6 Misconceptions About Drones in 2015

6 Misconceptions About Drones in 2015

#1 Not all remote controlled aircraft are drones

The rise in popularity of consumer drones has led to a considerable amount of confusion.  The word drone has been misused by the media and manufacturers attempting to capitalize on the excitement that surrounds everything “drone”.  A drone is a robot that has the ability to operate autonomously without direct control from a human operator.
DroneNot“Drone” usually refers to unmanned aircraft which are also called UAVs (more on that later).  There are other types of drones too such as boats, submarines and ground based robots.  For an aircraft to be considered a drone it must have an autopilot and have the ability to fly without user input.  Many of the “drones” on the market right now do not meet that criteria.  For example this is not a drone, Flymemo DM007 but it is marketed as one.  This one is a drone 3DR Solo Drone Quadcopter.

There are similarities to real quadcopter drones though.  The DJI phantom is a real drone, the difference being that it has an autopilot and can operate a flight pattern autonomously.  Likewise “racing drones” are not drones at all.  They are totally cool though and look like a lot of fun.

Quadcopters have been around for a long time and offer a stable platform compared to conventional R/C helicopters.  The correct name for these non-drones is R/C quadcopter.  Adding a camera does not make an R/C aircraft a drone either.

#2 You can’t just fly wherever you want

Commercial and Hobby use of drones comes with regulations.  Like most laws it is the responsibility of the operator to learn and obey the regulations.  In Canada the regulations are in a state of flux so it is important to keep up to date with the changes.  Likewise in the United States new rules are currently being developed to register all recreational drones.

regs

Canadian recreational users can be fined up to $3000 for an infraction of the recreational rules.  Commercial operators are subject to fines up to $25,000 for flying without a permit or exemption.  Any damage caused by reckless drone usage can also be charged back to the owner.  Other laws also apply such as voyeurism and trespassing.  RCMP have been investigating unauthorized use and have issued fines to non-compliant operators (CTV article).

At the present time both Canada and the United States do not have a licencing system for commercial drone operations.  In both countries the existing laws consider commercial drone activity illegal and therefore an exemption or permit is required.  In Canada this is called an SFOC or a “Section 333 Exemption” in the US.  The Canadian laws are further ahead as there is somwhat of a streamlined system to apply with a clear set of criteria.  Exemptions have been made for small drones provided that they have insurance and operate at a safe distance from airports, and buildings. This link has flow chart for the current exemptions, TC Exemptions.

IllegalDrone

Reckless drone incidents have risen sharply in the last two years with the increase in drone sales.  There was an incident this summer where a recreational drone interfered with a forest fire fighting operation in Southern BC (news article).  A disturbing amount of drones have been spotted at airports interfering with commercial air traffic as well.

#3 Confusing Acronyms

Following up on misconception #1 there are a lot of confusing acronyms and terms for drones and drone-like aircraft.  The “proper” name for drones is actually UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles.  Some people will say UAS or unmanned aerial systems.  These terms are a matter of debate in academic, military and regulatory circles.  Drone, UAV and UAS essentially mean the same thing.

The terminology gets a little foggy when you start talking about RPVs which stands for remotely piloted vehicle.  Many of the large military drones fall into the RPV class.  The difference is that they are actively piloted by a human although the human can be hundreds or in some cases thousands of miles away.  RPV’s are essentially big expensive R/C planes.  R/C is another acronym that is part of the mix.  As discussed in #1 R/C stands for radio control and refers to the hobby planes, helicopters and multirotors that are literally controlled by radio transmitters.

Modern drones developed from R/C aircraft and have many of the same components.  One more acronym that is related to drones is FPV which stands for first person view.  That is the technique used to fly R/C aircraft using a live video feed via radio link and video goggles.  FPV is pretty cool stuff, check out the video below (be advised that they are likely breaking the law).

#4 Drones will not be delivering packages anytime soon

There has been a lot media coverage recently about drone delivery systems.  Amazon has been leading the charge with a media frenzy around what they call “Amazon Prime Air”.  Just this week they put out a promotional video hosted by former Top Gear star Jeremy Clarkson.  See the video below,

It looks cool, even plausible, but there are several major road blocks that need to be dealt with before drones will be landing in your back yard.  First the drones require a system called Sense and Avoid.  This is arguably the holy grail of modern drone development.  Sense and avoid means that the drone can avoid collisions with unplanned obstacles, people and vehicles using onboard sensors and real time decision making.  Great strides have been made in the last two years in this field but it will be a while before it is ready for the real world.  Check out this ground breaking video from researchers at MIT,

In addition to sense and avoid systems delivery drones will also have to be reliable in all weather conditions.  There are very few drones today that are capable of flying in rain, strong wind or at night.  There are other reliability issues that need to be addressed such as battery life, and battery consistency.  Not to mention dealing with militant anti-drone activists or simply kids that might throw plastic bags or rocks at delivery drones.  Apparently it is legal to shoot down other people’s drones in the United States (see this article).

The last hurdle that needs to be cleared is regulation.  Amazon, Google and Walmart have all been lobbying for a designated altitude to be used for delivery drones above cities.  The proposal sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, and may one day part of the solution but it will take a long time.  Currently drones are not prohibited within 9km (Can) or 5 miles (US) from an airport which is where the majority of customers live.

Drone delivery is not a new concept.  In remote regions of Africa experiments are underway to deliver live organs and medicine between villages.  Check out this TED talk on the subject.  In rural Africa there is virtually nothing for the drone to hit, no conflicting traffic and so on.  In areas like that drone delivery can already take place.  Drone delivery services will be available in major cities one day but with today’s technology and regulatory climate it is nothing more than a publicity stunt.

#5 Most of the military drones are not killing machines

A widely held misconception about drones is that the US military drones are all weaponized killing machines.  Coverage in the press gravitates towards the very controversial remote killing machines that the military certainly does posses.  They have several models of weaponized drone, the main drone strike tool is the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. The Reaper is a bigger, more powerful version of the Predator with the addition of weapons payloads.  They also have F-16 fighter jets converted to drones and unmanned bombers.  The Tomahawk cruise missiles which were made famous in Desert Storm are also basically kamikaze drones.

1970s Target Drone
1970s Target Drone

The first drone weapon was developed by the Nazis in WWII.  It was called the V-1 Flying Bomb and was essentially an early cruise missile.  The US has a long history of drone useage beginning after WWII with unmanned target drones.  Miltiary forces all over the world routinely use target drones to for target practice every day.  It is mind boggling that they build simplified drones that cost between $10,000 and $40,000 just to shoot at and destroy.  These non-weaponized drones are used daily.

The drone age really took off with reliable photography drones in the 1990s.  The most successful drone to date is the Insitu ScanEagle.  The ScanEagle was originally developed in Oregon by Insitu to map tuna schools.  They have been deployed in US military operations since 2004 and all they do is take pictures.  The AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven is a small hand launced photography drone that can be rapidly deployed to take aerial photos.  The Shadow, Blackjack and RQ-170 Sentinel are all photography drones as well.  The Canadian military uses the Israeli made Heron UAV and the ScanEagle, we do not have any weaponized drones.

Insitu Scan Eagle
Insitu Scan Eagle

The Predator and Global Hawk are extremely successful long range, high altitude drones that collect aerial imagery and do not have weapons capability.  I am not advocating in any way the use of drones for murder but the media promotes stories on the controversial killing drones in the headlines.  This disproportionate reporting give the impression that all military drones are killing machines.  In reality there are only a handful of killer drones while the overwhelming majority take photos and collect remote sensing data.

#6 Drones will not crash if their radio is jammed or lost

There has been some press lately about using radio jammers to knock out drones.  There are even some start up companies marketing radio jammer guns.  They look like some kind of futuristic weapons.

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Drone radio jammer made to look like a weapon

Radio jammers work by overloading a signal with random noise.  The jammers that are being designed for drones use directional antennas and focus on the the frequencies often used by drones (2.4 – 5.8 GHz).  Some drones operate on different frequencies such as 900 MHz which would require different antennas.

If tuned to the correct frequency range a jammer can definitely disrupt a drone’s radio link.  That will not cause it to crash though.  Just about every drone in operation today has a set of failsafe programmed features.  One of the most important is a radio signal loss failsafe.  What that means is that the drone is programmed to follow a procedure when signal is lost.  Typically the drone will return to its take off point and hover or circle in the air until signal can be re-gained.

