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.

HayesValleyYota

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.

YukonGold

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.

LakeLabarge
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.
TheCamp

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.

InsideTent

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Mosquito

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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DrillTowDozer

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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Mining the Ocean Floor with Robots

Mining the Ocean Floor with Robots

Mining under Earth’s oceans is just starting to happen.  We have gotten pretty good at mining deposits that are accessible by land but 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water.  To date no large scale mining operation has succeed under the ocean which means that it’s all virgin ground.

Amazingly the human race has spent more time and money exploring outer space than we have under our own oceans.  Over 500 people have been to space while only three have ventured to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench.  We have better maps of the surface of Mars than the bottom of the ocean, although the ocean maps are pretty cool.

ocean_floor_map

The same geological processes that happen on land also take place under the ocean.  There are volcanoes, mountain chains, faults and earthquakes.  All the same types of mineral deposits occur under the ocean such as epithermal gold, porphyry, and placer.  There are also diamond pipes, massive sulphides and everything else that we mine at the surface.

Deposits

The ocean also has types of deposits that we can’t find on land.  One special mineral deposit is called Polymetallic Nodules.  These are concretions of metallic minerals that occur under the ocean.  The nodules grow sort of like stalactites do in a cave, over time layers of metallic minerals precipitate out of seawater and add to the nodule.  The growth of nodules is one of the slowest known geological processes taking place at a rate of one centimetre over several million years.

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Polymetallic nodules are roughly the size and shape of a potato and contain primarily manganese as well as nickel, copper, cobalt and iron.  They can be found on the sea floor or buried in the sediment.  Nodules can technically occur anywhere in the ocean but seem to be in greatest abundance on the abyssal planes around 5000m deep.  Nodule mining would be similar to placer gold mining except under water.

Anouther resource that is unique to the ocean floor is Ferromanganese Crusts.  These are similar to nodules but occur as a coating on other rocks.  These crusts can be found all over the ocean with thicknesses ranging from 1mm to 26cm.  Ferromanganese crusts typically occur in the vicinity of underwater volcanoes called seamounts or near hydrothermal vents.  Crusts with mineral grades that are of economic interest are commonly found at depths between 800m and 2500m.

Crust
Ferromanganese Crust

Ferromanganese crusts are composed primarily of iron and manganese, hence the name.  Typical concentrations are about 18% iron and 21% manganese.  Cobalt, Nickel and Copper occur in significant quantities as well.  Rare earth metals such as Tellurium and Yttrium can be found in metallic crusts at much higher concentrations than can be found on the surface.  Tellurium is used in solar panels and is quite valuable.

Sea-floor massive sulphides (SMS) are a younger version of volcanic massive sulphides (VMS).  The two deposits are similar except that VMS are typically ancient and SMS are currently forming.  SMS deposits occur where superheated hydrothermal fluids are expelled into the ocean.  They typically form around black smokers near continental rift zones.  SMS are know to hold economic concentrations of Gold, Copper, Silver, Lead, Nickel and Zinc.

BlackSmokerHiRes
BlackSmoker

Black smokers create SMS deposits by expelling superheated sea water that is rich in metallic elements.  Cold sea water is forced through the sea floor by the pressure created from the weight of the water column above it.  The water is then heated to temperatures in excess of 600°C when it is brought close to the magma that lies below.  The heated water becomes acitic and carries with it a high concentration of metals pulled from the surrounding rocks.  Once the hot, metal rich, water comes into contact with cold sea water the metals crystallize and deposit on and around the black smoker.

Mining

Large scale ocean floor mining has not taken off yet.  Attempts have been made since the 1960s and 70s  but failed due to technological and financial challenges.  Small scale shallow ocean mining has been a lot more succesful in recent years.  A great example is the popular TV show Bering Sea Gold.  The miners in Nome Alaska are using modified suction dredges to comb the sea floor in shallow waters.

Currently proposed sea floor mining ideas are essentially super high-tech placer mining.  They involve ways to dig through the surface layers of the ocean floor, bring the material to the surface and ship it to a processing facility.  Its a lot like dredging but on a massive scale.  As mentioned above, normal hard rock deposits also occur under the ocean but no plans have been proposed to build open pit mines under the ocean.  That would involve all the challenges of building a mine on land with the added complexity of operating under the ocean.

