Barneo off to rough start as plane damaged in emergency landing, bad weather delays other flights


Less-than-ideal ice floes for the base camp, a crash landing by one of the first planes, days of delays for subsequent flights due to bad weather and a guy running up hills with tires tied to a rope behind him.

In other words, just another ordinary opening week at the Barneo ice camp – which exists in every real-world sense despite Russia’s official decree it doesn’t – at 89 degrees north.

This year’s camp for expeditioners and researchers is on three floes moving in concert with each other because a single floe of sufficient size couldn’t be found due to an increasing breakup of the pack ice, according to the camp’s blog. A second camp is being established by Russia this year for military troops scheduled to participate in various cold-weather exercises.

The bumpy start continued Saturday as one of the first flights carrying expeditioners failed to reach the base camp.

“Due to poor visibility en route from Svalbard to Ice Camp Barneo, where the trek will begin, the team’s plane had to make an emergency landing earlier today,” an entry in the HeadNorth Polar Expedition blog notes. “All the team are safe and well, although the plane’s undercarriage suffered some damage.”

Passengers were transported to Barneo by helicopter and the HeadNorth expedition, one of several using the high-profile trip to the top of the world as a charity fundraiser, departed on its estimated 100-kilometer ski trip Sunday.

Barneo officials, in the camp’s blog, said the plane lost its landing gear, and it’s not yet known how repairs will be made or whether the aircraft will be moved via other means.

Sending a replacement plane is resulting in further delays of flights to the ice camp that are already behind schedule due to weather. While Barneo staff note the delays mean there’s less borscht and corned beef than they’d like, visitors are getting more days than they’d like to sample Longyearbyen’s expanded fare.

Among the groups affected is the North Pole Marathon, which this year has 45 participants from 22 countries who were scheduled to race Thursday. Instead, the runners will tackle the grueling 42-kilometer course that circles Barneo after a physically draining journey to the start line.

“The flights to the Pole will be on April 10th at 01:00 and 08:00 hrs,” an announcement at the race’s Facebook page informed participants Tuesday. “The marathon is now scheduled to occur on April 10th at about 14:00 hrs GMT.”

But preparing for hardships has been part of the training for many participants (and “the race doctor will scare the life out of them” at an advance briefing, the official webpage notes). Gary Seery, a Dublin resident, trained for the race by running on a treadmill in a cold storage unit, while fellow Irishman Tony Mangan ran 50,000 kilometers in a four-year, around-the-world journey.

Taking on a far tougher challenge and training regimen is Thomas Ulrich, a longtime Swiss polar explorer who is running up mountains in his hometown with car tires attached to him to prepare for one of this year’s ultra-long attempts to reach the top of the world from well beyond the relatively safe haven of Barneo. He is attempting to be the first to make a solo trek Siberia to Canada via the North Pole

“Constantly getting stuck is exactly what happens in the Arctic on the ice, that’s what trains your body for the work,” he told the website SwissInfo.