RadioJammer
Drone radio jammer

Drone’s can lose signal for a lot of reasons and it has happened to me on numerous occasions.  They also have failsafe procedures for loss of GPS signal, battey  power, etc.  The definition of drones comes into play again here.  Radio controlled aircraft such as R/C quadcopeters which are often mis-labelled as drones will crash when signal is lost.  That is true of any non-autonomous R/C aircraft.  Without receiving commands from the pilot they will all crash.  So radio jammers are effective on R/C devices.

In recent months momentum is building for drone radio jammers to be installed in airports and other sensitive areas where reckless drone activity could be a nuisance.  First of all they would not actually be effective against drones and second the jammers would overlap with commonly used aviation frequencies.  So that is never going to happen.  If commercial jet flights are concerned about having a cell phone powered up during flight how would they like high powered radio jammers operating in the vicinity?

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Hunting for Diamonds in the Arctic

Hunting for Diamonds in the Arctic

Back in 2010 I had the opportunity to work on a diamond exportation program in the Canadian Arctic.  The camp was called Credit Lake and was located near Lac de Gras in the North West Territories.  The Lac de Gras region was the epicentre of the 1990s diamond rush after the discovery of the Point Lake kimberlite pipe by Chuck Fipke.  Today there are three operating diamond mines in the region Diavik, Ekati, and Snap Lake.

rawDiamond

Diamonds are found in volcanic structures that are called kimberlite pipes.  These are volcanic events that take place very rapidly.  Most volcanoes take thousands or millions of years to develop.  A volcanic pipe can develop and explode in less than a day.  These volcanic explosions are charged by high pressure carbon dioxide and water vapour.  And travel from the below the crust melting through rock at over 100km/h.

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It is important that volcanic pipe events happen quickly if you want to mine diamonds.  The environment where diamonds form is under intense heat and pressure.  Once the pressure is removed diamonds will melt into graphite which is much less desirable.  In kimberlite pipes diamonds are carried to the surface as the superheated kimberlite melts its way through the layers of the crust. When the pipe reaches the surface it releases its energy in a huge explosion and then quickly cools.  The diamond crystals do not have time to melt, they cool with the rest of the pipe and stay in place.

Diavik Diamond Mine
Diavik Diamond Mine

The volcanic events that created the North West Territory kimberlite pipes took place millions of years ago.  The surface has been subjected to many ice ages over the years and different continental ice sheets have scoured the surface like a bulldozer.  To find a pipe today you look for the debris field left behind as the top of the pipe was scraped by ice sheets.  As the glacial ice sheets retreated they left behind a trail of ground up rock and indicators for diamonds if you’re lucky.

Credit Camp

My first stint at the camp was for six weeks in 2010.  We were searching for diamonds as well as nickel.  My role was to analyze pulverized rock samples from an R/C drill as well as preparing samples for assay and general exploration work.  I returned in 2013 to conduct geophysical surveys including ground (snowshoe) magnetometer and HLEM.  Both trips were in early spring when the temperature in the Arctic ranges from -50°C to -10°C.  Show storms were frequent and the ice on the lake was five feet thick.
TwinOtter

The camp is extremely remote, approximately 300km North of Yellowknife,NWT.  Everything is brought in by ski plane or helicopter.  In addition to exploration work we had to work together to keep the camp running.  When a plane would arrive we would all pitch in to get the groceries, diesel drums, and any other supplies off the plane and into the camp.  The same was true for getting water out of the frozen lake for showers, laundry and the kitchen.  Water is always a challenge in remote areas when it is extremely cold.


While I was at the camp we experimented with several different water gathering techniques they all had their merits.  What we ended up doing was using a chainsaw to cut out a section of the lake ice.  Then used an ice auger to drill the final few feet (see video above).  We used a snowmobile toboggan to transport pails up to the reservoir inside the kitchen.

To travel to and from the locations we were exploring we took a helicopter.  We had a Eurocopter Astar B3 to shuttle people and move the heli-portable drill around.  We also had a couple of snowmobiles and a GMC pickup truck that had tracks instead of wheels.

A Star GMC Track Truck

The RC drill is a super light weight drill that produces crushed rock instead of core.  The RC stands for Reverse Circulation.  The drill is air powered and behaves like a giant hammer drill, like the kind that you use for masonry work.  The air returns from the bit carrying the rock chips to a hopper where samples can be collected.  The advantage of an RC drill is that it doesn’t require water and breaks down for rapid transport.  RC drilling is quicker and less expensive than diamond drilling.

RC Drill in Action

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After field samples were collected I conducted several tests on them inside our field lab.  We had an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer which is a pretty cool instrument.  It bombards the sample with high energy X-ray radiation and the atoms re-emit photons which gives information about their structure.  XRF basically gives you a rapid geochemical assay.  I also conducted magnetic susceptibility tests and identified the lithology of chip samples using a microscope.

Field Lab

The accommodations were first class.  At least as far as small remote exploration camps go.  We stayed in Weatherhaven dome tents which are heated by diesel stoves.  As long as there is fuel in the stove you will be comfortable in any weather conditions.  The stoves are prone to issues though and use half a drum of diesel per day when its super cold.  Our beds are constructed out of 2×4 lumber that was flown in and everybody uses a sleeping bag for bedding.  This camp was not a “dry camp” which means that alcohol was allowed.  That is a huge plus when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere for six weeks.

My houseCamp Tents

The high latitude makes for great northern lights viewing.  That is actually my favourite thing about the Arctic.  Interestingly the mechanism behind the glow of the Aurora Borealis is the same as the XRF machine.  The molecules in the upper atmosphere are excited by a stream of radiation from the sun called the solar wind.  When molecules are excited they reach an unstable electron configuration and rapidly release a photon as they return to a stable state.  The different colours are due to different molecules being excited such as high altitude ozone, oxygen and nitrogen.  The phenomenon is difficult to photograph but here are some of my best shots below.  The best photo in the world doesn’t compare to seeing it in real life though.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ChopperAurora

The days out in the field can be pretty tough when the temperature drops.  We built a survival shack that would travel with the drill.  Other than that we were fully exposed until the helicopter arrived at the end of the day.  The survival shack also made a great place to have lunch out of the wind.

Credit lake April 031 Credit lake April 041

In addition to drill sampling I conducted geophysical surveys to identify kimberlite pipes.  We used two types of geophysical survey, magnetometer and HLEM.  Magnetometer or “Walk Mag” is a sensor that measures changes in Earth’s magnetic field in very high precision.  As you pass over different kinds of rock the sensor will record minute changes in the magnetic field.  Once the survey is complete you can produce a map that looks like a topo map except that the you are showing magnetic field instead of elevation.  Click here for a sample of a magnetometer map.  Kimberlite pipes stick out as an anomaly because they have a different magnetic signature to the surrounding rock.  You have to use the old school snow shoes because any metal will mess up the readings.

Walk Mag in Action
Walk Mag in Action

HLEM (Horizontal Loop Electomagnetic) works in a similar way except that there are two parts to the system.  One provides a source field and charges up ore bodies.  The receiver records the response signal from the rock.  HLEM actually works the same way as a metal detector just on a larger scale and records actual data.  The instrument is from the 1980s and is very uncomfortable, fortunately in the winter you are wearing lots of clothes.

Maxmin 1 Maxmin 2

I have always enjoyed working in the Arctic.  Its not for everyone though.  It is insanely cold in the winter and the summer has a lot of bugs.  The wildlife is breathtaking I have seen Muskox, Wolverines, Caribou, different coloured bears, Narwhals, and other wildlife that you cannot see below the Arctic Circle.  The Northern Lights shows are simply amazing.  The people are different too.  This kind of work attracts a different breed, those who are willing to travel to remote areas.  Arctic explorers all share a strong sense of adventure.

 

 

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UAV Applications in Mining

UAV Applications in Mining

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are in the process of changing many industries.  Before UAV technology matured into a safe, reliable and low cost system aerial data was acquired by full size human piloted aircraft and was very expensive.  With today’s drones aerial data is cheaper, quicker and more creative than ever before.

droneMining

The mining industry stands to benefit greatly from new advances in aerial data acquisition.  In many cases drones are already being used in mining and in the coming years will be almost ubiquitous.

Drones offer huge advantages in every part of the mining life cycle including Exploration, Planning/Permitting, Mining Operations and Reclamation.

Exploration

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Mineral properties are often in remote areas where existing maps are either non-existent or of poor resolution.  In early stage exploration it is beneficial to have a quick overview of the prospect area.  In the past this would have been acquired by a conventional aerial photography company.  This would come with a large price tag.  As a result aerial mapping surveys would not be conducted until later stages of exploration.

