Breaking News: The North Pole Season Has Been Cancelled

Yesterday I posted a story about ongoing delays in getting supplies, personnel, and visitors to the Barneo Ice Camp in the Arctic Ocean. The camp serves as the temporary base of operations for travelers, researchers, and adventurers heading to the Arctic, most notably last-degree skiers on their way to the North Pole. But this year, a political stand-off between Russia and the Ukraine grounded flights that were designated to deliver people, supplies, and gear heading to Barneo, delaying the start of the season and putting it in complete jeopardy. Today we receive news that the North Pole Season has been cancelled altogether due to logistical challenges and a rapidly closing window.

According to various reports that have been sent my way, the decision to cancel the season was made when alternative transportation options out of Longyearbyen in Norway didn’t pan out. This caused the team that manages the North Pole Marathon to decide to cancel its event for 2019, sending its competitors home instead. As a result, the organizers of the Barneo Ice Camp made the decision a short time later to pull the plug on their operations as well, sending many people home in complete disappointment.

The crux of the situation is this: Russia refused to allow an aircraft flying out of the Ukraine to land at the Barneo base, which is believes falls under  Russian jurisdiction. That caused the operators of the Barneo camp to seek other alternatives, including bringing in smaller aircraft from Canadian company Kenn Borek Air. Unfortunately, poor weather has grounded those planes, preventing them from reaching the ice flow in a timely fashion. With the clock ticking and the logistical challenges mounting, the decision was made to just close things down altogether.

Even had the Kenn Borek aircraft been able to fly things were starting to look challenging. The smaller planes were going to have to take multiple trips to deliver everyone to the Ice Camp, which would have taken an extended period of time. On top of that, Barneo was still waiting on important supplies such as additional tents, fuel, and other resources that would allow it to become fully operational. Any further delays to the schedule would cause problems, particularly since the base is scheduled to close for the season on April 26. As of right now, that is two weeks away, but with so many hurdles to clear before even bringing visitors to the ice flow, it became increasingly clear that there wouldn’t be enough time to accomplish everything that was on the docket. This is especially true for those skiing to the North Pole itself.

What this means for the future of the Barneo Ice Camp remains unclear. The entire operation has run into a string of challenges in recent years, not the least of which is changing conditions in the Arctic. As ExWeb points out, last year’s season was only 12 days long, in part because warming temperatures are making the ice less stable. As you can probably imagine, it is a costly venture to travel to the floating base in the first place and when it becomes unreliable, chances are adventurous travelers and guide services will start to look elsewhere for their challenges.

My sympathies go out to the marathon runners, skiers, researchers, and other travelers heading to Barneo this year. I’m sure they are all extremely disappointed.

Kraig Becker