North of Russia is a wild place. No roads, you can’t travel on the car just planes or helicopters. But in winter things change – there an opportunity appears to go on the “winter roads” – roads made of hard compressed snow that magically disappear in spring again This guy used this opportunity to travel to the Northern coast of Russia on his car and see the atomic icebreakers in their natural habitat. He crossed Arctic Ocean, and besides he met local people who send their kids to school on helicopters, saw abandoned Soviet army bases on Polar islands, Northernmost in the world railroad and many more…
This is a place where 80% of Russia natural gas production takes place. Yamal peninsul, Noviy Urengoi – these are names of those places. But there are no roads connecting them.
This is the “winter road”. Looks like a normal road, except there is no road beneath the snow.
This is how this road being made. Those machines towed and form this road.
He started his way from this village. It’s small but has some nice amentities like cell phone connectivity and even internet connection. Also a hothouses complex to provide some food.
Because most part of this population is traditional reindeer herders so you can see the deer sledges parked near houses.
However civilization advance is seen here as well, here is a Hummer parked next to a house.
These villages and small towns still have some roads connecting them. However you can’t leave this place on car.
Houses here have garages too. However those garages are not for the car. They are for the snowmobiles.
And then starting from this place there are no more traditional roads. Only winter roads.
Lot of gas production companies and branches all across the place. It has 16% of total world natural gas production going on here.
And then he started his journey on the non-services winter road. A wild road.
This is a local school bus.
Most of people move around on deer sledges, snowmobiles or the cars with oversized tires like the one above.
Then he moved further North. To go on this road he had to depressurize his tires a lot so that they be more soft and not go thru the snow.
He says there were endless reindeer herds around and small mobile reindeer herders houses – chums.
Deers don’t afraid of people or cars. On contrary, when they saw a car they approached with interest.
Those are chums – traditional reindeer herders huts. People here are very wellcoming anyone, as cars are very rare here. So new person is a way to communicate, to share stories etc and is always invited to share a meal.
He was invited inside each time he stopped near the Chum.
This is inside the chum. The two year girl is strapped by the leash so that she doesn’t go out or touch the fireplace which is inside.
Those are her elder brother and sister. They had to go to school last fall, but they didn’t go. The helicopter that collects all the kids in the beginning of the school year didn’t find their chum house in the endless Northern terrain. So they stayed home for the whole year.
When he arrived the kids just got home from the work. They help find firewood under the snow near the nearest river canyon. The temperature outside is -40.
This is the similiar leash her small sister was strapped.
There are over fifty trading posts scattered across these lands. Many offering hotel services, fuel refills for snomobiles, storing frozen meats and fishes, selling bread, satellite communication with the rest of the world, selling firewood and also doctors services.
Gas production companies sponsor those trade posts as well as Federal goverment.
Local people actively visit those trade posts.
Then he moved on. The farther to the North the less visible “winter road” was.
He wanted to go see the old Soviet relay link antenas and turned off the road and instantly went down the snow.
But his car was able to get out of the snow by itself without anyone towing it out.
So he saw the abandoned antennas and went back to the road.
Then he reached a village. It’s a Northernmost village of this region. Locals were surprised to see a regular car coming here. Usually only trucks reach out.
But helicopters are coming all time. The day he was there there were four of them arriving. Some helicopters are carrying passengers, some were taking local kids for some sort of competition to another town or village.
These are old Soviet buildings. Water from kitchen sink just pours outside.
Local shops selling everything in one place – snowmobile belts, children goods and household chemicals all on one shelf.
Local point of interest a huge street electrical thermometer showing the temperature outside. It was almost -30.
Then after the village they have reached the Northern ocean. And went down to its ice.
They didn’t follow any winter road (there were only narrow ones for snowmobiles). Just went straight by GPS across the ocean ice.
Some people couldn’t make it thru here though.
And here they arrived to Yamburg, a gas production city oasis in the frozen Northern tundra.
Russian largest gas production company Gazprom rules here. They enjoyed the place but had to go further North.
