Showing posts with label Arctic Ocean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arctic Ocean. Show all posts

Arctic Explorers Bring Bad News After Sailing Northwest and Northeast Passages

One of the most ambitious and interesting adventures of the summer has been the Polar Ocean Challenge. Led by famed explorer David Hempleman-Adams, the objective of the expedition was to sail both the Northeast and Northwest passages in a single year, circumnavigating the North Pole and taking stock of the arctic sea ice along the way. A few days back the crew of adventurers, sailors, and researchers completed a major milestone of their journey, and they brought back some sobering news about the state of ice in the Arctic Ocean.

The sailing ship Northabout set sail from Bristol, in the U.K. back June, making way for Norway before proceeding on to Russia to the start of the Northeast Passage. The ship ran into a delay at that point due to pack ice still blocking the route. That isn't too uncommon in the early part of summer, as it generally takes a few weeks before the passage clears. From there, they navigated on through the icy waters of the Arctic before exiting into the Northern Pacific and crossing over to Alaska. The next stage of the journey was through the Northwest Passage above Canada, which is the section that was just completed. Now, the plan is to sail on to Greenland, and then back home to Bristol.

By successfully navigating through the both the Northwest and Northeast passages, the crew proved that those once mythical routes are now fully open, and accessible. They also became the first ship to make such a journey in a single season, although they certainly won't be the last. Climatologists now predict that both passages will see increasing numbers of commercial traffic before the middle of the century, even by ships that are not hardened against ice.

On the Polar Ocean Challenge website the team posted a press release a few days back sharing the news of their successful completion of the Northwest Passage, which took just 14 days to finish. That's an incredibly fast time through that part of the world, but the team revealed that they had encountered almost no ice along the entire route. In fact, in the two weeks that they spent there, they came across ice only twice in 1800 nautical miles (3333 km/2071 miles).

This news is both astonishing and troubling at the same time. It now seems pretty clear that both the Northwest and Northeast Passages will soon be open for longer periods of time each year, and that they will be safer than ever to pass through. The Arctic sea ice is a bit like the canary in the coal mine, giving us an indicator of just how much impact climate change is having on our planet.

The crew of the Northabout is on the home stretch now, having completed the most difficult sections of their voyage. The team's website shares some important information about their expedition, which has now been at sea for more than 20 weeks and covered over 13,500 nautical miles (24,076 km /14,960 miles). Perhaps the most startling statistic of all however, is that researchers about the ship have recorded a 13.4% drop in the sea ice levels, which is a faster and higher rate than was expected.

I suspect these kinds of reports will become the norm moving forward. It is still troubling to read however.

British Adventurers to Paddle From Greenland to Scotland

Two British adventurers are preparing to set out on a challenging kayaking expedition that will take them across the Arctic Ocean and North Sea as they travel from Greenland to Scotland. Their journey is set to begin this Sunday and is expected to take upwards of six weeks to complete.

In just a few days time, Olly Hicks and George Bullard will leave the U.K. for Greenland where they will launch their In the Wake of the Finnmen expedition. This journey by sea will cover more than 1200 miles (1931 km) as they travel from the Denmark Strait to Iceland, follow the coastline of that country before daring the waters of the North Sea to head towards the Faroe Islands, a remote place located north of the British Isles. After that, they'll turn south to paddle 50 miles (80 km) to reach the tiny island of North Rona before pressing on with the final leg, which ends at Cape Wrath in Scotland.

All told, the two men expect to be padding for six weeks, with 12 nights actually spend out on the water in the open seas. The first three of those nights will take place on the crossing from Greenland to Iceland. The paddlers will then take their time kayaking along the shores of that country, regaining their strength and preparing for the challenges ahead. During that section of the expedition they'll cover about 20 miles (32 km) per day before pushing on to the Faroe Islands, which will force them to spend another six nights at sea. The final three nights will be when they make the final push across the North Sea to Cape Wrath. 

Olly and George will be paddling a modified Inuk Duo 6.8m sea kayak, which is designed to withstand the challenges and rigors of open water in remote seas. It has also been made for long distance paddling expeditions, with plenty of storage for gear and supplies. The kayak even has sealable cockpits, allowing the men to squeeze inside its hull to catch some sleep on those long nights at sea. 

The aim of the expedition is to prove that the Inuit people of the Arctic could have made a similar journey to populate island that are found in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Hicks has called it the “Arctic Kon-Tiki expedition" in a nod to the famous Thor Heyerdahl expedition from 1947. Olly and George's boat is much smaller than Heyerdahl's however, with some very different challenges. 

This won't be be the first waterborne journey for Hicks. Back in 2005 he became the youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean at the age of 23. In 2008, we followed his attempt to row around Antarctica as well, and while other expeditions have taken him across the Tasman Sea and around Great Britain. In the future, he hopes to row around the world, taking another crack at the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica once again. 

