Highway from Hell
SSQQ Dance Studio,
First Published: January 2007
is a picture of the Lena River
during the bitter Russian winter.
The Lena Highway (road of mud) is nearby.
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.
runs from Moscow city
to the Siberian city of Yakutsk.
The last 600 miles is called the
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,
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
is the capital of the Yakutia
Republic, part of the vast Russian
region known as Siberia.
joke is 'War is God's way of teaching us
With that in mind, any
kid who grew up playing the board game
territories with weird names located up at the
top of Asia. As a kid, I had never
heard of these places until I played
Nor did it ever
dawn on me that people actually live there
(as if getting stuck in the mud is considered
The road of mud isn't the only
problem. It seems that people who live
in Yakutsk were born to suffer.
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
capital, is the world's biggest city built on
top of continuous permafrost. Most
houses are mounted on concrete piles
to keep from sinking.
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
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
But watch out for
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.
this: July temperatures often
exceed 90 °F! This makes
the Yakutia region
among the greatest in the world for seasonal
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
Unfortunately, this major artery does not have an
though it is a vital
been made to put down a proper surface, but
the road immediately turns to mush
the moment it thaws making repairs
Consequently, in the
time it rains,
hundreds of cars become
stuck in the mud.
Yakutia is an area of permafrost. The
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
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
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.
often break the
locks on the trucks in a search of food and
Fuel, food, firearms and steel tow-line
needed most during the
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.
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.
Sent: Monday, April 20, 2009
To: Rick Archer
I was growing up my parents never could
afford a car (well, they actually still
we did not have much
to do with the roads problems all
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. :)
It seems like Russia could do something
about this road. After all, America
built the Alcan Highway in Alaska under
Driving upon these roads in
summer when the snows have
melted seems like
a very stupid
never even meant for the Lena Highway to be used
in the summertime. Apparently the
ancient way of reaching Yakutsk in the
summer was by boat. Now, even though
it is the 21st Century, this tradition
Yakutsk can only be
reached by ferry in the summer. The
road dead ends on the wrong side of Yakutsk.
In fact, there is no bridge anywhere in the Sakha
Republic that even crosses the mighty Lena.
But just because it is a
very bad idea to drive doesn't mean people don't try
anyway. After all, most people in this
area are have no choice if they wish to
reach another part of Russia. Unless they own a
plane or a boat, the Road of Mud is the only
way in and out of the city.
people were born to suffer.
The picture above was
taken on August 30, 2006. As you
can see, this is a dirt road. The
ground is firm because his truck
is stopped on the high ground.
However the road has become impassible due to the watery conditions
This driver probably has
no idea how lucky he is that his truck
isn't stuck. As you see below,
others are not quite so lucky.
Have you ever seen a
more unbelievable picture of a car stuck
Please note the
condition of the Lena Highway before the rains
came. Maybe a few ruts, but the road
is dry and in good shape.
Now let's see some truly horrifying
pictures of a road ruined with mud.
This road resembles a
river. Or maybe a 'lake' would be
a better description. This area is
surrounded by hills on both sides and
there appears to be nowhere along the
side of the road for the water to drain.
Instead the water just sits there.
Note the sign in the
picture above on the left. 70
kilometers an hour is the posted speed
That translates to 45 miles per hour.
Lots of luck reaching that speed... my guess is the summertime speed
is 45 miles per week.
Somehow those two trucks got to the top
of the hill. As you can see from
the overturned trucks, others weren't so
Did they ever think of perhaps
dropping gravel on this road?
You can do that any time of year.
If nothing else, they could use
gravel to elevate the road above the
terrain around the road. Another idea
might be to dig
some trenches alongside the road to
In the picture with the yellow
truck, it looks
like the water has nowhere to go...
the sides of the road seem as high
or higher than the road itself.
Surely there must be a low spot to
use as a retention pond somewhere.
A damsel in distress.
Such a pretty girl and such a pretty
car. What a pity.
