Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Chibougamau Trip

This time last year I took a business trip up to a mine 100 miles (150 km) north of Chibougamau. So a total of about 500 miles (800 km) north of Montreal. The trip up and back was itself an adventure. We flew Air Creebec up to Chibougamau in a small prop plane. On each flight, the plane was half Native Canadians and half others. The plane was an aisle with seats on each side. The aisle was narrow enough that a third person could not sit between the two seats.

The flight attendant handed out our meals and gave us the pre-flight instructions. Then she asked if we needed anything, put on a headset, and climbed into the co-pilot seat. There was no cockpit door, so on the return to Montreal in a snowstorm, I was able to lean my head into the aisle and watch as they aimed between the two parallel lines of blue lights during landing.

From Chibougamau, we rented a pickup truck and drove 100 miles on a road of grooved ice. Special machines pass regularly on the Route du Nord (Road of the North) to make the grooves. The landscape was stunning. The pine trees were shorter than usual and the tops all looked like clumps of pine on sticks. There were also quite a few spots where there were only the trunks still standing. At first we thought it was clear-cut forestry, but it must have been forest fires since the trunks were still there. Though we did see quite a bit of clear-cut forestry from the air.

We saw quite a few caribou. There was also quite a few traces of blood where caribou had been killed on the roadside. Not sure whether they were killed in the forest then dragged to the road or just killed on the road. The rumor was that the Native Canadians had killed them illegally in order to resell the meat. Anyhow, there were easily two dozen traces along the journey. The drive there was hazy and cloudy, while the ride back was bright and sunny.

Once there, it was quite an interesting place. Though not somewhere you would like to be caught alone with Jack Nicholson. You are really out in the middle of nowhere and you are highly dependant on that electrical wire to the outside world. If there had been a snowstorm and the power went out, you'd be SOL. The wind chill the next morning was -60F (-50C) and the actual temp was -40F (-40C). Luckily most of the places we needed to go to were protected but unheated and we were required to wear so much equipment, we didn't feel the difference from harsh Montreal cold.

Although it was the coldest place I had ever been, I was surprised that it was not the furthest north I had been. It is as far north as London and Stockholm is much farther north.

The second trip in March was quite a drag compared to the first visit. With the exception of a $250 cab ride between Chibougamau and the mine, it was uneventful. May have been because I did this trip alone. But damn, that first trip was really something else.

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