Russia’s North Pole Barneo camp cancelled for the third year in a row

It's the second time COVID-19 has stopped the annual ice camp.

For the third year in a row, Russia’s ice camp near the North Pole is canceled. (Russian Geographical Society via The Independent Barents Observer)

COVID-19 travel restrictions have put a halt to the annual ice camp Barneo, usually constructed by Russia on Arctic sea ice near the North Pole.

“Unfortunately we’ll not arrange a tour to the North Pole this year,” said Maxim Fomenko in an email to the Barents Observer. Fomenko is director of SibwayTour, a Krasnoyarsk based adventure tour operator organizing North Pole expeditions at a price of €24,000 per person.

With the official cancellation of Barneo-2021 all planned activities are postponed to next winter.

Every March-April from 2000 to 2018, Russia’s Barneo ice camp was established with a landing strip on the ice from where different tours and activities were arranged to the North Pole.

First, helicopters fly north searching for a suitable place to build a landing strip at about 89  degrees North. Then, one or two bulldozers are dropped onto the ice with parachutes from a transport plane flying in from Murmansk.

When the runway is made, passengers and equipment fly north into the ice-cap from Norway’s Longyearbyen airport on Svalbard with An-72 and An-74 aircraft. Those planes are especially suited for landing in drift-snowy conditions as the engines are placed on top of the wings. During take-off, the planes are utilizing engine exhaust gases blown over the wing’s upper surface helps boost the lift.

Norway has currently some of the strictest entry rules in Europe, aimed to hinder the spread of the different coronavirus variants. At Svalbard, entry rules are even stricter as the medical services at the Arctic archipelago are limited.

This is the second year in a row that the pandemic puts an end to the Barneo plans, but the third year in a row that the ice camp is cancelled. In 2019, the landing strip on the ice was made, but disputes between Russia and Ukraine about operations of the Ukrainian built Antonov-74 aircraft was not resolved before the season was over, so no passengers could be shuttled north from Longyearbyen.

Many Arctic explorers use Barneo as starting point for skiing the last degree up to the North Pole, a tour that takes about one week, depending on ice-drift and weather.

The distance from Svalbard to 89 degrees north is too far for helicopters to fly back and forth with passengers.

Russia has previously hinted about using Nagurskoye air base at Franz Josef Land as a connecting hub for tours to Barneo, but due to its military nature the airport remains closed for tours that includes civilians and non-Russian citizens.

A third option for flying into the ice-camp near the North Pole is with helicopter from Khatanga airport on the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia. This is the route marketed by SibwayTour and includes stopovers for refueling at the New Siberian Islands.

“We are planning to arrange the tour next year, from April 14 to April 20,” said Maxim Fomenko.

The tour operator announces different activities from which participants can join; North Pole bathing, marathon run, parachute jump, play football, or even try real expedition skiing a short distance with heavy sleds full of gear.

A possible 2022 season, though, is still an open question, according to the Murmansk-based Arctic Observer online news site.