Today a drone can do a better job for less money.  Drones can map an area in high resolution in less than a day, usually a couple of hours.  The cameras on today’s drones have benefited from advancements in small high resolution sensors. Miniaturization of other components such as GPS and computer boards has also contributed to the modern drone.  Due to the unmanned nature of a drone it can fly close to the ground which allows unparalleled image resolution.  Conventional aerial survey aircraft require camera’s with extremely high resolution (80mp and up) because they fly at elevations of 2000-5000 ft above the survey area.  Drones can fly at 250 ft with a 16mp camera and get better data.

Satellite imagery has come a long way as well but does not come close to the quality of drone data and the cost is still prohibitive.  The best satellite data today is provided by the WorldView-3 satellite at 31cm/px.  Drones can produce 4.0cm/px or better.  You can forget about Google Earth, their resolution is no better than 65cm/px.

Early stage exploration projects can now get a rapid aerial image mosaic produced by a drone for a couple thousand dollars.  Where a conventional aircraft would produce an inferior product for about ten times the cost.  This cost advantage allows imagery to be collected very early in the exploration process when it can be of the most benefit.

In addition to aerial imagery the same drone data can be used to produce accurate topographical maps and GIS data in remote areas.  Topo mapping was previously produced by ground surveyors with an RTK/GPS rover.  You would have to pay a survey crew to walk the entire property and collect GPS points to be used in a map.  Mapping drones can do this today without the need for any ground control points at all!

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The combination of low cost aerial imagery and terrain data allow modern explorers to have a close up view of any property in 3D.  Having this capability in early stage exploration aids significantly in project planning.  Drones can provide support for mineral exploration in the following areas:

  • Terrain Assessment
  • Geomorphology
  • Outcrop Detection
  • Wildlife and Environmental Assessment
  • Drill, Showing and Equipment Location
  • Up to date imagery of the property

Remote sensing has huge applications in prospecting as well.  In the years to come sensors such as infrared, hyper/multispectral cameras and LiDAR will improve upon existing satellite based techniques to map underground river systems and directly identify mineral bearing outcrops.

Aerial geophysics is making its way into drones too.  I was involved in the development of a large scale drone from 2011-2013 designed to conduct long range aerial magnetometer surveys.  It was a great advancement but sadly the company suffered from poor management.  A few other companies have developed magnetometer drones in recent years too.  Drone geophysics has the same advantages over conventional aircraft such as low acquisition cost and rapid deployment.

Venturer Geophysics Drone
Prototype Long Range Geophysics Drone in 2012

Planning/Permitting

In the development stage drones offer unparalleled advantages to mining companies.  One of the biggest hurdles in developing a mine is environmental permitting.  Low cost drone imagery can map a mining property in incredible detail.  Aerial photos allow mine planners to easily locate and map:

  • Trees/vegetation
  • Streams, Rivers and Lakes
  • Wildlife Counts
  • Existing Roads, infrastructure
  • Before/After Ground Disturbance

Having aerial photos of an area before mining takes place will give an honest account of what the land was like when it comes to reclamation.  Wildlife counts and mapping of the ecosystem are crucial in development of environmental impact assessments.

Prototype LiDAR on drone
Prototype LiDAR on drone
Wing-tip magnetometer on a drone
Wing-tip magnetometer on a drone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three dimensional mapping has been used in mine development for decades.  This data is relied on by mine planners to develop the mine itself, roads, tailings ponds, electrical infrastructure, and pretty much everything.  The main tool used is LiDAR which is a laser scanner that produces a high resolution 3D model.  Drones can produce the same data for less money.  LiDAR sensors are just starting to be installed on drones.  Photogrammetry can produce the same quality of model as LiDAR as well but cannot separate trees from ground as effectively.

Photogrammetry and LiDAR data are used for:

  • Mine pit development
  • Tailings pond design
  • Cost effective power line routes
  • Development of access roads
  • Geological Assessment

Mining Operations

Ore Pile Volumetrics
Ore Pile Volumetrics

In the operation/mining phase drones have a lot to offer.  One of the most widely used applications of drones in mining today in in stockpile volumetrics.  That is the 3D volume calculation of pile of waste rock or ore piles.  Having volumetric surveys completed at regular intervals will give an accurate measurement of how much material has been moved in that time.  This is important for many reasons.  Historically stock pile measurements have been conducted by ground surveyors with GPS rovers.  Many mines are still operating this way today.  Drone can do the same job without the need to pay for survey crews or to put people in a potentially dangerous situation.

Drones can provide detailed modelling and imagery of pit walls and slope stability.  Fixed-wing and multirotor inspection drones can get a close up, detailed image of potential points of failure in a pit wall.  Smaller multirotor drones are starting to be used to map underground mines too, offering the same advantages.

3D pit models can be done for a surprisingly low cost.  West Coast Placer conducted a pit mapping survey for a coal mine this summer and the results were amazing.  Check out the above video for a sample.  Mine engineers were able to use our data in their mine planning software (Minesight) to aid in development of the mine.  Like stockpile volumetrics pit mapping will provide a useful record of mine activity when repeated at a regular interval.  The low cost of drone data makes repeated surveys feasible on any budget.

Environmental monitoring is a part of active mines too.  As discussed drone aerial data offers huge advantages to environmental monitoring teams.  In the event of an accident or disaster drones can provide a detailed image of the event as it happens.  When the Mount Polley mine near Likely, BC had their tailing dam disaster in 2014 drones were used to map the extent of the damage.  The same drone company provided updates as the clean up progressed.

Reclamation

reclamation

During reclamation it is required to show before and after imagery to prove that a mining company is upholding their obligations.  Accurate three dimensional data acquired by UAVs helps mines return the terrain of a mine as close as possible to its original state.  Periodic surveys can show the progress as an ecosystem returns to it’s pre-mining conditions.

Currently in 2015 drones are just beginning to be used in mining.  There are a few intrepid drone service providers like West Coast Placer offering amazing products for prices that are 1/4 or less of what traditional aircraft would cost.  In the coming years we are going to see more and more drones operating on mine sites.  It will be standard equipment for explorers, miners and environmental teams in the not too distant future.

Check out our drones page to see the drone services provided by WestCoastPlacer.

 

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Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 2

Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 2

In part one of the top ten gold rushes of BC we covered the early gold rushes primarily in the Southern regions.  As time went on gold hungry adventurers pushed further in the wild North of the Canadian West coast.  Their adventurous spirit was rewarded greatly and eventually led them into the Yukon and Alaska.

1865 Big Bend Gold Rush

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1897 Map of the Big Bend Area

The Big Bend refers to the shape of the Columbia River as it makes a huge detour at the continental divide.  This region encompasses several different mountain ranges including the Selkirks, the Cariboo Mountains, the Monashees and the Rocky Mountains.  In 1865 gold was discovered on French Creek which is straight North of Revelstoke.  As in other gold rushes a town was quickly erected named French Creek City.  Within the first year the town reached a population of over 4000 people.  Nothing is left today but during the rush French Creek had a general store, saloons with cabaret shows, barber shops and of course brothels.  Other important towns of the rush were La Porte and Downie Creek.  The inhabitants came mostly from the Wild Horse area and other areas in BC.

Steamboats were a major factor during the big bend gold rush.  Many of the prospectors reached the area on steamboats via the Arrow Lakes which make up part of the Columbia River.  The lake network allowed boat passengers to travel from areas as far South as the US border.

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Columbia River Steamboat, the “Rossland”

Other notable creeks in the area are Carnes Creek, Downie Creek, McCullough Creek, and the Goldstream River.  A 14 ounce nugget was reported to be found on French Creek and numerous smaller nuggets were also found.  In 1865 miners were bringing out multiple ounces per day to the man on some claims.  On McCullough Creek pay streaks averaged 1/8 of an ounce per yard for many years.  Just like other places in the late 1800s hydraulic and drift mining driven by mining companies and syndicates quickly replaced hand mining techniques.  The big bend gold rush only lasted two years but mining in the area continues to this day.  Several large projects and proposed mines are located in the big bend.

1869 Omineca Gold Rush

The Omineca is a huge region in Nortn-Central BC.  The southern boundary is marked today by the Yellowhead highway the North boundary is the Liard Mountains.  Gold was first discovered in the Omineca in 1861 but the rush didn’t take place until eight years later.  The original discoveries were made on the Finlay River.  In the early days there were very few people in the area due to a complete lack of trails, roads or maps and unforgiving terrain and weather.  Much of the area is still wild today.