Why is ocean floor mining possible now when it wasn’t 20 years ago?  The answer comes down to one word, robots.  The world of under water mining is the domain of autonomous drones and human controlled ROVs.  Robot submarines are nothing new, they have been around since the 70s and have been used to explore depths of the ocean that are very difficult for humans to get to.  UUVs or unmanned underwater vehicles are a little bit newer, they are basically an autonomous version of ROVs.  Ocean mining robots have just been invented and share a lot of the technology used in these devices and they look like something straight out of science fiction.

cutter
The Cutter

The first deep sea mining project is currently being developed off the coast of Papua New Guinea.  The project is called Solwara 1 and is being developed by a Vancouver BC mining company called Nautilus Minerals.  Solwara 1 is a copper/gold SMS deposit with estimated copper grades of 7% and gold grades in excess of 20g/t and an average gold grade of 6g/t.  The property sits at about 1600m depth.

Nautilus has developed a suite of underwater mining robots and a complete system to mine the precious metal and bring it to shore.  There will be the bulk cutter pictured above, an auxiliary and a collection machine.  Please take a moment and marvel at these amazing achievements of engineering.

Transporter Bridge TeessideTransporter Bridge Teesside
 After the robots dig up and collect the ore a custom designed Riser and Lift System (RLS) will bring the material to a giant ship that acts as the mine control center dubbed the Production Support Vessel (PSV).  The RLS is basically the world’s most powerful suction dredge.  It’s pretty complex, this is the description on the Nautilus Minerals website:

The Riser and Lifting System (RALS) is designed to lift the mineralised material to the Production Support Vessel (PSV) using a Subsea Slurry Lift Pump (SSLP) and a vertical riser system. The seawater/rock is delivered into the SSLP at the base of the riser, where it is pumped to the surface via a gravity tensioned riser suspended from the PSV.

Once aboard the Production Support Vessel the mined slurry will be dewatered and stored until anouther ship comes to take the material on shore for processing.  The removed sea water is pumped back down the RALS which adds hydraulic power to the system.  Pretty cool stuff!  Check out the video below for an visual explanation of how it will all work.

Exploration

Ocean floor prospecting is not a good place to be gold panning or hiking around with a rock hammer.  It is also difficult to take usable photos due to poor light and lots of debris in the water.  So how do you explore for minerals in the ocean?  Geophysics and robots.

Geophysical exploration is not unique to the ocean.  The same techniques are used routinely on land to find every type of mineral deposit.  Ocean geophysics is also not new.  The main workhorse of mining exploration is magnetometry.  Which means mapping changes in earth’s magnetic field using a specialized sensor.  The technique was actually developed to detect enemy submarines during World War II.  Since then magnetometers and the science behind them have evolved into accurate tools to measure geology.

I’m using a proton precession magnetometer in the photo below.  There is some sample magnetometer data on the left.  Mag maps look similar to a thermal image except the colour scale represents magnetic field changes (measured in nanoTesla) instead of temperature.

Walk Mag in ActionSampleMag

Magnetometers are excellent tools for ocean mining exploration.  They are not affected by the water and are excellent at detecting metallic anomalies.  There are now underwater drones that can collect ocean magnetometer surveys without the need for human intervention.

Autonomous Magnetometer Drone
Autonomous Magnetometer Drone

Other geophysical techniques have been used in ocean mineral exploration.  Electomagnetics (EM) techniques are also great tools for exploration under water.  EM works in a similar way to magnetometry except that they emit their own source.  Conventional metal detectors are actually a small version of an EM system.  While mag passively measures Earth’s magnetic field EM measures the difference between a source and received pulse.  EM also works great for discovering metallic anomalies and is being incorporated into autonomous drones as well.

There are other types of ocean geophysics such as seismic refraction which uses a giant air gun to send a sound wave deep into the crust and measures the response on floating hydrophones.  Sonar and other forms of bathymetry can provide detailed maps of the ocean floor.  Bathymetry techniques can create imagery similar to LiDAR that is used on land.

