Placer Exploration in the Yukon

Placer Exploration in the Yukon

In the spring 2016 I was hired to help on a large scale placer exploration program in the Yukon. The property is located in a part of the Yukon where very little placer activity has taken place. We had a small team of three guys and a lot of equipment.

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The Yukon, like BC and Alaska, was explored and settled by prospectors in the late 1800s.  The Klondike gold rush of 1896-1899 was the largest and most storied gold rush in history.  It is estimated that over 100,000 gold seekers migrated to the Arctic territory from places like San Fransico and Seattle.  The Yukon’s economy is still driven by mining and the local culture is completely saturated with gold rush era influences.  A great example is Yukon Gold, the flagship beer of the Yukon Brewing Company, has part the the famous poem “The Cremation of Sam Mcgee” on the label.

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The Robert Service poem is part of Canadian heritage and is part of the school curriculum across the country.  After several trips prospecting in the Yukon it takes on different meaning than a quirky poem that you have to read out loud in grade three.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

On a Monday night in early April at 9PM I received a phone call. “Your flight leaves Vancouver in the morning for Whitehorse. We’ll fill you in on the way.” Typical for this kind of job. I had been expecting the call for a few weeks but it still caught me a little off guard.

Approximate location of the camp
Approximate location of the camp

On arrival to Whitehorse I had been advised that one of our crew would meet me there. I had never met this guy before but I knew he was an old placer miner. The Whitehorse airport is small and we were the only flight. There were several people waiting for passengers so I had to guess. I noticed a guy wearing rubber boots and looked like a placer miner to me. I introduced myself and luckily he was the right guy.

Aerial shot of the placer claims
Aerial shot of the placer claims

We spent a couple hours rounding up additional gear before catching the charter to the camp. I was crammed in a Cessna 206 with the pilot and a bunch of gear. We had all the 5 gallon pails we could buy at the Whitehorse Home Hardware, drill bits, my gear, a 45 gallon drum of diesel, and a bunch of other stuff.

Soon after leaving Whitehorse we flew over Lake Lebarge which is the location where Sam Magee was famously cremated.

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Lake Lebarge

The pilot warned me that the runway was a little rough. We took a couple passes and lined up to land. It was rough all right, made of gravel and ice, we bounced so hard that we almost took off again. My two crew members were waiting to greet me at the plane. They were excited to meet me, especially since I brought a 24 pack of Kokanee. The beer didn’t last the night.

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The two guys that I was working with had already been there for several weeks. It’s a rustic camp and there was no water available for showers or anything. I thought my team mates smelled pretty bad when I arrived but after a few days we all smelled the same. A few weeks later temperatures were high enough to rig up a pump system and a shower. This is not the first rustic camp that I’ve been to where we have satellite internet and no showers.  These are interesting times to be an explorer.
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The camp consists of three canvas tents, a seacan and an outhouse.  The tents have “hippy killer” stoves that burn wood.  They work well most of the time but you have to chop wood every time you want heat.  Wood floors had been constructed which is certainly a luxury over dirt floors.  Our kitchen is in the same tent as the office.  There’s a propane stove/oven and plenty of food.  We used paper plates so we wouldn’t have to wash them, they worked great for starting the stoves when we were done with them.

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The main goal of this program was to carry out a sampling over the property.  The drilling and sampling will allow us to find and evaluate economic placer deposits. Our primary tool was a Nodwell mounted drill with a 12″ auger. Some areas were sampled by excavator where the ground was not suitable to drill. Material was collected with the drill and excavator and processed on site with a small wash plant. In addition to gold values we developed an understanding of bedrock depth, characteristics and the distribution of placer gold.

Our Auger Drill
Our Auger Drill

Most of the gear was brought in on the winter trail. The trail is about 100km from the closest dirt road and requires the ground to be frozen and snow covered. Our two Nodwells, Toyota track truck, quads, fuel and everything was brought in over the trail. With a light load it can be travelled by snowmobile in about 4 hours each way. With the heavy equipment it takes 3-4 days. There are impromptu camps along the way but nothing with heat and very little shelter. The guys were prepared of course.

On the trail
On the trail

Nodwells are pretty cool machines.  They were invented in the 1950s to service the oilfields of Northern Alberta and the Arctic.  These beastly machines have super wide tracks to spread their weight on soft terrain.  They have a unique drive system that uses rubber tires on the track.  Operating one is similar to driving a tank.  You pull levers to brake the track on either side.  We had two of them, a big Nodwell for the drill and a smaller one for a support vehicle.  The Nodwells have a lot of character, check out the yellow plywood interior and gun rack.  The small one is named “Picasso”.  The photos will expand when clicked.

