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Northern Asia Topics specific to Russia, Central Asia (also known as "the 'stans"), Mongolia, Japan and Korea
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Old 3 Oct 2007
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Vladivostok-Mongolia-Europe in Winter

Hello everybody!
Not because I am over the edge adventureous but because my time is running out, I will travel with my Land-Cruiser from East to West through Russia and Mongolia starting in early February 2008 (so far I have been on the road for 18 months - check PanMundo.Com)

I plan to take the route from Japan to Sakhalin and then down to Khabarovsk (alternatively via Valdivostok) and on to Ullan-Ude and into Mongolia. I am in no big hurry, but would like to reach Switzerland by mid April latest.

Some questions:

1) Does anybody have experiences with driving through Russia in winter?
2) What about the road construction sites between Birobidzhan and Chita in winter?
3) What about frozen Diesel? (and what to do against?)
4) And is it possible to drive up to Yakutsk in winter?
5) Will it be possible to drive through Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar-Altay-Biysk)?
6) Is there anybody outthere how will travel in that region at the same time?

I am imagining it to be beautiful - yet somewhat cold. Also I thought that driving in winter might spare me the deep mud wholes I would encounter in spring.

I would appreciate you help!
Cheers from currently Phnom Phen, Cambodia (at 36° C),
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Old 3 Oct 2007
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Exclamation Be Careful!

Hello Tobias: I can't speak for Russia, but I have done a lot of overland traveling in Mongolia in the winter. It will be VERY cold. If you are lucky, it will be around -20 in the daytime. But it can easily be as cold as -40 and even lower, especially at night.

If you just come down on the sealed road from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar and then go back up to Russia the same way then you don't have to worry too much. That road is kept largely cleared and it has enough traffic that if you broke down you would be able to get help from another vehicle within an hour at most. But if you want to do the western route you should take every possible caution as mentioned below. Extreme cold does strange things to engines and all other parts of vehicles. No major car manufacturer plans for their vehicles to operate at -40. Metal gets brittle, oil gets sludgy, etc. I often snapped roof rack supports in the winter. Use as light an engine oil as possible to help your engine.

I strongly recommend that you not travel alone outside the city. Find a local truck or UAZ jeep or van going in the same direction and stick with them. A mechanical breakdown or just getting stuck in a snowdrift in those temperatures can quickly become a life-and-death situation. Make sure you have extreme cold weather gear with you in the car in case you need to survive alone while waiting for help.

Mongolia is actually quite a bit colder than a lot of Russian Siberia because it is farther from moderating influences of the ocean and Lake Baikal and also it is at a higher altitude. On the positive side there is not nearly as much snow, though there is enough to get stuck in. If it does snow overnight and the tracks are covered do not drive unless can follow a local or you are completely sure that you know the way.

Do not plan on camping out unless you have arctic-quality sleeping bag and tent and can be absolutely sure that your vehicle will start again in the morning. instead stay in the small towns along the way, where you will most likely be able to find a heated garage for your car for the night, and if not that then at least some assistance with getting it going in the morning. Most small towns do not have real hotels, but Mongolians are very hospitable and if they know you need a place for the night they will give you one, even if it is just space on their floor to put your sleeping bag.

Most Mongolians driving diesels in the winter crawl under the engine with a portable blowtorch in the mornings and play it across the bottom of the engine block for 20-30 minutes until it's warm enough to start. With petrol engines they will usually drain all the coolant every night, then warm it on a stove in the morning and pour it back in to the radiator. Then try to start. Obviously if you can find a heated garage you will be able to avoid this.

It is so cold that once when I was traveling in the winter we measured a 30 degree temperature difference INSIDE the car between the air at the ceiling and the air at our feet. Ice forms on the side and back windows inside the car. This was in a 100 series Land Cruiser with the heat on.

I cannot emphasize the danger enough. Even EPIRB beacons and/or sat phones won't help much because the Mongolian government has little capability to launch rescue missions.

Finally, I can't say I found it that beautiful to travel in Mongolia in the winter. The whole country is either white or brown, and it gets pretty old after the first 20-30 hours of driving.

Good luck!

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Old 7 Oct 2007
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Hey Scott!
Thank u very much for you reply! In fact, I have learnt a lot in the forum (also in the 4x4 section, thx fellows!) about how to keep a Diesel going in -40 degrees C.
However, I take ur point about Mongolia not being too cool in winter into account. Maybe I skip it and spend some more days in spring on the Krim island :-)

Thanks again and happy travels!
Tobias, currently Laos
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Old 19 Oct 2007
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that is a serious plan and might become very dangerous!
The people in Sibiria just keep their cars running during the whole winter - and they drive usually with normal fuel and not with Diesel.
There are trucks on the road in winter also to Yakutsk, but if you have a problem, they will not stop. Because every stop for them is the chance to get stuck... the roads should be drivable, but as written here before: make shure you have the best equipment for very low temperatures. If you have a problem, the conditions might turn your trip into a life threatening story.
Try it out ;-) with some luck you'll survive and bring back some beautifull pictures and stories. If you get stuck, find one the beautifull russian girls and just stay until spring with her :-)
Ride save!
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Old 22 Nov 2007
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Some guys who have experience with travelling in Siberia in winter.......on bikes!!!!!
Over het ijs - Siberië 2004 - Ride-on motortours

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Old 26 Nov 2007
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According to the FCO there are only 6 border crossings for brits in Mongolia. I don't know about borders for swiss travellers - you may want to do a bit of reccy before you get to an unpassable border:

Travel Advice by Country*Foreign & Commonwealth Office
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Old 28 Nov 2007
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Don't know whether you have seen it but try this website - Turtle Expedition
Looks like alot of preparation went into the vehicle.

Cheers Tobias
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