Showing posts with label Barneo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barneo. Show all posts

North Pole 2017: Barneo Closes for the Season, More on Polar Bear Shooting

The 2017 North Pole expedition season has come to a close. The Barneo Ice Camp, which is temporarily built on an ice floe in the arctic each year, shut down once again over this past weekend, with all staff, visitors, gear, and supplies now evacuated from the ice. By all accounts, it was another successful season, with a number of teams using the base as a gateway to and from the Arctic. And while there were no full-distance skiers to the North Pole this year, there were plenty of "last degree" expeditions that covered the final distance to the top of the world.

For the most part, the Arctic season came and went without too much to report. It was generally business as usual this season, with only groups of travelers and some researchers coming and going from Barneo. But, if you read this blog with regularity, you may recall that last week I wrote a story about an incident that left a polar bear wounded (and potentially dangerous) in the Arctic. That story had now blown up into a full-fledged controversy with clients accusing the guide of wrongdoing, contradictory statements from those involved, and a lot of questions as to what actually happened.

When I posted the article last week, the news was that a bear had wandered to close to a last degree ski team and that in an attempt to scare it away, they actually shot the animal, leaving it injured. A wounded bear can be extremely dangerous, and there were conflicting reports as to whether or not the guide for the expedition – polar vet Dixie Dansercoer – actually reported the incident to the team at Barneo, who could then relay that info on to other teams on the ice. At the time, the base manger Irina Orlova claimed that Dansercoer had failed to disclose the info fully, creating a bit of a stir as a result.

Now, the story has become a full-blown controversy. Dixie told his story to ExWeb, relaying the incident has he saw it. But one of his clients, a woman named Evelyn Binsack, shot a video of the entire incident, and it apparently contradicts much of what Dixie claimed. Binsack says that Dixie only fired a single warning shot at the animal and urged another member of the team to shoot the creature directly without giving it much of a chance to leave on its own. She also says at the time the bear was behind an ice block about 30 meters away and was not being aggressive at all.

According to reports the bear was shot in the shoulder, head, or possibly the jaw, and fled at a high rate. Dixie attempted to follow, but couldn't keep up and was unclear at the time whether or not the animal had been wounded. He claims that he reported the entire story to Barneo at his regularly scheduled sat phone call later that evening.

Apparently, Binsack has turned over the video to the police and an investigation into the matter is being conducted. Dansercoer has spoken with officials and has admitted that her video footage contradicts some of the statements he made early on. Where the story goes from here is anyone's guess, as there are no hard and fast rules with how to deal with a polar bear in the Arctic. Still, the situation is a precarious one, as the animal was clearly injured and could have been dangerous to others as well. The International Polar Guides Association is investigating the story and will likely try to suggest new rules and guidelines moving forward.

North Pole 2017: Skiers Shoot and Wound Bear Near the North Pole

It has been a relatively quiet and non-eventful season at the North Pole. With no full distance skiers on the ice, the expeditions to the top of the world have been limited to first and second degree ski journeys to 90ºN. But, just as the season is starting to wind down, comes some disturbing and potentially dangerous news out of the Barneo Ice Camp.

According to an update posted to the Barneo Facebook page, a team of skiers on their way to the North Pole encountered a polar bear while en route. That isn't completely uncommon, as the bears have been known to stalk explorers in the Arctic. One of the skiers was carrying a gun and felt threatened enough to shoot the bear, which is pretty unusual for these kinds of circumstances. Usually just firing into the air is enough to scare off most bears that wander too close. In this case however, the skier in question pointed the gun directly at the animal and shot it. The bear then limped off, wounded but not fatally so.

Nearly everyone knows that a wounded bear is a dangerous one, and there are now reports of others in the area seeing bear prints and blood on the snow. The animal appears to still be following teams as they make their way north, and could cause a potential safety hazard to others. To make matters worse, the guide for the group that shot the bear – Dirk Dansercoer – failed to inform the Barneo team, which could have warned North Pole skiers to be more vigilant while on their way to that destination.

At the moment, the incident is still under investigation, which is made all the more challenging since Dansercoer has already depart the Arctic for the season. Hopefully the teams that are still skiing will stay safe as they wrap up the remainder of their journey.

