Monday, April 02, 2012

drifting to SNO

Done the pep talk we left the SNO admin building crossing the various driveways. Big mining trucks were already moving about. They have the right of way, we learned.

Inside the building at the top of the mine shaft, we waited, with the miners, near the ramp for the big elevator to arrive. Packs of gum were handed around. I declined. We were coming up to the first big designated time in the day. In the morning, the shaft is used to take humans in; the end of the end, everybody out. In between, equipment, supplies, and the good stuff, the mined rock. Ah. It was a bit of ole, familiar "hurry up and wait." And suddenly, it was time to go down.

They herded us into "the cage." In order to maximise transfers, people are packed tightly in. Everyone is to stand the same direction, or orientation rather, shoulders along the length of the cage. You either staring into the face or the back of the head of the person in front of you. I think the normal capacity is five people per row. It's rather intimate. Fortunately, it's dark, there are no lights in the cage, so you don't have to gaze into your neighbour's eyeballs. It was pretty quiet among the people, not a lot of chatting.

The cage operator sent the signals and we began our decent. It was loud. The cage shifts and moves and bangs and crashes and changes direction laterally. It's unnerving at first. You wonder if it is tearing itself apart. Nothing like a regular elevator, which is clearly "smoothed." Ordinarily, a person might fall if not sure-footed, if on your own, if not leaning or hanging onto something. But we were packed in so tight we were propped up. You couldn't fall.

The one end of the cage is open. And through it you can see the shaft wall, and the occasional drift. We were able to see the shaft because one or two of the miners had left their helmet lights on. I wondered if they did that for the civies, to help us feel more comfortable. I enjoyed it. Not that I was uncomfortable with the dark. I liked seeing how fast we were moving. The open design of the cage also made for good airflow. The air was cool and fresh and moving rapidly.

And then we came to a key moment... The dive. Something that I had been wondering about and that I had not seen or heard clear information about, at least at the early stages, but it was apparent already, the change in air pressure. As we moved rapidly down in the shaft, the pressure increased. And it was exactly like the effect of descending in an airplane. And fortunately, that general experience, along with my one or two "bad" trips, equipped me. I did my usual nose-squeeze-pushing-pressure trick to get my ears to equalise. I did it a few of times. Swallowing alone has never worked for me. And the couple of times I tried chewing gum before I never found that it worked. Now I just do it myself. It was tight enough that I couldn't easily move my arm in the up position. So I wriggled it up once and kept it that way.

One in our party did not fair so well...

One of the Meaford participants reported feeling uncomfortable, her ears hurting, and it was getting worse. The nearby co-op relayed the message. The cage operator halted our descent. We waited a few seconds but the pain was not subsiding. Quickly the call was made: we're going back up. I was flooded with feelings. I saw it from the miners side. We were delaying their progress. The civilians were mucking up the works. I also felt badly for our tour member. If she had perhaps had another moment to regroup, she might have been OK. The most frustrating aspect was that we were almost there... almost at the 6800 level. So close! But the up-side to the situation was being in the cage as it ascended at high speed uninterrupted. And it was incredible. We otherwise would not have experienced that.

We emptied out, assistance was given to our member, she was escorted away, and the rest of us, miners and non, piled back in. We, however, were no longer rookies. None of us.

At the 6800 level, at last, we had a quick pow-wow with Sam, and then we began our long trek through the drift. Watch for large vehicles. Back to the wall if one passes. Stay together. Lights on! It grew very dark as we left the shaft area. The air was warm. It was a little musty. You had to watch your step from time to time around puddles, old rails, loose gravel. The walls were lined with netting.

Photo by Bill.

Our first waypoint was a safe haven room along the drift. Sam explained that this was a traditional safety feature of mines, a place were the miners would congregate if there was a problem. She explained the ventilation, how the doors would be sealed, the protocols, and how people would have to stay awake in emergencies. This was getting real now. It was also clearly a point to let us rest. We had already walked a fair distance.

In the next leg, Sam gave us a special personal side trip. While not exciting by itself, she liked to emphasise how the SNO LAB was fairly self-sufficient with its own waste processing facility. The treatment process was very efficient. They had to feed it dog food to maintain balance in the system.

At last we reached the end of a drift tunnel, a brighter open space. I recognised it from Serge's photos. This was the first barrier for cleaning, as we began our entrance to the lab proper. The next order of business was to clean off our boots. We helped each other with the hoses and the difficult to reach areas of our rubber boots.

Lights off. We went through a door to a narrow passage way. Immediately, the space was different, more like a warehouse or factory space. Bright FL lights, beige paint, concrete block, people, offices. We took off our belt, hung up our helmet, and put our boots away. Our protected bagged lunch was removed from the outer bag, which was discarded. Then we headed up the stairs to the next stage. Once again the sexes went their separate ways.

Change 2 of 2.

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