Oymyakon, Yakutia: here people live in minus 60
Let’s take a trip to the coldest inhabited place on our planet – Oymyakon! How I love Yakutia! It’s a magical country, and this year I decided to get to its coldest part. At least, that’s what the people of Oymyakon think, but it’s not that simple.
You’ve probably heard the well-established formula from Soviet times: “Oymyakon is the pole of cold”. But there are several reservations. First of all, it is the pole of cold in the Northern Hemisphere, and secondly, it is not a fact that Oymyakon is the pole of cold. The fact is that the temperature -71.2 degrees Celsius, which then went into all geography textbooks, in fact, was not documented. Secondly, the temperature -67.7, which was really registered, was observed not in Oymyakon itself, but in Tomtor – this is a village nearby, where the airport is located. Thirdly, the title of the coldest place in the Northern Hemisphere is also disputed by Verkhoyansk: as it seems, in 1885 the temperature there dropped to -67.8 degrees. But then the observations were less accurate, and Oymyakon as the cold capital still has many supporters.
Whether Oymyakon was really -71.2 degrees or not is not that important. It’s cold as hell here, even in the spring. When I arrived in the afternoon, the thermometer showed -53, although at that moment people in Yakutsk were already walking around without hats. Oymyakon also has very contrasting temperatures. In other words if it’s -50 at night then it may be -30 in the daytime! How do you like such jumps?
01. It’s not easy to get to Oymyakon. In winter there is no regular air communication, because it’s too expensive to fly, so people drive there by car, and it’s 928 km to Yakutsk (20 hours with the ferry crossing, as Google shows) and 1008 km to Magadan (23 hours). The nearest town where there are regular flights from Yakutsk is Ust-Nera, but it also takes 11 hours to Oymyakon. But if you are very lucky, you can get on a charter flight Polar Airlines” flies there from Magan Airport. Before you start the engine of an airplane or helicopter in freezing temperatures, you need to warm it up.
02. And here is our plane. This is a Czechoslovak L-410 Turbolyot. By the way, since 2018 these planes are assembled in Russia (Yekaterinburg, Ural Civil Aviation Plant), but “Polar Airlines” has an old plane.
03. Tickets are very expensive, 45,000 rubles round trip, although the flight takes about two hours. By comparison, Aeroflot direct flight to Los Angeles (the longest way from Moscow, hours) costs 35,000 rubles round trip. There were 8 passengers on our flight.
04. On the occasion of a surprise flight, the plane was loaded with fruit and vegetables.
05. There are An-2s at Tomtor airport, the nearest airport to Oymyakon, but they don’t fly in winter.
06. And in the warm season “Kukuruznik” can carry up to 12 passengers.
08. There are no passenger service buildings at the airport, so greeters wait in cars right at the edge of the runway. If no one meets you, that’s it, you freeze to death right in front of the plane. Another funny thing is that since in Tomtor there are no people in winter and everything is closed, they don’t issue boarding cards either. That’s why the boarding cards for the return flight are issued in Yakutsk! Naturally, there are no inspections and checks.
09. Tomtor airport near Oymyakon appeared in 1942. On June 11, 1942 an agreement on mutual supplies under the Lend-Lease between the United States and the USSR was signed. Under this treaty, the Americans transferred fighters and bombers to the USSR. To receive these planes from Alaska, the Tomtor airport was built. And its construction was incredibly fast: work began on August 12, 1942, and on September 6, 2011 the first plane landed on the runway. It was home-made G-2, and the landing gear of the “Americans” touched the runway in exactly one month.
10. After the war the airport served civilians. Near the airfield lived about three hundred people – they also worked at the airport.
12. meteorological station in Tomtor – the same where the February 6, 1933 was recorded temperature -67.7 ° C.
13. Why then is Oymyakon called a pole of cold? It’s simple: at that time not the village itself, but the whole area was meant.
15. Oymyakon is gradually developing as a tourist center. Now about 1000 people a year come here, mostly in winter, to feel the cold, because the cold is the main attraction here. There’s not much for tourists to do here in summer, although Yakutia has amazing nature and you can travel to some wild incredible corners (of course, if you’re not afraid of mosquitoes). But if someone comes in summer, there is an underground ice gallery not far from the airport in Tomtor and the residence of the Yakut lord of cold Chyshaan in the cave of Ebe-Haya.
17. There are incredibly beautiful ice crystals in the gallery. There are old rails left on the floor, on which wagons used to run in the former mine.
18. It all looks fantastic in both winter and summer.
21. There are ice sculptures inside. I guess it’s Santa Claus, who comes to visit Chyshaan once a year.
23. Monument to the Pole of Cold
24. Here, by the way, the legendary temperature is immortalized.
According to the FSB, 105 Gulag camps were located in Yakutia, which in total occupied one third of the territory of the region (about 1 million square kilometers). Of course, they were located in the most remote regions – the Tomponsky and Oymyakonsky districts, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean and on the borders with the Chukotka and Magadan Regions.
