Earlier this week the Barneo Ice Camp, one of the more unique base camps in the entire world, opened for what is sure to be a short, but very busy season. Each spring, Barneo serves as the gateway to the Arctic, allowing researchers, explorers and adventurers access to the North Pole. But those adventurous souls who venture to the top of the world will have to work fast because the camp is only open for about three weeks each each year and the clock is already ticking.In the Antarctic, where the thick crust of snow and ice sits atop a landmass, permanent camps and research stations are a fairly common sight. But in the Arctic the frozen ice actually floats on top of an ocean, constantly breaking up and shifting position over time. This makes it impossible to even attempt to create any type of permanent settlement for research or travel purposes.
Because of these difficult conditions, a private Russian company builds and operates the Barneo Ice Camp each year. They begin by first locating a large enough slab of ice to support the base and a temporary landing strip for large aircraft. Once the perfect spot is picked out, a team of engineers parachutes out onto the ice and begins construction of the base. That includes building tents and other temporary structures, setting up a communications system and the actual carving of the runway, which must be large enough to support the big Antonov An-74 aircraft that service the camp.
Once those operations are complete, the base opens for visitors and planes begin arriving packed with scientists, researchers and well-heeled adventure tourists. Typically the base is located just a degree or two off the North Pole, which makes it possible for many who arrive there to actually visit 90°N. Some will travel to the top of the world on skis, while others will go by helicopter in order to conduct environmental research there. This year’s Barneo Ice Camp is located at 89° 30’03″ N and 167° 59’20″ E, which means that it is actually just 22 miles from the Pole.
Because the spring brings rapidly changing conditions, even in the Arctic, the Ice Camp won’t stay open for long. The base is scheduled to shut down on April 22, at which time all of the tents, gear and supplies will be packed up and shipped back to Russia for another year. But for a brief time, Barneo will be the most northerly settlement on the planet.