Encountering polar bears is one of the challenges that comes with travel in the Arctic. The creatures live and hunt in that environment, and nearly every veteran explorer of that part of the world has at least one or two tales to tell of encountering the massive animals in the wild. Guns are often carried to scare them away, but rarely are they used to actually shoot the creatures. This is a very rare case where the bear was actually shot for one reason or another.

In other news, Barneo is getting close to wapping up for the season. According to ExWeb, the team there has begun breaking camp and disassembling unused tents, packing gear, and so on. That means that the season is nearly at an end. That may be a good thing with a wounded bear in the area.

North Pole 2017: Barneo Opens for Business

The Barneo Ice Camp in the Arctic has officially opened for business. According to ExWeb, two flights have already reached the floating base of operations that is temporarily constructed in the Arctic each year. That base will now serve as a gateway too and from the North Pole and the surrounding area over the next few weeks.

The process for building the Barneo Camp is a fascinating one in and of itself. First, the team behind the base flies to the Arctic to search for an ice floe large enough to support the base and its blue ice runway. Then, a team of skydivers parachute onto the ice with supplies and construction materials to begin setting up the ice station. That includes clearing and smoothing out a large section of the surface to allow large Antonov-74 aircraft to land their. Once that happens, the Barneo begins receiving visitors.

ExWeb reports that the first two flights have arrived at the ice floe, which currently sits at roughly 89º18'N, 038º29'E. Apparently, two groups of North Pole skiers, who will traverse two degrees to the Pole, have already been flown in as well, and are likely already on their way towards 90ºN.  Another team of skiers is expected to arrive as part of the third flight tomorrow.

In order to reach this very remote place, flights are channeled through Svalbard in Norway. Last year this caused some political problems when a team of Chechen special forces passed through the area without permission from the Norwegian government. For a time, it looked like the support flights would need to find an alternate route passing through Franz Josef Land instead. But, the two sides have worked out their differences and are now working together as usual.

If you've ever wondered what it looks like to land a plane on an Arctic ice floe, have a look at the video below. Approaching the white, mostly featureless surface looks like a real challenge, but these pilots manage to pull it off without much difficult each year.

The base will remain in operation until the end of April, at which time everything will be cleaned up and removed once again. It is an impressive piece of engineering, all to grant access to one of the most inhospitable places on earth for a short time each year.

North Pole 2017: Construction of Barneo Ice Camp Nearly Complete

The 2017 Arctic exploration season may have been a bust as far as full-distance expeditions to the North Pole are concerned, but there will still be plenty of activity in that part of the world in the days ahead. As usual, the Russian ice camp at Barneo will play a crucial role in providing logistics to the Arctic from that side of the ice this year, with the station reaching a major milestone today.

For those that don't know, Barneo is a temporary base that is built on a moving ice flow in the Arctic each year. It serves as a launching point for a number of expeditions to the North Pole and the surrounding area. The camp not only serves as a gateway for researchers and explorers, but also for adventure travelers looking to complete a "last degree" journey to the top of the world as well.

Construction of the base began last week with a flyover of the Arctic finding a large enough ice flow to serve as the location for the camp in the days ahead. After that, a team of paratroopers landed on the ice and began construction of a blue ice runway. That same team also cleared the way for the construction of a temporary station there, which will soon begin receiving visitors. The location of this year's Barneo camp is 89º44’N, 065º47’E.

As of today, 1200 meters (3937 ft) of runway has been cleared, which is enough for the first flights to begin delivering supplies. That will help in finishing the last remnants of work prior to the arrival of the first teams, which will likely begin in the next few days.

If you've followed the Arctic expedition season in the past, you probably know that Barneo has faced some challenges in recent years. For instance, last year the ice on the runway cracked several times, first forcing the base to relocate and later to rebuild the landing strip altogether. The team behind the temporary camp also faced political issues with Norway. Their crew and supplies usually funneled through Svalbard on their way to the Arctic, but there was a dust up last season when a team of Chechen special forces soldiers moved through Norway on their way to the North Pole for training. This caused a political incident and it appeared as if the Norwegians would force the Barneo team to relocate to Franz Joseph Land for their logical needs. Fortunately, all of those issues seem to have been resolved, and operations are once again flowing through Svalbard.

We'll continue to keep an eye on the progress of the Barneo camp and some of the more interesting stories that will come out of the base this year. While no one is making a full distance journey through the Arctic this season, there should still be a few expeditions of note to follow.