All local people they met were discouraging them from going farther North. But they didn’t listen to them.
Sometime there were huge cracks in the ice and they couldn’t cross them. So they had to move across those lines until they reached crack end and then could move further.
A few times they saw black silhouettes on horizon which immediately disappeared when they approached. They were puzzled – if those were people – why they avoided contacting them? Later they learned that those were poachers making holes in ice and fishing for some rare fish with nets which is prohibited.
One time the poachers didn’t notice them until just fifty meters away. The sun was from side of their approach and fishermen were too busy to look at the Sun. Then they still ran away and dropped all their fishing equipment.
The driver got scared because if the fishermen get back they could shoot at them – there is little law in the middle of the frozen ocean.
However a few minutes later fishermen returned back without any hostile intentions and just had a friendly chat as they understood these are not some law enforcement, just travellers. Fishermen told them that there less fish now under the ice. They think that the warm Gulf Stream current has changed its course over the last few years and causes less fish in their region.
And then they arrived to one of the modern wonders of modern Russia. An ocean oil loading terminal. Here, nearby, there is Northernmost Russian oil deposit that is actively drilled. But the ocean here is very shallow and big oil tankers can’t approach the coastline. So this off-shore oil filling station was built.
It’s over one hundred meter tall and is fully autonomous, controlled from the shore. There are no people present.
Three different oil tankers were parked nearby. One by one they get filled by oil each day non-stop. Each one can carry up to 40,000 tons of oil, and just in a few months after this station was built 1,000,000 tons of oil already was pumped thru it.
Some tankers are Russian.
And this one is Malta Ice Condor oil tanker.
Then before approaching the coastline they had to drill the ice and test how thick it is, because ice-breakers often come thru here leading the way for the oil tankers and sometimes the ice is very thin.
And so they arrived to a village. It’s the Yamal Peninsula Northernmost village. Spent a night there and moved on.
But then the weather became worse. A snow storm began.
However it ended overnight and they were able to continue their journey.
And then they went to the ocean ice.
But the surface here was really ice and snow and nothing else. They constantly were wallowed into ice walls because they were covered with white snow and not visible from a distance.
And they were afraid to leave their car because locals told them that Polar bears live here.
Then in the middle of the night they found themselves deep stuck in a ice, snow and water hole. He says they were moving fast and then suddenly went down. One person got out dug out the door of another person and then they started digging out the car. He says they dug really fast and didn’t turn their backs to the darkness around – they got a feeling there were hundreds of polar bears surrounding them.
Sometime later they arrived to a weather station on the island.
They spent two days with the people working on the station and they couldn’t stop talking.
In the summer these equipment is being used on the island to help find all scrap metal left here by Soviet army and others, like metal fuel barrels etc.
Then they left the island and went farther North.
There were some more islands on their way.
Some had abandoned Soviet army base.
Also there was a weather station too, but then some accident happened and all personnel died. After this the weather station was closed down.
Here was an abandoned Soviet radar station.
Now it doesn’t function too.
Later on they arrived to a peninsula and a trading post that sells firewood to locals nomadic people and other services as well.
Those tractors pull sledges loaded with firewood all around the peninsula. The green one is also following the tractors as its a mobile house where drivers sleep and stay at nights.
And then they left the land and went to the ocean again to cut the path.
But instantly got stuck into water-ice mess. This was a fresh ice breaker trace, just a very thin ice covering it.
So they had to use a mobile winch to pull their car out of the water.
And there was another icebreaker arriving.
This is a line separating old ice and fresh ice.
Then they arrived to a newly built (actually still being built) Sabetta port. Russia built here a huge (35,000 workers work there now) factory. It will be making liquified gas here to load it on tankers.
He says there are a few tankers already waiting to be filled with this gas. And they are building the Northernmost railroad here now to connect local villages. No link to the Russian mainland of course.
And from there they moved further north.
But soon they found out that two springs in their car were already broken and so they had to turn back.
Hope you liked his travel story!