M56 Kolyma Highway

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M56 marker

Federal Highway M56
Федеральная автомобильная дорога M56
Kolyma Highway
Route information
Length: 2,031 km (1,262 mi)
Major junctions
West end: Nizhny Bestyakh
East end: Magadan
Highway system
Russian Federal Highways
Kolyma River Bridge, at Debin

The M56 Kolyma Highway (Russian: Федеральная автомобильная дорога «Колыма», "Federal Automobile Highway 'Kolyma'") is a road through the Russian Far East. It connects Magadan and Nizhny Bestyakh on the eastern bank of Lena River at Yakutsk. Yakutsk itself lies on the western bank, but there is no bridge; instead, a ferry operates during the short summer, and an ice road in the winter. The length of the original road via Tomtor is about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 mi). At Nizhny Bestyakh it connects to the Lena Highway, also designated M56. Locally, the road is known as Trassa (Russian: Трасса - "The Route"), or Kolymskaya trassa (Russian: Колымская трасса - "The Kolyma Route"), since it is the only road in the area and therefore needs no special name to distinguish it from other roads. The bulk of the Kolyma Highway, the sections between Khandyga and Magadan, is often referred to as the Road of Bones.[1][2]


Road construction
A ZIS-6 Truck in 1938
The road today near Magadan. It is paved 150 km nearest Magadan, and mostly gravel elsewhere.

It was constructed in the Joseph Stalin era of the USSR by Dalstroy construction directorate. The first stretch was built by the inmates of the Sevvostlag labor camp in 1932. The construction continued (by inmates of gulag camps) until 1953.

The road is treated as a memorial, because the bones of the people who died while constructing it were laid beneath or around the road.[3] The land there is permanently frozen so interment into the fabric of the road was deemed more practical than digging into the permafrost to bury the bodies of the dead.[4]

The road today[edit]

The area is extremely cold during the winter. Two towns by the highway, Tomtor and Oymyakon, both claim the coldest inhabited place on earth (often referred to as -71.2°C, but might be -67.7°C) outside Antarctica. The average temperature in Oymyakon in January is -46°C.

The road is in a state of disrepair and is not traversable by standard road vehicles because of washed-out bridges and sections of road reclaimed by streams. During winter, frozen water actually helps river crossings. The main mode of freight transport into Magadan has always been and still is shipping. The main mode of passenger transport is air travel.

The Road of Bones has become a challenge for adventure motorcyclists. After the fall of the Soviet government, the road was first travelled by Western motorcyclists in summer 1995 by the British Mondo Enduro team (West-East) and by Norwegian wanderer Helge Pedersen (starting from Magadan). Subsequent traverses by motorcycle include Simon Milward in 2001 and also Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's round-the-world motorcycle journey in 2004, made into a television series, book and DVD, all named Long Way Round. However, due to the timing of the journey and the condition of the road, it was not possible for them and their support crew to complete the traverse unassisted. They instead joined a Russian freight convoy, whose trucks were able to ford the still swollen rivers. It was also cycled in the 2004 winter by Alastair Humphreys and Rob Lilwall, followed on foot by Rosie Swale-Pope in 2005 and ridden solo on motorcycle by both Adrian Scott and by Russian woman Sasha Teplyakova (via the Old Summer Road) the same year. In 2007 the Polish Motosyberia team completed the Old Summer Road. In 2009 Walter Colebatch and Tony Pettie on the Sibirsky Extreme Project completed the new road, from Yakutsk to Magadan via Ust-Nera, in three and a half days. In 2010 Walter Colebatch returned to host the first commercial motorcycle tour on the Road, in which Sherri-Jo Wilkins became the first foreign female rider to ride the road. In September 2010, Paul and Dean Martinello together with Barton Churchill, completed the Old Summer Road into Magadan, and remain the latest motorcycle arrival to Magadan - the 30th of September. In summer 2012, Sean Ardley of California cycled the road from Magadan to the Lena River in 16 days, 12 hours. In June 2013, Nikolaos J. Kavouras member of Motorcycle Club of Kozani, was the first Greek biker who made the new road (via Ust-Nera) in four days, completed his «mongolia2magadan» effort. Commercial trips for small numbers of motorcycles are available. The very first attempt to ride a motorcycle in winter condition was made by Dan Popescu, motorbiker, the Romanian Motorcyclists Association (AMR) president in late March 2012. He rode one Aprilia Pegaso 650 IE on the distance between Yakutsk to near Kyubeme in few days, including night time riding, the coldest temperature down to -35 Celsius, helped by a back up team in two 4x4 including an ambulance.

