Taking the Path Less Travelled: My Other Office, Part 2

February 20, 2014

It’s said that a bad day in the field, is better than a good day in the office. This is something I agree with and I’m thankful for the opportunity to work in my “other office.”

I shared my “other office” with you in my last post and enjoyed the interest and feedback on the work that I get to do with SRC on Project CLEANS. In this installment, I thought I’d shed some light on the realities and challenges my team faces working in northern Saskatchewan.

In my last post, I explained that many of the abandoned mine sites within the Project CLEANS work schedule are located in the Uranium City area. With all fieldwork, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and whatever she would like to toss at you. In Saskatchewan, temperatures can range from -40 C (before the wind chill) or above 40 C and not a breath of wind. Not to mention the many forms of precipitation we can receive (hailstorm in October, anyone?). Working on the Prairies, we can easily take good roads and firm ground for granted.

For example, it took about a week to travel 5 km of trail in order to reach the the Baska Uranium Mine Ltd., Dot Claim site, northeast of Uranium City, to do remediation work. Four skidders and three track hoes later the equipment made it. Then it had to come back out…

Following remediation, there’s a period of monitoring that each site must undergo to ensure the sites have stabilized and no adverse environmental impacts were created as a result of the work. I’ve been on several monitoring trips. One trip stands out in particular.

We figured this monitoring trip would need at least three and a half hours, plus some wiggle room, to complete. There was about 5 km of good road followed by 5 km of a former “cat trail” to the mine site. We estimated it would take us about two and a half hours to get to the site and back. And we planned for about an hour of monitoring. Based on this, we informed our check-in people that we would leave at 1 p.m. and be home by 7 p.m. Six hours should’ve been enough, right?

quad stuck in the mud in northern forest

Now I know most of you are thinking: “Chris gets to go quading around Uranium City all summer? How can this possibly not be fun?” I learned something (and so did our summer student) on this monitoring excursion. Quading with your buddies and getting stuck is usually fun. However, getting stuck when you have a job to do, gets old fast…really fast.

Three and a half hours into our journey, when we should’ve been on the way home, two muddy SRC employees were still 2 km from the site — staring at what seemed like the thousandth muskeg hole. Now what?

We could’ve turned around, but then we would’ve needed to try and come back at some point. And we would’ve had to ride back through that mess for nothing… So we sent a check-in message with our satellite GPS messenger SPOT, and found a detour around and pushed on. Luckily, the last 2 km were uphill and 10 minutes later we were on site.

When assessing the job before we departed, we were informed of several detours, which were tough to find on the way to the site. The trip home only took 1.5 hours, so obviously these detours were much more apparent on the way out.

So working in my other office isn’t all glorious sunrises and breathtaking landscapes. But it’s full of surprises (and bugs) — that’s what makes my work interesting and rewarding. We tackle challenges with a great deal of planning and training, and sometimes that means spending a day caked in mud.