In conditions considered among the most severe on the planet, prisoners were forced to mine gold and coal, conduct mining and excavation work, and do logging. But the bulk of the camps appeared in connection with the construction of a grandiose highway linking the gold-bearing regions of Kolyma with Bolshaya Zemlya. Only Gulag prisoners’ labor was used in the construction, a free labor force under hard labor conditions. The first stages arrived from Aldan in 1940, about 5,000 people. The camps were located along the road being built at a distance of 10 to 20 kilometers from each other. Convicts would build the road for a dozen kilometers and then the camp would move. The old place was used as a transportation point, and more often the entire camp was moved or abandoned.
One of the prisoners, Ilya Alekseevich Budischev, told of his experience on the “road of death.” “We were delivered to the construction of the road 300 people, and a year later there were only 46 of us left.”
Not only were people dying of hunger and cold, but they were also sentenced to be shot for failing to fulfill the plan. Terrible figures from the execution records: February 4, 1938, 56 people were shot, February 5 – 17 people, February 24 – 204 people, March 4 – 94 people, March 7 – 70, March 8 – 64, and so on.
There were about thirty camps on the territory of the Oymyakonsky ulus. The most famous of them was called Indigirlag, which existed in the village of Ust-Nera for 10 years – from 1949 to 1958. The maximum single number of inmates in it reached 13,800. It was one of the most viable camps, the others existed for 4-5 years and were massively wound up after Stalin’s death and Khrushchev’s famous report “On the personality cult and its consequences”.
Quite close to Indigirlog was a smaller camp, Kuidusun. However, it was probably even more famous than its “big brother” because the famous poet Boris Ruchev and the even more famous writer Varlam Shalamov, author of Kolyma Tales, served time there.
27. All roads in the village are unpaved, there’s no asphalt anywhere, but even here the traffic cops have put their signs according to state standards.
28. There are no hotels in Tomtor, but there are private guest houses, this is just one of them. Accommodation in such a room with three meals a day costs about 3,000 rubles per person. There are several such houses both in Oymyakon itself and in Tomtor. So far, the locals themselves are adapting to the reception of tourists. If there are more tourists, normal hotels may appear.
29. Incredibly hardy Yakut horses can live in the open air down to -60 and get their own food, digging frozen grass with their hooves from under the snow.
Oymyakon – the pole of cold
The village of Oymyakon (Yakut YYmokөkөn) is located in the eastern part of Yakutia and is the center of the rural settlement “Borogonsky 1st nasleg”. Naslegami in Yakutia are villages or settlements, which are the lowest administrative units and are parts of uluses. Currently, there are 364 legacies in Yakutia. What is Oymyakon village in Yakutia known for? It is known for being the so-called “Pole of Cold” – the coldest place in Russia, with the most severe living conditions. Nevertheless, Oymyakonsky ulus can by no means be called deserted. There were 462 residents in the settlement alone in 2010. The ethnic composition is Russians and Yakuts. People in Oymyakon are very friendly and are already used to tourists who often visit the village.
Oymyakon on the map of Russia
Not everyone knows where Oymyakon is on the map of Russia. The village stands on the left bank of the Indigirka River, in the eastern part of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). This is circumpolar latitude, a little south of the Arctic Circle, to be exact – 63°27′00″ north latitude. The altitude above sea level is 745 m. In this valley it is of particular importance, because the altitude of the location lowers the temperature by 4 degrees relative to the theoretically observed at sea level.
The village of Khara-Tumul is the closest to Oymyakon. It is located in the same ulus, and the distance between the settlements is only 4 km along the highway or 3 km in a straight line. The villages of Bereg-Yurdya, Tomtor, and Yuchugei are much farther away. To get to Yuchyugei from Oymyakon by road, you would have to make an arc through Tomtor. The distance is 100 km. In a straight line it is about 28 km. To Tomtor it is 38 km along the highway and 20 km in a straight line. Oymyakon is in a place, where these 38 km can be considered either immediate proximity, or a very long distance. Close, because it is only 1 h. 48 m by car. Far away, because if something happens to your car, and help does not arrive in time, the natural conditions will not play around.
The coldest place in Russia
Three populated centers of Yakutia are fighting for the opportunity to call themselves the coldest place in Russia. These are Oymyakon, Tomtor and Verkhoyansk. The Yakutian authorities decided in favor of Verkhoyansk. In favor of Tomtor is the fact that the airport is 2 km away, where the air temperature is usually measured regularly. Oymyakon went down in history largely because it is the name of not only the village, but the entire ulus, the whole place.
So, the climatic conditions at the Cold Pole are complicated, and they are determined by several factors. Firstly, Oymyakon settlement is located in a valley, and it’s in a small depression, a lowland, where the cold air rushes in. Second, it is quite far from the ocean, so the climate of Oymyakon is sharply continental. Thirdly, the altitude above sea level. Fourth, the proximity to the Arctic Circle. As a result, the absolute minimum of December and January is -65.4 °C and of February -64.6 °C. The average temperature in Oymyakon during these months is -42 °C to -50 °C. Summer, on the contrary, can be very hot. When you hear the phrase “Oymyakon tan”, you should not hurry to smile. The heat at the Cold Pole does not last long, but in July the temperature may reach up to +34.6 °C. The average temperature in July is from +14 to +22 °C.
