Every country has a landmark road popular in legend for one reason or another. Some are strange, some are beautiful, and others are just plain dangerous. In Russia you have Lena Highway, also fondly referred to as the Russian Highway from Hell.
Discovering Lena Highway
Lena Highway, which runs along the Lena River, is a Russian Federation Highway responsible for guiding traffic from Moscow to Yakutsk. The highway itself is not your average highway. As a matter of fact, there’s no asphalt or concrete involved. It’s a simple dirt road that stretches over 600 miles.
A heavily traveled dirt road can, obviously, make life interesting. The safest time to travel on Lena Highway is during the winter months when the ground is frozen. The dirt highway is at its safest and motorists are allowed to travel up to 70kph (or 43mph).
During the summer months the road thaws and at least 1 meter of dirt on the surface melts down. The fact that the surface soil melts to mud so quickly makes it nearly impossible to cover the road with concrete or asphalt. When the summer rains arrive, however, the already unstable roads turn into one of the most disgusting muddy nightmares you’ll ever encounter.
Yakutsk – The Inaccessible City
Winter temperatures in Yakutsk are reported to be as low as -45 degrees Fahrenheit (-42 Celsius). The bitter cold hardens the road so that it is passable, but access to Yakutsk doesn’t last very long. Once the spring thaw arrives the roads change from a solid block of ice to a virtually impassible mud puddle.
Image Credit: ntx
Sadly, the only access to Yakutsk is by the Lena Highway. This means that during times of rain and flood, when the highway becomes impassable, the people of Yakutsk are virtually cut off from the rest of the outside world. There are no railroads passing through the city, so the only way to visit is by plane or boat – if you can afford to do so.
Image Credit: ntx
Even boat access is difficult. The Lena River can not be used by boats during the spring thaw because the loose chunks of ice pose a threat to passing boats. Winter melt-off causes the river to become turbulent, causing additional danger.
Danger on Lena Highway
It’s safe to say that visitors who wish to see Yakutsk are better off making the trip during the winter months. The summer temperatures in the Yakutia region can reach up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), making it even easier for the rain to melt the dirt into a muddy mess.
We mentioned that it is impossible to put a standard concrete or asphalt covering on the Lena Highway but it’s only fair to mention that the government has tried to do so in the past. The melting causes significant damage to the road and repairs become virtually impossible. You can’t pour concrete during the winter because it will crack and during the summer months you can’t pour concrete over top of mud. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Those who do travel the Lena Highway during the summer months often find themselves stuck in major traffic jams caused by vehicles that have gotten stuck in the mud. Those who do get stuck are usually trapped for days as the traffic jam is unraveled one vehicle at a time. While reports currently confirm that no one has died because of the Lena Highway, fights and illness have been caused by individuals forced to sit in their cars for days without food and water. One woman, stuck on a tour bus, was even forced to give birth as she waited.
During the summer months the ferry runs along the Lena River with no concerns regarding ice and flooding. Those who live in Yakutsk, however, are relatively poor and don’t have the money to travel by boat. This means they’re forced to attempt a drive along the muddiest highway on earth – even though they know the dangers they face.
If you should be unlucky enough to find yourself traveling the Lena Highway during the summer months make sure you are prepared. A properly stocked car or truck includes food, extra fuel, steel tow-line cables, warm clothing and blankets, and sometimes even a firearm or two. Perhaps this is one site best viewed from afar instead of in person!