The opening of this year’s Barneo ice camp went so smoothly it might be called dull. Which for those working at and beginning expeditions from the camp is very exciting indeed.
An Antonov-74s plane carrying the first cargo and passengers landed at the camp located at 89º24’N 135ºW (a location that will change as the ice floe drifts), according to a post Tuesday on Barneo’s official Facebook page. While the initial flight for the 16th annual camp occurred a day later than planned in order to proper equip the plane for the extreme conditions, it’s a vast improvement from last year when persistent cracks in the ice runway and political problems resulted in the camp opening nearly two weeks late during a three-and-a-half-week season.
“It is officially confirmed that the ice runway meets all the standards and Barneo starts 2017 season!” Tuesday’s post declares.
Even the weather the past few days has been “resort” like – for Barneo anyways – with sunny skies, temperatures between minus 25 and minus 35 Celsius with light winds, according to another post at the Facebook page
The plane made a second landing at the ice camp later during the day after returning to Longyearbyen to pick up additional cargo and passengers, including the first of many expeditions hoping to reach the North Pole.
“All the team is on the ice constructing the camp. Also two groups of skiers have already arrived at Barneo with the second technical flight. They are going to pass the distance of two degrees (latitude) to the Pole.”
The “two degrees” reference – indicating an expedition beginning at 88 degrees latitude north and ending at the North Pole – is twice the length of the most common expedition, a “last degree” trip that covers about 110 kilometers and typically takes seven to ten days.
Many of the individuals and/or expeditions emphasize charitable causes (climate change, cancer and wounded veterans being among the common causes again part of this year’s trips). U.S. resident Sean Swarner, for example, is “bringing 1,856 people along on his trek to the North Pole” as the two-time cancer survivor will try to complete the final leg of the “Explorer’s Grand Slam” (North Pole, South Pole and the highest summits on all seven continents) beginning this week.
“Every mountain I’ve gone up (it started with Everest), I’ve taken a flag that has the names of people touched by cancer,” he said in an online article for Red Bull, a sponsor of the expedition. “And I want to bring these people with me. It’s a global epidemic now; it’s not just me who has gone through it. Everybody is fighting for their lives.”
Others are attempting serious or amusing “firsts,” including three members of the Malaysian Seven Continents Exploration Club trying to be the first from their country to reach the North Pole. they are scheduled to arrive in Longyearbyen this week and spend six days training before departing for their “last degree” trip at Barneo.
As always, a wide variety of military, scientific, political, artistic and recreational activities at and near the camp are planned beyond tourist ski expeditions.
The largest recreational group will be 55 competitors scheduled to participate in the 15th annual North Pole Marathon on April 9, which will be “be joined by a team of hardy Russians from the North Pole camp,” according to the race’s Facebook page. While the race itself actually takes place on a looped trail at Barneo, the itinerary does include a trip by helicopter to the North Pole.
Also hoping to reach the Pole by helicopter – while sweating considerably less to do so – are the five members of the Longyearbyen rock/blues band Advent Bay Poolboys, scheduled to perform supposedly the first-ever rock concerts at the camp April 13 and 14 as part of a five-day visit.
Military members scout out and set up the camp, with the initial personnel and equipment being dropped by parachute onto the designated site. Among the first activities following the camp’s opening is a 25-member team of military athletes planning to test their physical endurance by covering much more terrain daily, while also testing the operational capability of portable power facilities and drones at the top of the world.
“Military athletes will use the 10-day passage to the North Pole and back to the Barneo base to test the results of a study on military fitness training in the conditions of the Arctic and the Far North,” according to a prepared statement from Russia’s Defense Ministry.
Unlike the tourist and scientific visitors, the athletes from Russia’s Military Institute of Physical Culture and Moscow Technological University will be flown to Barneo aboard a military plane from the Nagurksoye airfield, located on Russia’s Franz Josef Land archipelago.
While Barneo’s military-related logistics are generally relayed through Russian territory rather than Longyearbyen in order to avoid violating the Svalbard Treaty, tensions have arisen due to two incidents during the past two years that contributed to what was deemed the worst season ever in Barneo’s 15-year history.
A visit to Longyearbyen two years ago by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has remained contentious ever since, coming up again at the end of March in the first bilateral talks between Norway’s and Russia’s foreign ministers in three years. The visit resulted in Norway requiring commercial flights to provide passenger and cargo lists 48 hours in advance which, due to the chaos caused by the constantly cracking runway at Barneo, resulted in a large percentage of cancellations due to the inability to make on-the-fly scheduling adjustments.
Barneo officials threatened to move all logistics to Franz Josef Land this year, but an agreement addressing the travel concerns was reached by Svalbard Gov. Kjerstin Askholt and Vice President of Russian Association of Polar Explorers Aleksandr Orlov a few weeks before this year’s ice camp opened.