Sample Bathymetry
Sample Bathymetry

Ocean mining is just in its infancy and some really cool technology is being used.  Advancements in the robotics have allowed mining and exploration to be completed without a person having into enter the water.  As technology advances further we will be able to explore vast areas of the ocean floor and discover immense mineral reserves that are presently unknown.  It is estimated that we have only explored about 5% of the ocean floor, who knows what we’ll find down there?

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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

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    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.

GranitePPan

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.

SamplesApril

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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Tulameen Prospecting Trip

Tulameen Prospecting Trip

Last weekend I went out to check out some claims on Granite Creek.  This creek experienced a significant gold rush in 1885.  The ghost town of Granite city is at the mouth of the creek, what’s left of it anyway.  Our GPS track is below.

TracksMap

We took Highway 3 from Hope to Princeton then took the backroads through the Tulameen.  The first stop was the Granite City ghost town, then up Granite Creek to my claims.  Later we drove up through the town of Tulameen up the Forestry roads to see Tulameen falls.  We camped nearby and exited the dirt roads at Britton Creek on the Coquihalla highway.  We checked out the Othello tunnels on the way home.  The whole trip was approximately 470km.  My 8 year old son accompanied me on this trip because he had a geography report for school and decided to do it on the history of this area.

We passed through the hamlet of Coalmont on the way to Granite Creek.  There’s not much there except for a couple of streets with some old buildings and these funny signs.

ColmontSign2ColmontSign1

I had been waiting a long time to check out the Granite City ghost town.  It was quite a large city at the height of the gold rush.  There were over two hundred buildings, 13 of which were saloons.  The bars in Granite ran flat out 24/7.  This was a real frontier town with all the ingredients for a great western movie, gunslingers, gamblers and prospectors.  With a population of over two thousand in 1885 Granite City was the third largest city in BC, even larger than Vancouver at the time.

GraniteCity1 GraniteCity2

There are many stories about Granite City, such as the lost platinum cache.  It is interesting that the tributaries of the Tulameen, including Granite Creek, are one of two places in the world where both platinum and gold are found in the creeks.  The other is the Amur river in Russia.  At the beginning of the gold rush in this area the miners were collecting platinum in their gold pans and rockers but they didn’t know what it was.  Platinum is very dense and will sit in the bottom a gold pan the same way gold does.  I have found platinum in my pan before and it took me a couple seconds to realize what it was.  Most miners kept their platinum but many threw it away with their black sands.

The lost cache legend states that a prospector named Johannson collected platinum from the miners and build up several tin cans full.  He apparently buried his cache within sight of the front door of his cabin with the intention of returning to collect it.  He was never heard from again.  At any rate there is not much left of this gold rush town today.  There are a handful of cabins in various states of decay, a monument and a graveyard.

GrantieCabin4GrantiteCabin3

My claims are about 17 kilometers up the road from the old townsite.  We took the Arastra creek forest road up to the confluence of Arastra and Granite creeks.  I met a local prospector while we were up there and he told me Arastra creek got its name because the chinese miners built a large water wheel crusher called and Arastra.  The claims that I have are not directly on the water so we had to bring our samples to the creek to pan.  It was very labor intensive.

GranitePPan GranitePails

One claim was right off the road so we were able to use my truck to drive the buckets of gravel to the creek.  The second claim required that we hike along Granite creek on a very old trail.  While hiking along the 2km section to my claim one can’t help but imagine what it would have been like out here in the 1880s.  There was evidence of old camps and such all along the way.  We even found an old miner’s cabin that had long since been deserted.

CabinWoods2 CabinWoods

We managed to get a few samples of 20L each.  I concentrated the samples on site with my pyramid pan so I only had to hike out with 1L bags.  We did a few test pans around the area and saw some color.  No platinum though.  After finishing the work on my claims we packed up our camp and headed up the Tulameen to check out an awesome waterfall called Tulameen falls.

