The Great Diamond Journey North
Marc and I recently had the chance to visit a diamond mine in the Canadian tundra and it was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been!
For years, I heard the story about diamonds discovered under the spectacular landscape of Canada’s Northwest Territories and when Rio Tinto, operators of the Diavik Diamond Mine, invited us to visit, I jumped at the chance to see it for myself.
The landscape is a foreign, almost water-world type of topography. Dots of land and water spot the landscape as we flew north. We were there during their two weeks of fall before the ice, snow, and frigid temperatures arrived. Yellowknife sits on the Great Slave Lake which freezes solidly and forms an ice road to the mine (ala Ice Road Truckers).
We took a chartered flight up to the mine since the only way to reach the site is via the ice road in the winter and by air throughout the year.
I have shared with friends, associates and customers about the Diavik Diamond Mine for years, so getting to see it myself was an absolute thrill.
Safety is the top priority at the site and we went through a 45-minute online safety training to make sure we knew how to be safe. I was impressed to learn that Rio Tinto, the miner at Diavik, has a rule that whenever there are more than two Rio Tinto employees together, they must do some kind of a “Safety Share”. They take their people and their well-being very seriously.
After a second briefing about the safety below ground, we suited up in full gear including steel toed, rubber boots, a hard hat with a headlamp, and supplemental oxygen in case of emergency.
To make sure that they know everyone who is beneath ground at any given moment we hung a tag on a board and put a padlock on it that only we had the keys to.
While the mine began as an open pit, it has subsequently moved to become an underground mine. Miles of tunnels have been dug for large machinery to fit inside.
The main area of the mine is surprisingly tall and brightly lit. Daily operations happen here with people working their full 12 hour shift nearly half a mile beneath the surface. To keep the mine in operation they even have a full machine shop carved out of the rock.
In areas where they are currently digging it was dark but for our headlamps. Diamonds reach the earth’s surface in a relatively soft type of rock called Kimberlite. One of the biggest ‘pinch me moments’ was when we walked in to the area where they are currently mining and were told that we were now walking within the Kimberlite pipe. I stood within the host rock wondering whether there were diamonds hidden beneath my feet.
After our tour within the mine we resurfaced in to the open pit that was previously excavated. It is massive in scale. See that tiny white rectangle in the top right (of the image below)? That is a full size trailer! Each concentric ring is wide enough to work and drive enormous dump trucks up and out of the mine.
The feat of building such an impressive mine is only magnified by its remote location. All of the effort that goes in to unearthing a beautiful, sparkling diamond is staggering. The rarity and the effort make each diamond that much more special and valuable.
Stay tuned for more about our trip and the Diavik Diamond Mine.
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