36 images Created 4 Feb 2019

In the depths of winter I set out on a long and difficult journey to the coldest populated place in the northern hemisphere.

The Pole of Cold is in the Republic of Sakha, also known as Yakutia, in the remote north east of Russia. Two villages, Oymyakon and Verkhoyansk, vie for the title. The Oymyakon valley is surrounded by high mountain ranges which prevent warmer air from getting into the valley, making it extremely cold in the winter. The cold air cannot leave the valley and collects there for several months.

I left South Korea on board the Eastern Dream ferry to Vladivostok. The further we travelled across the Sea of Japan the colder it became. From Vladivostok, where the temperature was already minus 30 degrees Celsius, I boarded an old Topulev 154 aeroplane.

Stepping out of the plane in Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic, gave me my first impression of the next level of cold. It was 39 degrees below zero and it felt like walking into a wall of cold. Even breathing was difficult.

Early on a Sunday morning we left Yakutsk in an off-road vehicle. There were seven of us plus the driver, Dmitrij, and we had a journey of a thousand kilometres ahead of us. We traversed long ice roads across the deeply frozen Lena River, following the M56 Kolyma highway, also known as the 'Road of Bones' because it was built by Gulag prisoners during the Stalin era. Many of them did not survive the inhuman conditions and were buried beneath the road.

As we passed the Verkhoyansk mountain range the road became worse and our rate of progress slowed. The landscape was incredibly beautiful. After more then 20 hours, including a break to sleep in Khandyga, we reached our guesthouse in the village of Kujdusun, a few kilometres from the Pole of Cold.

During our journey we were mildly disappointed because the temperature did not fall any lower than 44 degrees below zero, but we would not have to wait long to experience the real cold.

The inhabitants of the villages around the Pole of Cold leave their houses in the winter only when it is really necessary. Many of them make a living from farming, and they are also skilled hunters. They breed cattle and the Yakut horse, which is noted for its adaptation to the climate, including the ability to locate and graze on vegetation that is under deep snow cover.

One morning we stepped out of our warm guesthouse into a temperature of minus 57 degrees. This was not even close to the record low of minus 67.7, recorded in Oymyakon in 1933, but it was cold enough for us. It seemed almost unbelievable that people and nature could adapt to such extreme conditions.

Back in the warmth, we feasted on horse meat and stroganina - raw, sliced frozen fish - accompanied by lots of vodka, happy to have made it to the Pole.
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