Skip to comments.Russian Highway from Hell
Posted on 07/26/2010 4:02:30 PM PDT by Rebelbase
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
How would you like to be caught in a mess like that?
This is the story of Russia's Lena Highway, aka the Highway from Hell.
The Russian Federal Highway runs from Moscow city to the Siberian city of Yakutsk. The last 600 miles is called the “Lena Highway”. This bizarre road runs parallel to the Lena River on the final leg to Yakutsk.
As you can readily see for yourself from the picture, in the summertime, the Lena Highway turns completely to mud whenever it rains.
There are several Internet sites that consider the Lena Highway to be the worst road in the world.
Personally I would give this dubious honor to Bolivia's Road of Death (next story). After all, no one gets killed in the mud, just incredibly aggravated. People actually die on the Bolivian road all the time.
Yakutsk is the capital of the Yakutia Republic, part of the vast Russian region known as Siberia.
The old joke is ‘War is God's way of teaching us geography’. With that in mind, any kid who grew up playing the board game Risk remembers Yakutsk and neighboring Kamchatka as two territories with weird names located up at the top of Asia. As a kid, I had never heard of these places until I played Risk. Nor did it ever dawn on me that people actually live there (as if getting stuck in the mud is considered living... )
The road of mud isn't the only problem. It seems that people who live in Yakutsk were born to suffer. Yakutsk is considered the coldest city on earth, with January temperatures averaging -45 °F. The coldest temperatures ever recorded outside Antarctica occur in the basin of the Yana River just to the northeast of Yakutia. Yakutsk, the capital, is the world's biggest city built on top of continuous permafrost. Most houses are mounted on concrete piles to keep from sinking.
Surprisingly, for most of the year, the driving is excellent. The road to Yakutsk is so frozen that the road is frozen solid. It is only in the summer that the road periodically becomes impassable. In the autumn the road freezes back and becomes even better than most soil roads. In the dead of winter there is no problem as vehicles drive over the frozen Lena Highway. Cars are allowed to drive up to 70 kmh (45 mph). In fact, one report suggested some vehicles even drive over the Lena River as well in the winter! It becomes a solid block of ice.
But watch out for Summertime! Believe or not, Yakutsk is actually cut off from the world much of the time during the summer. In a story I read about a 2001 flood caused by the overflowing Lena River, it said Yakutsk does not even have railroad! This means that in the summer when it rains, Yakutsk is virtually inaccessible except by boat or plane.
And even the boats are not much help.... the Lena River is impassable for large stretches of the year when it is full of loose ice, or when the ice cover is not sufficiently thick to support traffic, or when the water level is high and the river turbulent with spring flooding.
Get this: July temperatures often exceed 90 °F! This makes the Yakutia region among the greatest in the world for seasonal temperature differentials. This helps explain the mud road fiasco which you are about to witness. When it rains in Yakutsk, it pours! And the rains turn the Road to Yakutsk into a quagmire.
Unfortunately, this major artery does not have an asphalt surface even though it is a vital Federal highway. Attempts have been made to put down a proper surface, but the road immediately turns to mush the moment it thaws making repairs impossible. Consequently, in the summer, every time it rains, hundreds of cars become stuck in the mud.
Yakutia is an area of permafrost. The Lena Highway melts down to 1 meter every summer for 2...3 months (usually July and August) - that makes it impossible to build usual roads (using asphalt or concrete) there. Such roads are called “zimnik” (”zima” means “winter” in Russian).
In the autumn the road freezes back and becomes even better than usual soil roads, but that is little consolation to those stuck in the summertime mud. The pictures you are about to see were made in August 2006 at the start of the problem. Ultimately 600 cars got stuck there. In other words, as bad as things are in the pictures you are about to view, they only hint at how impossible the conditions can really be.
A car can be trapped in the quagmire for days. According to witnesses, hunger and lack of the fuel are all part of these mud traps. One woman even gave birth to a child right in the public bus she was riding because no ambulance could possibly get to her.
Making things worse, people are afraid to come to the rescue. There is a report of construction teams that were afraid to appear on site when called. It turned out that during their previous visit they were beaten by people who had been stuck in the jam for a few days. So now the cars and trucks are left to fend for themselves. Only in Russia.
Lawlessness is common. People often break the locks on the trucks in a search of food and warm clothing. Fuel, food, firearms and steel tow-line cables are needed most during the rainy days on the Lena Highway.
Apparently Russia is infamous for its bad roads. For instance, the cynics insist Russia's bad roads had more to do with stopping the advance of the German army in World War II than anything the Red Army did.
I decided to ask my friend Olga about the Russian roads. Olga was raised in Russia, but now works here in Houston. This is what Olga had to say.
From: Olga B
Sent: Monday, April 20, 2009 12:23 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: the russian roads
Back when I was growing up my parents never could afford a car (well, they actually still don't have one).
Consequently, we did not have much to do with the roads problems all that much.
But it is common knowledge the roads are quite an issue in Russia. We even have a national song about how bad our roads are. And it has lots of verses. :)
I think this is highly dependent on your definition of "paved". There are some real axle-busters in the Cleveland area these days. Probably would be better off if they just spread gravel.
So isolated that they have to pipe in sunshine, that is if the pipeline is up and running. This time of year they could possibly get 16 hours of sunlight a day. December should be good for four hours.
After the winter there is more pot holes than pavement.
I remember when the potholes on Brookpark road would display the brick pavement and streetcar tracks beneath the asphalt covering. I don't know if they ever rebuilt that road or not, or if maybe they just added a few more inches of asphalt above the brick road base. I've lived in Tennessee for the last 8 or 9 years.
Stalin established many labor camps in the region to support the gold and other mines.
It exists. It's just enormously expensive.
The freeze/thaw cycle and the torrential rains make a surface road impractical. But, an elevated road would work fine, as long as the footings are dug or driven down to below the frost line.
I live at the end of the Taylor highway in Eagle, Alaska; highway has been washed out including bridges for 3 weeks; maybe single lane nx weekend. Dang Feds won’t let state have permits to fix it right, so they keep putting up single lane sections and road keeps giving way off the cliff.
That didn’t look so bad in Russia
I don’t know ... I’ve driven in downtown Minneapolis ...
Car bogged down, little lady?
I can pull you out.
No credit card? Not a prob.
A simpler, better solution would be to just pave the road.
Another obsevation from these photos proves that point. Notice how many of the cars are Russian built? Not many. Most are from Japan with a few European and American cars mixed in.
Was a nice Z car !
Town doesn’t look too bad.
The next article after the one you posted — on the Bolivian Death Road — is also quite interesting.
>> Catch 22.
I’m going to scratch Yakutsk off my list of places to retire, then. :-)
One solution for both problems. Surely there must be a few of these still around.