Japanese Polar Explorer Yasu Ogita Completes Canada to Greenland Expedition

Way back in March I told you about Japanese polar explorer Yasunaga Ogita's plans to ski from northern Canada to Greenland across the frozen sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. At the time, he was just preparing to set out, but now, two months later, he's finished the journey at long last, covering more than 830 km (515 miles) in the process.

Yasu initially set out from Grise Fjord on Ellesmere Island back on March 30. He then spent the next 48 days skiing to Greenland, crossing the frozen expanse of the Arctic Ocean along the way. He told ExWeb that his biggest challenge while en route was the fast moving arctic ice that was pushed along by a strong current. Crossing those moving floes can be difficult unless you're traveling at high speed, which isn't possible on foot when dragging a heavy sled behind.

Along the way, the Japanese polar veteran also encountered plenty of polar bears and even an arctic wolf who took an interest in his travels. He also saw seals, musk ox, caribou, and other creatures as well, proving that this part of the world isn't quite so empty as some would think.

To prepare for the crossing Yasu spoke to other explorers who had traveled in the region before, as well as locals in both Canada and Greenland. But much of the path was completely unknown, with very few people ever crossing through this part of the world. The crossing isn't completely unknown, but it is a very rare occurrence to say the least.

Yeas wrapped up his journey on May 16 and just recently traveled home to Japan. He is no doubt already thinking about his next adventure.

Russian Teens Skied to the North Pole in Just 5 Days

The 2016 Arctic Season may be over, but there are still a few interesting stories to share. For instance, ExWeb has posted an article about a team of Russian teens who skied to the North Pole (last degree) in just 5 days following a host of delays that cut into their planned time out on the ice.

The group of seven teens had planned to make a last-degree ski expedition to the North Pole via the Barneo Ice Camp. Their original schedule gave them 7-10 days to complete the journey, which covered roughly 125 km (77.6 miles) over the frozen Arctic Ocean. That means they were able to sustain a pace of about 25 km (15.5 miles) per day, which is an excellent pace considering the conditions they encountered on the ice.

The challenges of the Barneo Ice Camp have been well documented on this blog, and elsewhere, this year. The ice flows that the temporary base is built on were being buffeted by ocean currents throughout the season, causing the blue ice runway there to crack multiple times. That caused a lot of delays, causing the Russian teens, and a number of other teams, to back up while they waited for their chance to fly out to the camp. Eventually the runway was completed, and the flights started arriving, but it took awhile to catch up on the backlog of people who were waiting to arrive in the Arctic. This cut into the time that the skiers had to reach the Pole.

According to ExWeb, when the team was retrieved from their finish line at 90ºN, they did not look tired or exhausted. In fact, they still had a lot of energy and were so excited to have reached the North Pole. It was quite a journey for these young adventurers, many of whom have wanted to ski through the Arctic for the better part of their lives.

I know that this is "only" a last degree ski expedition, but it is still an impressive feat to see these teenagers make that journey in such a quick pace. Five days to cover a degree of latitude is quite a short time frame, and I know a few polar explorers who would be hard pressed to maintain that same pace themselves. Also, how cool is it to be a teenager and get to go to the North Pole. I clearly went to the wrong high school.

Barneo Ice Camp Closes for 2016

The 2016 Arctic exploration season came to an end last week when the Barneo Ice Camp closed for another season. The temporary ice base is built on an ice flow in the Arctic Ocean each year, and for several weeks it serves as the launching point for various expeditions, research teams, and well-heeled adventure travelers to travel to the North Pole or explore the region. This year it was clear that the Arctic continues to be a place in transition, with the future of travel there seeming more difficult than ever.

For the second year in a row there were now full-distance skiers to the North Pole. The logistics of such an expedition seems to be getting more challenging with each passing year, and climate change is making that journey more difficult than ever. I've said before that the toughest expedition on the planet is skiing to the North Pole, and we may actually have seen the last team to do that a few years back. Others have announced plans to attempt that journey, but no one has been able to duplicate it. That was the case this season as well with the Race Against Time squad, and I think it will probably be the same for future teams too.

2016 was a difficult year for the team that builds and operates the Barneo base as well. Not only did they have problems building and maintaining the ice runway there, they also ran into issues dealing with the Norwegian government too. The challenges with the runway were the result of the Arctic Ocean churning the increasingly thinning ice there, causing the landing strip to crack. Those problems aren't going away, and will probably continue to get worse in the years ahead.

