Deep in the Siberian tundra, the village of Oymyakon is widely considered to be the coldest inhabited place on Earth with an average winter temperature of -50 C (-58 F). New Zealand-based photographer Amos Chapple embarked on a two-day journey from Yakutsk, the coldest major city in the world, to the village in order to document what it’s like living in an area so frigid that people risk frostbite after only a few minutes outside.
Chapple’s photos of Oymyakon and Yakutsk reveal some surprising things about life in the unforgivably cold region. In Oymyakon, villagers rely on a diet of primarily meat, since crops and fresh produce cannot survive the brutal temperatures. The frozen ground makes it difficult to maintain indoor plumbing, so most toilets are outhouses. Cars must be kept running while outside, or else stored in heated garages. Very few people linger outside, instead rushing inside for warmth and light, so the landscape outdoors often appears lonely and desolate.
Although temperatures fortunately didn’t dip down to the record-setting low of -67.7 C (-90 F) that was recorded in February 1933, Chapple recalls how the bitter chill swept over his body while he stayed in Oymyakon. “I was wearing thin trousers when I first stepped outside into -47 C (-52 F),” he tells Weather.com. “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.” According to the photographer, it was so cold that sometimes his lens would freeze, making focusing the lens as challenging as opening a pickle jar.