Getting to Yamal Peninsula
6 and 7 April 2015
How to get to Yamal? An expedition to Yamal usually begins with a three hours flight from Moscow to Salechard by jet service, followed by a six hours drive to Yar Sale aboard huge 6 wheels vehicles specifically designed for traveling on every kind of terrain. After an overnight in Yar Sale with a local family and a brief visit to this nice city, the true expedition to Yamal Peninsula will start aboard sledges pulled by snowmobiles.
The long trip to Yar Sale, the entry point for the Yamal Peninsula, starts in Moscow on board a jet plane to Salekhard, the capital of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug in northern Siberia. If you are lucky enough to travel with good weather, the flight lasting three hours, will offer breathtaking views of the endless and largely uninhabited plains of Siberia, crossed by countless rivers and lakes still completely frozen in early April. Shortly before beginning the descent to Salekhard, the plane flies over Polar Urals mountains (top left photo). During landing instead, the view opens on the huge delta of Ob river (the seventh longest river in the world) completely frozen and covered with a thick layer of snow (below left photo).
The modern airport in Salechard, served by direct flights onto Moscow and other cities in the region.
Salekhard is located along the busy routes between Europe and Japan. Passengers on these flights, from the comfort of their cabins, probably do not imagine they are flying over some of the most remote and inaccessible areas of the planet.
After landing in Salekhard, the expedition to Yamalo-Nenec region starts on board this six-wheel drive vehicle, specifically designed to safely travel on every kind of terrain that visitors can find in northern Siberia. The today destination is the last outpost of Yar Sale, about 200 km away, needing about 5-6 hours drive in the middle of nowhere.
After a few kilometers of paved out of Salekhard, the road becomes just a track covered with snow and sometimes "built" directly over frozen rivers and lakes.
Siberian service station.
The trip to Yar Sale continues crossing a frozen river. It may seem strange to foreigners, but in summer the transportation become more difficult, because the winter ice really creates a natural highway letting to cross quickly rivers and lakes. In summer, when everything melts, some river needs to be crossed by ferry.
Along the track, there are occasionally small villages in the middle of nothing and very isolated from the outside world.
The track from Salekhard to Yar Sale is located slightly north of the Arctic Circle, meaning that in early April the days are still short enough to admire some beautiful sunset (and, with some luck, as will happen a few days later, also the Northern lights!)
A boat trapped in ice on the bank of a frozen river.
The track to Yar Sale winds through the loops of a frozen river, where every winter road signals are planted directly in the ice.
Dried freshwater fish for winter consumption.
Finally, after many hours of travel, we reach Yar Sale, where the group is hosted by a local family in their incredibly welcoming home.
The next morning I take a walk in Yar Sale, where I observe people in their traditional costumes made of reindeer skins and wool.
Pictures of Yar Sale. Given the latitude and the great isolation, Yar Sale is a friendly, nice and colorful town.
Because of the permafrost (permanently frozen subsoil), erecting buildings in Yar Sale needs many precautions. It isn't possible to excavate the ground to make space for the foundation, so a series of pylons are implanted deep in the soil. These will not only support the building, but also will allow the underlying permafrost to settle freely, depending on season, without dragging with it the entire structure.
Walking through the streets of Yar Sale, visitors often come across the typical means of transport used in this region: wooden sleds pulled by reindeer (photo top right), snowmobiles and raised vehicles with huge wheels.
In Yar Sale there is a small museum dedicated to Yamalo-Nenec region and to his people (Nenets), a taste of what visitors will see it in the coming days during the expedition.
It's now time to pack up everything and head north towards the Yamal peninsula, where the real expedition with Nenets people starts.
Snowmobiles crossing a frozen lake, while Yar Sale disappears slowly behind the horizon.
Snowmobile toward the heart of the Yamal Peninsula.
Soon the first herds of reindeer appear... the great adventure has just begun!