Preparations for 2018 Barneo North Pole Ice Camp are in full swing

Ice camp Barneo doesn’t have an address: the GPS coordinates of this tent city drifting in the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole are changing every second. Every year, Ice Camp Barneo emerges on the map for just 35 days, from late March till late April, immediately after the sun rises on the North Pole. ”


Every year Ice Camp Barneo welcomes hundreds of polar explorers, scientists, adventurers, tourists and celebrities alike. Prince Albert II of Monaco, Prince Harry, among other royals, had come to Barneo with their own expeditions.

This morning I had a chance to sit down and chat with Barneo Camp founder and leader, Irina Orlova.

– You have been doing this for 17 years. What does it actually take, to build the world’s northernmost city on the ever-shifting sea-ice?

– Unlike in the Antarctic, here we have to start from scratch every year. In a few days, two Mi-8 helicopters will take off in Siberia and will fly North, via Khatanga, Dikson and Island Sredny in Archipelago Northern Land. After refueling on Island Sredny, they will stay on route for as long as they have fuel. Once they land on the sea ice they will transmit their coordinates to the main land, after which an Ilyshin Il-76 cargo aircraft will depart from Murmansk to the helicopters’ location, which we call Zhalyuzi-1.

After air-dropping fuel at Zhalyuzi-1, Il-76 will continue on its way to the North Pole where it will drop more fuel along with paratroopers and will guide the helicopters to this new location, which we call Zhalyuzi-2. Once this mission is accomplished, the helicopters will begin the search for the Barneo-2018 site.

To find a perfect ice-floe is a tricky thing. There is a whole science about it. The Barneo floe must be oval-shaped, detached from the surrounding sea ice and must be at least 2 km long so that it can accommodate a 1,200 m runway and the camp. We have just received the satellite images of the area, actually of two different regions, and we see that this year the sea ice in both regions is pretty solid, varying from 1,82 m to 1,60 m which is enough to land An-74 with camp equipment, crew and visitors.

Once coordinates of Barneo-2018 are established, the camp from Zhalyuzi-2 will be relocated to this new spot, and the new Il-76 flight from Murmansk will air-drop tractors, extra fuel and more paratroopers. The construction of the runway will begin. Tractors will only clean the snow, and the rest is being build by hand. There are 3 shifts, working non-stop. In some years we succeeded in building an airstrip in just one day.

An inspection from Longyearbyen will arrive to grant an approval for the runway. Then two or three more technical AN-74 flights will follow, the camp will be built and the Flag of Barneo will be raised.

– The logistics looks pretty much straight forward, but it seems that it is the sea, the ice and the weather that have the last word to say. Each season is a unique equation with new unknowns. How do you deal with these challenges?

Indeed, in the end it’s Mother Nature who guides the route and itinerary details. We do all we can to adapt, and we have been successful so far. When we talk about the weather in the Arctic, quite a few factors have to coincide: weather in Murmansk, weather at Zhalyuzi-1 and Zhalyuzi-2. If it’s windy in Murmansk, we can’t operate even if the weather is perfect in two other locations.

And then, of course, a lot depends on the past winter, temperatures, drifts and even phases of the Moon. In 2016, the runway broke 4 times because of the currents and winds, before the camp operations could be started operating at full-speed. Each time we had to start from scratch, starting with a search for a new “perfect” ice –floe.

Tell me about the teams that will be working on Barneo and the Pole this year.

I would start with Richard Donovan and his North Pole Marathon. This year we will have more runners than ever before. And I remember the times, it was in 2002, when Richard was the only guy to run the North Pole. He is an amazing guy, one of the true legends of modern day adventure. I am not surprised that more and more people want to run the world’s northernmost and coolest marathon each year.

This year the adult marathon will be complemented with a mini-marathon for the children from the Young Explorers North team. Richard brought his own daughter to the Pole when she was just eight. He believed that ultra-running is made not only for athletic stars, but also for regular people – so old people or young people can compete with the youngest and toughest runners.

Then we will have a group of Russian and Norwegian scientists, a few groups of skiers, who will ski the last degree to the North Pole, and three children’s expeditions. Two are led by Matvey Shparo: young skiers will go to the Pole for the 10th time in a row, and a team of young scientists will work on Barneo in tight cooperation with international scientists. And then your team, Young Explorers North, carrying the 61st Flag of The Explorers Club, the youngest expedition in the history of Barneo and the North Pole.

I am personally very excited that children from so many countries will be able to work together in science and art projects this year. Some of these children may become future leaders who will be deciding our destiny in some 10-15 years from now. It’s very comforting to think that their friendship has been cemented together on the ice of camp Barneo and the North Pole.

I remember your own grandchildren playing on Barneo and the North Pole. What’s your advice to us as a grandmother?

Visiting Barneo has made a huge impact on my grandkids. Katya was 5 when she visited the Pole. She was so impressed and inspired that she started the North Pole club in her kindergarten and now she is lecturing about the Pole at her school, as a first grader. I know that that her micro-expedition has changed her life forever.

One of the big advantages is that here at Barneo and the Pole children can witness first hand the work of the best international scientists – glaciologists, oceanographers, meteorologists and others, and therefore develop their interest in science.

This year there will be a group of American scientists, astronauts, engineers and inventors who come as a part of your Young Explorers North Expedition and who not only will be conducting experiments, but also will turn Barneo and the North Pole into a classroom accessible to thousands of children around the world. The fact that science research in your team will be complemented by art projects, theatrical performances and art exhibitions, which will help the children understand the difficult aspects of climate change and its impact on the Arctic Ocean.&


Galya Morrell is a polar explorer and environmental artist, who has lived and traveled in the Arctic for over 30 years. She and her husband, Greenlandic explorer and actor Ole Jorgen Hammeken, divide their time between New York City and Greenland.