Quirke Mine TMA

The winter is definitely closing in, and the days have been mostly cloudy and, either rain or snow lately. So, when it looked like a sunny day coming up, I jumped at the opportunity to get out for a hike at a new location.

I headed north from Elliot Lake on highway 108 to the point where 108 changes to 639. At this point there are two mine site gates, one on each side of the highway. One gate goes into the Quirke mine site and the other gate goes into, what is known as, the TMA, or tailings management area. This is where the sand-like mine tailings are kept under water to control the release of radioactive gases. Today I chose to hike the TMA side of the area.

It was a bright sunny day and before I left I looked out the window to check the weather, something like the real weather forecasters do. I dressed according to what I saw, but it turned out that the wind chill was a bit more biting than I had imagined. In fact, any time that I took my gloves off to take a picture, my fingers would freeze to the point where I couldn’t operate the camera. However, the rest of me was fine, so I just continued on.

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This is the first body of water that I came to. Most of the lakes and ponds in the area have at least some ice on them. Some smaller ponds and lakes are completely covered with ice, even though we’ve had some mild weather recently. If you look way down to the end of this small lake, you can see one of those huge rock berms. As I’ve mentioned before, these berms are to keep the contaminated water from entering the local water system.

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This is the same small lake from farther in on the road.

The road coming into the site leads up a short hill, where, at the top, there were a few buildings to house the equipment for maintaining the area. I continued past these buildings and into an area of partitioned lakes. You can tell from looking at the Google satellite map at the top that the colour of the the lakes being used for the mine tailings is different than the other surrounding lakes.

There were raised causeways running around the perimeter and sometimes through the middle of these lakes. Some of the causeways just come to a dead end on the other side of the lake and, you can see by the route that I took, I did come to a dead end on one of them and I had to turn back.

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This picture was taken from that dead end causeway that I first walked down. This lake is called Bud Lake, but I’m not sure if it was man-made, or if it was a naturally occurring lake. Usually, if the lake was created just for tailings purposes, it doesn’t have a name, so it could be that this lake was already here. However, if it was already here, they would have had to drain it somehow in order to have trucks come in and dump the tailings on the lake bottom.

Farther across this lake, you can see another long raised stone causeway, which is also a dead end on the other side of the lake. Along these causeways you can see sloped sections that come down to the waters edge. At the bottom of these sloped sections there are access holes for testing purposes.

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I came back to where I had entered the dead end causeway and I headed down that road you see on the right side of this picture.

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This is another small body of water along that road and, as you can see, it is completely frozen over. At this point, I was really feeling the effects of the cold on my fingers. It was literally seconds before my fingers would become completely numb and unable to even push a button on the camera. I like the fact that my camera has a solid metal body, something most digital cameras do not have, but it certainly doesn’t help in cold weather.

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I’m headed down that causeway you can see on the left hand side of this picture.

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Here’s a good shot of what these causeways look like. I’m not sure why they have the lake separated like this, but I’m sure that there’s a functional reason for it. This area would make an excellent place to ride my mountain bike, since it’s all fairly level and there are two loops, a shorter one and a longer one, to choose from. If you look at the Google Maps satellite shot, at the top of this page, you can see the loops. The larger loop goes past Gravelpit lake, and I’d like to come back at some point to do that one, but it was just too cold today.

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It looks like such a beautiful day, and it was but, just as when I looked out the window before I left today, looks can be deceiving. You can’t see windchill.

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Here you can clearly see one of the ramps that comes down from the side of the causeway allowing the mine workers access to the testing holes at the bottom.

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Looking back the way I came. By the way, I did see a number of different animal tracks and other signs along these roads. One set of tracks caught my attention in particular. They looked to me like they could have possibly been elk tracks. There is a small population of elk in this part of Ontario and it would indeed be a rare treat to see one. I have seen elk out west, where they are more numerous. They are almost as big as moose. Something like a cross between a moose and a deer.

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This is one of those ramps that goes down to the waters edge. You can’t see very well but, at the bottom of this ramp, there are four rusty steel pipes sticking up that are used for testing whatever it is that they test for.

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Again, looking back on the area I just walked. You may wonder why I’m shooting pictures back instead of forward. Well, I happen to be walking directly into the sun. The sun is very low in the sky at this time of year and it makes it impossible to shoot directly into it.

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Not all the water in this area was frozen.

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From the looks of the colours on that ice, I’m not sure this would make very good drinking water, although that could be just from high iron content. I’m talking about animals of course. I’m sure that they don’t care if there are radioactive mine tailings in there. However, I did notice that the trees growing around this area were particularly healthy looking, especially the pine trees. I did a double-take a couple of times because I had never seen trees that looked as healthy.

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The road goes into the bush for a while at the far end of the short loop. I’m now turning away from the sun at this point.

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Coming out of the bush onto another causeway.

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With the sun at my back, I’m now able to shoot forward, as I go.

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I’m now on the return leg of the smaller loop and, I have to admit, I was looking forward a bit to getting back to the truck. My hands were impossible to keep warm and, even though I’m really enjoying the hike, it’s hard to ignore freezing hands.

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I will be back, on a more comfortable day, to do the longer loop. Today’s hike covered a cold 7kms. A good way to remember my 100th blog post.

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