Cold War Politics at the North Pole

If you read this blog regularly, you probably saw my coverage of the North Pole exploration season this past spring. While there were no full-distance expeditions to the North Pole from either the Canadian or Russian side of the ice as there has been in years past, there was still plenty of drama to be had. That's because Norway and Russian got into a bit of a showdown over who gets access to the Arctic. The pissing match between those two countries turned into a bit of a political and logistical nightmare that resulted in some polar explorers, adventurers, and researchers being left in the lurch while attempting to travel to and from the Arctic this spring. And the fallout from this exchange could have long-lasting repercussions for the future.

I reported several times on the fact that flights to the Barneo Ice Camp – the temporary base built at 89ºN each year – were delayed coming out of Longyearbyen, in Svalbard, Norway because of security issues. Those flights are for massive Russian supply planes, which are used to shuttle gear and personnel too and from the Arctic. The aircraft typically fly from Russia to Norway, where they pick up passengers and supplies before proceeding on to Barneo. But this year, this procedure caused a stir when the transport planes carried a team of Chechen soldier who were on their way to the Arctic to conduct training exercises. Norwegian officials say that the Russians didn't inform them that these commandos would passing through their country, and in retaliation they revoked all of the flight permits, and changed the procedure for how the Russian jets come and go.

All of this was further compounded by the fact that the Barneo station had one of its most challenging years ever. Each year, a team of Russian engineers parachutes out onto the ice to build a temporary base that includes a 4000-foot (1220 meter) runway. That camp is then used to facilitate travel throughout the Arctic for a month or so. But this year, the landing strip had all kinds of issues, having to be rebuilt on multiple occasions and even forcing the relocation of the base at one point.

As you can imagine, all of this led to a tumultuous season at the North Pole this year, and will dramatically impact operations moving forward. Just exactly what happened, and how it will change travel in the Arctic in the future, is detailed in this article from Outside magazine. The story goes to great lengths to lay out the facts of what happened and the dispute that it has created between the Russians and the Norwegians. If you followed the events as they unfolded this past spring, or know the logistics of Arctic travel, you'll find it to be a good read.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. At the end of the Arctic season, the team that operates Barneo said that they would shift their logistical base back to Russia and travel through Franz Josef Land starting next year. That will work of course, but it means more hassle for the people coming and going from Barneo. Whether or not that has a real impact on travel at the top of the world remains to be seen.

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: 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: Race Against Time Team Finally Set to Depart, Runway Issues Persist at Barneo

It has been a challenging start to the Arctic exploration season this year to say the least. As we've reported several times, the runway at the Barneo Ice Camp has been problematic, forcing the relocation of the temporary base and delaying the arrival of researchers, explorers, and adventurers. Things continue to look dicey at Barneo, where problems persist, but one of the more high profile teams is now set to travel to the Arctic at long last.

The Race Against Time team, which consists of Mark Wood, Paul Vicary, and Mark Langridge, have confirmed that they are now preparing to leave for Barneo, where they will immediately hop onto a helicopter and fly out to the frozen Arctic Ocean to start their expedition. They will have approximately 20 days to ski as far as they can towards the Canadian coastline, at which point they will have to be retrieved from the ice, which could be a difficult proposition on its own.

This is a very truncated version of their original plans, which saw them skiing for hundreds of miles across the Arctic Ocean to reach remote Ward Hunt Island. Their plan is to document the impact of climate change on the region, while perhaps undertaking the final full-length ski journey from the North Pole. But now, they'll try to ski as far as possible while staying true to their initial expedition goals.

Meanwhile, ExWeb reports that the new runway at the relocated Barneo camp continues to crack under the movement of the ice. This second base is not proving to be much more reliable than the original, but a new location for the landing strip has been found and construction has already begun. Emergency supplies have also been shipped to the Ice Camp to help keep the team up and running while they wait for the regular supply planes to begin arriving. There is also word that the season could be extended into May in order to accommodate all of the teams that are hoping to get some time in the Arctic or at the North Pole this season. Right now, all of those men and women are stacked up, waiting for flights to resume. Already days behind schedule, they are of course starting to get anxious.

Hopefully the flights to Barneo will start to get back on schedule soon. I'll continue to share updates on the North Pole season as it begins to unfold.

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. 

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.

North Pole 2015: Thomas Ulrich Begins Solo Ski Expedition to Canada

It has been a busy week at the North Pole, where the Bareno Ice Camp continues to serve as a temporary base for researchers, explorers, and adventurers. This year's camp has been open for a couple of weeks now, which means it is nearing the end of its lifespan, but it will continue to see steady arrivals, and departures, until the Arctic season ends before the end of the month.

