Putin' on the Rocks. An epic ice-road-trip. Across Yakutia. To the top of the world. And the end of the road. @72°49'NORTH.
10.03.2016 -45 °C
Three Lads and a Lada ...
... on the Road to Anabar. World's northernmost road end.
"Holiday on ice": drove 4.000 km on official roads from Lake Baikal (Irkutsk) to the Arctic Ocean (Anabar Bay at Yuryung-Khaya).
Video: Dancing Car on the Road to Anabar - with beautiful music from Yakutia (Video: MR)
Click for preview & let the music play !
Early morning start in Irkutsk, the classic Siberian capital.
"Sibir" means "the sleeping land". (Foto: HT)
Rockn' Rollin' on the Transsiberian Highway (MR).
One roll too many (MR).
First pitstop at the Taiga Hotel in Bratsk, one of the more polluted industrial cities in Russia.
Last proper food and girls at the tasty Ukrainian Restaurant "Telega" in Ust-Kut.
The zimnik (winter road) starts in Verhnemarkovo, near Ust-Kut. Zimniks are usually open from December to March.
"Autozimnik" - means no police, no ambulance, no repair shop, no phone reception, no civilisation, for the next 1.000 km (up to Mirny)
Beautiful driving ...
... through the thick Taiga forest ...
... with trees sometimes forming a canopy (HT) ...
... and with plenty of trucks transporting vital goods to remote places (sometimes getting stuck) ...
... the true ice road heroes (HT) ...
... and the occasional roadside monster (HT).
A lonely hut caters for basic needs, every 150km or so.
We drove all night ...
... and passed the huge Talakan oilfield, operated by Gazprom, well after midnight ...
... so, at the end of day 2 on the zimnik, we reached Mirny ("Peace") ...
... with the gigantic Alrosa diamond mine (HT).
The Mirny crater is the 2nd-largest excavated hole in the world and has yielded US$ 17,5 billion worth of diamonds.
The area is also famous for UFO sightings, the "Tunguska Explosion" and the so-called "Siberian Cauldrons". We were not disappointed (MR).
Haha, it's getting spooky ! (HT)
Next stop after another day's drive of 520 km on normal gravel roads was Udacny ("Luck") ...
... with another huge diamond digging operation ...
... by the world's largest diamond mining company ...
... state-controlled industry giant Alrosa.
It was also our last chance to fill up on petrol. The Lada has a 40 l-tank and consumes more than 10 l per 100km !
The makeshift motor-cover protects against wind chill at Yakutian winter temperatures down to -60 °C.
We bunkered 200 liters in jerry cans, because fuel is rare or rationed against coupons in the extreme North ... (HT)
... whereas in Russia's extreme South, the home of our Lada, it is occasionally still possible to get "leaded" fuel. (HB)
Lighting up a cigar helps against the heavy petrol stench inside the car. Boom boom bastic ... (MR)
Video: A Freedom Cigar on the Road to Anabar (MR)
Udacny is where the wild part of the "Anabar Road" - written here in kyrillic - starts (BD) ...
... a lonely zimnik of 1.050 km to Yuryung-Khaya, with few villages in between. And some of the villages mentioned on this sign are in fact abandoned, including Anabar itself. But the Anabar Road, the Anabar River and the Anabar Bay are still there.
With Harald at the Polar Circle, 66°33' NORTH ...
... some 30 km after Udacny. Still more than 1.000 km ahead of us !
(Motorcycle adventurer Walter Colebatch of Sibirsky Extreme had reached the "Polar Circle" marker in summer 2009 and his trip report inspired me to drive the Anabar Road - all the way - which is only possible in winter.)
Video: On the "Road to Anabar"
Obviously not all cars have made it !
Close call !
We also gained experience in shovelling and towing. (HT)
At temperatures down to -45 °C and around -30 °C on average. Where is global warming, when you really need it?
Aaaah ... one of my favourite signs !
What a beautiful road ...
... like driving on drugs.
After 150 km, there is a roadside hut (the only eating place on the whole Anabar Road !) ...
... where we were greeted ...