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We located and mapped several trenches that were used for ground sluicing dating back to the 1898 Yukon gold rush. The old timers diverted the creek to flow through hand cut trenches. The water was then controlled via a series of gates to strip away overburden. Sort of like hydraulicking. There’s not much left of the old workings today but it gives us an idea of where the pay streaks are.
Old Timer's Trenches
Old Timer’s Trenches

Sampling is key to any placer operation.  Sloppy or inadequate sampling spells the death of many mining operations.  After all you wouldn’t get married without going on a date first.  We collected samples with a rugged 12″ auger drill.  Each sample had a set depth interval and a measured volume.  With accurate measurements we can extrapolate the sample data to evaluate the deposit over large areas.  For example if we sample 500mg (1/2 gram) from 10 pails of material,  that equates to just over 3 grams per cubic yard.  We did have some just like that, and better.

Fresh Drill Samples
Fresh Drill Samples

After collection by the drill our samples were run through a mini wash plant.  We were using a cool machine called “The Prospector” by Goldfield Engineering.  The Prospector uses a water driven pelton wheel to create a vibration.  That’s awesome because all it needs is a 2″ pump to run.  The wheel rotates an eccentric weight similar to the way the a cell phone vibrates but on a larger scale.  Using this machine I processed over 15 cubic yards of samples over 7 weeks.

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The Prospector really eats through material.  The shaker screen breaks it up almost as fast as you can feed it. It struggles when there is a lot of clay though.  After each sample interval is run a cleanup is necessary.  With this machine it’s a quick procedure.  The concentrates from each sample are panned out with a gold pan.  The gold is then dried out and weighed to be used in grade estimates.

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As the summer solstice approaches the days get longer in the Yukon.  In the summer the sun does not set in the Arctic it is after all the land of the midnight sun.  The lack of darkness takes a little getting used to.  In early May we had a couple of Northern lights shows that were pretty good.  At that time there was about 2 hours of darkness where the Northern lights were visible.  A week later it would no longer be dark enough.

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We encountered few animals on the trip.  This is described as a “hungry” part of the Yukon.  One bear tried to enter our camp.  It was a very large black bear, the electric fence slowed him down but it took a few bear bangers to scare him off.  A huge mangey wolf casually pranced right in front of us one night.  All the animals are big in the Yukon.  Even the mosquitoes.  They are so big that they often get up and fly away after you swat them.  Unless you are willing to really smack yourself in the face, they are not going to die.

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For some samples we had to use the excavator.  The auger drill does not work well in areas where the permafrost has melted.  We tried a few spots and the mixture of water and loose gravel would not stay on the auger flights.  The excavator does not have that problem since it scoops up a bucket full of material, water and all.  We used a huge 4″ pump to drain the holes first then sampled the bedrock and regolith with the hoe.  The samples were of course put into pails and we measured the volume before processing.

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We had a few other machines to help out as well.  A couple of bulldozers, some quads, a side by side and a ’96 Toyota pickup with tracks instead of wheels.  We took the tracks off once the snow was all gone using the hoe to lift the truck.  Why bother with jacks when you have those Tonka toys kicking around.

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The winter trail conditions rapidly deteriorated as the weather warmed up.  The ground here is like muskeg with lots of water and mud.  Just about everything got stuck at some point, except for the Nodwells.  We had to cross a few creeks, mud and sometimes straight trough the trees.

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The pursuit of gold will make men do strange things.  In our case it involved a ton of work travelling over unforgiving terrain to drill holes down to bedrock.  Our persistence and determination paid off though and we discovered a pay channel that extends over much of the drilled area.  It is going to take some more work to map out the full extent but we already have clear evidence of a great deposit.

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After 50 straight days it was time to go home.  Our ride out was a DHC-3 Turbo-Otter, an impressive aircraft designed by de Havilland, a Canadaian company, in the 1950s.  The Otter took our whole crew and all our gear without any issues.  The turbine engine gives it the STOL capabilities to takeoff and land in a rugged bush airstrip like the one in this camp.  We stopped along the way to drop off one of our guys and pick up some much needed beer before landing in Whitehorse.

I had a wild night in Whitehorse to close off the trip before heading home to BC.  It was a good time in the bush but it is nice to return to the comforts of modern civilization.

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Harrison Lake Adit Exploration

Harrison Lake Adit Exploration

Last week my neighbour phoned me and asked if I wanted to go on a road trip to check out an adit by Harrison Lake.  Of course I said yes.  Who wouldn’t be down for a short road trip to check out an old mine adit.

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The trip only took two hours from my home in Abbotsford, BC.  We drove up to Harrison Hot Springs then transitioned to the 4×4 road called Harrison East FSR.  Conditions were great for the trip out we got hit by rain on the way back but that’s to be expected on the West coast in March.

I brought along my mountain bike night riding light and it worked awesome!  You can see the difference between my super light and a standard headlamp in the video.  Check out the video below showing our exploration in the adit:

This adit was created a long time ago, probably a during the period of the Fraser River and Cariboo gold rushes (1860s – 1880s).  No records have been found from that time period describing the adit though.  During the gold rushes the Harrison was one of the major routes to the Cariboo and many miners worked in the region.