Work has begun to repair the aircraft that had its landing gear damaged upon arrival to Barneo back when the camp first opened. As you can imagine, that isn't an easy task when you're located just one degree off the Pole. The plane has obviously been out of commission for most of the season, and as a result the support flights out of Longyearbyen in Norway have been forced to use just one aircraft this year. Two flight crews have been aboard those flights, and that plane has been flying almost non-stop to deliver people, fuel, and supplies to base. Add in nearly a week delay in flights due to weather, and the crews have been struggling to keep up.

One of the biggest pieces of news to come out of Barneo in the past couple of days is that polar guide Thomas Ulrich has reached 90ºN with his team of clients. They has skied the last degree to the North Pole after starting out at the Ice Camp last week. Those clients were plucked from the ice by a Russian helicopter, and flown back to the base, where they then made their way home. But they said goodbye to Ulrich at the top of the world, as he will now proceed to ski solo to Ellesmere Island on the Canadian side of the ice. This expedition will serve as a tune-up for his even bigger plans for 2016, when he hopes to traverse the entire arctic – via the North Pole – completely solo and on foot.

The teams participating in the 2015 Marmont Cup race set off yesterday. They're racing across the last degree to the North Pole, with 5 squads competing to become the first to reach that point. The all-women's team led by Bettina Aller ran into some trouble yesterday however when one of their stoves wouldn't work. A support team was dispatched to help them, and they are still on track to continue, but it was nearly a disaster for the squad before they really got underway. They are expected to arrive at 90ºN sometime late next week.

More last degree skiers continue to arrive at Barneo. Yesterday, three squads led by Borge Outland, Bengt Rotmo, and Dixe Dansercoer – each a polar legend – reached the Ice Camp. They'll be making their way north in the days ahead too. If you'd like to see what this type of expedition is like, take a look at these photos from a team of Norwegian teenagers who recently completed their journey across the final degree.

Finally, ExWeb has a report on Christian Redi, who has just completed a free dive in the Arctic Ocean. According to the story, the air temperature was -30ºC/-22ºF when he plunged through a  1.6 meter opening in the ice, where the water temperature was a balmy -2ºC/28ºF. But Christian said it was the most beautiful experience he has had on dive. The water is 2000 meters (6261 ft) deep at the point he dropped in, and even though everything was dark, it was also very clear. The free dive took place near the Barneo camp, where a crew had cut the opening for him. The experienced free diver told ExWeb that it was one of the most meaningful dives of his career.

That's all from up north. Still a busy time at Barneo, but only another week or two before it shuts down for the season once again.

North Pole 2015: Normal Flight Schedule Resumes to Barneo

The Arctic expedition season is starting to get back on track now that normal flights have resumed out of Longyearbyen in Norway. The Russian AN-74 aircraft was able to finally start delivering passengers and supplies to the Barneo Ice Camp yesterday, and while some travelers were delayed by a few days, they are now quickly getting back on schedule.

The base itself was happy to see the flights resume, as it meant some much needed fuel, food, and other supplies were delivered at last. While they crew, researchers, and media that are currently at the base were in no real danger, their life on the ice flow will be much more comfortable now that they are getting all of the gear and food that they need.

Several last degree ski teams arrived at the camp yesterday as well, and immediately began their journeys to the North Pole. Amongst them is Thomas Ulrich, who will lead a commercial group to 90ºN before he begins his own solo journey to Ellesmere Island on the Canadian side of the ice. Presumably his group was one of them that set off yesterday, as they have some ground to make up due to the delay.

The North Pole Marathon was also delayed due to the lack of flights, but the first competitors were shipped to Barneo today, and will soon begin running there as well. The race is considered to be one of the more challenging marathons in the world due to the ice, snow, and extreme cold, as well as the occasional encounter with a polar bear.

The skiers competing in the Marmot Cup race that I posted about yesterday should be en route to Barneo today too. They'll spend a couple of days training together near the camp before they set out on April 15 on a last-degree race to the top of the world. The delayed flights hasn't impacted their schedule much at all, and they are on track to begin this unique competition as planned.

