Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ice road truckin'...and slidin'...

Ice road

We decided to go for a drive down the ice road over to West Arm this weekend. If you don't know what an ice road is, it's a road that goes over a frozen body of water - like the frozen Arctic Ocean. It's a seasonal route, obviously, that you can only take during the winter. Yellowknife has an ice road that goes over Great Slave Lake that will eventually take you to Edmonton.  If you've seen the TV show Ice Road Truckers, that's all about the truck drivers that take these routes.  It's how a lot of communities continue to get deliveries in the winter time.

Not Cambridge Bay, though.  This ice road just goes to West Arm. West Arm is not another town, it's just another patch of land, a bay outside of town where a lot of people have their cabins when they want to "get away from it all", the hustle and bustle of Cambridge Bay.

Look at me, I'm an ice road trucker

Some people get kind of freaked out about the idea of driving on a body of water, but at this time of the year, the ice is very frozen.  They say you only need a few inches of ice to hold a human body up.  The ice on the Arctic Ocean around these parts about ten feet deep, and the temperature hasn't gotten warmer than -30 since November.  The ice will hold up.

What was more of a worry was the wind. It was blowing snow drifts all across the ice road. I had the truck, but it wasn't a particularly heavy duty truck, not like the ones the Russians drove here from Russia. The last thing we wanted (besides falling through the ice) was to get stuck in a snow drift and have to call for a tow truck to get us out.  Or worse off, get stuck in a snow drift out of cell phone range and have to either hike it back to down or dig yourself out the whole way back.

And the winds were strong. It was -40 with the windchill. One of my friends had made plans to go wolf hunting, but the other hunter had told him that it was too windy.  We probably should have taken that as a hint.

Trying to assess the situation
But luckily this little guy came chugging along to save the day.

And suddenly the roads were clear. And we were free to go along our merry way!

The snow drifts actually cleared up after a while, once we went around the bend. As the cliffs rose above us, they sheltered us from the wind.  It was really cool to see all these spots that I was so familiar with from kayaking in the summer....but now frozen in the springtime.  There was Lonely Beach, my favourite secret picnic spot. There was the tank farm. We passed the airport runway as an airplane passed above our heads. And the cliffs of West Arm continued to grow higher.

airplane landing

tank farm and two boats parked for the winter

West Arm is a popular spot for kids to go sledding. We thought we wouldn't be able to go because we didn't have any sleds, but as it turns out, the ice is so slippery we didn't need sleds. We could just slide down in our snow pants.

View across the bay from the top of the hill

shale rocks poking through the snow

truck and snowmobile off in the distance

dog and friend at the bottom of the hill

going for a ride! catching frostbite

On the cliffs of West Arm, we discovered this really cool ice cave formed by under the lip of the cliff by snow.  The whole sight was pretty spectacular actually, the wind constantly blowing snow off the cliff's edges, making it look like clouds were clinging to the cliffs.  F made his way to the entrance of the ice cave and called out for all of us to check it out, promising that it looked really cool inside.

So we all started to climb.

...and fall off. I didn't have any of the proper climbing gear with me, like an ice pick, so every time I made any progress up the hill, I would slide right down again.  The others figured out the trick of kicking in footholds with their boots, but for some reason I couldn't get the hang of it and kept falling down the cliff. Luckily the bottom was padded soft with snow.  Instead, I watched with jealousy as everyone else made it to the top of the ledge and went in.

take me with you!

Luckily, they took photos inside the cave.

photo by Lori, because obviously I didn't make it up

Eventually it was time to head back home.  By then, the winds had blown more snowdrifts across the ice road. The drive felt a bit like I was stunt driving in an action movie, charging through the snow drifts with white knuckles, nervously hoping the car doesn't slip off into a snow bank at any second.  But luckily we made it all the way home without trouble.

(photo from Chris Hummel)

Oh, by the way, thanks to your votes, our song "The Longest Night" has now made it to Nunavut's top 5 for CBC Music's Searchlight contest! Thanks, guys!  Remember to keep voting every day - this week's votes will determine who gets to represent Nunavut in the national rounds...