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Thursday, April 06, 2017

North Pole 2017: Barneo Opens for Business

The Barneo Ice Camp in the Arctic has officially opened for business. According to ExWeb, two flights have already reached the floating base of operations that is temporarily constructed in the Arctic each year. That base will now serve as a gateway too and from the North Pole and the surrounding area over the next few weeks.

The process for building the Barneo Camp is a fascinating one in and of itself. First, the team behind the base flies to the Arctic to search for an ice floe large enough to support the base and its blue ice runway. Then, a team of skydivers parachute onto the ice with supplies and construction materials to begin setting up the ice station. That includes clearing and smoothing out a large section of the surface to allow large Antonov-74 aircraft to land their. Once that happens, the Barneo begins receiving visitors.

ExWeb reports that the first two flights have arrived at the ice floe, which currently sits at roughly 89º18'N, 038º29'E. Apparently, two groups of North Pole skiers, who will traverse two degrees to the Pole, have already been flown in as well, and are likely already on their way towards 90ºN.  Another team of skiers is expected to arrive as part of the third flight tomorrow.

In order to reach this very remote place, flights are channeled through Svalbard in Norway. Last year this caused some political problems when a team of Chechen special forces passed through the area without permission from the Norwegian government. For a time, it looked like the support flights would need to find an alternate route passing through Franz Josef Land instead. But, the two sides have worked out their differences and are now working together as usual.

If you've ever wondered what it looks like to land a plane on an Arctic ice floe, have a look at the video below. Approaching the white, mostly featureless surface looks like a real challenge, but these pilots manage to pull it off without much difficult each year.

The base will remain in operation until the end of April, at which time everything will be cleaned up and removed once again. It is an impressive piece of engineering, all to grant access to one of the most inhospitable places on earth for a short time each year.


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