Tag Archives: russia

Kolyma dreaming.

Though we weren’t to quick getting from one end of the Kolyma Highway (in Magadan) to the other (in Yakutsk) – a mere seven days! – we didn’t see all that much. Still, what we did see, I haven’t told you about or shown you yet. That changes here…

Eighty kilometers from Magadan there’s a village with the unusual name of Palatka, which means ‘tent’ in English. You might think the name comes from the early days of the settlement – in the early 1930s – when it was indeed merely a collection of tents put up before buildings were built during the construction of the highway. However, it seems that’s just a coincidence: the name actually appears to date back a lot earlier than the 20th century – from two ancient Evenk words, palja and atken, meaning ‘stony river’!

Read on…

Wham, bam, thank-you Magadan.

Magadan. Maybe you’ve heard of it; maybe not. If you have, but haven’t been, how do you imagine it?

I think words like ‘remote’, ‘a long way away’, ‘cold’, ‘I know the name, but I’m still not sure quite where it is!’ might be chosen. My descriptive words were ‘middle of nowhere’, ‘freezing cold’ and ‘over there in the corner of a world map almost as far as Alaska’. But that was before I’d been. Now I’ve visited the city, here’s how things really are…

First, of course, you need to get there. From Moscow it’s seven hours on a plane – eight time zones away! Yes, Russia is enormous; but you knew that ).

Read on…

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Eats, fuel, and places to stay – on the Kolyma Highway.

Before the next report on the next stretch of long, frozen road… a digression, albeit one central to the whole Magadan-to-Moscow-road-trip experience, or, to be more precise – to the first segment thereof – on the Kolyma Highway. And that digression is about the daily routine and practicalities of life-on-the-road and the mundanities it comprises: eating, sleeping, refueling, etc…

We start from the reindeer at the city limits of Magadan and will get to… well, let’s just see how far we get before the quantity of photos becomes excessive for a single post…

The Kolyma Highway is 2032 kilometers long, and ends (for us – started) in Magadan. In the city locals call it the ‘longest street in the world’, since it starts out as the city’s central street, Lenin Prospect, which ends (starts) at a roundabout with a TV tower in the middle of it.

Read on…

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A visit to the icy household – of the Yakut Custodian of Cold.

On the way back to the Kolyma Highway after our overnight stay in Oymyakon, the next port of call on our Magadan-to-Moscow road trip was the village of Tomtor. Being just 40km from Oymyakon it was no warmer; however, at least the place we stayed at was more comfortable, plus there was… a banya (Russian sauna)!

Though tiny (1250 inhabitants at the last official count, but that was back in 2002) and as remote as it gets, the village is home to an airport, built for the Alaska-Siberian air road receiving Lend-Lease aircraft from the U.S. during World War II. Alas, it was abandoned long ago; also alas – we didn’t visit it (no time left).

What we did visit was the ‘Ice Residence of Chyskhaan – the Yakut Custodian of Cold’, a museum in an old mine shaft inside a mountain! However, we soon found out that inside the tunnel it was just -10°C – a full 40 degrees warmer than outside it!

Read on…

The one and only Oymyakon: the situation on the (frozen) ground.

Picking up again where we last left off – we finally made it to the a legendary Pole of Cold of the northern hemisphere – Oymyakon. I’d heard about it many times down the years as the world’s coldest settlement, and now – finally – I was to get myself there. Hurray! And now, after having been there, since I liked it so much – I want to go back already!…

Oymyakon. So, what gives. Remote? Check. Tiny? Check. Forgotten in the sands snows of time, run-down, and down-at-the-heel? No! The place is very much ‘alive’, with around 400–500 folks living there; the log cabins they live in are really rather decent; there’s centralized heating (as in – piped water arrives at each cabin already piping hot; not as in heated individually per cottage); there’s a stable supply of electricity; there’s satellite TV and there’s internet! Oh yes – and it’s very cold. The coldest ever officially recorded temperature was a little under -65°C. Incidentally – the hottest it’s ever been was almost +35°C! Woah: that’s a temperature range of more than 100 degrees centigrade!

I wrote above that Oymyakon is a Pole of Cold, not the Pole of Cold. I had to write that as there’s another contender for the coldest settlement in the northern hemisphere – the town of Verkhoyansk, which isn’t all that far away, relatively (what’s a thousand kilometers between rivals?:). Sure, we’d have liked to have checked out this challenger, but it is 800 kilometers from the highway, whereas Oymyakon is a mere 190 and the backroad to it is a real good one.

// Btw: about those 190 kilometers: I started to doubt their accuracy. From Tomtor to Oymyakon it’s 40km for sure, I remember that. But from the highway to Tomtor I’m certain our odometers read just 120; however, Yandex Maps gives 150km (meanwhile, Google Maps tells you not to take the (excellent) road we took, instead sending you in a huge circle round the other way – a journey of almost 800km!). So, what, the road was so hypnotic that the distance in kilometers was magically transformed into miles?!

