Ask yourself – could you spend three months driving a truck in sub-zero conditions with only snatches of sleep for days on end? Could you drive that truck loaded with 88,000 pounds of haulage companies’ cargo across what amounts to a two inch thick sheet of compressed ice? Could you hold your nerve, inching your rig along towards an invisible horizon while all around you the sounds of cracking, creaking, shifting ice echoes through the cabin? And could you take your haulage work seriously enough to race frantically against the clock to meet your deadlines before the thaw sets in?
If the answer to all those questions is yes – then you’re ready for the most dangerous job on Earth. You’re ready to join the Ice Road Truckers.
Every year an elite number of truckers are risking their lives to sign up with haulage companies and earn what amounts to a year’s salary in the space of two or three months. Delivering supplies to remote mining communities in the Arctic Circle across a 350 mile man-made ice road, the brave and the crazy are voluntarily heading into harsh and perilous conditions to one of the coldest frontiers on Earth.
When the lakes and rivers freeze over, ploughs are sent in to scrape away the layer of snow along the planned road. Once the ice below is exposed to the freezing air (often as low as 60F), it strengthens the deeper ice underneath the road, making it able to withstand the incredibly heavy loads from the haulage companies. On some short pieces of land in between the waterways, it is necessary to create a ‘slush’ of water and snow and layer it on top of the land. It then quickly freezes over, joining up the ice road. Although the roads are extremely flat, the nature of using ice as a construction material means they can also be very unstable.
This highly lucrative but edge-of-your-seat haulage work is not for everyone. There are many stories of truckers who have set off on the ice-road and turned back within ten minutes – unable to handle the terrifying sound of the ice cracking under the weight of their rigs. Nerves of steel are required, and even the veterans of the ice roads will feel their blood run as cold as the temperatures outside if something begins to go wrong - and things do go wrong.
Even the slightest miscalculation or fault in the road could cost a driver their life. Sometimes the road can flex and refreeze causing buckles – this can cause a truck to shake and lose its load. The haulage companies’ trucks all travel in convoys at a slow and steady pace, and evenly spaced between to reduce the chance of this happening, but if a rig has to stop for any length of time a major disaster could occur. The ice is not able to sustain the pressure of a prolonged weight in one spot, and if a truck breaks down or loads are dislodged it is a race against time to get moving again. If a rig does break through the ice and sink, a trucker has less than a minute to survive. Whiteouts are another peril to contend when undertaking this extreme winter haulage work. During one of these snow storms the drivers must continue blindly on a road to nothingness. There is nothing to do but crawl along at an infinitesimal pace, with only the occasional glimpse of the preceding truck’s tail lights to guide you.
With everything the Ice Road Truckers have to contend with they are always mindful that it is always a treacherous race against time. There is only a short period of 2-3 months when access is possible via the ice roads, and in order to get paid they need to fulfil the entire contract of haulage work. In the life of these truckers, sleep is less important than money when it comes down to the wire!
The risks are huge - the haulage work of the Ice Road Truckers is a continuous battle against time and the elements - but the rewards for the lion-hearted are great. The vast amount of money offered by haulage companies to the ice road truckers continues to entice a steady stream of courageous (read crazy!) drivers willing to embark on this adrenalin-fuelled, arctic adventure.