OliverPan OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The waterfall is located approximately 30km up the river from the townsite of Tulameen.  The Similkameen tourist pamphlet that we picked up in Princeton said the waterfall is accessed by a 1km moderate hiking trail with two river crossings.  That doesn’t sound too bad.  When we got to the trail head it looked like nothing was there it seems that a forestry operation has moved the road an piled banks of large rocks over the old recreation site.  We found the trail marked by spray paint on a tree.  The first part was not too bad, then we crossed the river in our bare feet to keep our boots dry.  There were signs to only cross in low water but it seemed low enough.  The water was up to my mid thigh but a lot higher on my son.  After that the trail was pretty bad with some sections of no trail at all.  It looked like it was a well maintained trail once but must have been hit with a flood or something.   The waterfall is amazing, it has over 1400 feet of drop and a lot of water pouring over it.

TulameenFalls

We found a really nice free camp site a few kilometers up the road from the trailhead.  It is called Sutter Creek Recreation Site.  After staying the night we headed back to civilization with one more stop on the way.  We checked out the Othello tunnels just North of Hope.  These tunnels were part of the old Kettle Valley railroad.  The KVR was a steam railroad the serviced the region from Hope to present day Kelowna.  There are five tunnels close together and several bridges to make it possible to access this section of the Coquihalla canyon.  Apparently the lead engineer was a Shakepeare nut and named several of the stations after characters from Shakepeare plays.  There were Othello, Romeo, Juliet, Lear, Jessica, Shylock and Portia.

OthelloTunnels

Overall it was a great trip.  We did some initial sampling on two claims and saw some cool parts of Southern BC.  I have other claims in the area and will be back soon.  There’s something about the Tulameen that gives an eerie feeling when you are out there.  It could be the remoteness or the history of the area.  Maybe its the platinum, whatever it is I like it and can’t wait to explore the region in the future.

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Where Does Placer Gold Come From? – Part 3 Placer

Where Does Placer Gold Come From? – Part 3 Placer

Placer gold mining has been practiced for thousands of years with evidence dating back as far as 2600 BC in ancient Sumeria and Egypt.  The technology required is minimal with only a gold pan you can refine gold in a placer deposit.  The word “placer” comes from the spanish word meaning “pleasure”.  Perhaps an allusion to the delight of finding precious metal in a river bank.  The word was spread as gold bearing gravels were discovered in parts of North America colonized by Spain.  In fact the discovery of gold the primary motivation for Spanish explorers to dig deeper and deeper into the newly discovered continent.

Big Al Jig

As we discussed in the part 1 and part2 gold is created in fantastic cosmic explosions.  It has traveled across the universe and made up a small part of the material that the earth formed from.  Tectonic and volcanic forces collected gold in concentrated lode deposits where it can be mined.  The concept of how gold transfers from lode deposits to placer deposits is pretty straightforward.  Rock holding the gold bearing veins or ore is slowly chiseled and broken by weathering and erosion.  The erosive forces of water, wind, and ice transport rock fragments into drainage systems such as streams and rivers.  Gold and other heavy minerals will settle out in areas in the stream where the water loses momentum or creates a trap.  These traps form into placer deposits over time.

Erosion

Placer deposition is driven by gravity.  Gold is very dense, meaning that compared to another substance of the same volume it experiences a stronger pull of gravity.  There are other principles of physics that apply to placer deposition.  The property of inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion.  Less dense objects require less force to move them and in the case of a stream will travel farther and faster than heavy objects.  Gold has a density that is twenty times that of water and about 8 times the density of sand.  Another factor in the formation of placer deposits is Archimedes’ principle which states that the force of buoyancy on an object is  equal to the weight of the displaced fluid.  This principle was historically used to measure density of gold by Archimedes himself.  As gold is many times more dense than water the force of buoyancy on submerged gold particles is much less than the force of gravity.  So gold in a stream is held in place by gravity and resists movement due to its weak buoyancy and strong inertia.
Nuggets

There are several types of placer deposits.  There are alluvial placers, eluvial placers, beach placers, eloian placers and paleo-placers.  For each type of deposit there are miners who specialize in that type of deposit.  All placer deposits have concentrated gold from its source in some kind of trap.  The vast majority of the placer gold that is mined in the world is of the alluvial variety.