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The adit extends for approximately 50m with a slight bend half way in.  It cuts through altered schist formations and has several small quarz veins exposed inside.  We sampled one of the veins which will be sent to a lab for fire assay.  The map below is taken from a 1983 geological report of the area.

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In addition to the 50m adit a vertical shaft had also been excavated.  Unfortunately the shaft is filled with water so it cannot be explored at this time.  Both excavations were carried out to explore a sizable quartz vein.  The shaft is right on the 1m wide vein and driven vertically into the bedrock.  The adit that we explored was intended to intersect the shaft and the vein.  It seems that the miners missed.  It is difficult to tell by how much.

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Inside the adit there are wooden tracks that line the whole tunnel.  These were probably part of an old rail system used to remove the excavated rock.  It is not known why the miners abandoned the property, without any information we can only guess.  There are other adits in the area that we’ll explore another time.  Not bad for a Tuesday afternoon.

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The Search for Klondike Lode Gold

The Search for Klondike Lode Gold

In the summer of 2010 I was hired to work with a team to find hard rock gold in the Klondike.  We explored a group of claims on the Indian River.

IMG_1741My crew stayed at a camp operated by a character called Big Al.  That name might sound familiar because he has been featured on the popular TV show Yukon Gold on the History Channel.  Of course at that time we had no idea he was going to be a celebrity.  During the trip we heard a rumour that Hoffmans working a few claims over were filming for a TV show, it turned out to be the hit series Gold Rush on Discovery.  We were surrounded by gold mining TV stars but didn’t know it yet.

Klondike Tailings Piles
Klondike Tailings Piles

Indian River Yukon

The Klondike is a place that has a very storied history and was the site of the greatest gold rush of them all.  California, Oregon, and British Columbia had their gold rushes and stories but the Klondike was like no other.  Between 1896 and 1899 over 100,000 adventurers made the journey from all over the world to the largely uninhabited Yukon territory in search of gold.  What made this rush different is the long journeys and overall inexperience of the Argonauts.  At the time of discovery El Dorado and Bonanza creek were the richest creeks in the world.  Some claims on El Dorado were getting $27 to the pan once they hit the pay streak.  That is equivalent to about $750 per pan in today’s money.

My team met up in Whitehorse the capitol city of the Yukon Territory in early August 2010.  We then rounded up some remaining gear and drove in a rented truck up to Dawson City.  As you arive in Dawson City you can see the remains of over 100 years of placer gold mining. Before you reach the town you can see large tailings piles lining the sides of the highway.  When looked at from above they look like something that was produced by a giant insect.  The tailings piles were put there by humongous dredges that scoured the Klondike drainages until 1966.  It is estimated that each of the dredges were producing as much as 800 ounces of gold per day!

Aerial View of Kondike Tailings
Aerial View of Klondike Tailings

Dawson City is a cool town.  The residents have maintained the look and feel of Dawson’s heyday during the Klondike gold rush.  The streets are dirt with wood plank sidewalks.  Most of the buildings are original in the downtown area and many commercial buildings have the false front that was the norm during the gold rush era.  There is even a law that all signs have to be hand painted.

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There are no corporate stores or businesses in Dawson.  Everything is locally owned and operated.  Some of the original establishments from the 1890s are still in operation today.  Diamond Tooth Gerties is one such establishment which offers games of chance and nightly can can dancers 7 days a week.  Anouther is Bombay Peggy’s which operated as a brothel during the gold rush.  It has turned into a classy bed and breakfast now.

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My Crew posing with the Can-Can girls

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Dawson has several historic bars as well.  One such bar is the Downtown Hotel.  We stopped in there one night after visiting several other bars and took part in a local tradition.  It is called the Sourtoe Cocktail.  Only one of my crew was willing to take the shot with me.  The Sourtoe Cocktail is a shot of Yukon Jack whiskey taken with an amputated human toe in the glass.  They keep the toe in a jar of salt above the bar.  Apparently the tradition started with a bootlegger losing his toe due to frostbite.  I was informed that this was their 6th toe which makes you wonder where they new ones came from.

Bombay Peggy'sThe Toe

The Bonanza Creek Road is the main access to Indian Creek.  Along this historic route there are plenty of relics of past mining adventures.  Most notably the historic Dredge No. 4 which mined Bonanza Creek until 1959.  There are other dredges as well and plenty of old heavy equipment that was abandoned by miners of the past.  There are abandoned bulldozers, excavators, trucks and other random big machines.  There is such a surplus of iron that many bridges use large dozer shovels as retaining walls.

