Expedition journals
Preparations for 2017 Barneo Ice Camp underway near North Pole
© RIA Novosti. Valery Melnikov

Preparations for 2017 Barneo Ice Camp underway near North Pole

For the 16th year in a row, the Barneo Ice Camp will host tourists and researchers from April 4 to 26 on a drifting ice floe. The camp is sponsored by the Polar Explorers Association with support from the Expedition Center of the Russian Geographic Society.

Finding the required ice floe is a daunting task. There are strict requirements: the floe must be oval-shaped in form and measure nearly one kilometre wide and two kilometres long so that it can accommodate a runway. To locate the right one, helicopters fly out from Sredny Island of the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago, Barneo Camp co-founder and sponsor Irina Orlova told Arctic.ru. They stay in the air for as long as they have fuel. Then the helicopters will land, transmit their coordinates, and wait for an Ilyshin Il-76 aircraft to depart from Murmansk to air-drop fuel on the helicopter's location, which is called Zhalyuzi-1. As the helicopters refuel, the cargo plane flies on to get as close to the North Pole as possible and drops more fuel there. This new drop point is called Zhalyuzi-2, where more fuel and paratroopers will be parachuted in for the further refuelling and to navigate the helicopters to the drop point so they begin their search for the Barneo site. "A camp is set up there for two to three days as the search for the right ice flow goes on. Once it is found, the on-site troops will establish a runway," Orlova said. At the time, helicopters are preparing for their flight to the Zhalyuzi-2 point.

Once Barneo is set up, it will become the center of research and tourism in the Arctic over the next two weeks. The camp's base of operations is located on Norway's Spitsbergen. In 2016, sponsors planned to relocate the base to Russia's Franz Josef Land following a move by Norway to impose stricter rules on the use of its Arctic facilities. Common interests prevailed, however, and the Expedition Center cancelled the relocation.

"Nearly all providers of tourist skiing programmes have asked us to reconsider because it is more convenient for them to work with clients at Longyearbyen. This place has cutting-edge facilities for bad weather, as well as hotels, shops, bars and a warehouse where they can store their equipment. Not to mention that hotels, tourist agencies and restaurant owners on the island would also lose a lot of customers. The local airport was also paid handsomely for our plane's landings and take-offs. If we relocated, they stood to lose quite a lot of money. So we had talks with the island's governor and reached a deal to stay," Orlova said.

An annual international marathon will complement tourism programmes at Barneo in 2017. Runners from all over the world will cover the classic marathon distance of 42 195 metres in the Arctic cold.

Research will remain important part of Barneo as the camp is expected to welcome researchers from Russia, France, and the US.