TOP CONTENDER FOR ‘MOST OBVIOUS NEWS EVER’: North Pole season nixed for third straight year – twice due to COVID-19 – as Barneo ice camp cancelled two weeks before usual start

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Since North Pole expedition leaders start their plans a year in advance and clients don’t drop 25,000 Euro (or much more) to spend a spontaneous 10 grueling days pulling heavy sleds across jagged sea ice on skis, perhaps the biggest surprise is it took until now for Russian officials to cancel this year’s Barneo ice camp for the third straight year.

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The official Barneo website is still listing available bookings for the 2021 season even though it has been officially cancelled. A similar outdated status exists at various other related sites such as the Facebook page for the camp and North Pole Marathon.

The announcement likely caught few, if any aspiring to reach the top of the world by surprise, since major expedition operators and events such as the North Pole Marathon called off this year’s trips many weeks or months ago. Russian officials also recognized the reality, even if the press release didn’t get sent out until now.

“As a rule, preparations for the expedition begin in January-February, however, due to coronavirus uncertainty, it was decided not to equip the camp in 2021,” a  report by murmansk.ru noted Wednesday. “The question of organizing the expedition next year also remains open.”

The ice camp usually built on an ice floe at roughly 89 degrees latitude north – in line with the “last-degree” ski trips that are the most popular expeditions to the top of the world – would have celebrated it’s 20-year anniversary last year. But the 2020 season was cancelled quickly after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic on March 11, adding to a list of woes, abbreviated seasons and an outright cancellation of the season for the first time ever in 2019 for reasons ranging from weather to politics.

Besides expeditions, the camp is used for scientific, military, artistic and other purposes during its typical three- to four-week lifespan. While some of non-expedition participants arrive via flights from Russia, most cargo and passenger traffic during the camp’s operation occurs via Longyearbyen. Such activity accounted for about 10 percent of the annual traffic at Svalbard Airport during the final few years of “normal” camp operations in the early- to mid-2010s.