Dredge No. 4
Dredge No. 4

We were tasked with finding the source of the placer gold in the Indian River.  We stayed at Big Al’s camp and were exploring mineral claims that overlapped his placer claims.  His knowledge of gold bearing benches as well as historical research was very important in our search.  Likewise our findings were beneficial to Al in exploring new placer areas.  Most of our time was spent exploring old miner’s trails on quads and by foot.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a great time.

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We came across several old mine shafts and evidence of placer mining was everywhere.  My crew participated in some of Big Al’s cleanups too.  It was exciting to see the amount of gold that he was pulling out.  We participated in all the steps of his cleanup process from cleaning the sluice to the concentrator jig and so on.  At each stage a fair amount of rum was consumed it seemed fitting when surrounded by hundreds of ounces of gold.

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Yup, that's exactly what it looks like.
Yup, that’s exactly what it looks like.

In our hard rock exploration we employed several techniques utilizing traditional prospecting as well as soil sampling and statistical pebble counts.  The soil sampling was conducted with helicopter support which made it a lot easier.  We were bagging close to a hundred samples per day each which was more than we could carry in the bush.  At the end of the day we’d chop out a helicopter landing area and radio the chopper.  Then we’d pick up the samples that we cached during the day.  Hard work but a lot of fun too.

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We spent a total of six weeks prospecting the area.  We took a lot of samples to be sent in for assay from all over the claims.  Prospecting in the Yukon is similar to BC, there is not a lot of exposed rock around.  Unlike the barren lands of the North West Territory and Nunavut there is plenty of forest and vegetation covering the rock.  We spent a lot of time in the helicopter scoping out rock outcrops.

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There seemed to be a correlation between the garnets that were showing up in the placer operation and high grade gold.  When the placer miners hit the paystreak they got a lot of garnets with it.  We started prospecting up a creek called “Ruby Creek” assuming it was named for the abundance of garnets.  The hunch turned out be be right.  We chased the garnets up to some large outcrops near the top of the mountain.  The samples contained a lot of garnet but not a lot of gold.

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From an old mineshaft that we found near a cabin we discovered that the miners hit a layer of pure quartz conglomerate.  And it was loaded with gold.  We then knew what to look for.  The search for the source of the Klondike gold continued for several weeks.  We encountered giant moose, grizzly bears, Northern Lights and some great people.  On several occasions we thought we found the fabled mother lode but the samples returned disappointing assay results.  Some of the more random samples showed the highest grades.  They say gold is where you find it.  We did not find the source of the klondike but we did manage to have a great time and got paid for it.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.
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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.

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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.

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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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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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Hard Rock Prospecting near the Thompson River

Hard Rock Prospecting near the Thompson River

In September I went out to check out a claim in the Thompson River area of Southern BC.  This claim has an adit on it that was hand excavated prior to World War 1.  A government report from the 1930s says that a sample from this adit assayed at 9.12 g/t Au.  The report also claims that the adit extended 80m into the rock face and intersected several large quartz veins.

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The claim was staked in 2006 by the previous owner who held it for several years.  They were able to locate the adit in 2007 but were not willing to enter the portal because of its precarious position on a vertical rock face.  It seems as though nobody has entered this lost mine since the 1930s era.  Naturally I wanted to check it out.

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I was accompanied by a guy that I met on the internet named Rob.  He turned out to be a great partner, and took most of these photos.  We geared up with some rock climbing gear as well as prospecting equipment and a camera.

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The claim covers an area with a couple of narrow valleys with steep sides.  Its beautiful country but tough to get around in.  According to a prospecting report from the previous claim owner they were able to photograph the adit from the other side of the valley.  Take a look at their photo below.

Adit Location

So we had a photo and even a coordinate from the report.  We were ready to show up and heroically rappel into the adit.  We did not know exactly what we would find in there but I wanted to verify the old assay and hopefully find some gold.  Whoever put in the time and effort to dig an 80m tunnel into solid rock held a strong belief that there were riches in there.  It was all looking good and as usual I remained skeptically optimistic.

Heading Out

Right off the bat we headed up the creek towards the coordinate from the 2007 report.  It didn’t take long to reach the location.  There were no signs of an adit or anything that matched the picture.  It is difficult to tell though when looking straight up a rock face.  We proceeded to hike along the bottom of the vertical wall trying to spot the entrance.  Later we climbed to the top of the ridge to see if we could spot the adit from above and rappel down as planned.

Me on June Cliff

We did not have any luck.  We walked all over that ridge but were not able to spot the adit.  We went around for one last look and managed to find a decent quartz vein.  The vein was a decent size and seemed to continue in to the rock.  I took a sample which will be sent to a lab for assay to see how much gold is in it.  No gold was visible to the eye but it rarely is.  The quartz looks pretty good though, some iron staining and nice crystals in part of it.