The Barneo team has announced that they'll avoid traveling through Svalbard in Norway moving forward, and will instead use Franz Josef Land for their logistics starting in 2017. The friction with the Norwegians began when a reporter claimed that a team of Ukrainian commandos passed through Norway on their way to Barneo – something the Barneo staff denies – which calls into question whether or not the flights from Svalbard to the ice camp posed a security threat. As a result, the Norwegian government put new restrictions on the Barneo flights, which ultimately forced the change of direction for future seasons.

The 2016 Arctic season was reasonably successful with marathon runners, researchers, explorers, adventure travelers, and more passing through Barneo. Now, it'll be another year before we'll see if anyone can make the journey to the North Pole again. Good luck to the explorers aiming for that feat in 2017.

North Pole 2016: British Team Completes Expedition

As expected, the British Race Against Time team completed its journey yesterday, reaching the North Pole after 13 days out on the ice. The Pole marked the finish line for what was a demanding trek that began long before they ever set foot in the Arctic, and culminated at 90ºN early yesterday.

It took Mark Wood, Paul Vicary, and Mark Langridge just 4 hours to complete the final push to the Pole yesterday, facing more ice rubble and fields along the way. The squad saw plenty of that, plus plenty of other obstacles over their two weeks of skiing north, including open leads of water and blocks of ice the size of a house. They also witnessed the effects of climate change, with thinning ice, warming temperatures, and the Arctic Ocean uncovered in surpassingly large areas.

The 13-day expedition was far shorter than the trio of explorers originally envisioned. Initially the plan was to ski the full distance to the North Pole via the Russian side of the ice. Later, they decided to change directions, and travel from the Pole to Ward Hunt Island in Canada instead. But delays to the start of the expedition pushed back their start, making that much longer journey an impossibility. Instead, they elected to complete a journey that crossed two degrees of latitude instead. The shortened trip still allowed them to observe the environmental impact they had hoped to learn more about, but they had hoped to collect more data over a larger area of the Arctic.

The three men didn't spend much time at the Pole. They were picked up by helicopter last night, and flown back to the Barneo Ice Camp where they now are waiting for transportation back to Europe. It might take another day or two for that to happen, but soon they'll be on their way home.

The North Pole season will continue for another week or so as some "last degree" teams continue to ski to the Pole and some research teams wrap up their projects. Soon though, the Barneo camp will pick up for another year, and the Arctic will be abandoned once again. At this point, it is impossible not to wonder if the age of Arctic exploration is quickly coming to an end as climate change alters the landscape their forever.

North Pole 2016: British Trio Close in on 90ºN, Barneo in Transition

The 2016 North Pole season has been a strange one to say the least, and it appears that it is quickly coming to an end. It now looks like operations will begin to wrap up in the next week or so, with the final expeditions heading towards the finish line. But it is clear that the North Pole is a place that remains in transition, with new challenges to the logistics of getting there.

One of the teams that is nearing the completion of its journey is the Race Against Time squad. If all goes according to plan, polar explorers Mark Wood, Paul Vicary, and Mark Langridge should reach the North Pole sometime today. They've been closing in on the top of the world for the past few days, but the final miles haven't been easy ones. Just yesterday they faced their largest lead of open water yet, covering as many as 3 or 4 football pitches across. Those leads slow down their progress greatly, and can be dangerous to cross, but the real news here is that they are finding these areas of open water so close to the Pole. That should be one of the coldest places on Earth, and not a place where the ice is failing so quickly, but it is happening and it is going to make any future expeditions to the North Pole even more difficult, if not impossible. It won't be too long before these journeys could come to an end altogether.

Meanwhile, ExWeb is reporting that there will be no more flights to the Barneo Ice Camp from Svalbard, Norway. Instead, future flights will likely be conducted through Franz Josef Land, which is a remote Russian island. Barneo has had its share of issues being built this year thanks to the health of the ice and its movement atop the Arctic Ocean. But, it turns out there have been some political issues that also challenge the future of the temporary base, which has been in operation for 15 years.

A few weeks back, a team of Ukrainian commandos traveled to the Arctic to conduct a training exercise. Officials from Barneo say that those soldiers flew to the camp aboard a special flight that did not depart from Svalbard in Norway, which is where the majority of the commercial flights to Barneo originate. But the Norwegian government aren't convinced that that wast he case, so they revoked the flight permits citing national security. They then imposed a new set of rules that require the flights heading to Barneo to share the exact contents of its cargo, and all passengers, 48 hours before the flight. Due to the fluid nature of those flights however, Barneo officials say those requirements are impossible to meet, so future flights will no longer depart from Svalbard. That starts now, and seems likely to continue through all future operations in the Arctic as well.

This means that in addition to changing conditions in the Arctic, this shift in regulations it making it logistically more challenging to get there as well. These new flights could cost more as well, which could potentially sink some future expeditions. Traveling to the North Pole is already expensive enough, and sponsors seem more reluctant to back such a journey. This is all speculation at this point of course, and we'll have to see how this all shakes out.

