Oymyakon - the Cold Pole 
13 Dec. 1996 - 4 March 1997

All photos Oymyakon 1996/97 Expedition

 

Expedition and the Cold Pole marker in Oymyakon village.
Members of our expedition from left to right: 
Marko Riikonen, I and Jukka Ruoskanen.

 

Helsinki - Yakutsk

 

After months of planning and repairing for the expedition we were ready to go. When we got on board the Helsinki-Moscow train there was lots of people were accompaning us (including one tv-group from Finnish broadcast company YLE). First stop was Moscow. In Moscow we visited the Seremetjevo 2 because our travel agency told us to go there. But our plane was on Seremetjevo 1... From Moscow we flow to Yakutsk. No much to look for since we flow during the night. And we were sweating since just for case we had all of our winter clothing on us!

Stuck in Yakutsk

 

When we arrived in Yakuts we met hard wind and -50C temperature. At the airport we meet a man, Andrew Douglas. Andrew was worth of gold for us later since he can speak English. His name sounds like an american but he is true russian guy. He is now living in Canada with his wife and their son. 

We stay our first nights in Yakuts in home of Andrei (not the same person than Andrew) before Andrew found a room in hotel for us. 

We were in Yakutsk, only 800km away from our destination. We thought that we could go there very soon. But we didn't know how difficult simple things could be in Russia and in republic of Sakha in particulary. 

Andrei was a yakut student, which Riikonen met in his last spring trip. Andrei was Marko's guide in Oymyakon. Andrei has father, mother and sister. Andrei's father was very pleasant man. He offer us some treasures from yakutian kitchen, such as fish soup (you have to eat everything and I really mean everything) and entrails of cow. Their freezer was their balcony.

 

Andrew have a wife, a son and often Andrew's mother, sister and dother of his sister were at their place. Dother of Andrew's sister was won some beauty contest. Well, we could believe that. Main income of Andrew was making bussiness cards. He seems to make some good money according to his own words. He really needs every penny he could get because their plan was move to Canada. Later I heard that they finaly moved to Canada. I hope good future for them!

 

Andrew was really important for us because his work he know almost every important people in Yakutsk and in Sakha republic. We noticed that if you have money there, you could get almost everything you might need. But you really have to have much money since quite common thing here in Finland as sellular phone, cost over 10 times more there! But we saw lots of luxurious cars from Japan (wheel is on the wrong, the right, side) which you usually don't see in Finland. 

OVIR, institute where we think that we can get registration about our arrival to Yakutsk. But they didn't give that to us. Reason was that we were going into Oymyakon region which was closed for foreiners. Next place we visited was ministry of foreing affairs where one officer deny our request to go Oymyakon. He told us that "don't even think that you can go to Oymyakon!". So we were stuck in Yakuts until Cristmas. After that we decide to buy tickets and just fly to Oymyakon without any requested papers. Since every flight from Yakuts to Oymyakon were full in holidays we have to wait until 9th January. Before that we were able to enjoy hospitality of Andrew's family. We also spend a Russian Cristmass (they spend that 7th January) and New Year's eve with other Russian people. We won't forget that ever...


Yakutsk is a big town. There is more than 200 000 people. Speciality of the city is free busses but unfortunately they don't have any heating and they are really full! It was unforgettable to drive in those busses. One could easily stand in middle of the corridor without any fear of falling since it was impossible because the buss was full of people. 

In Yakutsk we saw our first Siberian halos. In town there was too much tence ice fog but when you go on the shore of magnificent Lena-river, there the sky was often clear. There is hundreds of kilometers heating pipes in Yakutsk (they are above the ground because permafrost) and almost every day some pipe was broken. Yakutsk is a nightmare for animal activist since everybody in Yakutsk uses real furs.

About our hotel. Name of the hotel was Geologist. There was no sign on the door what so ever and in matter of fact, nobody could tell you from outside of the building that there is a hotel. Building was typical yakutian block north from town center. The hotel was just a apartment where they have at least six rooms, kitchen, bathroom and reception. There was no warm water in bathroom and that if anything demands some masochistic attitude. But the hotel was quite nice otherwise.

Finaly towards Oymyakon

 

Antonov An-24 (on left) is one of the most used Siberian transportation. This plane of Sakha Avia was taking passangers at Oymyakon airport as it does almost every Thursday.

