nice scenery, but I couldn’t help recalling how much nicer it was when it was much colder. So I delved into my archives!…

A totally white world, with the sun shining super bright, and the added… exotic excitement of the temperatures being so insanely cold! It really is something special ->

I’ve already told you about the quality of the road, so I won’t repeat that here.

To compare, here’s the former Kolyma Highway, which leads to Oymyakon (narrower, wilder…):

…And back onto the new Kolyma ->

Simply magical! ->

Brrrrr! ->

And a few last pics to convince any of you, dear readers, who still think it might be better to do Kolyma in March. There’s are from Jan-Feb:

That’s all for today folks, but I’ll be back with more Tiksi tales later. In the meantime, coming up, a quick euro-interlude from somewhere that couldn’t be more unlike Yakutia’s Kolyma Highway in March: Lake Garda!…

The rest of the photos from our Yakutsk-Tiksi-Yakutsk expedition are here.

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