Either way, its clear that operations in the Arctic for 2016 are starting to wind down now. It won't be long before Bareno is closed once again for the year.

North Pole 2016: Barneo Ice Camp Begins Regular Operations

It has been a challenging season in the Arctic so far with lots of delays for the explorers, researchers, and adventurers who planned to travel their this year. The Barneo Ice Camp, a temporary base built at roughly 89ºN each spring has experienced its share of issues, which resulted in some unprecedented delays to the start of the season. But now, things are finally back on track and regular flights have resumed, as support teams race to complete a busy schedule as quickly as possible.

ExWeb is reporting that the runway at Barneo is complete and stable at long last, which is allowing the Russian built Antonov AN-74 aircraft to safely land and deliver important supplies and people to the Arctic. You may recall that the team of engineers who build the Barneo camp experienced issues with the blue ice landing strip, which cracked on four separate occasions, even forcing it to be relocated twice.

Amongst the groups that have now flown to Barneo so far are guided last degree ski teams that will spend the next ten days or so traveling across the frozen Arctic Ocean on their way to 90ºN. Several research teams are also out on the ice, as were Arctic marathon runners who were able to complete their race after several delays.

Because of the long delays to the start of the season, it looks like Barneo could stay open later than normal. Typically it begins to wind down operations by late April, but it is now looking like it could stay open into early May due to the backlog of people waiting to reach the ice.

Meanwhile, the Race Against Time team reports that ice conditions are now improving dramatically. They have moved away from open water and are now skiing over solid ice, which is allowing them to make better time, covering 10 nautical miles yesterday. But the continue to see foot prints from polar bears and even arctic foxes, reminding them that they are not alone out on the ice. The team is on its way to the North Pole and should arrive there late this week or early next.

North Pole 2016: Race Against Time Team Faces Big Challenges

After overcoming a series of challenges just to get to the starting line, the Race Against Time team is now out on the Arctic ice and making their way towards the North Pole. But as expected, this journey to the top of the world hasn't been an easy one so far as a number of natural obstacles force the team to earn every mile.

Last week, the team of Mark Wood, Paul Vicary, and Mark Langridge were finally dropped off on the ice after facing unprecedented delays to the start of their expedition due to issues with the runway at the Barneo Ice Camp that serves as the gateway to the Arctic each season from the Russian side of the ice. That caused the trio of explorers to rethink their journey for a second time, switching from the original plan of a full-distance ski journey to the North Pole to an expedition that actually began at 90ºN and would head south to Ward Hunt Island in Canada, before finally settling in on their current route, a two-degree ski expedition back to the Pole.

The squad has now been out on the ice for five days, and they've discovered that the Arctic is everything they had expected and more. In the first few days they faced rubble fields of disrupted ice, with many blocks the size of cars and even a few larger than a house. As they inched north however, other obstacles have begun to appear. For instance, yesterday the team only gained 4 nautical miles of distance thanks to a large lead of open water that they had to cross. The only way to do so is to don drysuits, enter the water and swim across while pulling their gear in inflatable rafts.

As if that wasn't enough, the men have also come across a set of footprints left behind by a polar bear. That means that one of these big carnivores is in the area, and they have been known to stalk polar explorers that pass through their domain. So far, no sight of the creature but they will remain wary and vigilant on the trail.

The hope is that the team can reach the North Pole sometime next week. When they originally set out, they thought it would take 12-15 days, and they are still on track to reach their goal. What else they'll find on the way north remains to be seen.

North Pole 2016: Race Against Time Team Changes Direction Again, Delays at Barneo Continue

After a number of false starts and delays, the North Pole season is underway at long last. But while the first team has now hit the ice, challenges remain at the Barneo Ice Camp, where regular flights are just now starting after bureaucratic issues caused even more issues.

First, an update on the Race Against Time team, which was finally dropped off on the ice yesterday, although they have once against changed direction due to their shortened window for skiing across the Arctic. Originally the plan was for British explorers Mark Wood, Paul Vicary, and Mark Langridge to ski from the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole. When that route started look tenuous, they elected to change their plans and fly to the North Pole to ski south to Ward Hunt Island in Canada instead.

Now, thanks to all of the delays in flights and at the Barneo camp, the team has roughly two weeks to conduct their expedition. This has caused them to switch their plans once again, now skiing the final two degrees to the North Pole instead. The trio were dropped at 88ºN yesterday, and will now spend the next 12-15 days skiing to the top of the world. Along the way they'll conduct research on the impact of climate change on the Arctic while documenting current conditions there.

Meanwhile, the team of engineers at Barneo have now completed their fourth runway made of blue ice. The previous landing strips suffered cracks due to the movement of the ice, making them unsafe for incoming flights. The team was in desperate need of resupply, and immediately called for a large aircraft to bring them food and fuel.