Two more damsels in
distress. That jeep looks
seriously stuck in the mud.
Have you ever
seen more mud in all your life?
Well, at least they are smiling...
sort of. I am not sure I would
be able to smile in such a
Notice the blonde on the
truck. She is actually smiling for
the camera! And I know why -
for some reason, no one has made her
get in the mud and push. She
is clean as a whistle. Glad someone's in a good mood.
If you study this picture, you realize just how hopeless
this situation is. It could be
days before they get out of this mess.
Surely there is modern
technology to fight this problem. This
Do you know anything about this road
or have a comment to share?
Send comments to Rick Archer,
Sent: Saturday, March 20, 2010 6:43 PM
Subject: RE: Russian Road
After seeing the page on the road to Yakutsk and your despair
at the fact that the Russian government seems to do
nothing about the road (or can do nothing), and that you stated
there must be some modern technology to make this a passable road --
well, there is a way to make a very passable, all weather road --
and it is not modern technology, but a modern understanding of how
roads must be built on permafrost.
I watched road construction in Alaska back in the 80's. The
construction crews built a modern 4 lane divided highway over
permafrost - and it functioned very well -- year-round. However, it
does require a lot of digging out for the road (a very large trench,
much wider than the actual road and quite deep) and backfilling with
rock and gravel. This allows the heat from the road to dissipate so
the permafrost does not melt and cause the road to break up.
It just costs money and time - neither of which the Russian
government is willing to spend on a mere road.
Regards, Paul Davis
From: Karl Z
Sent: Monday, July 11, 2011 6:03 AM
Subject: your article about the Russian Highway from Hell
Dear sirs ,
I have read your article about the Russian Highway to Yakutsk . I
just would like to comment the general tone of the article . I think
it is a gross mistake to use such contemptuous sentences like 'this
people are dirt poor' or can't these poor people do something about
it ? . The general tone of the article is characteristic of an ugly
and stupid feeling of superiority toward Russia . e.g. : these women
should get married in Australia / in the U.S.A ... look at these
poor bastards trying to get out from the mud , etc ...
You seem to ignore that
1) The Soviet empire collapsed in 1991 and as a result , all its
economy was destroyed . almost all the infrastructures have not been
renewed since the soviet union area . Russia and the former soviet
republic is ruled by gangsters and mafias ( at least it is clear )
who do not care investing into public transportation . This is
partially the result of an aggressive policy of the U.S.A aiming at
promoting this gangs in the former soviet union space so that the
'threat' of communism would be definitively buried . The consequence
is that the populations of Russia who were not fortunate enough to
relocate into Europe or other 'developed' country after 1991 must -
as it is said - suffer the effect of the total collapse of communism
, state , economy , science that happened in 1991 . To mock them is
really disgusting . Since they are not different as you .
2) The basis of the scientific and technological power of the USA
comes almost exclusively from German , Jews and Russian scientists
who had to escape Europe . I have never seen a U.S university able
to provide 'pure american' scientists . Only they can buy them to
foreign nations . When you mock these people , just think of the
tremendous number of high-level mathematicians , physicists or
technologists who are giving to your prestigious universities the
label 'prestigious' .
3) The soviet union liberated the world from Nazi Germany . Just for
your knowledge , the Nazi army was so powerful that it was almost
the same equivalent power as the U.S army nowadays ( and this comes
from the best army experts , U.S included ) . When the USA entered
into Europe , the war was already lost for Hitler . Only the Russian
communist power wiped out the invincible Nazi army . ( and this
still remains partly a mystery ) . The Nazi army had wiped out in a
few days the French army who was at that time the first army in the
world while the US army was only at that time made with battalions
of peasants . Ask yourself what your country would have do in front
of the Nazi Army in 1941 ? You would have been reduced to slavery .
The Russian did not .
4) What destroyed the Soviet Union was something which is very
difficult to understand . I have been analyzing this and came to the
conclusion that it is some kind of intrinsic process bound to the
maximum level of information that can be contained in a Human
society . If I am right , the USA should themselves collapse such as
the European Union since this process must be universal . Look at
Katrina ? Wasn't there a technological solution to this ?
