Temperatures had been in the low -30C’s all the previous week, causing yet another delay in the project. And our Freeze-In Day was no exception: -36C. We decided to go ahead with the freeze, since we wouldn’t be dealing with camera gear or artistic performances, just moving and muscle. Plus, the moving company had been re-booked twice!
A local moving company was hired to safely remove the piano from its home and down a steep set of stairs into a cube van, eventually depositing the instrument several kilometres down the Dettah Ice Road. Our crew took over there, with WAMP crew member and long-time northerner Terry Woolf bringing his skidoo and komatik (flat sled). With the help of the moving company’s muscle we lowered the piano flat on its back on the komatik. More crew members brought their large trucks with tyranasaurous rex tread on the tires, a pack of wild horses under the hoods, solid heating, space for gear, and chains to pull each other out of snowbanks. I left my little Subaru at home.
A local tourist operation had plowed a small access road off the main ice road that would bring us much closer to our site, and from there we used a packed skidoo trail to get within 200 meters of shore. A recent snowfall meant Mr. Woolf would have to power through a section of loose snow, but the fluffy dry snow was little trouble for him or the big trucks that followed with gear and the Freeze-In team.
Ice master Don Finnamore, member of the local Rotary Club of Yellowknife and wielder of the 5-foot chainsaw blade, brought his experience and cool moustachioed competence to the next step. Unlike cutting through wood, cutting through ice with a chainsaw just needs contact for the buzzing blade to melt the ice, not actually chop it up. Patience and many small blocks were the trick, while the rest of the crew waited with ice picks and gloves to haul out the pieces as they came loose. Some pieces came out fantastically large and clear, and became set pieces placed around the piano. We kept one side of the hole higher than the other to create an angled effect.
The ice was about 2-feet-2-inches thick, and Don’s 2-foot blade sunk right to the hilt for the first cuts. One small snag was hit when the blade poked through to the water, causing the half-cut hole to fill up quickly. Don didn’t bat an eye, and cutting through ice became cutting through ice while spraying water all over his snow pants. We learned quickly to stay out of Don’s way.
With the hole complete (and completely full of water with an ice skim forming on top already), the piano was skidooed right to the hole edge, raised to its feet, and ploop! It slid into the water, fitting the hole like a glove. The crew had cut the hole at a great angle left-to-right, nice and level front-to-back and, luckily, the ice we left below held it from breaking through to the rocky bottom less than a foot below the ice. All that was left to do was set our reflector tape around the piano, and leave it overnight to let the temperatures work their crystallizing magic.