While this is a lot of activity taking place in the Arctic, it still feels a bit empty compared to years past. With no major ski expeditions to the North Pole to follow this spring, it is relatively quiet in terms of explorers pushing the boundaries. While the last degree teams are worth nothing, they are commercial squads filled with travelers who have spent a lot of money for the privilege of being able to go to 90ºN. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be amongst them, but I am certainly missing the efforts of the full distance skiers who struggle mightily against the conditions in the Arctic. For my money, that journey remains the toughest in the world, and it is disappointing to see that it could be coming to an end.

Perhaps next year we'll see some activity in the Arctic beside Ulrich's epic adventure.

International Teams Preparing to Race to the North Pole

Staying on the topic of the North Pole today, a unique athletic competition is preparing to get underway in the Arctic, and it is certainly worth drawing some attention too. The 2015 Mamont Cup will begin next week with five teams of  athletes from across the globe racing one another to the top of the world. The event will cover 60 nautical miles (111 km), crossing the "last degree" to the North Pole in the process.

The five teams consist of 4-5 athletes each, and are all led by veteran polar explorers and guides. The racers come from Sweden, Italy, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the U.S. and will be led by their team captains across the frozen Arctic Ocean to the finish line located at 90ºN. Those captains include David Hemplemam-Adams who leads an All-British team, as well as French explorers François Bernard, Christian de Marliave and Jean Gabriel Leynaud. A fifth squad consisting of all women will be lead by Denmark’s Bettina Aller.

The race is scheduled to get underway on April 15 and last until April 21. Most of the competitors are expected to arrive in Longyearbyen tomorrow for a flight to the Barneo Ice Camp, where they'll first acclimatize to the conditions, and undergo rigorous training before setting out. While covering the final degree to the Pole they'll be traveling on skis while pulling sleds filled with their gear and supplies behind them as they go.

The Mamont Foundation, which is sponsoring this event, was established in 2007 to help fund exploration to our planet's polar regions. The goal is to learn more about the Earth by advancing our understanding of both the Arctic and Antarctic. Projects include the study of animal migrations in these areas of the world, as well as the impact of climate change on these bellwether places.

Hopefully the competitors in the race will be able to catch their flights out to Barneo as expected. With delays due to weather, there have been no aircraft departing for the Ice Camp from Longyearbyen for the past few days. They have a bit of cushion in their schedule before they start their dash to the North Pole, but things haven't been going entirely smoothly in the Arctic so far this year.

North Pole 2015: Flights Resume To Barneo, North Pole Skier Evacuated

The weather has improved somewhat around the Barneo Ice Camp, allowing some flights to resume to the temporary Arctic base at long last. Meanwhile, the first team of skiers has reached the North Pole, even as another group waits patiently to begin.

Russian AN-72 aircraft have resumed their regular supply runs to the base, which is located at 89ºN in the Arctic Ocean. Yesterday some much needed fuel and food was delivered, along with a new group of visitors mostly consisting of researchers and members of the media. Later in the afternoon, some of the camp's occupants even stretched their legs with a spirited game of football (soccer) as well.

In other positive news, the first "last degree" ski team reached the North Pole yesterday. The group was led by guide Miroslav Jakishev, and after spending a brief time at the top of the world, they were gathered up by helicopter and returned to Barneo. They'll likely spend a day or two there before starting their journey home, depending on weather and the arrival of more flights.

There was some bad news for the skiers however, as one man on team being led by David Hemplemam-Adams had to be pulled from the ice due to frostbite. While details remain slim, it seems the skier contacted the affliction in his fingers while on his way to 90ºN, and had to be evacuated before the situation got worse.

Meanwhile, another group of North Pole skiers – that includes guide Thomas Ulrich – is still stuck in Longyearbyen and waiting for flights to resume from there. Ulrich will lead the squad to their goal, and then bid them farewell as he launches his attempt to ski to Ellesmere Island on the Canadian side of the ice. The Swiss explorer will be the only Arctic skier this season, going it alone on his route. This will serve as training of sorts for his attempt to traverse the Arctic entirely next year.

The Ice Camp is likely to stay open for about another two weeks or so, helping to facilitate travel to and from the Arctic in the process. This season has been somewhat of a quiet one with more researchers and military personnel traveling to the region rather than adventure travelers and explorers. Still, there will be more news to come from the North Pole in the days ahead, particularly as Ulrich gets underway.