9th January we were heading towards Yakutz airport... No flight today, come back tomorrow. 10th January the same. 11th January, finaly Check in. We were absolutely nervous since we dind't have all the papers they in ministry of foreing affairs claim we would need. But visa which was wroten in Moscow was enough and soon we were sitting in An-24 plane. 

 

We made one stop in Handugan. We walk on the main street of the small village of Handugan and our friend Georgi took us into one small shop. We order some chicken and we were still eating when the stuart of the plane came in and ask us to hurry back to the plane! They really care about forein travellers! That's unbelievable! After we run throught building of Handugan Airport (metal detectors make some noices) we were back in plane and soon we were on the air and heading towards Oymyakon over the great Verhojansk range. 

And finaly we were landing to Oymyakon airport. This is probable the coldest civilian airport in the whole world. Georgi got lift by ambulance for us from airport to the yard of aerological station of Oymyakon. Finaly we were there!

On right is a door of the coldest civilian airport - Airport Oymyakon. Building was not in very good shape but it really was very necessary since there is four flight every week even in winter time. Three flight to Ust-Nera by Anton An-2 "the tractor of air" plane and one to Yakutsk by An-24 plane.

Not five but three months

 

The view from our house towards west.

 

Now I have to deal with a problem which was bothering us already in Finland before we left. Russian embassy gave our visas, for one month instead of asked five. In Finland Riikonen and Ruoskanen manage to get two months more in our visas. Our idea was to get those two lacking months when we were in Yakutsk. But those problems in Yakutsk make us try that in Oymyakon but that was not about to happen. We just didn't have any possibilities to get those two extra months. So our visas were expiring 10th March and there was total solar eclipse in Oymyakon 9th March. But we have to start our return trip earlier since we didn't want to run into troubles on the Finnish border. So our original plan was cutted by two months and we were loose one month in Yakutsk already. Riikonen make his best effort to get those two months but we should get those months we should go back to Yakutsk and we know that it won't be worth of try.

Aerological station of Oymyakon

 

Above is our house. The house was the old main building of the aerological station of Oymyakon next to the new one. This is the new main building of the station and in the background there is our observation hill seen from the roof of our house. Small wooden hut on the right is the outhouse.

 

We had deal with Roshydromet about renting the old main building of the Oymyakon aerological station. We were suprized when we noticed that the house was cleaned, warmed up and furnished. So it was easy for us to start our "Siberian life". House was warmed up by hot water which was running from small coal powerplant of the station. Electricity was produced by diesel generator of the station.

So there was not any big problems. Heating was working well and we have temperatures over +30C in our house. On the worst morning temperature was only +14C because "the old man" was working in night sift. Usually we have +23-+29C temperatures. There was a good reason for this: if you go out and you are already warm, you can work longer time in cold. 

In our house there were four rooms and a hall. Well, there was fifth room also but it was more like a storage. In the room on the roof there was old tracking system for radiosonde and a balcony. Two room we used for living, third was kitchen/bathroom and fourth was our storage and we hardly used that room. Kitchen/bathroom work that way that we have hotplate for cooking (it was really slow on, we need three hours for chicken legs) and watertank. Water was brought for us by a truck which got water from springs of Kuidusun-river (there was open water even when temperature was below -50C). 

 

On the right is Volodja - "engineer of the station" has a working sift in powerplant.

On the left is Volodja - "engineer of the station" in radiosonde room. Behind him is the high tech concentration of Tomtor, the computer system which collect all data from radiosonde send from the station. After that the data was send by phonelines.

Our bathroom or -place was some kind of metal "thing" which was situated in deep hole in the middle of the kitchen. We need quite good balance to stay on that metal thing while bathing. We got warm water from heating pipes. That water was not drinkable and it also smells like oil.

Our freezer was our balcony where those chicken legs were staying frozen without any problems. They called those chicken legs as a "Bush legs" and those were really fatty.

 

On the left a truck is bringing water for us. In places wich are this cold, pipes do not work. This is the Kuidusun-river where water trucks got water for people. When this photo was taken there was about -50C and free water!

Our house was quite cosy. On right I am using a laptop which our expedition got from a sponsor.

On right thermometer sais it all: -55C!