It is just that I am living there. I
am not Russian but French .
I find rather disgusting to be so contemptuous. Look at these dirty
roads and all these people who fight to get from one point to an
other and you may look your future, when the economical crisis of
2008 will come back and will blast your country as a tsunami . Will
you have enough courage to survive
economical destruction, to learn other languages and other alphabet?
Never judge since you don't know.
I take these roads . Yes they should build new roads . That's easy
to say .
From: Dan Popescu
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2011 12:40 PM
Subject: Yakutia Road
I read carefully your article. I observe the fotos one by one. Many
are from the internet, but not in the Lena Highway. What I can tell
you? Good news! I was in an solitary expedition riding my Aprilia
Pegaso motorbike from Bucharest - Romania to Magadan - Russian
Federation. 2100 km before Magadan is that Lena Highway. Why good
news? Because last year (2010) exacly in july-august when I ride
exactly this road the condition was normal: macadam type of road, 3
layers of rocks, stone and gravel, dirt on the surface for "glue"
the gravel. With the motorbike the average speed was 70 km/h, the
peak speed was 120. Sometime in the Lena Highway they work to the
road, and the speed decrease down to walk speed for few kilometers.
Was need few days to reach Yakutsk, and two days rain like hell. The
problem is when is not raining the dust go anywhere, including in
So, believe me, these pictures are no more available. The situation
is about normal now.
All the best,
Dan Popescu - Romanian biker
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2011 9:26 PM
To: 'Dan Popescu'
Subject: RE: Yakutia Road
Thank you, Dan. Before I post your letter, may I ask you some
Are you saying the pictures on my web site are NOT the Lena Highway?
Or are you saying the problem is solved? Please explain.
From: Dan Popescu
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2011 3:12 PM
To: 'Rick Archer'
Subject: RE: Yakutia Road
Some picture are from Lena (road to Yakutsk) "highway", but not all
of them. Few are from another places, or from inside the cities; I
saw these fotos in tens of internet sites. But still missing one
with a modern Russian battle tank stocked in mud.
Regarding the status of the road, last year in july-august just ride
all way and the situation is far away from what you present in the
article: the road in with no asphalt or concrete (in fact is asphalt
but just maybe 200 km in different legs, usual from cities to the
nearby airport), but the rest is in good condition, including in
raining weather. In some sectors I reach maybe 120-130 km/h speed
with my Aprilia Pegaso with heavy load.
But is ok, taking in consideration that the pictures and article are
talking about 2006, and now is 2011. By the way, last year they
almost reach the Yakutsk city (of course, in right bank, the city is
on the left one) by railway. Slowly, they come with the train. The
Lena barrier between the road/train and Yakustk is an heavy problem,
taking in consideration few month /year when the big river froze and
defrost, that means no ferry navigation and no auto/truck crossing
on ice. But they have hovercrafts and a lot of helicopters for some
The situation is not like in the internet. This is a big problem
with internet, people think they know the truth , never been there.
All the best
From: Leonid F
Sent: Tuesday, August 02, 2011 7:39 PM
Subject: Highway from Hell
I enjoyed your site. The pictures bring back old memories. I have
never been to Yakutia, so I can not testify on whether the pictures
were taken there or somewhere else. However, the first 34 years of
my life I lived in the Soviet Union, and, though a city dweller, I
spent some time in the countryside. After couple of rainy days, dirt
roads would become dirty indeed, and pictures like the ones on your
site could be taken 40 miles from Moscow, albeit at that time they
would be black-and-white. I do not want going into political
discussions, but that was before the collapse of the Communism. As
for which particular road goes from/to Hell, it is always debatable.
With Best Regards, Lennie
Next we will
visit El Camino de la Muerte,
the story of a narrow road high up in the Andes Mountains that has
claimed many lives.
Bolivian Road of Death"