Alluvial placer deposits are formed in watercourses such as creeks, rivers, streams and deltas.  The gold is eroded from lode deposits and carried into the watercourse through rains and melt.  Once into a stream it can be moved great distances.  Gold does not move easily in a stream due to the inertia and buoyancy forces described above.  It takes many years for gold to make its way into a stream and to travel within it.  The gold will move along the bottom of the stream until it reaches a point where the water loses velocity or it is physically trapped.  Typically gold will accumulate on the inside bends of a river where the water velocity is lower.  Large rocks or outcrops can create a natural riffle or eddy where the water slows down and dense material will accumulate.  Waterfalls are another great trap for gold.

Alluvial placers can be broken into several groups.  Flood gold is placer gold that moves during annual floods or other flood events.  Gravel bars and upper sections of stream sediment are where flood gold is usually found.  This type of deposit generally consists of small flake and flour gold since they move more rapidly than nuggets.  Flood gold is actively being deposited and will replenish year after year

StreamSediment

Streambed placer deposits are essentially the same as flood deposits except that they no longer move.  Streambed placers are found in a current watercourse.  These deposits typically consist of gravel that is settled in the stream bed.  To produce a streambed placer you have to mine under the water.  Techniques that can be used are sniping, suction dredge, or diverting the water using a dam such as a wing dam.

The third type of alluvial placer deposit is a bench placer.  Bench deposits are part of the old stream bed before it cut into a deeper channel.  Benches can contain huge amounts of gold if the river carried gold at that time.  A bench is typically flat on top and may appear like steps coming down the valley side.  Benches can be mined using conventional mining equipment since they are usually high and dry above the current river.

OldSchool

Eluvial placer also known as residual placer deposits are formed before any water transportation has taken place.  These deposits form close the source of hard rock gold.  Eluvial placers will contain much large particles of gold than other types because it takes a lot of energy to move large nuggets.  Often quartz will be found with gold still attached in Eluvial placers.  These types of placers are formed by weathering and decay of the host rock that holds gold.  Areas where there is a lot of iron can break down rapidly as the iron oxidizes.  The lighter overburden is generally washed away and unsorted gravel and heavy material is left in place.  These deposits are generally small and very attractive to small miners they also are close to gold bearing veins which can be very exciting.

Beach placers are deposits that occur on the edges of large lakes or the ocean.  The wave action on the beach is the mechanism that concentrates gold and other dense minerals.  Gold can either be carried to the beach by an alluvial system or eroded directly by waves.  A famous beach placer is the deposit in Nome, Alaska which is featured in the TV reality show “Bering Sea Gold”.

CreepSaltSusp

Eolian placers form in areas where wind is the main mechanism of erosion and not water.  Eolian placers are similar to Eluvial placers in some ways, they occur close to the hard rock source, and are poorly sorted.  Wind does a terrible job of moving gold.  In Eolian placers the overburden is swept away by strong winds and leave the heavy ore behind.  They occur primarily in desert regions such as the arid regions of Australia.

The last type is paleo-placer deposits.  These are any of the above placer types that happened a long time ago.  By a long time we are talking about millions of years.  Paleo-placers were once placer deposits but over time they have been hidden and covered in sediment.  There is often no sign at the surface of ancient river systems below.  Paleo-placers can be ancient river channels, benches or sedimentary rock formed from old placers such as quartz pebble conglomerate.  This kind of deposit can amount to huge quantities of gold and make you very rich.  The largest known gold deposit in the world in Witwatersrand, South Africa is one of these.  Over 1.5 billion ounces of gold has been mined in Witwatersrand.  Deposition occurred approximately 3 billion years ago in Witwatersrand, and it is estimated that 50% of all the gold mined on earth came from that deposit.

Witwatersrand

That’s the story of where placer gold came from.  It was created in incredibly powerful explosions from dying stars.  It made up the earth as it formed and was squeezed into concentrated deposits by volcanic processes.  The veins eroded into river systems and hopefully made its way into your gold pan.  Gold’s unique properties of density and its resistance to corrosion and most other chemical reactions allow it to build into the kind of deposits that we can find and mine.