Northern BC circa 1898, red symbols are known gold discoveries
Northern BC circa 1898, red symbols are known gold discoveries

One of the first claims on the Finlay called Toy’s Bar produced 4 ounces to the man each day.  Several expeditions were launched though the area searching for gold.  One such party, the Peace River Prospecting Party, found a great discovery on Vital Creek in 1869.  The creek was named after one of the party members, Vital Laforce who was also instrumental in exploring the Cariboo region.  Vital Creek produced nearly 5000 ounces in the years following the rush.

Manson Creek and the Germansen River held the best gold deposits in the Omineca.  Gold discoveries were also made on Blackjack Creek, Kildare Creek, Mosquito Creek, Slate Creek and Nugget Gulch.  In the early days of the gold rush anything less than an ounce a day was considered unworthy.  Many creeks were paying 100 ounces per week.  If the gold rush happened today that would be well over $100,000 every week.  I’d be finding my way up there any any means possible.  Travelling to the Omineca in the 1800s was a feat in itself.

The discovery of gold in the Cassiar in 1873 spelled the end of the Omineca gold rush.  As with all gold rushes those who held good ground stayed and kept mining while everyone else headed on to the next boom town.  The Omineca is one of the least explored regions in BC today and there are still gold strikes waiting to be found.

1873 Cassiar Gold Rush

Gold was discovered on the Stikine River in 1861 and a minor rush developed.  A few hundred prospectors ascended the river in search of gold.  There was an existing fur trading fort at the mouth of the river called Fort Stikine which later became Wrangell, Alaska.  Not enough gold was found to entice more adventurers to the region but the excitement was enough to prompt Britain into claiming the region as a colony in 1862.

Cassiar region circa 1893
Cassiar region circa 1893

The Cassiar gold rush really took off once the high grade gold deposits in the extreme North of BC were discovered.  This part of the country is extremely rugged with huge mountains, glaciers and a very cold winter.  The discovery was made in the summer of 1872 by Henry Thibert and Angus McCulloch on a creek that drains into Dease Lake.  The creek was named after Thibert who froze to death the following winter.  Thibert Creek was very rich, in the first year miners were getting up to three ounces to the pan.

TurnagainNugget
The 52 oz “Turnagain Nugget” from Alice Shea Creek in the Cassiar

In 1874 an even bigger discovery was made further North on Mcdame Creek.  The largest gold nugget ever found in BC was taken from Mcdame Creek tipping the scale at 73 ounces!  Another giant nugget was found on Alice Shea Creek that weighed 52 ounces.

Several towns sprung up near the gold discoveries such as Laketon, Porter Landing and Centerville.  They are all ghost towns now but in the height of the rush thousands of people were passing through the shops and saloons of the Cassiar.  Like the Omineca much of this region is just as wild today as it was 150 years ago.

The Cassiar’s rich gold reserves have not been forgotten.  There are many large mining projects under way in the region.  Due to the high grade mineral deposits the area is known as BC’s “Golden Triange”.
BCs-Golden-Triangle

1885 Granite Creek Gold Rush

Granite Creek is a tributary to the Tulameen River.  In the gold rush era of the late 1800s the Tulameen was still a remote and wild area.  Like many of the best discoveries the Granite Creek gold was found by chance.  In this case it was actually found by a cowboy named Johnny Chance.  In the summer of 1885 Chance was delivering some horses to New Westminster and took a route through the Tulameen.  True to his lazy nature he took a nap at a spot on Granite Creek on a hot day.  When he woke up he happened to notice the reflection of some gold nuggets in the water.

Granite City in 1888
Granite City in 1888

Within a year of the discovery the once vacant valley at the mouth of Granite Creek had over 2000 people living there.  At the time Granite City was the third largest town in BC.  There were over two hundred buildings, 13 of which were saloons.  The town never had a school or a mayor though.  The bars in Granite ran flat out and never closed down.  It was known as one of the wildest towns in the West.

In the early days gold nuggets weighing 5-10 ounces were commonly found.  Platinum was also prevalent on the creek.  Miners were producing equal weights of platinum and gold.  Interestingly for the first few years the Granite Creek miners had no idea what platinum was and most of them threw it back into the creek.  At today’s prices gold is going for $1077/oz and platinum is at $870/oz.

GrantieCabin4
Granite City in 2015

The Granite Creek rush brought attention to the surrounding area as well.  Other notable creeks in the Tulameen are Slate Creek, Lawless Creek, Lockie Creek and the Tulameen River.  Gold and platinum are still being produced today.  I heard from a Princeton local that the biggest nuggets to come out of the Tulameen this year were over an ounce.  I have some claims on Granite Creek and the Tulameen River myself.  Check this post from earlier this year Tulameen Prospecting Trip.

By the end of the 1890s the population of Granite City began to decline.  The easy gold was all claimed and in the process of being mined.  Those that didn’t already hold good ground headed North to try their luck in the Atlin and Klondike gold rushes that followed.

1898 Atlin Gold Rush

Atlin area map 1898
Atlin area map 1898

The Atlin gold rush was the last one to take place in BC.  It was a direct offshoot of the Klondike gold rush that took the world by storm.  The Klondike was the mother of all gold rushes, over 100,000 adventurers poured into Dawson City, YK from all over the world.  Some of the adventurous prospectors took a different route and ended up in Atlin.

The first big discovery was on Pine Creek.  A town was set up on Pine Creek aptly named Discovery.  At it’s peak there were over 10,000 people living in Discovery which was rivalled only by the infamous Dawson City.  Discovery had all the excitement of Dawson.  There were saloons, brothels, and gambling available at all hours of the day.  Discovery is a ghost town today, it was replaced by the town of Atlin.

Discovery Townsite in 1909
Discovery Townsite in 1909

The gold that was found in the Atlin area was truly legendary.  It is estimated that over 1.5 million ounces of placer gold have been produced from the creeks.  Some giant nuggets were found too.  Several creeks are known to have produced nuggets in excess of 50 ounces!  The best placer gold creeks were Pine Creek, Spruce Creek, Ruby Creek, McKee Creek, Birch Creek, Boulder Creek, Otter (Surprise) Creek, and the McDonnel River.

Atlin is a beautiful town, I had the pleasure of working up there a few years ago.  In the early 1900s it was nicknamed the “Switzerland of the North” due to the picturesque mountain setting.  In many ways Atlin is like Dawson City’s little brother.  The music festival is smaller, the gold rush was smaller, less gold was produced but the Klondike is nowhere near as scenic.

Atlin Today
Atlin Today

Gold mining in Atlin has never stopped.  Every time the gold price spikes the area receives another mini gold rush.  There are a lot of large hard rock mining prospects in the area as well.  The region is not far from the golden triangle and benefits from similar underlying geology.  Due to its remote location the area is very under explored and has outstanding potential for exploration.

The BC gold rush period lasted just 50 years.  Many of the participants experienced more than one rush in their lifetime.  It would have been an amazing time to be a prospector.  Here’s a recap of the top ten BC gold rushes:

  • 1851 Haida Gwaii Gold Rush
  • 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush
  • 1858 Rock Creek Gold Rush
  • 1859 Cariboo Gold Rush
  • 1863 Wild Horse River Gold Rush
  • 1864 Leech River Gold Rush
  • 1865 Big Bend Gold Rush
  • 1873 Cassiar Gold Rush
  • 1885 Granite Creek Gold Rush
  • 1898 Atlin Gold Rush
The history of British Columbia is the history of gold and the men who hunt for it.  It was the Fraser River gold rush that led to BC becoming a colony and later a province.  Our towns, overland trails and roads, and much of the early infrastructure was built to support gold mining activity.  Without our lust for precious metal men would not have risked their lives to explore the rugged and unforgiving wilderness of this beautiful province.
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Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 1

Top Ten Gold Rushes of BC – Part 1

Prior to the gold rushes in BC this part of the country remained almost entirely unexplored.  The Clovis people and their descendants the North American Indians were the first settlers of North America.  The Clovis crossed the Beringia Land Bridge from Siberia to present day Alaska approximately 13,500 years ago.  When Europeans began exploring the area, first by sea in the late 1700s and later by canoe, they encountered aboriginal groups covering much of the province.  Many Indians had seen gold in creeks but had little use for it.  They did not have the knowledge or motivation to mine gold until they came into contact with Europeans.  After learning the value of gold to the British they began to mine it and trade for goods.

