On the Red Dog haul road, large haul trucks carrying double loads of ore concentrate fly by every 20 minutes or so. They are a crucial part of the mining operations, and as such, these trucks drive back and forth from the mine to the port day and night, 365 days of the year. They drive through fog, snow, rain, and wind. Even when we cannot. Needless to say, frequent communication is a necessity for the safe navigation of the Red Dog haul road.
To facilitate proper communication, the mine has a central control office down at the port which monitors and communicates with every vehicle that travels along the haul road. This central office is known as the Port Hopper. Why Port Hopper? We have no idea.
Each morning, we start our day by sending a radio message to the Port Hopper.
“Port Hopper…… what is the status of the haul road?”
If the road is green, we are good to go. If it is yellow, we will try again once the fog does not look as thick.
When we leave the camp and drive onto the haul road, we call again.
“Copy, this is Port Hopper”
“This is pick up 229 with the Park Service. We are traveling south on the haul road. We will not be traveling to the port and we will be stopping along the haul road to work for the day.”
When we hear copy, we can drive south. The road is riddled with pot holes. Red Dog has machines that grade the haul road at least twice a week. If it is dry out, these graders are followed by trucks that spray calcine, a dirt road binder, onto the road. These precautions decrease both potholes and road dust along the haul road. Yet the pot holes still pop up. Depending on the road conditions, it can take us over an hour to drive ~35 miles to get to our sites in Cape Krusenstern.
Along the road, there are radio check points. At each check point, we call over the radio the given check point and the direction we are traveling.
“Buddy Creek South.”
These checkpoints are often located along blind corners, or thinner sections of the road. They alert other drivers to oncoming traffic.
We also use the radio, any time we come upon road construction equipment. Road construction has the right of way. So we radio in.
“Grader…. This is pick up 229 at mile 15. Is it okay to pass on your left?”
“Go ahead pick up!”
There is a lot of talking on the radio. Needless to say, we are all very excited to start driving normally, where we don’t need to use a radio every minute. Despite this, there is one thing that we will miss: our favorite Port Hopper crew member.
We don’t know is name, but his unique style of communication and intonation brings smiles to our faces whenever we hear him say, “Poooort Haaaaper Goooo,” or “Caaaaaaapy.”
Watch out Corvallis, us ladies are going to return speaking proper radio voice procedure.