 

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Fraser River Unexpected Rock Climbing

Fraser River Unexpected Rock Climbing

In April I went to check out two claims in the area North of Lillooet, BC. These two claims are close to the one that I wrote about in my Southern Cariboo Prospecting Trip.  On the way up the Fraser Canyon I stopped at the old Alexandra bridge to get a peep at a claim that I have on the other side of the river.  The old bridge is part of the original Cariboo wagon road that serviced the gold rushes of the Fraser and Cariboo.  The Alexandra bridge that stands today was built in the exact same spot of the original bridge from in 1861.  The current bridge was completed in 1926.  There’s a lot of history here.

Alexandra Bridge 2 Bridges

In the second photo you can see the latest bridge in the distance that replaced the old suspension bridge in the 1960s.  The old bridge has an open grate for a bridge deck.  I’m not afraid of heights but it is a little hard to trust a bridge that has been decommissioned.  There has to be a reason right?

Long way down

Once again I travelled up the West Pavillion forest service road to do some gold panning.  This time though the road frequency had been changed, and the new one wasn’t posted yet.

Pavillion Road Sign

There were some phone numbers and a website posted but this area is outside of cell range so that is not really helpful.  I had a my trusty Baofeng but it wasn’t any good without the proper channel.  Here’s a link to the new posted channels for the area, FYI.  According to that site the new channel is 150.11 MHz.  Fortunately it was a quiet day on the road and I didn’t see anybody.

Claim #1, other viewClaim #1

I got to the first claim later that day.  I found a nice camp site near the dirt road and eagerly began hiking down to the river to take my first samples.  It looked pretty steep on the topo maps and with my prior experience in the area I was expecting it to be.  The maps were accurate and it was at least as ugly as I had imagined.  Loose gravel and significant slope on the way in.  I was hoping to find a more civilized route up once I got down to the river.

SamplesApril

I managed to get a couple samples before the light started to fade.  The samples that I take consist of two full pails each, and partially processed on site.  I use the pyramid pan to concentrate that down to about 1L and store the samples in a waterproof zip lock bag for the hike out.  It takes at least an hour to excavate each test hole in this area due to the abundance of large rocks making up the beach.

RockClimb1

My hope of finding a “civilized” route was not fulfilled, I marked the climbing route in the above photo.  I was faced with either hiking up the super steep talus slope or rock climbing up some exposed rock.  I chose the rock climbing.  I must mention that I am experienced with rock climbing and don’t recommend this course of action if you aren’t comfortable.  Its not exactly safe, especially with a backpack loaded with a pick axe, shovel, 5 gallon pail, samples, gold pans and all the other prospecting gear.  Not to mention no rope.

April Fraser Looking South April Fraser Looking North

I made it up OK, with a little bit of a gut check at the top, then hiked the rest of the steep slope up to the camp for some well deserved beer and food.  Little did I know that was just the beginning of the unexpected climbing on this trip.  On the previous trip to this area we thought that climbing ropes and gear might be needed for these claims but it was impossible to tell until you come over the edge towards the river.

AprilClaim2 Canyon AprilClaim2

The second claim was just down river from a small canyon.  This is a good thing for trapping gold but it does not make for easy access.  It all looked good on the way down but it dropped off steeply as I descended towards the river.  Pretty soon I found my self perched on top of what was a near vertical drop.  I spotted a line down but I couldn’t see the whole path.  At this point I was committed.    The further I descended the worse it got and next thing I knew I was reverse rock climbing down to the beach.

Claim2Beach

Once again I hoped that I would find a better route up.  This time around I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  I had a whole day of sampling to do so I’d worry about climbing out when the time comes.  I managed to get three good samples from the beach and inevitably the time came to climb out.  I knew the way in was very dangerous and didn’t know if I even could climb back up.  The photos below show the route to the beach.