Quartz Vein on June Bug
Quartz Vein on June Bug

While taking the sample my camera fell out of my packpack and tumbled all the way down to the creek.  It must have bounced down at least 100m.  I scrambled after it expecting to find it in pieces to my surprise it was not shattered just soaking wet.  I was able to dry it out several days later and it seems to be OK.

Quartz

  QuartzCrystals

Having failed to find the old mine we climbed the opposing ridge across the valley.  It was somewhat easier climbing since there wasn’t much vertical rock to deal with.  It was mostly talus which poses its own challenges.  We tried to recreate the photos from the report.  Rob and I took lots of photos with the hope that we could later spot the adit using a computer.  Sadly none of the photos turned out well because the sun was facing us straight on.

Veiw From Across Valley
Veiw From Across Valley

What started out as a plan to saunter up to a lost mine adit and rappel into it.  It turned into an all day scouting adventure and climbing two different steep mountain ridges.  It almost seems as if we were cursed, every attempt to locate the adit had failed.  Fortunately nobody got hurt and we did manage to get a nice quartz sample, even my camera survived.

I’ll be back soon to find that adit.  Our failure gives me even more enthusiasm to find this thing.  I just refuse to be beat by the mountains.

 

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Southern BC Prospecting Road Trip

Southern BC Prospecting Road Trip

Earlier this month I made a prospecting road trip to check out some of my claims in Southern BC. I was joined by my brother, Mike from Alberta and a couple friends met up with us in Salmo. We prospected three gold cliams in near Coalmont, Hedley and Salmo.

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The Coalmont claim is close to the other Tulumeen claims that I checked out earlier this year on Granite Creek.  This one is a few kilometers down river from the confluence of Granite Creek and the Tulumeen River.  The old Kettle Valley railroad line actually passes right through the claim and the railbed gives excellent access.  Its apparently a popular hiking and cycling route, I ran into a guy who walked all the way there from Princeton which is about 30 km.

Coalmont Claim Location
Coalmont Claim Location

There was evidence of previous work on the claim which is to be expected in an area with a rich placer mining history.  There were some old dredge hoses, plastic pails, and machine dug pits.  There were also signs indicating active mining.  We sampled the banks of the Tulumeen river taking advantage of the extremely dry summer that BC has had this year.  The river is so low that you could easily walk across it.

We test panned along the beach and took some volumetric samples with my pyramid pan.  We saw some decent gold in the test pans, especially in one spot where we hit shallow bedrock.  The drought also resulted in a province wide fire ban which makes for an unusual vibe when you are camping.  Without a fire you are just sitting there in the dark, thank goodness for beer!

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My brother panning the Tulumeen

The next stop was at a claim near Hedley, BC. Hedley has a long history of gold mining. The historic Nickel Plate and Mascot mines produced from the 1880’s till about 1950. Several smaller mines are in operation today.  My claim is on the Similkameen river but is also covered by private land.  In BC a claim gives you the rights to the minerals but you don’t own the land.  Fortunately the land owner was there when we showed up and was pretty cool.

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Hedley Claim Location

The Similkameen like the Tulumeen is super low this year.  This provided good access to the beach and areas that would usually be under water.  We panned and sampled some promising locations.  We saw some small gold in the pans and took some concentrated samples home to process later.

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We went to Salmo next.  This claim is very close to the site of the Shambhala music festival.  There was no shortage of hitchhikers wearing animal print clothing and other bizarre outfits.  Near the claim there were several hippies with signs up asking for tickets.  I actually picked up a hitchhiker on the way there since I had an empty seat.

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Some friends met me up there to help search for gold and work on their prospecting technique.  This claim is known to have gemstones of the beryl variety.  Emeralds are the green form of Beryl, caused by a chromium impurity.  Aquamarine is the light blue/green form.  Sadly we didn’t see any emeralds in our pans and we only saw trace amounts of gold.  We took some larger samples which I haven’t processed yet so hopefully there are some gemstones there, and gold.  I’ll head back there as soon as I get a chance the allure of beryl is just too strong.
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After prospecting the Salmo claim my brother and I joined a group at Koocanusa Lake for a houseboat bachelor party adventure.  That is another story though.

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Search for Slumach’s Lost Gold Mine – Part 2 Expeditions

Search for Slumach’s Lost Gold Mine – Part 2 Expeditions

Searching for a legendary lost gold mine is a little different from a typical prospecting trip.  Instead of picking an area based solely on its mineral potential our clues were derived largely from literature and first person accounts from decades ago.  It was half treasure hunt and half geological prospecting.  Before the first trip we did a lot of research reading up on the legend and accounts of previous explorers of the area.  Some background is mentioned in “Part 1 – The Legend”. We also consulted as many topo maps, aerial photos, geological reports and other information as we could get our hands on.  It always blows me away how much different terrain can be than what it shows on the map.  A topo map can show you several contours close together over 2 or 3 cm of paper but when you get out there it’s a different story.