But after that flight, the first aircraft carrying skiers, explorers, researchers, and other people was scheduled to take off in an attempt to get things back on schedule in the Arctic. Unfortunately, the Norwegian government scrubbed that flight and required the Barneo team to fill out permits for all 11 flights that they had already scheduled. This paperwork has caused further delays, but the first five flights are now on the docket with the others to follow.

It seems highly likely that Barneo will stay in operation for longer than usual. Typically it begins to wrap up operations in late April, but with these long delays it seems the Arctic season will probably stretch into May. How this will impact travel there remains to be seen, but with the spring melt already underway, it seems likely that this will continue to be a very unusual year indeed.

North Pole 2016: Second Barneo Location Suffers Cracked Runway Too

At this point, it is safe to say that the 2016 North Pole season is not going as expected. A few days back I shared the news that the runway at the Barneo Ice Camp cracked when the first flight of the season arrived at the temporary base that is built in the Arctic each season. At first it was thought that the landing strip could be repaired, but those efforts eventually proved fruitless, causing the Russian engineers there to search for an alternate location, and begin construction of a new runway. Now, we have received word that that runway has cracked too, sending the team on yet another search for a stable ice flow.

ExWeb reports that the Barneo staff indicated that a 10 cm (4 inch) crack opened in the ice along the new runway, which had already had 400 meters built. The team was evaluating whether or not that crack could be repaired, while also indicating that its search helicopters were already back in the air looking for other ice flows that could serve as a new location for the base.

So what's the problem this year? It is a combination of things. For starters, the Arctic ice levels are at near record lows, indicating that the thickness is not what it has been in the past. On top of that, there are currently some massive sea currents (Exweb calls it an "anticyclone) that is moving the ice, causing it to break and crack. This has made things less stable, and is making it more difficult for the Russian team to find a suitable place to serve as the staging ground for the North Pole season.

meanwhile, back in Longyearbyen, Norway there are teams of explorers, researchers, scientists, and adventure travelers who are waiting to travel to the Arctic. Unfortunately, they can't go anywhere at the moment, as Barneo is not ready to receive them. That means they have to sit and wait, hoping that eventually they'll get a chance to start their expeditions. At this point, that might not happen for another week, greatly delaying their progress.

The team that is most effected by these delays is the British Race Against Time squad. They had intended to ski from the North Pole to Ward Hunt Island in Canada. Originally they had 35 days to complete that dangerous journey. Now, they've seen that number reduced dramatically, and the entire expedition is probably in jeopardy. The team headed out on a training session that will last a few days while they waited for news on the construction of a new runway. Now, they're more than likely rethinking their plans, and possibly postponing until next year. We'll have to wait to see if that is the case.

For now, like everyone else, we wait.

North Pole 2016: Barneo Ice Camp to be Relocated After Runway Failure

Yesterday I posted the news that the runway at the Barneo Ice Camp in the Arctic Ocean had cracked when the first aircraft arrived to start the North Pole season. This had the effect of delaying all other flights to the camp and preventing the start of several expeditions. But efforts were underway to repair the cracks and get the flights back on schedule. But it has been revealed today that the runway is actually beyond repair, and engineers at Barneo have already begun operation to relocate the base to another ice flow.

ExWeb says that just 650 meters of the runway still exists following the damage inflicted by the arrival of the first AN-74 aircraft. That's a big, heavy plane that not only has a long range, but also the ability to carry a lot of gear and equipment too. Those planes are the workhorse at Barneo, delivering explorers, adventurers, scientists, and researchers to the Arctic.

Upon determining that the runway was beyond repair, the team that builds the ice camp immediately began searching for a suitable replacement. They found another ice flow within a few hours, and began the process of moving the base and creating a new landing strip. Unfortunately, that process will take 7-8 days to complete, which means that some Arctic expeditions will be delayed or may have to be cancelled altogether.

One such team that we've been following closely is the Race Against Time expedition, which was to have been underway by now. The plan was for three British explorers – Mark Wood, Paul Vicary, and Mark Langridge – to ski from the North Pole to Ward Hunt Island in Canada. That journey was expected to take a minimum of 35 days through tough conditions. Now, the team will have just 20 days to cover as much ground as they can.

According to reports on their website, the team will still embark on their mission to cross the Arctic, documenting the impact of climate change as they go. But they now know that they'll never reach the Canadian coast before conditions begin to deteriorate in the Arctic Ocean, as warmer temperatures and spring weather begins to take its toll. Instead, they'll ski as far as they can and be picked up by an icebreaker ship. They plan to be on the first flight out to the new Barneo Ice Camp once it is established, and will move on to the North Pole soon there after.