North Pole 2015: Weather Delays Barneo Replacement Aircraft

The 2015 Arctic season is underway, but it has been a difficult one already. As I reported yesterday, the Barneo Ice Camp opened this past weekend, but immediately ran into problems when one of the transport planes landed roughly on the ice, breaking its landing gear in the process. Replacement planes were obtained to help keep the flow of traffic to the temporary encampment flowing, but poor weather is keeping those flights grounded, and preventing researchers, skiers, and media from arriving onsite.

Two Russian-build Anatoly AN-72 aircraft were sent to a base in Murmansk to begin shuttling supplies, staff, and visitors to Barneo. Those planes were meant to pick up the slack for the damaged one that now sits on the ice at 89ºN awaiting repairs. But heavy snows and high winds over the Arctic Ocean prevented those planes from reaching the Ice Camp as scheduled. The aircraft were forced to turn around after encountering particularly bad conditions that included ice build-up and near zero visibility. Without proper signals from the ground to help lead the pilots to their destination, it would be incredibly difficult to land on a moving ice slab in the Arctic, so instead the flights returned to Murmansk and are waiting for the weather to clear before they try again.

Meanwhile, a group of "last degree" skiers is also stuck in Longyearbyen waiting for flights to resume to Barneo as well. They hope to get underway soon, as they'll hit the trail for the North Pole as soon as they are on the ice. One of those groups will be led by polar explorer Thomas Ulrich  who will continue from 90ºN to Ellesmere Island in Canada. Ulrich will be the only skier in the Arctic this season as he trains for a potential full traverse of the Arctic Ocean in 2016.

For the most part, the visitors to Barneo this year are all scientists and climate researchers, with a few Russian military personnel that are training in the region as well. In years past there were more North Pole skiers, and the base served as a support station for expeditions traveling across the ice from the Canadian side. But since there is no one traveling in that direction this year, it will be a bit quieter at the top of the world.

The Ice Camp is built each spring in the Arctic to serve as a temporary base. It is typically open for about three weeks, facilitating travel in the region. This year Barneo is likely to remain in operation through late April.

North Pole 2015: Barneo Ice Camp Opens for the Season, Aircraft Breaks Landing Gear on Runway

The 2015 North Pole season doesn't promise to be quite so active and interesting as years past, but there will still be some action up north this year, even if most if it will take place on the Russian side of the ice. Over the weekend, the Barneo Ice Camp opened for the season at N 89º 38', W 22º 27'. Over the course of the next few weeks, it will serve as the base of operations for a number of military, scientific, and commercial teams that are heading into the Arctic, and while most of those adventures still lie ahead, things have already gotten off to a shaky start.

For those who don't know much about Barneo, it is a temporary base built on an ice flow in the Arctic Ocean each year that facilitates travel to and from the North Pole. It is constructed by a special crew who first locates a proper flow, then parachutes onto the ice and sets up camp there. That group must build a runway that is long enough to allow Antonov AN-74 aircraft to land, and set up a small tent city to house the visitors that pass through. Most of them are scientists conducting research or well-heeled adventure travelers making a "last degree" ski expedition to the top of the world.

This year's Barneo base has been especially problematic to construct. The team had a hard time finding a large enough ice flow due to increased break-up of the pack ice. Instead, they ended up locating three flows that were moving in concert with one another, and built their facilities there. While this isn't the ideal approach, it will suffice for the three weeks or so that Barneo will remain open.

According to the official Barneo blog, one of the first planes to land there this year ran into some trouble. Apparently when the aircraft touched down, it destroyed its right rear landing gear, causing an accident at the base. Fortunately, no one was injured, and another plane is being scrambled to keep the flow of supplies, gear, and personnel moving in and out of the base. Repairing the aircraft will be a bit of a challenge however, and it is unclear yet what exactly will happen.

The first visitors to arrive at Barneo mostly consisted of North Pole last degree skiers. They set off on the route almost immediately and spent very little time at the camp. Others will be shuttling in over the next few days though, so things should get busy in the Arctic soon. No word yet on when explorer Thomas Ulrich will arrive however. He'll be flying directly to 90ºN and will start a ski expedition across the Arctic that will end on Ellesmere Island in Canada.

If you are wondering what it is like to land an airplane on a slab of ice floating int he Arctic Ocean, have a look at the video below. It was taken from the cockpit of the first aircraft to land at Barneo this season, and gives you and idea of what it is like to arrive there. To say it is a bit harrowing would certainly be downplaying it some.