A 2001 Travel Guide[5] has the following information: Most traffic goes inland from either Magadan or Yakutsk, so the central area is not fully maintained. From December to perhaps May a winter road is maintained. In 1937 the center was realigned. A branch was extended northwest to Ust-Nera and a winter road was built south from there to Kyubume. After that part of the route northeast from Kyubume was no longer fully maintained.

As of 2008 the road became a frequently maintained all weather road for the first time as the road was granted Federal Road status with Federal Government funding. The main route of the Kolyma Highway now passes through Khandyga, Kyubeme, Ust-Nera, Susuman, Artyk and Magadan. The old 420 km section between Kyubeme and Kadykchan is now largely unmaintained and over 200 km of that route is completely abandoned. This section is known as the Old Summer Road and remains one of the great challenges for adventuring motorcyclists and 4WDers.

The route[edit]

Distance Place Remark
0 km Nizhny Bestyakh / Yakutsk on the Lena River
350 km (220 mi) Krest-Khaldzhan Road, northeast, summer ferry across the Aldan River.
380 km (240 mi) Khandyga on the Aldan River
Alternative: Summer Hydrofoil from Yakutsk down the Lena and up the Aldan, 530 km (330 mi), 10 hours.
over Suntar-Khayata mountains, 1,200 m (3,940 ft) pass, Vostochnaya River.
700 km (430 mi) Kyubeme
940 km (580 mi) (New route) Ust-Nera on the Indigirka River, east: several mining towns, Artyk town, headwaters of the Nera River, 1,452 m (4,760 ft) pass.

Alternative: (Old Summer Road route) 155 km (100 mi) northeast to Tomtor, 250 km (160 mi) road northeast (may not be passable except when frozen), into Magadan Oblast.

1,240 km (770 mi) Kadykchan (nearby are coal mines and the old Myaundzha uranium processing centre).
1,330 km (830 mi) Susuman
1,500 km (930 mi) Debin with the Kolyma River bridge
1,680 km (1,040 mi) Orotukan road turns southeast and south, 300 km (190 mi) of largely unpopulated taiga,
1,830 km (1,140 mi) Atka enters lowlands,
1,950 km (1,210 mi) Palatka
1,980 km (1,230 mi) Sokol
2,030 km (1,260 mi) Magadan

There is also a scenic shortcut from Magadan to Susuman via Ust-Omchug called the Tenkinskaya Trassa, which receives a lot less heavy traffic than the main section of the M56 between Magadan and Susuman.

Distances: Yakutsk to Khandyga 380 km (240 mi), on to Kyubeme 320 km (200 mi), to Kadykchan (via Tomtor) 420 km (260 mi), Kadykchan to Susuman 90 km (60 mi), Susuman to Magadan 630 km (390 mi). From Kyubeme to Kadykchan north via Ust-Nera (the new, maintained section) is about 650 km (400 mi).

As of summer 2010, the Old Summer Road via Tomtor was still passable to motorcycles and 4×4s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Warren, Marcus (10 August 2002). "'Road of Bones' where slaves perished". The Daily Telegraph (London: TMG). ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  2. ^ Westcott, Gary & Monica (2012). "Road of Bones to the Coldest Place in the World -". Russian Life. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  3. ^ Thompson G., (2002) Kolyma - The Road of Death
  4. ^ Middleton, Nick., Going to Extremes
  5. ^ Yates, Athol & Zvegintzov, Nicholas (2001). Siberian BAM Guide (2nd ed.). 


External links[edit]