Map of British Columbia Goldfields circa 1858
Map of British Columbia Goldfields circa 1858, click for larger image

The Spanish explorers on the other hand were completely obsessed with the yellow metal.  Spanish explorers were motivated primarily by legends of “El Dorado” in their search of the Americas.  Each Spanish explorer had the ultimate goal of returning to Spain with a ship full of gold.  Most of their attention was focussed in South America where their superior weaponry, armour and small pox allowed them to quickly decimate tribal empires and steal their gold.  There is evidence of Spanish gold exploration in BC as well.  Most of the Spanish exploration took place on Vancouver Island and other coastal areas such as Haida Gwaii.  One Spanish expedition travelled inland as far as the Okanagan and Similkameen regions.

Fur trading is what led to the first European settlement of British Colombia but the impact remained relatively small.  The first settlements were established by early explorers such as Simon Fraser, Alexander Mackenzie, and David Thompson.  Early forts were established along the river routes that these explorers used as well as along the coast.  The area became a recognized fur trading district called New Caledonia and it held that name until it became a British Colony in 1858.

Fort St. James was founded in 1806 and was the first major inland fur trading post in BC and still bears that name.  Other notable early forts are Ft. George (now Prince George), Ft. Kamloops, Ft. Langley and Ft. Victoria (1844).  During the fur trade the European population slowly grew to a few hundred people but little effort was put into exploring new ground outside of the established trade routes.

EarlyBC

1851 Haida Gwaii Gold Rush

The Haida Gwaii gold rush was the first recorded gold rush in BC but was very short lived due to hostilities with the local natives.  The rush began in 1851 when a Haida man traded a 27 ounce nugget for 1500 blankets in Fort Victoria.  A Hudson’s Bay Company ship was sent up there soon after and discovered a very high grade lode deposit.

The HBC crew began mining the lode deposit but the Haida Indians soon turned against them and prevented further mining.  In 1852 a ship with 35 adventurers from San Francisco set out for the islands.  They arrived at “Gold Harbour” in the Tasu Sound but did not have much luck finding gold.  They did however manage to trade with the Haida Indians for gold.

1857 Gold Found At the Nicoamen River

Placer gold was discovered in Nicoamen River which is a tributary to the Thompson River.  The Nicoamen enters the Thompson about 12 kilometers up stream from the confluence with the Fraser River at Lytton.  A local Indian discovered gold there by chance and soon the majority of the tribe was mining the area.  This discovery is credited with igniting the Fraser River gold rush.

1858 Fraser River Gold Rush

The Fraser River gold rush involved one of the largest populations of migrant prospectors in history.  It is estimated that around 30,000 people rushed to the lower Fraser River in 1858.  The rush began after an 800 ounce gold sample was sent from Fort Victoria to San Francisco for assay.

Yale in 1868
Yale in 1868

Soon after a shipload of 800 American prospectors from California arrived in Victoria to hunt for gold on the Fraser River.  The influx of American prospectors overwhelmed the small government that managed the territory.  HBC Governor James Douglas requested immediate help from Britain to control this massive foreign population .  The British Government responded by formally claiming BC as sovereign British Colony in 1858.  The new government quickly enacted mining laws to prevent the mayhem that took place in the California goldfields.  Along with the declaration came British military support and the Royal Engineers who went on to build several major road systems including the Cariboo Wagon road and Dewdney Trail.

The early work centred around the community of Hope where steamboats allowed for easy access.  The majority of the gold rushers were participants in the California gold rush that fizzled out a few years earlier.  As a result the population of Yale was largely american and the town was modelled after San Francisco.

Lower Fraser River Circa 1862
Lower Fraser River Circa 1862

A story in the San Francisco Bulletin is credited with igniting the rush.  According to the newspaper:

“In one month the Hudson’s Bay Company fort in Victoria had received 110 pounds of gold dust from the Indians … (prospected) without aid of anything more than … pans and willow baskets.”

Numerous bars were prospected and mined between Hope and Lytton.  Some communities along the Fraser are still named after the bars that were mined such as “Boston Bar”.  Like most gold rushes the men who arrived first snapped up the good claims and the the majority of the adventurers ended up working for them.

Cariboo Wagon Road in Fraser Canyon 1867
Cariboo Wagon Road in Fraser Canyon 1867

The British Royal engineers developed a route from Port Douglas at the head of Harrison Lake to Lillooet to accommodate the influx of miners.  Many new communities popped up and some are still settled today.

The Fraser rush brought people from all over the world but the bulk of the miners came from California.  At the peak of the rush there were over 10,000 miners operating on the section of river form Hope to Lillooet.  The bars depleted rapidly and by 1860 most of the miners continued on the other gold rushes in BC.

1858 Rock Creek Gold Rush

Gold was discovered in Rock Creek in 1858 soon after miners rushed in from the United States and the rest of the world.  The Rock Creek rush was also instrumental in the development of British Columbia.  The discovery was made by two American soldiers who were chased North of the boarder by a band of Indians.  Just 5km from the border where an unnammed creek entered the Kettle River they found gold.

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At the time of the discovery the colony of British Columbia was only a year old.  American miners tried to claim the area as part of the United States due to the high grades and the fact that it was discovered by Americans.  The Rock Creek claim issues prompted the construction of the Dewdney Trail as a means to separate the new colony from the United States.  The Dewdney Trail snaked its way from New Westminster all the way to Wild Horse in the Kootenay region staying just North of the Canada-US border.

Soon after the discovery an estimated 5,000 prospectors migrated to the newly established town of Rock Creek.  In the beginning there were two saloons, a butcher’s shop, a hotel and five stores.  Within the first year a revolt broke out due to tensions between Chinese and American miners and refusal to pay for mining licences.  The incident became known as the Rock Creek War.  The governor of British Columbia Sir James Douglas travelled there from Victoria to straighten out the miners.  He threatened to send in 500 British soldiers if they couldn’t behave themselves.  Sir Douglas was successful and soon the miners paid their claim fees and mined the creeks in peace.

There were some amazing claims on Rock Creek.  Adam Beame’s claim on Soldier’s Bar  in 1859 allegedly netted $1,000 in six weeks.  That gold would be worth $70,500 today!  Other bars such as Denver Bar and White’s Bar produced similar results.

1859 Cariboo Gold Rush

Gold was discovered on the Horsefly River in 1859 by prospectors who participated in the Fraser River rush.  They were guided by a local Indian and shown a spot on the Horsefly River with abundant gold and nuggets the size of wheat kernels.  The rush was on as more miners from the Fraser River rush migrated North to the Cariboo.  Soon a town was erected near the strike that exists today.

Cariboo Map Circa 1862
Cariboo Map Circa 1862

In 1860 gold was discovered on Keithly and Antler creeks to the North of Horsefly.  Other notable creeks of the region are Lightning, Lowhee, and Williams Creeks, the Quesnel River and Parsnip River.  Towns popped up all over the place with the most exciting being Barkerville.  That town was named after a British prospector named Billy Barker and had a popluaton of 10,000 at its peak.  His claim on Willams Creek was one of the greatest gold producers in history yielding an estimated 37,500 ounces of gold.  Barkerville was restored in 1997 as a tourist historic town that is a popular attraction in the area.

Barkerville1868
Barkerville circa 1868

The Cariboo gold rush saw 100,000 people flood into the area during 1862-70 from all over the world.  By 1864 the Cariboo Wagon Road was completed from New Westminster all the way to Barkerville.  This allowed for easy travel of people and supplies, wich substantially brought down the costs.  It also allowed for stage coaches to securely move gold from the mines.  The stagecoaches operated on this road from 1863 to 1917 carrying people, mail, express packages and of course gold.  The stagecoaches saw surprisingly few hold ups, even though they carried literally tons of gold.  There are only five hold ups on record, two of which were successful.

stagecoach11

By 1870 the gold rush had largely fizzled out.  The good claims were now owned by mining companies who could gather the money needed to undertake underground drift mining.  Those who didn’t stick around to work in underground mines spread around other parts of BC’s North and some sparked gold rushes in new areas.  Others settled in and started up cattle ranches or logging companies.  Gold mining in the Cariboo is still active today, as a matter of fact I have a couple claims near Keithly Creek.

Cariboo Drift Mine
Cariboo Drift Mine

1863 Wild Horse River Gold Rush

Gold was discovered on the Wild Horse River in the Kootenay region in 1863 once again by American prospectors.  The Wild Horse held great gold reserves and still does today.  Early in the rush huge nuggets were found with the biggest tipping the scale at 36 ounces.  The first town that was built was called Fisherville.  Apparently after one resident found a nugget under his house the size of his fist the whole town burned their houses down to dig underneath.