The failure of the runway at Barneo is another indication that the Arctic is warming. The privately built camp has been operating in the Arctic for years, and have only had one other instance when the runway cracked. But as temperatures rise, the ability to travel in the Arctic will become compromised, and possibly even more dangerous. How this will impact future trips to the region remains to be seen, but it seems that the location of future Barneo camps will need to be selected very carefully.

For now, the 2016 North Pole season is at a standstill. Stay tuned for more updates in a few days.

North Pole 2016: Runway at Barneo Ice Camp Cracks, Delaying Access to the Arctic

Yesterday I posted an update on the Race Against Time team, which is made up of three British explorers who intend to ski from the North Pole to the Canadian coastline at Ward Hunt Island. The news was that they had arrived in Svalbard in Norway, but their travel on to the North Pole was delayed. Today we have a better understanding of why their flight out to the Barneo Ice Station hasn't taken place. It turns out, the temporary runway built there each spring has cracked under the pressure of the first arriving flight, delaying anymore inbound aircraft. 

For those not familiar with Barneo, it is a temporary base that is constructed in the Arctic Ocean each year by a team of Russian engineers. They first locate a large ice flow that can support the camp, and a construction crew parachutes onto that location to begin building a runway and setting up the basic structures. Later, larger aircraft arrive bringing more supplies, tents, and other equipment. 

That same process was underway this season, with the Barneo camp coming together mostly on schedule. But according to ExWeb the arrival of the first AN-74 aircraft – a large and heavy Russian plane – cracked the landing strip, delaying the arrival of any more aircraft and leaving teams of skiers, explorers, and researchers stranded in Norway awaiting transfer to the base. 

Fortunately, repairs are already underway, and the weather is lending a hand. Temperatures at Barneo are said to be in the -25ºF/-32ºC range, and crews there are pouring water into the cracks on the runway to help repair it. Reportedly, the team has also adjusted the direction of the airport slightly to help compensate for any potential issues. 

If all goes according to plan, the repairs should be complete today, and flights will resume as early as tonight. The Race Against Time team should be on the next flight, and will hopefully be shuttled on to the North Pole shortly there after. 

The 2016 North Pole season will not be a very busy one, but it should still be interesting. Stay tuned for update once it actually gets underway. 

British Team Heads to the North Pole

The British trio of explorers who make up the Race Against Time team are now literally in a race against time. The three men had expected to arrive at the Barneo Ice Camp, located at roughly 89ºN latitude, this past weekend and then travel on to the North Pole where they would launch their expedition to ski from the top of the world to Canada. But delays have kept them from starting, which  could ultimately have an impact on their success.

Arctic explorers Mark Wood, Paul Vicary, and Mark Langridge checked in a few days back from Svalbard in Norway, where they were awaiting a flight to Barneo. That flight was expected to take place this past Saturday, but as of now there has been no confirmation that they have reached the temporary ice base which will grant them access to the North Pole.

The team hopes to travel on foot from 90ºN to the Canadian coast at Ward Hunt Island, covering a total of 470 nautical miles (540 miles/870 km) in the process. They had estimated that it would take about 35 days to achieve that goal, but that was also with a projected start date of April 1. Now, three days after that deadline they're still waiting to get underway, which could prevent them from successfully completing the journey as their travel window begins to narrow, and eventually close.

According to the team's most recent update on Facebook, their flight out to Barneo has once again been delayed. The three men remain in Norway, packed and ready to go. But the longer they are delayed, the more difficult their expedition becomes. Once they reach Barneo, it is a relatively short flight by helicopter to their starting point. That means that they could potentially catch a lift to the North Pole as early as tomorrow, but further delays will only make the situation worse.

I have been following the Race Against Time team since their expedition was first announced last fall. During that time, the objectives have changed, but the resolve of the explorers has remained the steadfast. I'm sure they're all eager to get started, but their patience is definitely being tested at the moment. Hopefully there will be good news soon.

Stay tuned for more updates on this expedition in the days ahead.

Russian Team Designs Vehicle to Drive to the North Pole

Designing a vehicle that can withstand the rigors of driving in the Arctic isn't easy, but is exactly what a team of Russian explorers set out to do with the "Burlak," an amphibious truck that is currently being tested in a remote region of the Ural Mountains, with the intention of eventually driving to the North Pole.

ExWeb has the scoop on this amazing looking new vehicle designed and built by Alexey Makarov. The Russian explorer has a history of creating such trucks, having designed previous vehicles that have been used on motorized expeditions into the Arctic and all the way to 90ºN. Those other models were used in expeditions in both 2009 and 2013.

