The Russian Federal Highway (M56 Kolyma Highway) connects Magadan and Yakutsk – actually, Nizhny Bestyakh on the eastern bank of Lena River at Yakutsk, where the coldest temperature ever recorded outside Antarctica was recorded.
Yakutsk is also the largest city built on continuous permafrost. Most houses are built on concrete piles because of the frozen ground. The length of the original road via Tomtor is about 1900km or 1180 miles. Locally, the road is known simply as Trassa ("The Route"), or Kolymskaya trassa ("The Kolyma Route"), since it is literally the only road in the area and therefore needs no special name to distinguish it from other roads.
What does all this have to do with being one of the world's most dangerous roads? Well, during the winter, which is approximately ten months long, driving in and out of Yakutsk is subject to heavy snow, ice, and reduced visibility. However, winter road conditions are a picnic compared to trying to navigate the Russian Federal Highway on July and August.
Though many Siberian residents will tell you the highway is not paved to keep the Germans out (a tired World War II era joke), the truth is because of the permafrost there is no asphalt, creating a mud induced traffic jam every time the summer rains swing Yakutsk's way. Near thousand car traffic jams are not unheard of and during these back ups and travelers might pass the time while stuck in Siberian traffic by looting, beating, and kidnapping other travelers.
The Siberian Road is the only road available to Yakutsk City, Russia. People have no choice but take risk if it would take them five hours rather than a few days to pass the road after the rain. The road gets paralysed and it’s an absolute disaster when people are in a chaos seeking warm clothes and food while being stuck in a 100-km long car line-ups. One woman has even given birth to a baby on a bus wallowing in the mud.
The last 600 miles of the Russian Federal Highway from Moscow city to the Siberian city of Yakutsk is called the Lena Highway. This bizarre road runs parallel to the River Lena on the final leg to Yakutsk. As if the road of mud was not a big problem, Yakutsk is considered one of the the coldest cities on earth, with January temperatures averaging -45 A°F.The area is extremely cold during the winter. Two towns by the highway, Tomtor and Oymyakon, both claim the coldest inhabited place on earth (often referred to as -71.2°C, but might be -67.7°C) outside of Antarctica. The average temperature in Oymyakon in January is -46°C.
But surprisingly, it is only in the summertime that the road becomes impassable. Whenever it rains in summer, the road virtually becomes a slush pit making it impossible for the vehicles to pass through it. This being the only road to Yakutsk makes the traffic heavy and even more complicated to negotiate. This is the official federal-government highway to Yakutsk, and it is also the only one to get there. As there are no other roads, the intrepid motorists are doomed to wallow in this dirt, or wait in week-long 100 km car line-ups (they say women even gave birth there while waiting).
This can turn into a major humanitarian disaster during rainy spells, when the usual clay covering of the road turns into impassable mud blanket, swallowing trucks and tractors alike. In the meantime the city has to partly airlift food products.
The road was in a state of disrepair and is not traversable by standard road vehicles because of washed-out bridges and sections of road reclaimed by streams. During winter, frozen water actually helps river crossings. The main mode of freight transport into Magadan has always been and still is shipping. The main mode of passenger transport is air travel.
It’s known as ‘Bone’s road’. It was constructed in the Stalin era of the USSR by Dalstroy construction directorate. The first stretch was built by the inmates of the Sevvostlag labor camp in 1932. The construction continued (by inmates of gulag camps) until 1953. The road is treated as a memorial, because the bones of the people who died while constructing it were laid beneath or around the road
Why it's dangerous:
* Extreme temperatures, heavy snow, ice and reduced visibility
* Excessive mud in the summer months make it almost impossible to navigate
* ‘Mud Pirates’