Anyway, once in Oymyakon, it was time to start snapping. So my long-time, almost constant travel companions DZ and Petrovich and I did just that – started snapping. And the results aren’t bad at all ->

Oymyakon at night – our first pics upon arrival:

Read on…

On and on and on – along the -58˚ road to Oymyakon.

The time has come for the proverbial main course folks – the very reason for this whole mad winter Magadan–Yakutsk (and then cross-Russia) road trip: yep – the world’s coldest settlement: Oymyakon.

Picking up where we left off in the previous post – we turn off the main road and head toward Tomtor and Oymyakon. 150km to the former; a further 40km to the latter. Something like this:

As you may be able to tell from that map (remove the highlighting on the route and you can hardly see the road!), it’s a very narrow minor road lane. But all the same – as per tradition around these parts – much of the snow had been cleared. The potholes were few and far between and the road surface was generally good, but best of all was that there were hardly any other cars on the road (just two or three on the way there).

Also as per tradition, OMG-white-winter scenery all around along the whole route. Absolutely gorgeous! ->

Read on…

Magadan–Moscow, Part Two: I did it my way – along the Kolyma Highway.

I’ve already shown you just how beautiful the Kolyma Highway can get in the deepest winter. I hope those pics have been suitably enjoyed and appreciated by you all, and maybe will encourage some of you to go experience Kolyma for yourselves: highly recommended!

Now, in those snaps – did you notice just how smooth and cleared-of-deep-snow the road was? Like – every single pic (and I can tell you that there was hardly an (un-photographed) stretch of the road that wasn’t just as smooth and free of snow). Well, while taking said pics, I sure noticed – and couldn’t quite believe my eyes. In Moscow there can be streets covered with more freshly-fallen snow, and it possesses legions of snow clearing trucks in every district! And this was my second amazement on this trip (after the first: the hypnotic white-winter-wonderland scenery, that is): the quality and keen maintenance of the roads.

So what was I expecting instead? Well, like most anyone who lives in Moscow, if I would hear words like Yakutia, Kolyma, Magadan and roads together, I’d expect the accompanying scenes to be thoroughly, utterly grim and hopeless. Something like: thousands of miles of poorly-surfaced, potholed, muddy roads, streaked with deep ruts and with plenty of cars getting stranded in thick mud awaiting assistance.

How wrong I was!…

Read on…

Magadan–Moscow, part one: Our first taste of -50°C.

Onward, west-ward… I continue my tales from the permafrost side on our Magadan – Moscow Road Trip. In this portion of words & pics – the first segment: to Yakutsk via Oymyakon along the Kolyma Highway. So stock up on your levels of patience, for there’s a lot coming up; lots and lots – tons! I mean, you know I’m normally fairly trigger-happy with my camera (if that’s a thing), right? But on this leg of our journey? Well, since there was such a high concentration of overwhelming impressions and searing emotions, the resultant quantities of photos and videos taken – it got a bit out of hand: all sense of proportion having been lost. For it turned out that, unexpectedly, the road from Magadan to Yakutsk is something utterly, fantasically unusual.

Getting to Oymyakon isn’t quick these days. The nearest airport, in the nearby village of Tomtor, was abandoned long ago. The drive from Yakutsk takes two days; from Magadan – three. We were bracing ourselves for the three days of weary monotony necessary to get ourselves to the world’s coldest settlement. Little did we know – we needn’t have!…

The winter-wonderland-fairytale began earlier than when we reached Oymyakon – much earlier: after the first sunrise and once we’d crossed our first mountain pass. The world stopped being gray; it became white and silver; and golden – from the low sun.

The first amazement-fascination came simply from how beautiful everything was. Unexpected, unpredictable, unbelievable: the Kolyma Highway is simply magical!

It’s just so stunning – almost to the point of euphoria – driving along a highway through a completely white world. The road rises up a bit, hour after hour, then a little to the right or left, down again and straight on – and the white fairytale scenes never stop. How far we’ve gone or have still left to go is ignored. Another descent, and into an icy fog…

For several days it never got warmer than -50°C (-58°F). Later it did. But it was this first ultra-cold leg of our journey that was most ultra-entrancing.

When we landed in Magadan it was around -15°C (5°F). A little later it went down to -25°C (-13°F). They say it’s a bit ‘warmer’ (!) in Magadan since it’s by the sea. Ok, it is the perennially cold (even in August – I should know!) Sea of Okhotsk, but all the same it acts as protection for the city against the mercury ever going lower than -40°C (guess how much in °F?).

But once we’d covered a reasonable distance from Magadan, the security blanket that is the Sea of Okhotsk was slowly pulled away and we entered an altogether ‘other’ world. The temperatures outside (not inside the cars, phew) dropped steadily – the thermometers going down past -30 and then – faster – further and further down. We were lucky the first day: it never went below -40°C.

