Humans are capable of facing some of the harshest conditions in the world. It comes as no surprise when you hear about the people in the tiny village of Oymyakon, Russia, which is the coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth. Temperatures average around -58 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months, with the record low reaching -96.16 degrees Fahrenheit in 1924. Adventurer and photographer Amos Chapple visited the village, as well as Yakutsk, its nearest city center. Chapple spent a total of five weeks in the region, documenting everyday life in these harsh conditions, as well as the people who call the area home.
Winter temperatures in Oymyakon, Russia, average minus 50 C ( minus 58 F).
“The guys I ended up getting a lift with wavered between hospitable and weirdly threatening. I ate frozen horse blood and macaroni with their family before being dropped off in Oymyakon,” Chapple said. The communist-era monument near the entrance of the town marks the record-breaking temperature of -96.16 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in the village in 1924. The sign reads, “Oymyakon, the Pole of Cold.”
The remote village is generally considered the coldest inhabited area on Earth.
Today, the town averages -58 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months. In the Even language spoken in Siberia, Oymyakon means “unfrozen water,” believe it or not. It is thought to reference the thermal springs in town that reindeer herders used to visit.
Oymyakon is a two-day drive from Yakutsk, the regional capital which has the lowest winter temperatures of any city in the world.
Upon his arrival, Chapple was taken aback by the immediate and extreme effects of the cold temperatures.
“I remember feeling like the cold was physically gripping my legs. The other surprise was that occasionally my saliva would freeze into needles that would prick my lips.”
How do the locals deal with the cold? “Russki chai, literally Russian tea, which is their word for vodka.”
Capturing images in such extreme conditions is not as easy as one imagines.
“Breath-mist was as thick as cigar smoke and so I had to hold my breath when taking a picture,” Chapple said. Focusing the camera lens became laborious as well, as the cold began to take grip on its mechanics.
According to The Independent, wearing glasses outdoors can cause them to stick to the wearer’s face.
The completely frozen ground in the area makes it impossible to run water pipes into the village’s houses. Instead, outhouses must be used. The run from the house to the bathroom outside is a torturous one.
One of the more menial problems of the extremely cold weather is burying the dead.
Burying the dead is one of the hardest tasks that one could do in Oymyakon due to the frozen ground. Prior to burials, large fires must be lit to warm the soil.
Other adaptations locals have to make in their daily lives are more extreme than a short time of nearsightedness or farsightedness when stepping outside.
According to Chapple, he expected the villagers to be excited to meet newcomers. Instead, he found it hard to meet people outdoors.
“The only people outside were either dashing between houses with their mitts clasped to their faces, or were drunk and looking for trouble.”
Locals use heated garages for their cars. Cars left outside need to be kept running, otherwise they will not restart.
The ground is literally too cold to grow vegetables, so people in Oymyakon rely on animal husbandry or municipal work for income.
This also affects their eating habits. Most of what they eat is frozen raw fish, like salmon or whitefish, and occasionally horse liver. Mostly, though, they survive on meat soup.
The residents of the town identify strongly with their surroundings and history as ethnic Yakutians.
“Life rolls on much like anywhere else, but with an eye constantly on the thermometer. Below -58 degrees Fahrenheit and things start to shut down.”
Planes cannot fly into the area in the winter.
When summer does eventually roll around in the area, temperatures can be fairly moderate. The record high in the area is actually 96 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the summer months do not last very long and the brutal winter months drag on for what seems like an eternity.
The city has a population of about 300,000.
Chapple describes the residents of the city as wonderful, “friendly, worldly locals, and magnificently dressed.”
Chapple stayed in a small guesthouse in Yakutsk before befriending locals and being invited into their home.
“I tried to cook meals for them as thanks, but it’s pretty hard to put together a plate of nachos in deep Siberia,” Chapple said.
“I was wearing thin trousers when I first stepped outside into minus 47 C. I remember feeling like the cold was physically gripping my legs.”
A strong diamond trade has provided a “diverse and healthy economy” in Yakutsk.
The journey to Oymyakon takes two days and travellers must go down a barren and isolated stretch of road. Chapple first had to hitch a ride to a halfway point on the road, where he was stranded for two days.
Because cars driving in such low temperatures must be kept running at all times, gas stations along the route stay open 24 hours a day.
“Workers in the isolated petrol stations of the region work two weeks on, two weeks off,” Chapple said.
The tiny, isolated guesthouse known as “Cafe Cuba,” located in the frozen wasteland along the road is where Chapple was stuck for two days. He survived on reindeer soup and hot tea while waiting for another car to pick him up and finish the journey.