Saturday, October 22, 2011

Road Trip to the Myra Falls Mining Operation, Central Vancouver Island

I headed up the island yesterday with Paul to Campbell River to join a group of thirteen people on a tour of a well-established Vancouver Island mine.  He rode his Suzuki DR650 since the insurance on his Kawi street bike is up and I rode my Triumph since I had one day left!  We stayed overnight in a Campbell River hotel before taking a bus the next morning to the Myra Falls Mine Operation within Strathcona Provincial Park.  This mine has been in operation since the early 1900s, first as an open pit mine and then as an underground mine that extracts ore containing zinc, copper, lead and gold.  The crushed ore is processed into liquid concentrates above ground at a location near the mine shaft and the products are then shipped to customers across the world who process the metals in these concentrates further.

(Click photos to enlarge).  We met at Nanaimo's northern Starbucks after work on Thursday and rode up to the hotel in Campbell River.  (brrrrrr)
Light purple line showing route from Nanaimo to Campbell River on the bikes, (140Km).  Dark purple line shows route from bus meeting place to the Myra Falls Mining Operation, (99Km).

Myra Falls Mine in the Mira Valley, Strathcona Provincial Park
Same angle as above... zoomed in.
Suiting up after our intro and safety orientation.  We were supplied with coveralls, hardhat, ear protection, eye protection, a battery pack and light, heavy duty metal toed boots and a personal air-cleaning device (catalytic converter to convert carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide). 
Topside still... waiting for the green light to go down the elevator shaft.
On the surface still.  The panel here is used to provide the low current needed for explosives detonation.  They refer to a "tag board" of employees on the surface before detonating to ensure that the mine is clear of all personnel. 
The elevator shaft entrance
We're off!
Heading down in the elevator
Stepping out of the elevator at 449m down, (1472ft).  You notice the sudden fall in temperature immediately.  There was a whiff of rock and minerals and the sound of running ground water.  The air was cool and moving quickly.
We began a short walk to a work area where we boarded an articulating vehicle that would take us out towards the main ore body
Riding in the vehicle.  BUMPY AS HELL!
A not-so-great night-vision shot of the shop area where vehicles are repaired and assembled.  (All vehicles and equipment are chopped on the surface and reassembled below in this area.  They transport everything down here in or below the elevator we traveled down in).  
Another bad night shot of the shop area.
Another night shot.  This, (I think), is a robotic arm used to spray concrete over mesh, (as seen in the background), to strengthen newly opened up mine surfaces.  The "robot" is a man-in-the-loop type which uses a master controlling arm.  This concrete shell is seen in many locations through the mine except in those areas where the solid rock is stable and there is no danger of falling rock.  The concrete is mixed with heavy tailings, (unwanted waste rock that contains little or no mineral content).  This concrete mix is also used to back fill spaces that are mined out.  
Another shakey night shot of a typical mine vehicle.  They're all diesel which lowers the risk of explosions.  Emissions are carried off with the return air flow so the smell of diesel fumes is noticeable pretty much everywhere you go. 
Inside a "Refuge Station."  One of numerous stations found in the mine complex.  Once inside the station the door can be sealed to prevent gases and fumes from entering the area.  There's food, water and oxygen available at these sites.  Warning signals are made using a "stench gas" which delivers a "rotten eggs" smell through the ventilation system.  (This is the same smell added to propane, an aroma free gas).  An emergency signal can reach all underground personnel quickly using this low tech system even after other systems may fail.
Well into the mine.  Here's the end of this seam.  The explosives crew has blasted, the concrete crew has put up the mesh and concrete, (which also involves drilling into the rock to install re-bar and plates).  The trucks will now remove the ore before geologists and mine foremans prepare for the next round of explosives.  
Our excellent geologist guide shows a small pneumatic drill
Approaching a T-intersection where a vehicle is transporting ore for removal from the mine.  The yellow "pipes" seen above are part of the ventilation system that carries clean air into the mine.  Air is pushed through the mine using 100 horsepower fans.  The return or "out" air line is the mine itself of course.
Geologists follow the main ore body by sampling and reading core samples.  A driller drills deeply into the rock and removes a long core sample which is carefully broken and placed into long wooden boxes while maintaining the core's original order and composition.  Carefully labelled boxes are shipped to the surface for analysis by onsite geologists.       
A diamond drill cutter used for drilling core samples.
Exiting the vehicle on our return to the surface
Walking back to the elevator shaft
Going up!
Back on the surface and ready for lunch.
The elevator shaft from a distance
This is the "mill" where the ore is processed.  The elevator shaft and the mill are connected by a substantial conveyor which carries ore from the mine for processing.  (The mine calls this ore "fine" meaning rock chunks less than 12cm across.  The mill calls this "course" ore.  They begin the process of pulverizing the ore into particles fine enough to be suspended in liquid). 
The end of the conveyor.  The storage hopper for course ore
Steel balls, (1 1/2 inch diameter), used in tumblers to pulverize the ore.  These balls are replaced frequently as they wear down.
A tumbler containing steel balls and ore in operation
A soup made with pulverized ore and chemicals designed to extract specific metals.  Suspended metal particles are skimmed as they overflow on the left side of this photo.  There are many of these vats in operation at the mill, some are extracting zinc, some copper and some lead.  
Large motors stir the tanks of chemicals and pulverized ore
A tall standing elevator/conveyor produces zinc "cake," another product the mine produces along with its liquid concentrates.  Buyers of this product would bake it to extract the zinc.
Gold is extracted using a large bed which essentially pans for gold on a large scale.  The bed is sloped with its low side nearer to you in this photo.  The heavier gold remains on the upper side near the operator.
The operator shows some gold nuggets
The bus dropped us all off in Campbell River and Paul and I began the ride home to Nanaimo.


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