A town was erected named Galbraith’s Ferry, named after John Galbraith who operated a ferry across Kootenay lake.  Later the town was re-named Fort Steele after the legendary Sam Steele.  A second gold rush broke out in the same area in 1885.  Later hard rock silver rushes spread around the region.

The Wild Horse River is estimated to have produced over $7,000,000 in the initial gold rush which would be worth about $490,000,000 today.  There is a very well preserved historic town at Fort Steel that is a popular tourist spot with many actors playing the roles of old time blacksmiths, prospectors, sheriffs and so on.  It is located North of Cranbrook at the intersection between Highway 93 and 95.

The initial gold rush ended after about 6 years but soon the great silver rush would flood the region.  Places like Nelson, Kaslo, Slocan grew out of the silver rushes that blanketed the Kootenay region.

 

1864 Leech River Gold Rush

The Leech River gold rush started with a letter from Robert Brown who was Commander of the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition.  Yes that was the correct name of the VIEE expedition.  The expedition was launched by the British government in Victoria.

1880Leechtown
1880 map depicting the locaton of Leechtown

A letter from Brown published in the British Colonist newspaper on July 29, 1864 ignited the rush.  Here are some exerpts from the letter:

..the intelligence I have to communicate is of too important a nature to bear delay in forwarding to you, even for one hour…

The discovery which I have to communicate is the finding of gold on the banks of one of the Forks of the Sooke River, about 12 miles from the sea in a straight line, and in a locality never hitherto reached by white men, in all probability never even by natives. I forward anquarter eighth of an ounce (or thereabouts) of the coarse scale gold, washed out of twelve pans of dirt, in many places 20 feet above the river, and with no tools but a shovel and a gold pan. The lowest prospect obtained was 3 cents to the pan, the highest $1 to the pan, and work like that with a rocker would yield what pay you can better calculate than I can, and the development of which, with what results to the Colony you may imagine.

Leechtown - Berks Hotel
Leechtown – Berks Hotel

A town called Leechtown was built near the discovery.  By November that year there were an estimated 6 general stores, 3 hotels and over 1,200 miners at work in the area.  By 1866 an estimated 200,000 ounces of gold had been produced in the area and the gold rush had passed its peak.  It was over in a flash as the Leech and Sooke river placer deposits, although high grade, were limited in size.

In the span of one decade gold rushes turned the vast unexplored fur trading district of New Caledonia into a sovereign British Colony.  By the end of the 1860’s the new region had gone from a population of under one thousand people to a colony with several major wagon roads and towns covering much of the Southern half of BC.  The gold rushes continued and led to more development in British Columbia.  Stay tuned for part 2.

Check out part two here:

Part 2: Top 10 Gold Rushes

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Late Season Prospecting on the Fraser

Late Season Prospecting on the Fraser

This claim is located in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of BC.  The location is fairly remote and there are no paved roads for quite a distance in any direction.  When you are out there you are definitely alone.  It has sort of an eerie feeling all day and night, it feels deserted.  There is a ghost town near the claim and some signs of a more active human presence from a distant time.  Check out this post for pics on of the ghost town, Southern Cariboo Prospecting Trip.

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The hike down to the river is pretty tough.  There is about a 1000 foot elevation change from the access road to the river.  We went down there the first day to sample the beach.  We came across a couple of bedrock outcrops which prevented us from travelling any further.  The bedrock had some gold stored in the cracks and we were able to get some of it out.  Near the river we saw some decent colour in our test pans.  We marked the locations on my GPS and made our way back up to the camp.

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We had some great burgers cooked on the campfire and a couple of beers.  It is getting pretty cold up there this time of year.  Once the sun goes down the temperature quickly falls below freezing.  We had a nice big fire and enjoyed the stars for the evening.  It was pretty tough to get out of our tents in the morning.  The moment when you unzip your sleeping bag and start putting on cold clothing is the worst.  I’d like to stay in my nice warm bag for a couple more hours but we came up here for a reason.
CreekRavine

We found an old claim post with tags from 1989/90 right in the center of the claim.  The post was actually carved out of a tree trunk and is the most creative claim post I have ever seen.  As far as industrial markers go this is a work of art.  I hope to find out more about this G. Johnson and what he had discovered on the claim.

20151106_101854  20151106_101753

As we were making our way down to the river for day two of prospecting we came across a creek that seemed to appear out of nowhere.  My partner noticed some gravel near the surface and we thought we might as well pan it.  In that pan we saw a small coarse chunk of gold.  This was pretty exciting since it was located several hundred feet above the river.  We took several more pans in that spot and found a little bit of gold in each one.  Now we have to find out where that mysterious little creek is getting the gold from.

Bazooka

My partner had a Bazooka Gold Trap and we tried it out on this little creek.  The gold trap seemed to work pretty well.  It’s an interesting design that has a chamber at the back and a water scoop underneath that forces water into the trap.


That was our last trip of the season to this area.  The weather forecast says snow is coming this week and it will probably stick until the spring.

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7 Common Mistakes Made by New Placer Miners

7 Common Mistakes Made by New Placer Miners

Placer mining is an exciting activity.  It brings us out into the wilderness often to the road less traveled.  There is a certain charm associated with the hunt for gold.  In some ways it feels like an exclusive club where the only entry requirements are the knowledge, skills and the will to take on the challenge of finding precious metal on the earth’s surface.  For those starting out there is a lot to learn and all too often a novice miner’s decisions are influenced by greed or the infamous gold fever.  Here’s a list of some of the most common mistakes made by new gold miners.

  1. Buying too much equipment too early

    LotsOfGear
    Photo Source: www.tambang.id

    Placer miners are total gear nuts, myself included.  To run even a small operation you need a fair amount of gear.  Pans, sluices, digging tools, camping equipment, 4×4 truck, etc.  And there is plenty of gear on the market to spend your money on.

    However more equipment will not necessarily make you more money.  Often its quite the opposite.  In our fast paced consumer focused economy it is tempting to look for a quick fix.  There is no substitute for hard work though. You need to put in the time and effort to find that gold.  I have met several people who have purchased a brand new floating dredge with nowhere to use it.  Fortunately their equipment quickly finds its way onto craigslist at a discounted price.

    Prospecting starts with a gold pan, other tools that help are classifiers, snuffer bottles, and an accurate scale.  Once you have proven gold in an area you can look at moving on to something that can move more material.  The next progression would be a highbanker or a small diameter dredge (if they’re legal in your area).  If you have found enough gold and can’t move material fast enough the next steps are moving to a larger wash plant and possibly heavy equipment.  At each step along the way you need to assess the quantity of gold on your claim and the costs of getting it out.

  2. Buying the first claim that’s available

    ClaimPostIts pretty exciting to have the rights to your first claim.  You start dreaming of all the riches that are now yours for the taking.  Its tempting to snap up the first claim that is available.  Especially in areas with online staking, its a lot like buying concert tickets.  Unlike concert tickets though gold claims are usually available for a reason.  Perhaps the claim has poor access, little to no gold, or has already been mined to death.

    Do some research before you pull the trigger.  Read up on the history of the area to make sure it hasn’t been thoroughly mined already.  Make sure it has good access roads or trails.  Find info on previous production in the area and if possible sample the claim before you buy it.  Check some maps to make sure the claim is not on a park, reserve or private land.

  3. Poor or No Sampling

    SamplesApril

    Effective sampling is absolutely essential to run a profitable placer mining operation. You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive.  It is tempting to show up at a claim and start running a highbanker on the first gravel that you see.  Even some larger operations forgo proper sampling in the rush to get mining and lose a lot of money because of it.

    Sampling is not glamorous and you won’t get a lot of nuggets to show your friends but you need to know how much an area will pay before you spend time and money to produce it.Once you have thoroughly sampled an area and have calculated the pay per yard you will know how much you can spend to produce the gold.  For example if an area pays $100 to the cubic yard and your cost is $40/yd to produce it you will certainly make a profit.  Your proven reserve is sort of like a bank account.  You don’t want to spend more money on equipment than your reserves will justify.

  4. Not digging deep enough

    IMG_2420 Almost every novice prospector will sample surface gravels and expect to see flakes of gold.  Placer prospecting and mining hinges on the fact that gold is very dense.  Being heavy, gold will settle deep as it can in a gravel bed.  When digging a test hole you basically want to dig as deep as you can.  You want to reach compacted gravel before you start sampling.  In most cases your best gold will be on the bedrock.  In some areas there are clay layers or river armour layers that will trap the gold.  It will always travel down until something prevents it from sinking any further.

