RCMP, Red Cross issue safety warnings about ice wall

Melinda Grant, The Reporter’s office manager, poses in front of the ice wall in Irish Vale back in February.

IRISH VALE: The natural phenomenon that has attracted young and old alike to the shores of the Bras d’Or Lake has been subject to two safety warnings following an incident last month in which a woman fell trying to climb the ice wall.

With the increase in temperature over the past few weeks, it may entice more onlookers to head up Highway 4 to Irish Vale to take in the sight for themselves, but the increase in temperature may also affect different factors such as, the thickness, stability, and safety of the ice.

According to The Weather Network, the ice wall phenomenon, known as an ice shove or an ice tsunami, happens when high, unidirectional winds cause ice to break over a body of water and then pile up along the shore. Ocean currents and simple temperature differences can also cause the effect, where ice appears to ‘climb’ out of the water and grow into immense, unstoppable walls of ice chunks; sometimes heaping up more than 10-metres high.

Both the RCMP and Canadian Red Cross aired their concerns about the Irish Vale ice wall to The Reporter last week, that stood nearly two-storeys high.

Jennifer Clarke, public information officer with the RCMP said just like a hiking trail or any other aspect of the environment, people will ultimately want to explore it but they should consider the risks if they choose to do so.

“Given the time of year, it’s of course prone to melt and perhaps become unstable and we would like to remind people to be cautious,” she explained. “Using common sense in exploring the outdoors is always good advice.”

The Canadian Red Cross recommends that ice be at least 15 centimetres (cm) thick for one person walking or skating alone, 20 cm thick for skating parties and at least 25 cm thick for snowmobiles – but the ice wall is more complex.

“In the case of the pack ice pile along the shore at Irish Vale, warming temperatures will make the surface more slippery raising the risk of a fall and serious injury or death,” Dan Bedell said, the Atlantic communications director for Red Cross. “Salt or snow content within the ice, combined with fluctuating temperatures at this time of year and the irregular sizes and substantial weight of the ice chunks to make the entire structure increasingly unstable and prone to shifts, collapses or falling chunks of ice.”

Bedell said with hundreds of people flocking to the phenomenon this is a perfect time to refresh people’s memories on ice safety.

“If you see someone get into trouble due to a fall to call 911 immediately, and if you must attempt to rescue someone from the water, try to reach them using an assist device, like a long pole or rope,” he said. “In extreme cases, if you must also go out on the ice to attempt a rescue, wear a personal flotation device, lie down to distribute your weight and approach slowly, extending a pole or rope for the victim to grab while you remain as far away as possible from the break in the ice.”

Bedell indicated an individual who has fallen thorough the ice can kick their legs to help propel them onto a solid ice surface, where they would then roll or crawl to shore or an area where the ice is thick enough before signaling for help.