 

Station and its people were a world of its own. Every morning they send radiosonde up and they track it from the new main building. This new station was right next to our house. We have to use outhouse and it was quite new. My record temperature when I have to use outhouse was -54.5C. Ruoskanen won this contest. In our front yard we have normal instrument shelters of meteorological station and it was easy to us check temperatures and huminity when ever we want. We were hoping to experience -60C but we were not so lucky. In the coldest day there was -60C on the ground but not in official 2 meters level. Behind the station there was a hill which top were 810 meters above sea level and there was radar of the airport. We visited this hill everytime when there was halos just to check if there is any rare subhorizont halos. We didn't have any success. We didn't see any good halo displays and that was a big disappointment to us although we got ice crystals often. 


On the right is one of the best halo displays we photographed from the hill. I was down at our house and I collected ice crystals... These halos were not bright but there is some rare haloforms in slides. Ice crystals were great.

Ice crystals of Tomtor were often good quality crystals, but there was too few of them to produce good halo displays. We photographed ice crystals with a microscope. We also had 1000W halogen light and we try to see some halos produced by artifial light source when we didn't have sun or moon. Using this 1000W light we got some nice efects.

Ruoskanen on observation hill. In the background there is a small mountain range between Verhojansk and Tserski-ranges. Tomtor village is in a tence ice fog behind Jukka. Riikonen is studing ice crystal sample. In the background some buildings of Tomtor village can be seen. We soon noticed it was hopeless to take ice crystal samples and studing them on the top of the hill. This was the only try we ever made.

 

On left we are photographing landscape from the observatory hill. I'm behind the camera and Riikonen is enjoing the view.

Below is a graph made out of data we collected during our stay in Oymyakon. In the graph is temperature (black, scale on left) and huminity (blue, scale on right) measured in aerological station of Oymyakon 12 January 1997 - 18 January 1997. Lowest temperature here is -56.5C but radiosonde data show that the temperature was -57.2C only one hour earlier. That temperature was closer to temperature they measured at the airport. Even as late as 18th February we measured temperature as low as -54.5C.

 


Tomtor

 

Aerological station of Oymyakon is situated next to the Oymyakon airport and about couple of kilometers from village of Tomtor. Tomtor is the biggest village in this valley and there is about 1500 inhabitants. There is at least two shops but when we came there only one was open. There was not much choice when you go shopping. Almost no meat or vegetables. Rise, sucar and that kind of stuff there was. Any french cooking books would be quite useless there. If you need vegetables, fruits or meat you have to buy those from local people. We eat all the time only rise and chicken legs. We also drink tea. They told us that the tea we used makes us impotent and one can use it as a drug. That what local people told us but we didn't notice anything and we didn't test if it was a good drug. In the middle of the village there is couple of big, empty houses. There was diesel generators and coal powerplants everywhere. In case of problems with heating there were lots of wood piles around houses just in case.

Villages, Tomtor and Oymyakon, knows their special locations in the world coldest inhabitated valley. There is several monuments of cold in both villages. The true pole of cold is somewhere between those villages probably on the place where that wooden monument was ones. The chief of the Tomtor village stole it and now it is on the front yard of the Tomtor museum. War about the title of world coldest village has continued already 15 years.

In the front yard of Tomtor's museum there is two monuments for cold. Small, wooden monument was in forest somewhere between Tomtor and Oymyakon at the true pole of cold. On the stone monument they told about minimun temperature of -71.2C (lowest temperature ever measured on the northern hemisphere) and about 109.2C difference between lowest and highest temperature which is a world record.   Bigger cold monument of Tomtor. This is on the crossing where you turn from road of the bones towards the village. In matter of fact, the village is only 400 meter from this monument on the background of this photo but because tence ice fog you hardly can see it! Althought both places are terrifying cold in winter, in summer there can be as high temperatures as +30C!


There is a museum in Tomtor. There is everything local things and some other things too. Rock samples and some info about local heroes (writers etc) for exsample. I think that there was only three local famous people. There is 300 pupils in Tomtor's village. Yakuts can nowadays got teaching in their own language and yakutsk people has classes of their own. We manage to turn the school up side town when we were visiting there. Every one of those kids were running around us and ask everything. Somebody try to speak some English but with not so good success. 

Quality of language teaching was not too high. There was a library and small museum in the school. In the museum room they have some kind of exhibition about the road of bones which was built by prisoners which Stalin send into Siberia. But without Stalin there would not be many roads in Yakutian.

 

Tomtor village.

Oymyakon - Poljus Holoda-monument.

School of Tomtor. There is 300 pupils in this school.

Road to Oymyakon. In front of hills there is Indigirka-river.


