Jun 15, 2012 3:24:20 AM
The world’s coldest places
If the chills give you thrills, these destinations will suit you right down to your woollen-socked toes:
Vostok Station, Antarctica
Located near the South Geomagnetic Pole, and at the lofty height of around 3500m above sea level, the Russian research station at Vostok is perpetually cold, but never more so than on 21 July, 1983, when it registered the coldest recorded temperature on the planet: –89.2°C (–128.6°F). The key geographic feature around Vostok is Lake Vostok, one of the world’s largest lakes, buried beneath around 4km of glacial ice and itself colder than all other lakes on earth. With the enormous ice mass above, the lake remains unfrozen at around –3°C.
This Arctic weather station has been called the world’s coldest inhabited place. The Eureka research base on Canada’s far-northern Ellesmere Island, which straddles the 80th parallel, was created as a weather station in 1947 and boasts an average annual temperature of around –20°C. In winter it’s about 20°C cooler still. For visitors to Eureka, the low temperatures are matched only by the high price of getting here. To add this chilly nowhere land to your travelling resumé you need to fly in from Resolute – factor on about US$20,000 for the airfare.
It seems only fitting that a place with a reputation as ferocious as Russia’s Far East (commonly mistaken for ‘Siberia’) should also claim the dubious honour of recording the northern hemisphere’s coldest temperature. In the republic of Yakutia, around 350km south of the Arctic Circle, the village of Oymyakon slipped to the numbing frostiness of –71.2°C (–96.1°F) in 1926, an event that seems to be remembered with unusual fondness, given that a plaque in the village commemorates the occasion. Expect a long day of rugged driving from Yakutsk, around 800km to the west, if you plan to pay homage to this mercury marvel.
Denali, Alaska, USA
In the alpine world, frostbitingly cold conditions are a fact of life, yet one mountain stands above all others as the most arctic on the planet. Denali, or Mt McKinley, the highest peak in North America, has long been considered the coldest mountain on earth, with winter temperatures plunging to around –40°C (–40°F). To experience the full frostiness of this Alaskan peak you must be a mountaineer – the 6194m mountain is mostly climbed by the West Buttress – but you can ponder it from slightly warmer locales with a visit or backpacking trip through Denali National Park.
Perched on the Mongolian steppe, around 1300m above sea level, Ulaanbaatar has been called the world’s coldest capital city, and it does indeed pack a winter punch: in January the average maximum temperature in the city is a frigid –16°C (3°F). But with the city’s rush towards modernisation in recent years, there are more and more ways to escape the Ulaanbaatar chill. You can warm your digits and your mind inside the city’s impressive collection of museums – be it a camel museum or a museum about political persecution – or seek out the body heat of 500 monks in Gandantegchinlen Khiid, Mongolia’s largest monastery.
Hear what travellers are saying about extremely cold travel on Lonely Planet’s travel forum.