The Burlak weighs 4 tons and is more than 6 meters (19.6 ft.) in length. It stands 3.2 meters (10.5 ft) high and 2.9 meters (9.5 ft) wide. It is based on a Russian amphibious military vehicle called the BTR-60 and the Toyota Land Cruiser, although ExWeb says that the transmission and transfer case are completely unique. The cabin of the Burlak includes four beds, a kitchen, a sink, and a shower. It has also been insulated with special materials and it pipes heat from the engine into the interior to help keep it warmer.

Makarov says that he built on his previous experience driving through the Arctic, creating a more safe and secure truck for such motorized expeditions. He is currently testing the prototype model of the Burlak by driving from the coast of the Kara Sea, through the Russian Arctic, and ending at Baidarata Bay. Another model of the truck is expected to be built following this rolling test.

Then, in 2017 the two vehicles will be driven to the Russian polar station located  on Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago in anticipation for the start of their first true test in the Arctic – a 2018 drive to the North Pole and back again from the Russian side of the ice.

The fact that this vehicle can cross open water, drive on rugged terrain and ice, and survive in the extremely cold temperatures of the Arctic makes it an intriguing expedition option indeed. It's still two years away from taking off on its journey, but it should be fun to see how it performs when it does.

Who else wants one of these?

Video: From Sea to Summit in Norway

Last spring, Colombian adventurer Douglas Del Castillo and dutch climber and adventure racer Wouter Huitzing set out on quite an expedition. The plan was to travel completely self-supported above the Arctic Circle in Norway, going from sea level into the high mountains found there. The duo found plenty of challenges to overcome along the way, but those difficulties were over shadowed by the amazing landscapes they discovered there. This video takes us along with them into the Norwegian wilds to get a small taste of this wonderful adventure.

North Pole 2016: Construction of Barneo Ice Station Underway in the Arctic

One of the more fascinating base camps in the world of exploration and adventure is the Barneo Ice Camp, which is built every year close to 89ºN on the Russian side of the ice in the Arctic Ocean. Barneo is open for just a few weeks each year, but facilities travel to and from the North Pole, while also serving as a launching point for researchers, explorers, and adventure travelers.

Yesterday, while writing about the Race Against Time team I mentioned that I hadn't seen any updates on the progress at Barneo yet this season. That has changed however, as ExWeb has posted a story with some details on how things are going so far. It seems that the first long range Russian helicopters began their journey to the Arctic last Friday, March 18. They'll shuttle the first tools, equipment, and personnel to a suitable ice flow located in the Arctic Ocean. They'll join an advance team of engineers that are already out on the ice preparing for the arrival of visitors. That group of individuals start the process of building Barneo by first parachuting onto the ice flow.

According to ExWeb, the team that manages the ice camp now believe that they'll begin receiving the first commercial flights on April 4, weather permitting. For the most part, those flights depart out of Svalbard in Longyearbyen, Norway, and will bring last degree skiers, North Pole marathoners, research scientists, explorers, and other people to the Arctic.

The ExWeb story also indicates that Mark Wood, Paul Vicary and Mark Langridge of the Race Against Time expedition will arrive ahead of that first commercial flight, and should be flown to the North Pole to begin their journey on April 1-2 depending on the weather conditions as well. From there, they'll begin their journey south to Canada.

In recent years, it has become increasingly more challenging to build the Barneo Ice Camp. Finding a proper ice flow large enough to host the camp and a long landing strip has grown more challenging as climate change has a larger impact on the region. In fact, a few years back the runway itself cracked under the pressure of an arriving aircraft, damaging the landing gear and stalling more arrivals for a day or two. The weather between Barneo and Svalbard has been more intense as well, which has caused delayed flights. Still, the camp continues to open and operate, facilitating travel throughout the Arctic. It looks like 2016 will be no different.

Trio of British Explorers Set to Launch North Pole Expedition

A trio of British explorers are just a couple of days away from launching an ambitious and grueling expedition in the Arctic that will begin at the North Pole and see them traveling 470 nautical miles (540 miles/870 km) over the frozen Arctic Ocean to reach the northern coast of Canada. Their expedition will be one of the very view traveling in that part of the world this year, where climate changes is now making such journeys all but impossible.

On Wednesday, Mark Wood, Paul Vicary and Mark Langridge will officially launch their Race Against Time expedition. Originally, the plan had been to attempt to ski the opposite direction, starting on the Russian side of the Arctic ice and making their way to the North Pole. But conditions in the Arctic are not as stable as they have been in the past, particularly with recent studies showing that the ice caps there are at their smallest in recent history. So, the men made the decision to reverse course a few months back, and will now concentrate on heading south instead.