... by super friendly Siberian dogs ...
... and the charismatic Russian eremite Oleg. Great borsht and gulash. Spassibo!
After 320 km, and a full day drive on a curvy and bumpy zimnik section, we stayed overnight in Olenyok ("little deer") ...
... a pictoresque Yakut village where apparently Putin's personal doctors visited (by plane) for hunting and fishing holidays.
A typical guesthouse in Yakutia.
Onwards to Saskylakh, another 620 km in one day.
The zimnik is mostly well maintained.
Video: Driving on the Anabar River Ice Road
There were several open diamond operations by Almazny Corporation right next to the road (in the riverbed).
And a sable, the most precious fur for centuries (MR).
The polar sunset was a gem in itself. But we didn't get to see the northern lights.
Evening arrival in Saskylakh ...
... a very remote town of 2.000 inhabitants ...
... mostly Yakut ...
... a regional trade center ...
... and a "closed town", where a FSB propusk is required (a visitor permit, to be applied for at least 2 months in advance!) ...
... despite its family friendly appearance ...
... and ice cold charm ...
... because the Anabar Administrative Region is a borderzone (to the Arctic Ocean) and diamonds (Almaz) are the name of the game. But there is also extraction of niobium (a heavy metal required in the space industry) and the usual development of oil and gas in the region.
We were hosted by the helpful and competent governor Evgeny Laptev ...
... who immediately honored our expedition with a display in his office ...
... and also invited us for dinner ...
... with frozen Muksul Fish, a local delicacy that tastes like "Häagen Dazs Strawberry Fish".
His driver Bolot took us around in the official UAZ mobile ...
... with double windows, which are really recommended in the Yakutian cold.
The dogs are truly heartwarming.
The last 160 km from Saskylakh to Yuryung-Khaya ...
... were immensely beautiful ...
... but also more and more challenging ...
... as the environment went from Taiga to Tundra to Polar ...
... with huge stretches of ice ...
... and snow fields compacted ...
... by the howling winds ...
... which sometimes made it difficult to find the right way.
Video: Anabar Bay, Ice Road, The Final (MR)
Endless wilderness. The Road on the Anabar River, seen from above.
Successful arrival in Anabar Bay: Yuryung-Khaya becomes visible around the corner.
Our faithful Lada ...
... and the lads finally made it to Yuryung-Khaya ("white rock") ... at -45 °Celsius ...
... and ca. 72°49' North.
With Yuryung-Khaya's friendly governor Kanat, originally from Kazakhstan, who was posted here by the Soviet military - and stayed ever since.
Harald is taking a power nap on a sofa.
At the house of Ivan (left), a successful reindeer herder of the Dolgan who studied reindeer farming on a scholarship in Tromso, Norway.
Reindeers are a common sight in Yuryung-Khaya. This creepy truck was friendly enough to tow us out of deep snow. (It was so cold that all our cameras froze. Foto by John-59.)
A Dolgan family on a Buran snowmobile in Yuryung-Khaya. (HT)
End of the road.
A dream come true.
We were indeed the first foreigners to finish the "Road to Anabar", according to both governors, other locals, and our own internet research. Quite amazing, considering that the Anabar Road is part of the official Russian road network. And given that the end of this road is an "extreme point" on earth. According to the governors, even the handful of Russian "expeditions" didn't make it to Anabar in standard cars, like our Lada Niva.
For us, the distance, the temperature, the changing scenery and the final setting felt like reaching the North Pole on wheels.
And yes, we had to drive back all the way ;-)
Anabar Bay, Yuryung-Khaya (72°49') is considerably higher north than the other "ends of the road":
Nordkapp in Norway (70°58')
Prudhoe Bay in the USA (70°19')
Vayda-Guba near Murmansk in Russia (69°56')
Tuktoyaktuk in Canada (69°26')
[One degree latitude equals 111 km, one minute latitude equals 1.85 km.]
Map of the world's northernmost road ends:
(BD) Ben Dowson
(HB) Harald Buben
(MR) Mikhail Rybochkin
(HT) Harri Tuomola
( ... ) my own