If you happen to have $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 laying about, you might still be able to book a tour up to the North Pole.  The Russians discovered there was good money in catering to tourists, and therefore have added tourism to what was originally a military exercise.

The Russian military was never sure whether or not war-time circumstances might demand they build a quick air base on the arctic ice. Also, if a passenger jet ever went down up there they might have to create a quick base to be the center of rescue operations. Therefore they originally practiced setting up a base for reasons that had nothing to do with tourism, and many of the operations were top secret.  They did include scientists, because understanding arctic sea-ice better might allow them to build airbases that lasted longer, before breaking up during the summer melt.

Of course, operating such bases is expensive. The idea that such bases could make tens of thousands of dollars, by including tourists, must have appealed to someone. Building the extra barracks could be justified by suggesting that, in a wartime situation, extra barracks might need to be built for extra troops.

So every year now, around sunrise at the North Pole, cargo helicopters arrive to unload bulldozers,

Barneo Cargo copter unnamed


which build an airstrip on the flat “baby ice”,

Barneo bulldozer unnamed

So that the AN-74 jets can land,

Barneo AN-74 jet unnamed

bringing scientists, supplies, and tourists.

Barneo Tourists unnamed

Usually the Barneo base has drifted away from the Pole, so the tourists are helicoptered to the pole, or a certain distance from the Pole so they can ski the final kilometer, two kilometers, or the “final degree”. Last year a storm hit, and a fair number needed assistance, as they had to hunker down in tents, and during the time they were in tents they drifted quite a ways away from the Pole. Also a few needed emergency airlifts due to frostbite. (These pictures are from and I think that site borrowed them from the Russians.)

Some people fly to the Pole to get married.

Barneo marriage 20348

(From )

But you need to be wary of the scientists, who can get a bit batty.

Barneo bather unnamed

Even a nine-year-old boy can travel to the Pole.

Barneo Oliver article-1268887-094FAF43000005DC-644_634x566

In case you are wondering how they can run such a thriving tourism enterprise, which seems to be getting larger every year, when the North Pole is supposedly melting away, you will be reassured to know there is some danger involved. Although the airstrip is located on flat “baby ice” which is four to six feet thick, the actual barracks are located on thicker ice, as scientists have had “leads” form right through the middle of their bases, when they were not careful to locate on thicker ice. (There are pictures of an American base facing such a problem north of Alaska, in 1975.)

The only example I can find of a lead forming in the Barneo airstrip occurred in 2011.

Barneo Lead 20110407runwayxbarneo

If this is the actual lead (and not a file photo they stuck in), it definitely was not caused by a landing plane, as the article suggests.  It is likely miles long and caused by huge stresses, especially as it splits a pressure ridge in the distance. It likely was caused by a big storm over on Canadian side (which closed down a skiing adventure in that direction) which pulled at the ice with gale force winds. Such storms can stress the ice and create leads miles wide, even in the deep darkness of winter when temperatures are down near minus forty.

Another interesting news item I noticed a few years back said the Russians were “forced to abandon” their base. It made it sound like this was an unusual event, due to unusual melting. In fact the Russians are in a hurry to start getting their equipment off the ice by Mayday, as things can get very slushy up there as the Month of May passes. Also the ice tends to drift down through Fram Strait and disintegrate.

During the Cold War the USA and Russia did occupy bases right through the summer, but these were located on “ice islands”, which had shelved off Greenland or Canada’s north coast glaciers, and were far more solid than normal sea-ice. (I have read that the ice island “T-2” was large enough to land airplanes on, and its surface was 50 feet above the rest of the other sea ice. “T-3”, also called “Fletcher’s Island”, only stood ten feet above the sea ice but lasted for years.)

Here is a bit of military paperwork involving the resuply costs of flights to T-3 in 1970, which suggests saving money does matter even in the Military,

However they apparently never thought of flying tourists up into the arctic ice in 1970, to get cold in the Cold War.

The season for tourism on the Pole is short, basically the first three weeks of April. If you haven’t booked your trip yet it is likely too late, as “Quark” and “PolarExplorers” and “Icetrek” seem booked up. Likely it’s best to plan for next year now, however I did spot one site (which I can’t relocate) that had two spaces left.

The rest of us, who don’t have that kind of time and money, will have to sit back and scrutinize the pictures and video the lucky ones send back.


  1. Pingback: North Pole Camping at Barneo. Only $28,995. | Sunrise's Swansong

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