Village of Oymyakon

 

When we got lift to Oymyakon, to the true pole of cold, after long and expensive negotiations, one of our goals was in front of us. So in one morning we get on Uaz, a small Russian made lorry, which was driven by Yakutian man. We first drive downstream by Kuidusun-river and after that downstream by Indigirka-river. We met couple of local horsemen. The road was much better near Oymyakon than near Tomtor.

Small village of Oymyakon (about 900 inhabitant) lies on the southern shore of Indigirka-river in a wide valley. 
On the north side of the village (and the river) quite high small mountains rises above 1000 meters when the village itself is 690 meters above the sea level. In the middle of the village, next to a small forest, is a small monument where is text: "Oymyakon - Poljus Holoda" which means: "Oymyakon - pole of cold".

After we were photographing each others in front of the monument we look around. But they have a new sport hall and they have planned to built new school. There was not much people on streets of village since there was quite cold that day. But when we visited a store it was full of people. Oymyakon is the most activ and promising village in the region and they can thank their active village chief for that.

 


A new sport hall in Oymyakon village.

Trip to the mountains


Mountains near one tributary of Indigirka-river.

On the left is a beautifull lake in the Verhojansk range.

As we were planned, we make a deal with the same Yakutian driver and drive towards Yakutsk to see some mountains. We drive along the road of bones. Some Stalin, former ruler of Soviet Union built that road. Many of prisoners who were constructing the road died. It is said that every meter of the road needs one death prisoner... Road is 2000km long from Magadan to Yakutsk. Ok, we were driving with our driver, his wife and their dother towards west. Mountains were, as one can easily guess, very impressive. We visited couple of houses which were also weather stations.

They seems to have those everywhere in Russia. People who lives in those were also very interesting cases. One for exsample was from Ukraine and he was escaping from something. We saw some mountain sheeps and some white birds where everywhere. We drove over 150km all the way to the small village of Kjubeme. 

After that we returned. When we were driving a long clear road our driver manage to lose control over his car and we were soon in troubles. We have some luck and one truck (Ural) arrived soon after accident. This trip into mountains were unforgettable and not only because driving off the road.

 

Village of Kjubeme.

Driving off the road on the road of bones.

 

Heading back home

On 27th February we sit again in Anton-24 plane and we were returning to Finland. In Yakutsk we walk direcly in hotel Geology and later we got some of our stuff from Andrei. We buy tickets for Sakha Diamond airlines Airbus 310 from Yakutsk to Moscow. Andrew and his wife offer us a moment of culture and so we sit in the national balet of Sakha republic wearing only our ugly looking blue indoor clothing! 

Next Monday (3rd March 1997) we were heading again towards Yakutsk airport. We wait for our plane. We wait and talk with one scottish geologist who was studing some ore deposit in the North-Yakutia.

 

Verhojansk range from air. River is Handuga, one of tributaries of Aldan, biggest tributary of Lena-river. Hotel geology is in the first floor of this modest Yakutian block. There was a cat in corridor of this house and it has badly frozen nose and ears. It was a sad sighting.


Finaly after several wrong annousements (plane was going to Habarovsk because bad weather in Yakutsk or it just fly a circle above Yakutsk) our plane landed and so we finaly were going home. Weather was fine and we even saw one legendary halo which none of us were seen before: Bottlinger's rings around subsun. 4th March our train was back in Finland.


More photos of 1996-97 Oymyakon expedition can be seen on Marko Riikonen's homepage!

Where is Oymyakon?


Latitude 63.16N Longitude 143.09E


Map Jarmo Moilanen 1996

Oymyakon is located by the river of Indigirka in Jakutia, Russia.

Oymyakon is 740 meter above sea level. Valley of Oymyakon is surrounded by two high mountain ranges. That's why cold air masses stay there in winter time because these mountain ranges prevent warmer air to get there. Highest summits (2959 Mus-Haja, 2933, 2562 and 2505m) of Verhoyansk range (or Suntar-Hajata-moutains) surround Oymyakon from south to west. Summits (3147 Popeda, 2703, 2682, 2558 and 2547m) of Cherski ranges are from north to northeast. Between Cherski range and Oymyakon there is a small Taskistait range (2341, 2136m) which closes the valley in the southeast.

In the northwest there is a huge valley of Jana-river which goes via Verhoyansk to shore of the Arctic Ocean. This pass is not fully open because terrain rises over 1000m on the watershed of Indigirka and Adytsa which is a tributary of Jana-river. There is also several peaks over a 1500 meter. The river Indigirka runs right throught Cherski range.