Delirious happiness from getting on a plane to Barneo after an 8 day delay gave way to a long night in flying objects without windows or security briefings.
Having lived with an image of the cracked airstrip for the past week, I was weary about the landing. Boom! AN-74 stopped abruptly but safely.
Heavily smoking men in paramilitary uniforms helped us unload our pulkas. Barneo is a small tent settlement amidst ice wilderness. Maintaining a station amidst natural hostility requires experience and a huge resolve.
Raised flags had a Twitter handle DZ_GROZNY of the Chechen President Kadyrov next to a flag of Russian Federation. The first dome sleeping tent was adorned with the President’s portrait next to the one of his late father, assassinated a few years ago. A guard in winter white-brown camouflage stood outside complete with a white rifle. Later in the mess tent I greeted him saying that I hail from Caucasus. He nodded. I went on to thank him for his contribution to the construction of the runway. ‘It must have been real hard…’ ‘The word ‘hard’ does not exist in our vocabulary’.
We had a quick cup of tea with Russian gingerbread cookies and a few minutes later boarded a giant 22 person MI-8 helicopter.
An hour later we were dropped off at the 89 degree with a promise of positive drift. An orange helicopter gradually disappeared in the skies. On our own… A cold sun was out. We set up a camp and decided on a 5 hour power nap before heading down the ice trail.
Noon departure with no breakfast – just dishing out one of the 10 ziplock bags with snacks.
Skiing in the Arctic is much different to the Antarctic plateau. You are on the living and ever changing ice with a myriad of obstacles created by the wind and ocean. Meter high ice blocks obstruct your way making it challenging to navigate surface on skis with heavy and unwieldy sled behind. Hip harness is what makes it possible to pull sled up and down ice chunks. Ice rickshaw came to mind.
Polar bear foot prints next to a narrow ice fissure… ‘A young male, probably three years old’ says Eric. A comfort or a threat?
Today we traveled just for 4 hours dialling in our systems. Hand protection, ventilation as to not to overheat, sweat and then get hyperthermic.
And so it will go day after day for the next week in this polar wilderness. Daily routine of 8 skiing hours with 5 minute breaks in between, setting up a camp, getting stoves going to melt ice blocks for water and dry clothes.
Now in a tent, ravenous for some freeze dried beef stew. Living the dream!