According to unofficial data, the temperature record in Oymyakon was recorded in 1938 and was -77.8°C. We could say that this is the lowest temperature in Oymyakon, but no one knows if it was even lower. The fact is that there are very few thermometers in the village capable of reflecting frost below -60 °С. Approximately such marks (below -70 °С) are marked on two monuments of temperature. One stands in the center of the village, and above it there are large letters – “The cold pole” Oymyakon.
In Yakut, the word “Oymyakon” means “non-freezing waters”. They are actually on the edge of the village. The locals take their cattle there for drinking. In any frost the temperature of thermal spring water does not fall below + 30 °C.
How to get to Oymyakon
The length of the route from Yakutsk to Oymyakon is about 928 km. Travel time is about 22 hours.
The part of the route in immediate proximity to the pole of cold is called “The road of bones”. It is connected not so much with the danger of the way in our time, as with the prisoners’ convoys, who walked along this road in Stalin’s times, but not all of them reached the camps. There is and continues to be an airport in Oymyakon, but air service is not regular. The distance from Moscow to Oymyakon is about 9200 kilometers by road. Travel time will take 130 hours.
Despite the long distance, tourists very often visit this place. Even people from other countries come here.
Life in Oymyakon
The history of the Oymyakon cold pole goes deep into the past. It is impossible to specify the period of origin of the camp in this valley. Once upon a time, Yakut reindeer herders, who used to lead a nomadic way of life, stayed here. The Soviet government took an extremely negative view of the nomads, as they were extremely difficult to control. For this reason, they were forced to turn the camp into a permanent settlement and abandon nomadic reindeer herding. Later, the “Gulag Archipelago” contributed to the development. Dozens of camps were located at the mouth of the Indigirka River and further along the region. Many prisoners, immediately after their release, could not leave the place and remained in the settlements. This is also where the exiles were sent. For example, the writer Varlam Shalamov served his last two years of exile in Tomtor. There is even a local history and literature museum in the village of Oymyakon, which is devoted not to Yakut culture, but to the writers, poets, artists, cultural figures, and scholars who served prison terms or were sent into exile in this region. There is also a monument to the victims of Stalinist repressions, The Bell of Memory.
If a traveler nevertheless arrives by plane, he will see a strange ramshackle wooden building with two boarded-up windows. Above the door there is a billboard with the inscription “Oymyakon Airport”. Below the sign the doors are broken off and there is no furniture inside. This is the waiting room. No need to try to establish the length of the runway. It has no length, or is equal to the width of the large abandoned field that receives the planes. The most common model is the An-2. Less common is the An-24. The thing is that once upon a time, back in the days of the Great Patriotic War, there was a military airbase, which was built by prisoners, and serviced by the civilians. The flat and relatively reliable site is preserved in our time. There are flights only between the city of Yakutsk and the center of the ulus, the village of Ust-Nera.
Life in Oymyakon is quite difficult, and a lot is going in the direction of decline, but not development. the frost at the Cold Pole puts its mark on everything. The people of Oymyakon are never surprised that a car engine, started during the day, stays on all night long, because there is a trip planned for the morning, but in the morning it may not be started. There is a school in the village, and children are excused from school only when the temperature is below – 60 ° C.
There is no public transportation in Oymyakon, so parents take students to school with sleds or sledges. This is done mainly because they have to be wrapped up so that they lose the ability to move on their own. In the classroom, students sit in their outerwear and are constantly warming the paste in their pens with their breath. The place where Oymyakon is located creates difficulties in everything. It has long been abandoned by all those who are not ready to fight the natural conditions of the Pole of Cold all their lives. However, there is even a struggle for the possibility of burial. Digging a grave here is not easy at all. You have to heat the earth for a long time, then to remove one layer, and then again to heat it up with bonfires.
One store in the settlement is not very different in design from the airport. It is the same dilapidated structure, but only the windows and doors are intact. The people of Oymyakon need it much more, as it is almost the only way to buy some food, cigarettes, and alcohol. The main occupation of the locals is cattle breeding, reindeer herding, hunting, and fishing. Almost all residents of the Cold Pole drive cattle, and catch fish too, but there is no place else to find bread or tobacco, vodka.
By the way, you can drink alcohol in wintertime in Oymyakon only if you are absolutely sure that you won’t have to go anywhere. It is better to do it in a house with a stove, because heating outages happen all the time. Frosts below -60 ° C completely negates the warming with alcohol. A drunk person becomes helpless and can lose consciousness at any moment. This happens even if you drink very little. Falling in the snow in such a case can lead to frostbite and death. This is, after all, the Pole of cold.
Photos of Oymyakon village
Below you can find unique photographs of the “Pole of Cold” – Oymyakon village.
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Why should I live there? What good for the man, the country, the state etc.?
There are several large gold mining companies there, and there’s Sarylakh-Surma again. So, the benefits for people are high wages. For the country, it’s gold.