Russia’s annual North Pole ice camp is cancelled

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - March 19, 2020
An An-72 aircraft takes off from the ice runway at Camp Barneo in 2016. (Russian Geographical Society via The Independent Barents Observer)

With Norway partially shutting down its borders for foreigners, Svalbard’s main airport at Longyearbyen can’t be used to shuttle people and supplies to Russia’s planned Barneo ice-camp in the high Arctic — effectively ended the 2020 season before it started.

This is the second year in a row that the Barneo ice camp has had to cancel. Last year, troubles with permissions to operate the An-76 aircraft supposed to shuttle between Longyearbyen and Barneo was the reason.

This year, the coronavirus outbreak is to be blamed.

Last weekend, the Governor of Svalbard announced that visitors from non-Nordic countries were banned from coming the archipelago, and tourists already there were quarantined and had to leave for Oslo.

The health care service on Svalbard is not built to deal with a large number of infected, and isolated, patients.

Polar Explorer Eric Larson writes in an update on his blog that the North Pole season is canceled.

“I received an email this morning confirming what I already knew was going to happen: The North Pole season is canceled,” Larson writes and continues:

“With Norway closing its borders and Svalbard, our jumping-off point for logistical flights, removing all non-residents, it was only a matter of time before the official word came down the pipe. It was the right decision.”

The English-language news site Icepeople, based in Longyearbyen, was first to report about this year’s Barneo season ending before it started.

Russia’s Barneo ice camp has been made every year since 2000. A temporary landing strip use to be created at 89 degrees north. The ice should be thick enough to stay safe for about a month before cracking up.

On Wednesday this week, the Krasnoyarsk based helicopter company AeroGeo Airlines, announced that this year’s expedition to the North Pole is postponed to 2021 “due to the closure of borders in the world.”

The helicopters were supposed to bring in the first people to build the camp on the ice before tourists and researchers could fly up from Longyearbyen.

Another high-profile event that now has to be called off is the world’s northernmost ice hockey match, supposed to take place on the North Pole on April 20th.

Ice hockey players were to fly into Barneo and continue the last degree to the top of the world with helicopters.

The organizer of the match, two-time world champion Vyacheslav Fetisov, had even invited President Vladimir Putin to come to the North Pole and play the match.