The Map Lies

We chose to check out the area around the Terrarosa and Stave glaciers in Southern BC.  The legend says the mine is somewhere North of Pitt Lake, and Volcanic Brown’s last camp was found just below the Stave Glacier.  In the early 20th century there was a lot activity on Fire Mountain which is just East of that area so we know that gold has been found close by.  Geological maps show the boundary between several geological units at a large fault in the valley between the Stave and Terrarosa glaciers and we wanted to check that out. On both trips we took rock samples for lab assay and panned some of the best looking areas.

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In 2012 we launched the first trip to the area with myself, my brother and a trusted friend.  To access the area we travelled up the side of Harrison Lake and took the 4×4 roads up to Fire Lake which is beside Fire Mountain.  Several historical high grade hard rock mines are located there.  From the end of the road we began our trek to our planned campsite at Terrarosa Lake.  The walking distance from the parking spot to Terrarosa Lake was about 17km. Right off the bat we had a very steep incline towards a ridge that would keep us in the alpine as we headed towards the lake.  I much prefer alpine over bushwacking up creeks.  Its a bit of a push to get up there but no real vegetation to deal with once you do.  This ridge offers amazing views of Glacier Lake and the mountain peaks all around.  You can see several large glaciers from up there.  Non stop postcard quality views.

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It took us two days to reach Terrarosa Lake.  We took a pretty sketchy route to an unnamed lake above Terrarosa.  We had to do some rock climbing to get up there which is not easy with backpacks loaded with gear.  On the 2014 trip we took a much better route.  The terrain up there is extremely rugged, you are either climbing a talus field, an insanely steep slope or descending on ice most of the time.  Coming into Terrarosa Lake was an amazing sight, perhaps the greatest view I have ever been rewarded with.  It kind of reminds me of a job I was on once near Atlin, BC.  When the company sent me out there my boss told me it was going to be “scenic” and my co-workers all started snickering.  I later found out what they meant.  The camp had no showers, no floors in the canvas tents and no toilet, it was beautiful though.

Terrarosa Ridge

Before we reached our main camp site at Terrarosa we had to cross the run off from the glacier.  There was no way through without crossing a maze of alder bushes and several knee deep streams of ice cold glacial melt.  I always hated alders but after the first trip they will forever be on top of my list of plants that I hate.  It was quite a relief to reach the camp.  We spent three days checking out the area around the lake and tried to make our way into the valley to the West.  Unfortunately we were not able to make it into the valley on that trip.  We did find some great samples of mineralized rock but not the placer that we had hoped for.  After exploring as much of the area as we could we departed on the two day hike back to the logging road.  Once we reached my SUV though we were unpleasantly surprised to find my battery dead.  After several failed attempts to bump start it we had to make the 20km hike out to get a boost.  It was pretty heartbreaking after 7 days of hiking in some of the roughest terrain there is.

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On the return trip in 2014 our primary target was the valley to the West of Terrarosa Lake.  On the way up we spent a night at the Sloquet hot springs and had our last real food and beer before the 9 day trek ahead.  For backpacking we use the freeze dried astronaut food and other lightweight foods. The logging road up to Fire Lake had been fully deactivated since the 2012 trip.  There were deep drainages to cross and pushed the limit of my SUV, I bent my hitch somewhere along the way.  This time we were more confident in our hiking route as we had learned by trial and error on the previous trip.  Instead of camping up above at the lake we moved our camp right down in the valley.  It took three days to get in and another three days to get out of the valley and added some even uglier slopes.  It also rained for five of the nine days that we were out there which only added to the difficulty.  We did have a better planned route though.

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The valley had some amazing rock with lots of quartz veins and signs of gold.  There are several creeks down there that have potential for placer gold as well.  We saw several waterfalls too.  It was tough going and to reach one of our targets we had to wrestle our way through the worst alder bushes I hope I ever see.  They have sideways branches the size of a human thigh filled in with smaller bushes.  It was like some kind of cruel jungle gym on a steep mountain slope.  We managed to reach all of our targeted spots this time with a few mishaps along the way.  At one point my brother had to jump naked into a freezing creek because he dropped his rock hammer.

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The climb out of the valley was very treaterous.  It was almost too steep to walk up, we spent a lot of the time crawling and holding on to vegetation like a climbing rope.  There were a couple of close calls but we made it up OK.  We hiked back around the lake and set up a camp for the night.  It took two more days to reach the SUV again.  This time I disconnected the battery to prevent a repeat of the previous situation.  After a couple of well deserved warm beers and some clean clothes we hit the road.  We took the long way around and stopped in Whistler for one of the most rewarding hamburgers of our lives.


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The trips we took up into Slumach country were some of the most memorable of my life.  The scenery and sense of accomplishment from mastering that kind of terrain will forever be etched in my memory.  Both expeditions had numerous challenges but we made it out alive and well.  I have everything mapped out in GIS but because of the time, sweat and money investment I won’t post it publicly. Slumach’s curse did not take us yet.  As for the gold?  I’m not going to give away too much info on what we found up there.  I have every reason to believe that the legends are true.

