The Kolyma Highway is in red. It is a dangerous, isolated, poorly maintained
dirt road that connects Yakutsk and Magadan in the Russian Far East.
I don't think I'll ever have the chutzpah, Russian language skills, or time to travel the Kolyma Highway. But I've certainly researched the heck out of it. I've organized this post by general tips, maps with descriptions and photos, and the entire Long Way Round episode which covered the Road of Bones. Of course, things change and I do not guarantee that any of the information I post is correct or current.
First off, the best English language book on the route is Trailblazer's Siberian BAM Guide. Much of the info below is from the 11-page Kolyma Highway chapter. I caution that this book was published in 2001, so some of the info is definitely outdated. This post is meant to just give you a broad overview of what you will be dealing with. I also recommend Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum for more up-to-date information. The maps are from The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, 12th Edition.
I. General Information
- Dangers: Winter temperature (-50 degrees Centigrade average), tired or drunk drivers, poorly maintained roads and bridges, lack of medical facilities, isolation, gun wielding illegal gold prospectors.
- Best times to go: Summer (rivers are low) and winter (road at its smoothest, but also coldest).
- Travel options: Hitchhiking (can take over a week to find a ride at any one spot), contacting transport company (avtobaza) for a ride with a trucker, hiring a car and driver ($2,000 winter, $4,000 summer).
II. Route Description
A. Yakutsk - Khandyga (380 km by land, 530 km by river)
Traffic jam for ferry out of Yakutsk (All photos courtesy Goanna Tracks)
Getting off ferry
The Kolyma Highway technically starts at Khandyga, 300 km east of Yakutsk. In the summertime, there is a daily hydrofoil that takes you from Yakutsk to Khandyga (10 hours). There is also a winter-only road between these two points. In the winter, a public bus connects Yakutsk and Ytyk Kyuyel. Between Ytyk Kyuyel and Khandyga, there is only truck traffic.
B. Khandyga - Kyubyume (320 km)
From Khandyga, there is a bus that takes you to the airport at Teplyy Klyuch (70 miles east). After that, the road leaves the plains and reaches the Suntar Khayata range. Kyubyume is on a plateau and has a gas station.
Suntar Khayata range
C1. Kyubyume - Kadykchan (old road) (405 km)
A relatively well-maintained road connects Kyubyume to Tomtor (155 km). Tomtor has a gas station and an airport. Between Tomtor and Oymyakon is a weather station which recorded the coldest temperature on earth-- 71 degrees below zero Centrigrade. From Tomtor to Kadychan is rough, really rough. The road is rarely, if ever, maintained and many bridges are out. I suspect this is the route Long Way Round used.
Tomtor to Kadychan
C2. Kyubyume - Ust Nera (new road) (240 km)
A winter road connects Kyubyume and Ust Nera. A year-round road is supposed to materialize eventually (if it hasn't already been completed). The winter road meets the existing road at Elginskiy.
D. Ust Nera - Susuman (378 km)
There is a fair amount of traffic on this stretch of the road. There is a weekly bus between Ust Nera and Susuman. You'll pass by a number of mining towns and abandoned mines. To the northwest is Mount Pobeda, the highest peak in Sakha at 3,003 meters. The road turns southeast to Artyk, Delyanki, and Kadykchan.
Arkagala River bridge
E. Susuman - Magadan (633 km)
The road leaves Susuman and first takes you over a rocky pass to Yagodnoye 107 km away. It then takes you to a one-lane bridge controlled by manual traffic lights at Debin another 74 km away. Once past Orotukan, it's pretty much barren tundra for 300 km until you reach Palatka via Atka. Now, you're in the coastal lowland and 91 km from Magadan.
There is a 10 hour bus between Susuman and Magadan.
III. Long Way Round Episode