Land Rover reaches coldest inhabited place on Earth and its not Manhattan
Trek to Oymyakon tests Defender’s extreme cold-weather capabilities
Despite the second snowpocalypse of the year and the reappearance of the polar vortex, the American Midwest and Northeast are not the coldest places in the world right now.
The title holder of the coldest inhabited place in the world happens to be the district of Oymyakon in Russia, though it’s a bit further south from the Arctic Ocean than you’d expect. Oymyakon earned this distinction back in 1933, when a temperature of -67.7 degrees Celsius (-89.8 Fahrenheit) was recorded there. And a Land Rover Defender has just completed an 12,000-mile trek to Oymyakon to see what the big deal was. Actually, the purpose of the three-month expedition was to explore the social, cultural, and physical implications of living in extreme climates during the winter.
A team of British adventurers including Felicity Aston, photographer Manu Palomeque, and cold weather engineer and mechanic Gisli Jonsson drove a modified Land Rover Defender from western Europe to the Oymyakon District in Russia’s Sakha Region. But they didn’t take the easy way along federal highways — they drove right along the northern part of the country, including official ice roads on the frozen Lena River. The modifications made to the Defender weren’t particularly extensive, and included some basic things like underbody and driveline protection, an uprated suspension, auxiliary heaters for the engine and occupants, and a long-range fuel tank.
“The Defender has not just been a mode of transport during the expedition, it has been our security and our talisman,” said Aston, the trek leader. “Thanks to a minor modification, the Defender can be heated even when the engine is off, which means it has been a refuge for us when the temperatures outside have been really punishing.”
The Oymyakon district has a population of just under 500 people, and temperatures there stay well below the -50 degree Fahrenheit mark throughout the winter months. Oymyakon isn’t even anywhere close to the Arctic Ocean — it’s several hundred miles south of the sea — but the combination of the weather patterns in that part of Sakha Region create an environment where freezing temperatures persist from September until May. The summers are short, but can be surprisingly warm at times. In July of 2010, Oymyakon recorded a high of 94 degrees Fahrenheit. That makes it one of the few places in the world with a temperature amplitude over 180 degrees Fahrenheit. And Oymyakon is one of only two permanently inhabited places in the world that have recorded temperatures of -76 degrees Fahrenheit in the month of January, the other being the town of Verkhoyansk, also in the Sakha region.
“In these extremes of cold, it is the details of daily life that are fascinating. It often seems that everything is backwards — ice-cream is sold on tables in the open, while fruit and vegetables are warmed in blankets, ice-roads on frozen rivers are preferred to roads, prams have sledge runners rather than wheels, cars are left running outside shops and in petrol stations so that the engines don’t freeze and cities look like they are on fire as buildings and vehicles steam,” Aston said.
The Defender handled the trip with the resilience expected of the long-serving utility truck, though the locals were perhaps more used to seeing large Ural 43202 and KamAZ 4310 6×6 trucks crawling through the frozen terrain. But the local cars tend to be UAZ all-wheel drive SUVs and vans, and a motley selection of modern Japanese SUVs, imported through Vladivostok with all-wheel drive and winterized at local auto shops with extra insulation and other hidden tricks.
“The Defender has also attracted a lot of attention as we have passed through cities, towns and villages which has led to lots of interactions and encounters that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Being red helps to get us noticed,” Aston recalled. “Right the way across Siberia, we’ve been getting hoots and thumbs-up, waves and smiles. Pedestrians in the street come up to pat the bonnet in approval and we’ve come to recognize the phrase ‘Machina Harosho’ [Good Car]. Getting such appreciation makes driving a lot of fun.”
If we were going to undertake a trip across the northern part of Russia, all the way to Sakha and the Far East, the Defender would probably be our choice. Though, as Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman discovered on their motorcycle journey across this part of the world years ago, it doesn’t hurt to have an Ural or KamAZ truck as a support vehicle.
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