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Search for Slumach’s Lost Gold Mine – Part 1 The Legend

Search for Slumach’s Lost Gold Mine – Part 1 The Legend

There are many legends on the West Coast of lost treasure, mines, and caches of precious metal.  They are entertaining and spark our adult imagination the same way fantasy novels did when we were kids.  I have to admit that I am fascinated with theses stories and the lure of stumbling upon a huge reserve of gold is hard to ignore.  The closer to home the legends are the more tantalizing they become.  One pervasive legend is the legend of Slumach’s lost gold mine.  I have been part of two expeditions to find this mine in 2012 and 2014.

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Panning Above Stave Valley

On the West coast this legend is well known.  Books have been written about this legend so I’m not going to regurgitate the whole story here, this is about my own search for the treasure.  I first read of the story in a book called “Lost Bonanzas of Western Canada”.  There was a description of the legend and stories of historic attempts to find the mine.  Another great book on the subject is “Slumach’s Gold: In Search of a Legend“.  There is lots of info online as well.

The legend states that in the late 1800s a Coquitlam native named Slumach would occasionally come into New Westminster with a bag full of gold nuggets.  He would blow the wealth on liquor and brothels and eventually return to his cabin on Pitt Lake.  Slumach allegedly would never tell the location of his mine to anyone.  In 1890 Slumach was found guilty of the murder of man named Louis Bee and hanged a year later for the crime.  There is a lot of debate around the circumstances of the murder, it may have been self defence but that is irrelevant as far as the gold is concerned.  It is said that prior to being hanged Slumach put a curse on the mine in the Chinook language  “Nika memloose, mine memloose”.  When translated into english the curse means “No man who finds the gold will live long enough to bring it out.”

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Hiking Out of Stave Valley

There are all sorts of ideas about the facts surrounding Slumach’s trial, his life and so on.  The truth is there isn’t much recorded history about the guy.  Some say he took women up the mine to cook for him and murdered them to hide the location.  Others believe their is no mine at all and he got his gold from robbing other miners in the area.  None of that really matters as far as finding a rich gold deposit in the mountains North of Pitt Lake.

There are other characters in the ongoing story that hold much more compelling evidence.  Not least of which is a prospector known only as “Jackson”.  He left a letter vaguely describing the location of a creek rich with nuggets.  Apparently Jackson found a very rich gold bearing stream somewhere North of Pitt Lake.  He carried as much gold with him out and buried the rest due to the weight under a tent shaped rock.  Jackson seemingly wrote the letter from his death bed in San Fransisco unable to return to claim his gold.  Here is the text of the Jackson letter:

Dear Friend,
It will come to you as a surprise after all these years to hear from me for no doubt you have long since forgotten me. But you will remember the old man you so kindly grub staked with money and provisions at Guytos. Since then I have prospected with the varied success that usually goes with the life of a prospector.
In 1901 I went to B.C. and it is of this trip I want to tell, and hope you will gain by it untold thousands for your kindness to me. I heard you went broke like most everyone else at Guytos but had lost all trace of you since then except that you had gone to Washington. Well, I made a great discovery in New Westminster but after coming out for supplies and tools was taken down with a severe attack of rheumatism that ever since has left me almost bedfast until a short time ago, when I recovered sufficiently as though to make the trip again.
I made up my mind to hunt you up and take you with me. In hunting over a Seattle directory I found your name and address and concluded to come to Seattle and talk the matter over with you. A few days after arriving here from my little place in the hills, I was suddenly stricken down again and the Doctors say that I will never recover and may drop off any time for my heart is badly affected. So I will tell you of my trip and what I found and direct you to the best I can to find it. It is too great to be lost to the world and I know with you it will be in good hands.

