The Yellowknife Ice Road

Northern Canada is home to numerous diamond mines. Stuck in the frozen north, isolated from civilization, these mines are distant from other human settlements, difficult to reach, and even harder to deliver supplies. Yet for many years, the delivery of supplies has been done over “ice roads”, frozen rivers and lakes that permit trucks to travel over the ice. The longest and most expensive ice road runs 567 km from Tibbitt Lake, 70 kilometers east of the permanent settlement of Yellowknife, to several diamond mines that include the Diavik diamond mine. These ice roads operate for only 2 months of the year, during which trucks must transport a whole years worth of supplies.

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As the peak of winter approaches, exploratory crews go out to mark the route, drill ice cores to examine ice thickness, and depth soundings, all aided by airplanes, helicopters, and the most up to date electronic sensing devices available. The practice of transporting over the ice road is so old that this preliminary due diligence used to be done exclusively by scout teams, and the ice core drills were turned by hand.

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Think there are no speed checks? Think again. Officers patrol the road and are equipped with radar speed detectors as well as emergency equipment to make sure drivers don’t exceed the 30km speed limit. As a heavy truck weighing many tons moves over the ice, the ice bends and creates under water waves. As water does not compress, the force of the wave may come to a weak spot in the ice, crack it, and cause a blow-out. Equipment has gone to the bottom before, and some operators have not been so lucky as to survive.

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When a break or crack is discovered, it is handled in a novel way — a hole is then drilled down to the water, which is then pumped up and onto the surface. The water freezes, sealing cracks and building up the thickness. Historically, small stripped trees and branches were laid out on the ice to reinforce areas where the ice is moving. Today, steel cable and steel mesh reinforce areas where water under the ice is constantly moving, such as in a narrows.

Final note: In these tough economic times, would anyone like to go and work at Diavik? Career information is here, with current vacancies here.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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One Response to The Yellowknife Ice Road

  1. Thomas says:

    I think I took a good look at the job listing.

    I’m a big fan of anything that combines adventure and a decent living. Also, I can’t stop watching all those Thom Beers reality shows.