Jim Baird’s Arctic Adventure: How to Cross a Pressure Ridge

I like swimming, but it's more of a summertime thing. I don't want to do it when I'm trying to cross a pressure ridge in the Arctic. That's why I listened closely to tips I heard in the community of Delene before venturing out onto Great Bear Lake. Combining those tips with my own ice safety knowledge got me past many nasty pressure ridges safe and sound.

When you drive up to a pressure ridge, land can be miles away on either side. You first have to decide which way to go. You may have to follow it all the way to shore if you can't find a place to cross. While following the ridge, you constantly get off your snowmobile to walk up to the ridge and check out promising-looking spots. When that spot is no good (and it usually isn't) it always looks like there is a good spot just at the next bend in the ridge.

Most of the time, when you get there you find a pool of slush or a deep crevasse and not a place to cross, so you keep moving. The search goes on like this for a couple miles or more, unless you're lucky. Every time you check a possible crossing spot it's important to be safe and keep these tips in mind.

Listen to the Ice: Drive the butt end of a dry spruce pole into the ice. If you hear a hollow sound, move on. If the ice sounds firm, and you hear a crisp pecking noise, you are probably safe. Check the whole crossing on either side of the ridge and in an area as wide as your machine. Always check the ice with the pole before stepping on it. A little bit of slush on top of the ice can be OK, but drive the pole through the slush to get a feel for how thick the ice is underneath it

Use an Ax: If you're worried about the thickness of the ice at any time, give it one hard chop with your ax. If you see water, get out of there. If your ax can't get through with a good chop, it can support a human. Sometimes, the ice will be strong enough to cross but abrupt jagged ice is sticking up like a knife blades means you can't get across. Use your ax to chop a path wide enough for your snowmobile to get through.

Hit it with Speed: If you are traveling fast over the crack, you're less likely to break through.

Be Patient: Don't risk crossing at a dangerous spot because you are in a rush or just lazy, even if it means getting to camp after dark. You are better off setting up right there on the ice. Keep following the ridge and check every promising spot. You will eventually find a place to get across.