On the first day we covered some 700 kilometers to the town of Susuman. And along those 700 kilometers that separate Susuman and Magadan there are only five little settlements: Palatka, Atka, Orotukan, Debin and Yagodnoe. In three words: far, desolate, cold. Early on there’s a fourth word to add: asphalt. Later it needs dropping – instead of asphalt there’s mere gravel (handily covered in smooth ice!). Then…

Then – the first of the hills, including one named Deduskhina Lysina (Granddad’s Bald Head!). This is where normally the temperature falls sharply to -40°C or below. But, like I say, we were lucky – a ‘comfortable’ minus thirty was rolled out for us ). Around here is also where everything turns white. Incredible, extreme, serene scenes.

As we set off in the morning on the second day it was -40, but come afternoon we hit our first -50! Oh my glaciation! Everything – trees, signposts, safety barriers, telephone lines – all of it completely covered in white hoarfrost:

On, and on, and on. Hypnotic. With hardly any need to slow down to take a turn, you get into a groove: the car basically drives itself while you stare at the road ahead – trance-like!

Occasionally we stop at the most beautiful spots, on the tops of hills or at vantage points where the views were impossibly out-of-this-world. Out come the cameras, and out come the gasps of astonishment at the surrounding vastness, whiteness, awesomeness…

Alas, daylight is short-lived each day. The sun would come up around 09:30 (but it would be hidden behind the hilltops), and it would set around 15:30. That gives just six hours of daylight: woefully little time for photography stops. Still, the scarcity of light hours meant that when we did stop each minute was treasured: it was straight down to the business of serious snapping; no aimless, frivolous activity (too cold anyway!).

After dense frosted forest scenes, a portion of vast open spaces and gently undulating hills and valleys: the second auto-meditation session:

And the road is completely empty – no one on it except us. Until!…

Naturally, out came the camera for this once-in-a-blue-moon event! And can you see the driver rubbing his chin there in amazement at seeing our convoy heading the other way?!

And that was how we rolled.

Now, you got another seven hours to spare? Yes? Then check out the dash-cam vid of the Susuman – Ust-Nera leg. The times given are MSK minus five hours, btw.

Not got seven hours? Then for you – the highlights! ->

1:00:00 – Sun up, and OMG-beauty! Much meditation possible mandatory here.
1:31:00 – The abandoned city of Kadykchan.
2:36:00 – Simply woah!

To be continued!…

The rest of the photos from our Magadan–Moscow road trip are here.

Magadan to Moscow in a car – very cold and very far.

Hi strangers!

Yes, yes, it has been a while. But of course there can only be one reason for that: I’ve been busier than ever, despite the pandemic! Ok, unnecessary humble excuse over with – let’s get on with this post )…

All righty. You’ve probably seen an Instagram or two of me out in the crazy-cold climes of the Russian Far East earlier this year – or maybe not. Whatever, the time has finally come to get past the canapés, and onto the hors d’oeuvres: the intro-post on my recent race across Russia – my winter wonder-Far-Eastern cross-Russia road trip, which started out along the R504 Kolyma Highway from Magadan (further east than Japan!) and ended in Moscow weeks later. The journey turned out to be action-packed, a whole lotta fun, and of course rather extreme given the intense cold. But I don’t think any of us was quite expecting a magical world of endless, mostly straight roads cutting across vast white expanses of severe steppe or forested undulating hills stretching as far as the eye can see. It goes without saying that all fellow travelers were suitably spellbound and hypnotized by the experience.

Being so far north, and the time of year being the middle of winter, the sun hardly ever rose at all from its slumber; but this imbued the icy landscapes with a paradoxically warm golden glow for much of the day like nowhere I’ve seen before:

Read on…

From Maldives to… Magadan!

One of the most pressing problems facing the world today is global warming. Its effects can be witnessed all over the globe – from the Americas to… Zambia. Whether man-made pollution has much of an overall effect on specifically global warming is open to question, and question that postulate I did some months back (but before you scream ‘climate change denier!’, no one’s denying climate change. Click the link first:). But global warming is for real, whatever its causes, and it’s serious and should concern us all. Ok, but what’s any of this to do with Maldives or Magadan in the title? Well…

It turns out both locations may become more perceptibly vulnerable to global warming – and quicker – than most. Maldives: the sea level goes up due to melting ice caps… and it could be curtains. Magadan: if the permafrost there thaws – it might not be full curtains, but the changes to the flora and fauna could be significant. Ok, but what’s the connection between the two – Maldives and Magadan? Well…

There is nothing really that connects Maldives and Magadan. Two places on the planet couldn’t be more different. It was us who made the connection: flying from Maldives to Magadan! Not directly (no flights: shame; would have shaved off hours up in the air).

Now – why Maldives? Why not?!

And why Magadan? Well, we reckoned it might just be the last opportunity to ever really experience the true OMG-crazy-cold of northeastern Siberia!

All righty: back to the Maldives where we began…

Read on…