    There are areas where flood gold can be found near the surface.  It is important to know the history of your area.  Even if there is surface flood gold though the real paystreak will always be deeper down.

  5. Lack of knowledge of local mining regulations

    regs Just like other laws it is your responsibility to know the mining regulations for your area.  I have heard too many stories of guys panning or running river sluices in areas that they didn’t even know were claimed.  That is called claim jumping and is illegal.  In the gold rush days it was perfectly legal and acceptable to shoot a claim jumper.  Today claim jumpers can face a criminal record and imprisonment.

    The rules are not the same everywhere.  A suction dredge might be perfectly acceptable in one area and completely outlawed in another.  Dredges and highbankers area also regulated by water intake hose diameter and type of creek that you are working on.  Other regulations to look out for are environmental rules for drawing water and working in riparian zones.

    Laws regarding exploration on private land, provincial parks or first nations land must also be obeyed.  You have certain rights by holding a claim but that does not guarantee your right to dig in every situation.

  6. Unrealistic expectations

    Nuggets These days with the recent flood of gold mining TV shows it seems so easy.  They give the impression that all you have to do is show up with an excavator and a wash plant and you’ll start pulling out nuggets.  Often these shows have some arbitrary budget that the miner needs to reach by the end of the season.  Just seeing numbers like $500,000 per season will get anyone excited.  You may be thinking if they can get that I can at least get $1000 on a random claim.  Spending an hour per night watching guys pour jars full of gold flakes on shows like Yukon Gold or Gold Rush Alaska will fuel unrealistic expectations.

    The fact is gold is valuable because it is incredibly rare.  The value is largely due to the sweat equity of prospectors and miners who have spent lifetimes searching for the yellow metal.  It will be a long road to get your first jar full of gold or even a vial for that matter.  Prospecting for gold has an incredibly poor success rate.  You will put in hard work, digging, hiking and panning for long hours and won’t see more than a color.  Some days you won’t even see that.  Gold is defiantly out there but don’t expect to see any in your first pan.

  7. Improper technique with equipment

    Indian River Yukon
    Most placer mining and prospecting equipment requires skill and knowledge to operate effectively.  That is part of the appeal to prospecting, its a skill just like any other and takes time to develop.  There are a lot of people out there who are not using their gold pans properly and washing gold right out of the pan.  Likewise with highbankers, its a common mistake to mine all day with the wrong angle on your sluice.  There is a lot of info out there on proper techniques don’t just buy equipment and try to figure it out on your own.

    The best thing to do is go out with someone who is experienced with the equipment that you want to use.  You can watch Youtube videos all day but nothing beats hands on experience.  Most placer miners will welcome an extra hand to help work the claim, in the process you will learn everything you need to know.

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Gear Review: Pyramid Pro Pan

Gear Review: Pyramid Pro Pan

Placer mining and exploration breeds innovation like no other activity.  Virtually every prospector that you talk to has their own idea of what the best tool, product or technique is.  If you ask three different miners what the best sluice is you’ll get three different answers.  Much of the innovation comes from the trial and error learning process of placer mining.  What works at one claim might not work at the next.  You just have to experiment until everything works the way you want it to.

PyramidPro

The history of placer mining has a long list of innovations and miners benefited with increased yields at each step along the way.  The gold pan was one of the first inventions, then followed the rocker box, sluice, variations of the sluice such as the long tom, hydraulicking water jets, dragline dredges and so on.  The miners in the Klondike gold rush learned to melt the permafrost using fires to reach the bedrock below.  Now they use modern excavators and bulldozers but it had to start somewhere.

Old Time Placer Tools
Old Time Placer Tools

Every inventor claims that their product is the best.  It can be hard to distinguish the good from the not so good.  In the case of the Pyramid Pro pan developed by Dennis Katz at Fossickers.com it is a game changer.  I am not affiliated in any way with the manufacturer of this pan I just really appreciate the technology.  Fossicker is an unusual word, according to their website it is the Australian word for gold prospector.

There are other pyramid shaped pans on the market but this one has some very unique features.  First off it has insane riffles!  These riffles do two things.  They break up clay or hardpack along with the violent action of the pyramid panning motion.  And they prevent any dense material (ie.gold) from escaping.  The violent action must be emphasized.  In conventional gold panning you want to avoid too much force and splashing because you will force your gold right out of your pan but that is the essence of the Pyramid Pro.  The action is hard to describe and best seen in person.  Check out the developer’s own instruction video below to see how it works.

It is a little funny how the Fossicker keeps saying to “stratisfy” the material.  What he really means is stratify, maybe its an Australian thing too.  You hold the pan with those big handles almost like you’re holding a gas powered ice auger.  It is a bit of an arm workout when you are going through a lot of material but the Pyramid Pro is designed to do exactly that.  The experience is very unique and has little to do with conventional gold panning.  The Fossicker calls the neck of the pan a pre-mix chamber.  Once you get the technique down nothing will escape that chamber.

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The most important benefit for prospectors is that this pan is a lightweight unit that can concentrate a lot of material.  It can essentially replace a small sluice or highbanker for a similar amount of material.  Where it pays off the most is in places where you need to hike in to access a claim.  You are not going to hike with a trash pump, sluice and hose for any considerable distance.  With the Pyramid Pro there is no need to.  I’m not saying its going to replace a highbanker or dredge when it comes to production.  Technically it could but you would need forearms like Popeye.

Where this pan really shines is in volumetric sampling.  That means taking a sample of a set volume and using the gold values to estimate the pay over a larger area.  For example you can take a sample of 50 liters of raw gravel.  Concentrate it with the pyramid pan and then separate and dry your gold.  You can then weigh that gold and extrapolate that number to a cubic meter or yard.  As an example if you had 0.025 grams of gold recovered from your 50L sample that would equal 25g per cubic meter or almost an ounce.   With careful sampling you can be confident that the area is worth the time and money to mine it.

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The pressure plug at the bottom makes taking samples super easy.  Once you have concentrated your sample down, you just pull the plug and dump it into a container.  If you were doing the same thing with a highbanker you would have to do a full clean up for each location.  With this tool you can rapidly sample a large area in no time flat.  The plug can be easily replaced if you damage or lose it.  The plug is just a 1.5″ plumbing plug which is available at any hardware store.

The plastic is surprisingly tough.  I had my pyramid pan on the back of my pack on a particularly perilous prospecting mission.  I wiped out on a jagged rock outcrop and landed with my full weight on the pan.  I thought it was going to be toast but was relieved to see that no damage at all had occurred.  Likewise with my other plastic pans.  I don’t know what kind of plastic they use but it is unbelievably durable.  The Fossickers website claims that it has a lifetime guarantee just in case you did manage to break it.

The Pyramid Pro pan is the center of my sampling technique.  The fact that it is ultra-portable and can concentrate a lot of material makes it an indispensable tool for the modern prospector.  They are not cheap though, I paid $120 for mine and its worth every penny.

You can pick up a Pyramid Pro pan at:

SMI Electronics in Vancouver, BC
or
Motherlode Prospecting in Kelowna. BC

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Autumn Prospecting on the Similkameen River

Autumn Prospecting on the Similkameen River

Earlier this week I traveled to the Similkameen to prospect a gold claim.  I was joined by Bernie, who I met on the internet.  The goal of the trip was to due some reconnaissance prospecting of this claim to determine where to focus our efforts in the future.  We were prospecting using hand tools and gold pans.  In addition to gold panning we took several large samples using a pyramid pan to concentrate the material on site.

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This claim is located a short drive to the East of the town of Princeton.  The weather in October is a bit of a gamble but we had great conditions for this two day trip.  It was sunny both days and slightly below room temperature.  The scenery is spectacular this time of year with the bright colors of the fall leaves contrasting the evergreen trees and the surrounding mountains.

The Similkameen river has a long history of placer mining and exploration.  Prospectors began digging in the area soon after the Fraser River gold rush that began in 1858.   By 1860 prospectors had found gold on the Similkameen and men were soon staking claims.  The area experienced a gold rush and a town called Blackwood was created just South of present day Princeton.  Prospectors descended on the Similkameen again during the Tulameen gold rush of 1885.  People have been pulling gold and platinum out of the river ever since.