The plan is to depart the U.K. on Wednesday (March 23), most likely to Longyearbyen in Norway, where they'll finalize their plans and preparations for the trip to the North Pole. In a recent blog post, Mark Wood says that in less than a week's time they'll be dropped off at 90ºN by a long range helicopter so they can start the journey. It isn't clear exactly how they'll get there, but typically teams of explorers and adventure travelers would make their way through the Barneo Ice Camp – a temporary base established at 89ºN that facilities travel throughout the region each year. So far, I haven't seen any updates on the progress of building that camp, but it may be closer to welcoming visitors than I would have thought.

Once they're dropped off at the Pole, the real challenges will begin. They expect to face howling winds, temperatures that drop to -60ºC/-76ºF, and complete whiteout conditions at times. They'll also find that the ice is not nearly as thick as it has been in the past, which means they'll be forced to either ski around open sections of water, or don dry suits to swim across. As with any Arctic expedition, they also run the risk of encountering hungry polar bears as well.

Expect more updates on the progress of the team in the weeks ahead. They'll be facing some very difficult challenges throughout the expedition and it will be interesting to follow along with their progress. This will truly be one of the most challenging undertakings of the year, and once they get out on the ice, they'll pretty much have to rely on their own skills, wits, and experience to see them through. Since Kenn Borek Air no longer operates in the Arctic, the chances of getting a rescue flight are practically nonexistent. That lends an even great sense of urgency and danger to the journey for sure.

You can learn more about their plans, and follow along with the men, at

Yasu Ogita to Launch Arctic Expedition Next Week

Japanese adventurer Yasu Ogita is preparing to embark on his next big polar adventure, which is expected to get underway next week. He is currently in Canada, and preparing to head north, as he embarks on what promises to be yet another difficult expedition.

In 2014 we followed Yasu closely as he attempted to ski solo and unsupported to the North Pole. Unfortunately he had to abandon that attempt when he simply ran out of time before he could reach 90ºN. But back in 2002, Ogita completed a journey on skis from Resolute Bay to Grise Fjord on Ellesmere Island. Now, he'll set out from that point on his next adventure, which promises to be a challenging one.

According to ExWeb, Yasu will set out from Grise Fjord on March 24. He intends to ski across the frozen Arctic Ocean in an attempt to reach Greenland. Along the way, he'll cover more than 1000 km (621 miles) with the hope of reaching Siorapaluk in the Qaanaaq area on Greenland by May 7.

The Japanese explorer has already scouted out the route, and reports that the ice is in excellent condition. He hasn't traveled through this region before however, so he doesn't know completely what to expect. He does plan on taking plenty of photography equipment and video cameras along for the expedition to document the journey however, including a drone to capture aerial footage as well.

With the challenges that now face explorers attempting to reach the North Pole, I expect we'll start to see more Arctic expeditions like this one. There is plenty of exploration to be done in the frozen regions of our planet that don't involve going to one of the Poles. The Arctic seasons have been rather quiet over the past few years, and will probably continue to be so. But a few intrepid souls will still find ways to travel through this difficult and demanding part of the world.

We'll keep an eye on Yasu's progress in the days ahead as he makes his way across the Arctic. Stay tuned for updates.

Two British Explorers Rescued From Bering Strait

Last week we received a harsh reminder that exploration is still a difficult, dangerous endeavor, even in the 21st century. On Friday, two British explorers had to be rescued from the Bering Strait when they ran into trouble while attempting to cross that remote stretch of water.

Neil Laughton and James Bingham say they were attempting to reach Little Diomede island in the Bering Sea after departing from Wales, Alaska. They had planned to walk over the frozen water, and use kayaks to paddle over sections that were open. It was on one of those open leads that they ran into trouble.

Apparently, the duo ran into trouble on their first day out, finding the ice conditions to be even more difficult and unpredictable than they had expected. While using their kayaks to paddle across an unfrozen section when the started to run into trouble. Laughton and Bingham were paddling for 8 or 9 hours when they started to see ice build up around their boats. That thin ice made it difficult to keep making progress and they were forced to use their paddles to chip away at the rapidly freezing water. 

Eventually they found that they couldn't push forward any longer, but the ice was too thin to camp on. They ended up spending the night in their kayaks in freezing conditions. Eventually, currents started pushing them further north, where they found the ice to be a bit thicker. This allowed them to exit the kayaks and try to trek forward, but the ice simply wasn't thick enough to support them. With no way to move forward or back, they were forced to call for assistance. 

The two men were rescued on Friday having been spotted from the air just 25 miles (40 km) north of Wales where they first started the expedition. They were flown back to Nome, where they are reported to be in good condition. 

Laughton and Bingham were using this expedition as a practice round for a larger journey they hoped to undergo next year. The two men wanted to reach Little Diomede as a training exercise for an attempt to cross the entire Bering Strait in 2017. Whether or not they still plan to make that crossing remains to be seen, but they got a rude awakening to the challenges on this attempt. The unpredictable ice conditions may make this even more difficult in the years ahead.