These Russians took on the Far North’s ice roads... in an old SOVIET car!

Alexey Zhirukhin
Driving across the Arctic and the Far North in winter is hard and risky, even in a modern and well-prepared vehicle. Yet, four guys went on an Arctic vacation in an old Soviet ‘Moskvich’ car and not only survived, but also had fun doing it!

Visiting Russia’s beautiful north is a dream for many travelers. Boundless expanses, where only occasionally you come across nomadic reindeer herders with their herds, wide rivers that are bound by ice for half the year and entire cities built on permafrost. Most of these places can be reached only by air or, in winter, by vehicle, when the rivers and swampy soil freeze and turn into temporary makeshift roads. A serious minus of such a trip are the subzero temperatures, which can drop to minus 40 and lower, as well as the lack of the familiar traffic infrastructure, like hotels, grocery stores and gas stations. This does not deter people and many continue to drive on these winter roads. There are trucks, intercity public transport and ordinary cars. But, no one drives long distances without special equipment.

Fellow travelers Alexei Zhirukhin (from Samara), Alexander Elikov (Tver), Dmitry Gostinshchikov (Cherepovets) and Natalia Shipovskaya (Moscow) decided to prove that you don't need millions of rubles and bad-ass SUVs for the Arctic and the Far North.

They drove their secondhand green ‘Moskvich’ from 1981, which they collectively bought for just 70,000 rubles (approx. $800), straight to the north. At least the ‘Moskvich’ was warmed up before the trip (with carpeting)!

The team started from the Red Sqaure in Moscow.

It’s fair to say that two of the four enthusiasts are people well prepared for this kind of adventure. Alexey (39 years old), an entrepreneur from Samara, has long been blogging about travels in the Arctic and has traveled there many times on different vehicles. Alexander (45), born in the north in Novy Urengoy, a professional auto mechanic and heavy truck driver, became an Arctic guide and participated in numerous extreme expeditions. He twice traveled to Dickson (73°30′), the northernmost settlement of Russia. And, together with Alexey, they both traveled by off-road vehicle to Cape Chelyuskin, the northernmost point of the Eurasian continent. Natalia (58), meanwhile, is now retired. She defeated cancer a few years ago and decided it was time to travel. She found Alexey on social networks and became part of the team.

The youngest participant is Dmitry (26) and his love for the north is just beginning.

Picked up all the winter roads & saw a musk ox

Moskvich in Arkhangelsk.

The adventurers started off from the Red Square on December 3. First, they traveled 1,200 km along the M8 ‘Kholmogory’ highway and reached Arkhangelsk, one of the main cities of the Russian North and wooden architecture. There, they spent a few days, managing to visit the ‘Malye Korely’ open-air museum, walk along the embankment of the Northern Dvina and ride snowmobiles on the ice of the White Sea.

After that, they traveled along the northern roads to the east. Temperatures were already reaching minus 35 outside, but the car could still start! And then it began: the Komi Republic, Perm Krai, Novosibirsk Region, Kemerovo Region, Irkutsk Region and, from there, along a winter road to Yakutia - the towns of Mirny and Udachny. Breakdowns began to occur each day.

"We removed the radiator, pulled out the axle shaft and rebuilt the hubs. Various parts fell off and we put them back in place with self-tapping screws, scotch tape and wire," says Alexey Zhirukhin.

The northernmost village of Yakutia

The Ust-Kut-Mirny winter road, one of the most difficult in the country, leads to Yakutia, Russia's coldest region. "For 1,100 km, there were no gas stations, only a few pickets (seasonal cafes). Gas canisters were even at our feet," Alexey says.

In the pickets, it was possible not only to have lunch, but also enjoy a banya (Russian bathhouse), which was very helpful on the road. On the way, they encountered wolves, wolverines, reindeer, moose and even a musk ox. And of course, incredible northern lights. But not a single bear, as they sleep in winter.

Winter roads in Yakutia connect the most remote areas and stretch for thousands of kilometers. The travelers decided to drive to Yuryung-Khaya (72°48′), the northernmost village of the Far East, which is another thousand kilometers along the Anabar winter road. On the way, they stopped at every settlement: Olenek, Zhilinda, Saskalakh. There, their green ‘Moskvich’ was a real sensation. Such cars are rarely seen in the Far North!

Arriving to the Yuryung-Khaya village.

"We wanted to get to the northernmost point of Yakutia and Cape Paksa, in the Far East, but we did it on a Trekol ATV, because there are not even winter roads there, only snow-white virgin land," the travelers say.

The accessible Arctic

The summer trip of Moskvich. The photo near the Polar Circle stele.

This is already their third motor rally in the ‘Moskvich’ across the Far North. Last year, they experienced both winter and summer in Yamal: first in Salekhard, then Novy Urengoy, where both times stayed with nomadic reindeer herders, saw the legendary abandoned Transpolar Railroad and a super-deep well.

"Our main goal is to show affordable tourism. You can travel across Russia and even the Arctic in the simplest car. You don't need to save up for a cool SUV and have millions of rubles. We did it in an old ‘Moskvich’ for 70,000 rubles," says Alexey.

Moskvich in Salekhard, the only city on the Polar Circle.

We drove according to the navigator route we had downloaded in advance. All the winter roads are on the map and it really is difficult to get lost on such a road, as there is only one and goes directly to the north.

'Hello to the Polar explorers' reads the stele.

The whole trip took about 45 days. The travelers returned home by plane, leaving the ‘Moskvich’ in the city of Mirny. They plan to come back for it in the summer and show it and themselves more wonders of Yakutia!

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