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The first day we made the two and a half hour journey from Abbotsford early in the morning.  There is a small farm between the highway and the claim.  We stopped to talk to the land owner and the refused to allow us to access the claim through their property.  This meant that we had to hike an extra 2km to access the claim without trespassing.

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We began digging test holes right away focusing on the gravel bars and floodplain above the beach.  It was easier digging than expected which allowed us to dig deeper holes to get closer to the bedrock.  This area has numerous channels that show evidence of water flowing during the spring melt.  The area close to the river is a bit of maze of channels and will take several trips to sample them all.

Usually I camp right near the work site on a claim but this time we went for the glamping approach due to the unexpected hike into the claim.  We stayed in a historical cabin in Princeton that was built in 1937.  The owners have upgraded the interior over the years with power, hot water and so on but the structure is original.  These log cabins only cost $65/night, definitely worth it if you are staying in Princeton.

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We were at it again the next day covering more ground.  We managed to dig some big holes and take some volumetric samples and lots of gold panning.  During the two days we did see some color but no platinum.  This area has produced a significant amount of platinum in the past.

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How Do Drones Work?

How Do Drones Work?

Five years ago you rarely heard the word “drone”.  When you did it brought up images of military air strikes and futuristic sci-fi movies.  In 2015 drones have become commonplace and are starting to be used in many industries.  A drone provides many advantages over traditional fixed wing data collection and the low cost makes it a practical solution to many problems.  Hobbyists are also quickly getting into the game due to dropping prices.  It is amazing how many people will drop $1000 or more on these high tech gadgets.

Drone FPV

Drones, also called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs),  are flying robots that are able to execute a task autonomously.  They come in several different forms but they all have the same core components.  The four critical drone components are Autopilot, Propulsion, Sensors, Payload.

The Autopilot

The autopilot is the essence of what makes a drone.  In order for an aircraft to be called a drone it must have the capability to fly without human intervention.  The usage of the word drone has been misconstrued in recent years.  Just because an R/C aircraft has four rotors and a camera does not make it a drone, it muse have autonomous flight capabilities.  Autopilots are sort of the brain of a drone.  They monitor all the information coming in from the sensors and send signals to the control mechanisms based on their programming.

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The autopilot software functions much like a thermostat.  For example if the drone’s alitutde is set at a certain number the autopilot will contol the aircraft to maintain that number.  If the drone rises higher the autopilot will adjust the controls so that the drone descends, if its too low it will set the controls to climb.  The autopilot operates in this way for hundreds of different parameters such as airspeed, altitude, GPS position, attitude (3D orientation), and many more.

The use of autopilots goes back to at least the late 1940s when experimental aircraft were able to operate completely by computer control.  Modern commercial airliners actually employ autopilots that can control the aircraft from takeoff to landing, the only thing they can’t do is taxi.  Every time you fly on a commercial jet you are riding a large autonomous robot.

For a flight to be successful the autopilot must have the parameters for the flight such as flight path, altitude, flight restrictions and settings stored in its memory before takeoff.  Once in flight the autopilot will use the preprogrammed information to follow a flight pattern and land at a predetermined location.  Watching an autonomous drone in action is quite an experience, they can give the impression that they are thinking for themselves.

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Pitot Tube

The Sensors

Sensors on a drone connect it to the real world.  They perform the functions that the eyes, ears, nose and other senses do in a human.  A drone can only know what the sensors tell the autopilot, much a like a human’s concept of the world is based on what we can see, smell, hear and touch.  For example a drone will not have any idea it is heading directly for a tree unless it is equipped with an obstacle avoidance system.  The same is true of hitting the ground or a person who walked in front of the aircraft.  The pitot/static system is used to measure the current airspeed and altitude.  This sensor measures air pressure from a forward facing tube, as air speed increases so does the pressure.  The static tube measures the change in barometric pressure which decreases with altitude.  The pitot system also measures the wind speed by comparing the airspeed to the GPS speed.

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Most drones have a GPS system which is the basis for autonomous flight plans, and in the case of very accurate GPS systems altitude can be measured.  Drones also have a 3 axis accelerometer which monitors the aircraft’s orientation relative to the horizon.  Accelerometers are also used in smart phones, they are the device that senses when you shake or tilt the phone.  More complex drones have fancy inertial measurement units (IMUs) which use gyroscopes and other methods.  Drones have servos which monitor and adjust the position of control surfaces such as ailerons, or rudders.  Servos are electric motors that are calibrated to precisely place their control arm.  There are countless optional sensors which can add new capabilities to a drone.  Some optional sensors are altitude lasers or radar, trasnponders, voltage sensors, magnetic compass, and obstacle avoidance sensors.

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The Propulsion System

There are a variety of propulsion techniques in use in drones today.  The majority of drones use electric motors.  The typical drone that most people would think of is a multirotor helicopter.  These use electric motors with a propeller on each.  Thrust of each motor is carefully controlled to maintain the correct speed, altitude and attitude of the drone.  Small fixed wing drones often use electric motors too although usually just one.  They are typically propeller driven as well and they work together with the control surfaces to make a flight successful.  Electric motors rely on battery power and can fly as long as the batteries hold a charge

Gas or heavy fuel motors are used on larger fixed wing drones and are still usually propeller driven.  There are a few drones out there using jet and turboprop engines such as the Reaper (armed version of Predator).  Rocket engines have been used for decades in target drones.  Targets were one of the first uses of drones by the military.  Its hard to believe but military forces around the world routinely shoot target drones which cost $20,000 and up each.  Gas or rocket drones run on a fuel source and their flight duration depends on how long the fuel lasts.  Gas drones also have batteries for their electric components and some of them have an on board generator.

I was part of the team that developed this drone
I was part of the team that developed this drone

The Payload

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Payload is often the area where the most development work is focused.  After all these robots are flying for a purpose.  The most common payload is some form of a camera.  The majority of drones out there are either taking photos or video.  Most small drones consist of a multirotor with a GoPro camera on a gimbal.  Mapping drones like the one used by WestCoastPlacer have a down facing high resolution camera that is triggered by the autopilot.  Mapping drones also record the GPS position and aircraft orientation with each photo for use in processing.  Different kinds of cameras can be used such as infrared, multispectral and hyperspectral.
Camera mounts that I designed in 2012
Camera mounts that I designed in 2012

LiDAR laser scanners are starting to be mounted on drones too.  It has taken a long time to miniaturize LiDAR sensors to the point that a small-medium sized drone can carry one.  Drone LiDAR sensors to date have not been able to provide classification so that a bare earth model can be produced.

Magnetometers are being mounted on drones too (Pioneer Exploration, GEM).  These are geophysical sensors used to measure changes in Earth’s magnetic field.  This sort of data is used in mineral exploration and location of land mines and submarines. There are many more payloads out there such as air quality sensors or wifi internet repeaters.

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The Communication System

Another important component of a drone is the communication system.  It is technically possible to operate a drone without real time communication since they fly autonomously however it is irresponsible and in most places illegal to do so.  An unmanned aerial system will include some form or radio communication with the operator.  The operator will have a radio link hooked up to a field computer with base station software to program the drone and monitor in during flight.  On board the drone will be some form of two way radio system which will transmit data to the base station as well as allow the operator to issue commands.  Telemetry data received from the drone allows the operator to monitor the flight and make sure that everything is working properly.  Examples of telemetry data are things like airspeed, battery health or fuel level, position and orientation.

Typical radio frequencies that are used are 900 Mhz, 2.4 GHz or 5 Ghz.  Range of a standard system is 5-10 km.  Factors that affect radio range are frequency, transmit power, antenna choice and terrain.  Some drone operators have had great success using directional and helical antennas.  Some helical antenna systems are capable of communicating up to 100km away. Cheaper drones communicate via WiFi (also a form of radio) to a smartphone or tablet.  WiFi range is limited to several hundred meters but can be extended with directional antennas.

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Helical Directional Antenna with Tracker

Cellular modems are used in some drones utilizing LTE/GSM networks and can greatly increase the operating range.  Essentially you can fly anywhere there is cell coverage.  Satellite systems are also used which operate on a satellite phone network such as Iridium.  Theses communication systems have virtually no limit on range but have slow throughput and expensive by the minute billing.

All the individual parts of drones work together to execute a flight and achieve the goal of the operator.  New uses are being discovered for this technology every day.  The low price and superior data quality make the UAV a powerful tool for collecting aerial data.   In the coming years we are going to see drones used in more and more industries.  It just makes sense.

 

Check out our drones page to see the drone services provided by WestCoastPlacer.

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