Yakutia Road Of Bones

the road of bones

The winter Road of Bones 48-second ad reel:

The summer Road of Bones 2-minute ad reel:

The M56 Kolyma federal highway, also known as the Road of Bones, connects Yakutsk and Magadan. The road is about 2200 km long. The construction began in early 1930s and continued by inmates of gulag camps until 1953. While building the road, thousand upon thousands of gulag prisoners died. Their bodies were simply left on the side of the road or actually put into the foundation of the roadway. Thus, the road of bones came to be. Nowadays, it has become a challenge for adventure-minded motorcyclists and motorists. Frankly speaking, today the road can hardly be called "extreme". It has been greatly improved over the last several years and can be extreme only under extreme weather conditions such as a long heavy rain or snow storm.

In October 2008 Russian TV showed a ribbon-cutting ceremony dedicated to the opening of the Kolyma highway. The ceremony was staged in the Yakut town of Ust-Nera (Усть-Нера). The Magadan governor and Yakut minister of transportation declared the Road of Bones passable all the year round for all vehicles big and small. There are two roads leading to Magadan. Actually, it is the same road that forks and converges twice. See the map.

The so-called “new road” opened in October 2008 goes via Ust-Nera. The road is definitely passable all the year round. It is not without hurdles in rainy weather but traffic is regular and road construction is under way. The so-called “old road” is a short cut that runs from the abandoned village of Kyubyume (Кюбюме) to the border with Magadan oblast. The road before the border is passable. Yakuts somehow maintain it.  From the border, there is a length of 150km not maintained for many years. This stretch is a truly extreme one.

From Yakutsk the trip starts with crossing the Lena River by ferry in summer and by ice road in winter.

Tony and Susan Childs from California on the ice road across the Lena. March 27, 2019.

cherkekh – черкех

The first day we drive as far as Tyoply Klyuch (Тёплый Ключ) with two stops. The first one is in Cherkekh. Located approximately 210 km east of Yakutsk along the Kolyma highway, the village of Cherkekh is a home to a nice ethnographic museum with a good collection of Yakut wooden architecture plus some documents, silver articles, etc. Visitors may climb the belfries and ring the bells.

The museum office.

Two major buildings are the 1912 St. Nicholas Church and mid-19th century chapel.

The church.

The chapel.

Specimens of Yakut wooden architecture.

Countryside as seen from the Cherkekh church belfry.

My reflection in the golden dome of the 1912 St.Nicholas Church. September 6, 2012.

Yakut warrior named Bootur the Rapid guards the road near Cherkekh.

Yakut cemeteries are very peculiar: a mix of pagan, Christian and Soviet time traditions. One can be visited in Cherkekh as well.

The second stop in the village of Uolba (Уолба). Here a local craftsman builds out of cow dung a symbol of the year according to the Chinese calendar. In 2019 it was a pig. In 2020 a rat. The attraction is free.

Lenin in Uolba has clear cut facial features which is not very common.

Nowadays, every village has a ritual ground to hold folk festivals.

The Kolyma highway is hard on tires and bumpers.

Awaiting a ferry across the Aldan River.

Crossing the Aldan River.

In winter we stay two nights in Tyoply Klyuch from where we make a day trip towards Topolinoe (Тополиное) to see ruins of two small gulags. On seeing this sign about 30 km after leaving Tyoply Klyuch, take a left turn.

The first small gulag is 125 km from the turn.

Summer aerial view.

The second one located 137 km from the turn is bigger and looks like a camp due to barbed wire fences and a still standing watch tower. This wooden cross with a memorial plate is a good indicator. On seeing it, stop and look for the ruins.

Winter view.

Summer view.

The road leading to the small gulags is rather scenic.

But may be dangerous. Watch for sharp turns. No speeding.

Irresponsible truck drivers overload their trucks and block the road for hours being unable to negotiate uphill.  Same occurs when trucks have no snow chains. Unfortunately, it is a quite common happening. Therefore, delays are probable.

Most bridges date back to the time of gulags and are not usable any more.

On day three we leave Tyoply Klyuch for Ust-Nera (or Oymyakon if the Pole of Cold is on the agenda) making stops in scenic places for pictures. East of Tyoply Klyuch the landscape changes abruptly from plains to mountains. Views are rather scenic all the time both in warm and cold seasons. Best colors are in late August and early September.

ATTENTION! Hazardous lap "Hare's Loop"

In July ice is still thick in some places. (July 10, 2023)

Winter lends its own charm to the landscape.

Locals especially Yakut girls enjoy meeting foreign travelers and vice versa.

One of wow places.

Tony and Susan Childs (USA) enjoy vistas on the Road of Bones. March 28, 2019.

Accidents happen.

Smaller vehicles have to wait while bigger trucks ae engaged in a rescue operation.

Between Kyubyume and Ust-Nera.

Before coming to Ust-Nera road travelers drive across the scenic Olchansky Pass.

ust-nera – усть-нера

Ust-Nera was founded in 1937. A small half-abandoned town with a big war memorial.

The war memorial was rather modest in September 2012.

Later the memorial was drastically updated.

The statue of a sniper. The implication is that many Yakuts are good shots and make excellent snipers.

Minus 420C (minus 440F) in Ust-Nera in the morning March 9, 2020.

The hills around Ust-Nera are topped with jagged rocks.

The narrow road towards Magadan runs along the Indigirka River.

The half-abandoned village of Artyk (Артык) is 130 km south-east of Ust-Nera.

The border between Sakha (Yakutia) Republic and Magadan Oblast runs by the Delyankir River about 50 km south of Artyk. The border is marked with a good old stela saying Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Якутская АССР). Click on Magadan Oblast Page to see the remaining leg of the Road of Bones.

The Delyankir River.