Well, I arrived in Vancouver about the first of July and hired a couple of natives to take me to the headwaters of the ____ then dismissing the natives I struck out in the mountains, and they are rough ones. I prospected up beyond the lake but found nothing of importance. But the formation looked all right. I concluded to prospect back towards ____ Lake. I kept well up on the mountains but was often compelled to make long trips down before crossing could be found on the deep canyons.
I had been out about two months and found myself running short of grub. I lived mostly on fresh meat for one can’t carry much of a pack in those hills. Found a few very promising ledges and some color in the little creeks, but nothing I cared to stay with. I had almost made up my mind to light out the next day. I climbed to the top of a sharp ridge and looked down into a little canyon or valley about one mile and a half or two miles long, but what struck me as singular, it appeared to have no outlet for the little creek that flowed at the bottom. Afterwards I found the creek entered a ______ and is lost.
After some difficulty I found my way down to the creek. The water was almost white. The formation for the most had been slate and granite but there I found a kind of schist and slate formation. Now comes the interesting part. I had only a small prospecting pan, but I found colors at once right on the surface and such colors they were. I knew then I had struck it rich at last.
In going up stream I came to a place where the bedrock was bare and there you can hardly believe me, but the bedrock was yellow with gold. In a few days I gathered thousands and there were thousands more in sight. Some of the nuggets were as big as walnuts and there were many chunks carrying quartz. After sizing up carefully I saw that there were millions stowed away in the little cracks. On account of the weight I buried part of the gold at the foot of a large tent shaped rock facing the creek. You can’t miss it. There is a mark cut out in it. Taking with me what I supposed to be about $10,000 proved to be over $8,000. After three days of extreme hard traveling it would not be over 2 days of good going but the way was rough and I was not feeling well. I arrived at the lake and while resting there at the Indian Camp was taken sick and have never since been able to return and now I fear I never shall. I am alone in the world. No relations, no one to look to me for anything.
Of course I have never spoken of this find during all this time for fear of it being discovered. It has caused me many anxious hours but the place is so well guarded by surrounding ridges that it should not be found for many years unless someone knew its being there.
Oh, how I wish I could go with you and show you to the wonderful place for I find I can’t give any exact directions and it may take you a year or more to find it but don’t give it up. Keep at it and you will not fail and you will be repaid beyond your wildest dreams.
I believe any further directions only tend to confuse so I will only suggest further that you go alone or at least take one or two Indians to pack food and no one need to know but you were going on a hunting trip until you find the place and get everything fixed up to suit yourself.
When you find it, and I am sure you will, should you care to see me advertize in the “Frisco Examiner” and if I am living I will either come and see you or let you know where to find me but once more I say to you don’t fail to look this great property up and don’t give up till you find it. I am very sorry I can’t give you more definite instructions. Of course I expected to have gone back long since. I have drawn a rough sketch that will help you. Success and happiness.
Yours truly,
W. Jackson

Not much else is known about Jackson.  There is another character called Volcanic Brown also known as R.A or “Doc” Brown.  Unlike the previous two Volcanic was well known in BC in the early 1900s.  Volcanic was a respected healer and prospector with many successes.  There is even a ghost town from a mine that was discovered by Brown that is called Volcanic City.  He discovered the large scale Copper Mountain mine outside of Princeton that is still operating today.  Volcanic Brown is said to have gained a copy of the Jackson letter and started looking for the lost mine in the late 1920s.  He would go each summer and stay out there for several months.  In 1928 he got frostbite and amputated one of his toes and continued to hike out.  I can tell you after hiking this area myself I would not have come back after that.

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Volcanic Brown

Volcanic Brown would check in at the small logging community of Alvin at the head of Pitt Lake at the end of his season.  In 1931 he did not check in and soon after a search party went out looking for him.  The search party trekked over the Stave glacier in November to find Volcanic (no small feat in itself).  They didn’t find the man but they are said to have found a collapsible pup tent, some cooking utensils, a double barreled shotgun, a notebook containing herbal remedies, and a glass jar containing eleven ounces of course gold.  The gold is said to have contained traces of quartz and was believed to have been hammered out of a solid vein.  The rescue attempt was well recorded, it even made the newspaper.  So Volcanic Brown definitely found some nice gold out there.  His last camp was found in the valley at the beginning of the Stave river near Upper Stave Lake.  My expeditions were in a similar area.

The final character is Stu Brown, no relation to Volcanic.  For me the Stu Brown story is what made the Slumach legend believable.  Brown had several science degrees and was a world war two air force veteran.  He apparently used stereoscopic air photos to identify the area described in Jackson’s letter.  The area that he identified was inside Garibaldi provincial park.  Stu Brown wrote numerous letters to the government asking for permission to claim the site and extract the gold.  He was unsuccessful in persuading them to allow him to mine, he even sent a letter to Teck mining corporation.

Terrarosa Lake
Terrarosa Lake

Stu described a 100′ high natural rock dam blocking a stream where water shoots out of a hole in the dam.  He described a pool at the base of the dam that is ankle deep in gold.  Stu was never able to give accurate directions to the spot however.

In 2012 I embarked on our first expedition to Terrarosa lake which is at the foot of the Terrarosa glacier and near the Stave glacier.  We did some gold panning and sampling in the area of interest.  This area was selected because it is near Volcanic’s last camp and vague clues that Stu Brown gave out seemed to fit in this area.  The geology of the area is very favourable for epithermal gold as well with a huge fault passing through from Glacier lake marking the boundary between two geological units.  In 2014 we reached a lower area in the valley between the Stave and Terrarosa Glaciers.  2012 took us 8 days and 2014 took 9 days of unsupported backpacking and rock climbing in very rugged terrain.  My next post will describe the details of the expeditions.

Check out part two here:

Part 2: Expeditions

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