As of now it’s all about cooperation, confidence, hope and inspiration. So their adventures will be reported as such, until it isn’t.
A series of upbeat reports during the past several days announced the 16th annual Barneo ice camp has been successfully established at 89 degrees 24 minutes north latitude and is scheduled to operate from April 4 to 26.
As in previous years, a multitude of expeditions to the North Pole, scientific research projects and military exercises are planned, as well as a marathon and politically-oriented visits by Russian dignitaries.
But there were indiciations this could be a very unusual year for the usual assortment of activities, as Russia announced after last year’s camp it would relocate its base for logistics from Longyearbyen to Franz Joseph Land due to tougher flight restrictions imposed by Norway. But leading guide companies besieged camp officials to continue the status quo, according to Irina Orlova, the camp’s chief operations officer, in a post at the camp’s official Facebook page.
“All practically without exception, the managers of ski programs appealed to us not to do this because they work with customers more conveniently from Longyearbyen because there is a developed infrastructure – that is where to wait out the weather, hotels, shops, bars, there is a warehouse where they can store their equipment,” she said. “And then the workers of Longyearbyen – hotels, travel agencies, restaurant business – would lose many customers. The airport was also well paid for the takeoff and landing of our aircraft. This side lost a lot from this. We were in negotiations with the governor and decided that we leave everything as is.”
The relocation also would have hit Longyearbyen’s economy hard, since nearly 10 percent of Svalbard Airport’s income and 20 million in the town’s tourism income is attributed to North Pole operations.
Discussions between Svalbard Gov. Kjerstin Askholt and Aleksandr Orlov, vice president of the Russian Association of Polar Explorers, led to assurances at the beginning of last week that last year’s problems could be avoided, Orlova wrote. The tougher restrictions were due to political feuds dating back to the 2015 season when Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin made a stopover in Longyearbyen despite being on a list of officials banned in Norway due to sanctions resulting from the Ukraine crisis.
Last season Norway demanded airlines submit detailed lists of passengers and cargo 48 hours in advance, which threw Barneo operations into chaos due to ongoing problems with cracks appearing in the ice runway, resulting in hasty changes to flight itineraries.
A heated year in both the meterological and political climates means similar problems could occur agaisn this year, although so far those setting up the camp are reporting few of the problems with the ice experienced last year.
“The work on the airstrip goes on: 50 percent of it is ready,” Orlova wrote in the most recent post before presstime. “There are many snow ridges to chop off and sometimes shallow pits to fill in. It’s just regular (work) on the strip.”
“P.S. The guys have assembled a bathhouse (“banya” in Russian) and ask to send some kvass (a fermented drink made with rye flour) with the next airdrop.”
Of course, an ordinary work day about 70 kilometers from the North Pole is anything but. Simply finding a suitable site is a challenge, as scout planes must find an oval-shaped ice floe roughly one kilometer wide and two kilometers long with sufficent strength for a runway able to handle heavy cargo planes. Furthermore, because the ice surface is so jagged the initial transport of workers and equipment to the surface is by parachute.
Temperatures during the past few days have been between minus 25 and minus 35 degrees Celsius, with moderate winds.
Most of this year’s expeditions to the North Pole will again be the “Last Degree” trips that start at 89 degrees latitude north and typically take a week to ten days. The biggest tourist group will be the annual North Poler Marathon (which actually takes place on a circular course near Barneo), scheduled April 9.