Claim2ClimbDownClaim2ClimbDown2

I spotted a route to rock climb out but it was nasty too.  It looked like solid rock with good holds so I went for it.  It turned out not to be solid and almost every hold I grabbed broke loose and slid down the slope.  I got to a point about 3/4 the way up the rock climb section where I was certain that I was screwed.  No way up and no way down.  Not a good feeling.  After several minutes of gathering my courage I decided I had no choice and went for it.  Once I was on top and able to walk on my feet I was relieved and more than happy to hike up the rest of the steep slope to my camp. I didn’t get a great picture of the route up from the beach.  The photo below shows the approximate route.Claim2ClimbUp

I’ve gotten myself into these sort of situations more times than I’d like to admit.  Honestly though the unexpected situations are one of the most exciting parts of prospecting.  At the time you are terrified and wonder how you ended up in this situation but afterwards those are some of your best memories.  Without a sense of adventure who would go out to these places looking for gold?  As luck would have it, these claims actually had some decent gold.  The trouble is how am I going to get in there next time?

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Gear Review: Baofeng Handheld Radio

Gear Review: Baofeng Handheld Radio

Communication is essential for any placer gold operation to be successful.  It is also important for safety, in the event of an emergency communication can make the difference between life and death.

When out prospecting you are usually away from cell service.  So you need another way to communicate.  For person to person communication you can’t beat a handheld radio.  Even if you are within cell range radios are more convenient because of their field ruggedness and long battery life.

baofenguv-5r

The Baofeng UV-5R is an entry level dual band ham radio manufactured in China.  You can buy these radios for under $30 on Amazon.com!  In larger commercial operations, and even smaller ones, companies will use much more expensive radios such as the Kenwood TK-3402.  Those radio retail over $300 and have way less features.  Also to program a Kenwood radio you usually have to take it to a dealer.  You can program them yourself with the right cable and software but almost everyone brings them to a dealer.

BaofengFeatures

The Baofeng is a hidden gem.  After years of using much more expensive radios I had low expectations for a sub $30 Chinese unit.  I was blown away when I got these radios.  The biggest advantage that the Baofeng has is the ability to program radio frequencies on the fly.  When you roll up to a BC forest service road or active logging road they have the frequency posted at the start and you are supposed to call out the kilometers as you travel up the road.  The reason you want to do this is because there are large logging trucks and other equipment working up there.  When you are able to communicate with them you can prevent getting hit or trapped on a tight road with a logging truck.

You’ll wonder why other radios don’t allow field programming.  That is because you legally require a licence to transmit on many channels.  You could get in a lot of trouble with the Baofeng radio because you can program any channel that you want.  It is easy to listen in on police or ambulance channels.  I do listen to the police and other people some times for entertainment.  You can also transmit which is illegal.  That being said in the event of an emergency it would be worthwhile to contact help directly.

The range on these radios is also impressive.  They transmit at 4 watts, compared to the 5 watts of the commercial grade Kenwoods.  I’ve tested the range on the Baofeng radios at over 10km, they could potentially go further with good line of sight.  There is a dual watch feature which allows you to monitor two channels at the same time.  When you hit the PTT button it will transmit on the last channel that had activity.  There is a scan feature on the radio but it is very slow.

51hIZkiz13L

The stock battery will last up to 20 hours.  That is pretty decent, I wouldn’t expect any other radio to last longer.  I bought spare batteries for mine, they are also available for a reasonable price.  They are available for about $6.00 each at amazon.  The UV-5R features VOX capability which is usually only available on much more expensive radios.  VOX gives it the ability to trigger the PTT by your voice, basically hand free operation.

The Baofeng can easily be programmed to work with repeaters, such as the BC Forestry repeaters.  This feature adds to the versatility of this radio as an emergency communication device.  Programming on the handheld can be a little confusing although entirely possible.  I recommend using a PC and some free software.  There is a great program called CHIRP that makes programming these radios as easy as filling out a spreadsheet.  You can download CHIRP for free here.  There is also a great manual put together by the Chinese radio project.

51l3l5BpKkL

The UV-5R has memory for up to 128 channels.  It also has FM radio capability meaning you can listen to terrestrial FM radio stations.  There is a bright LED light included as well which is a nice feature.  The small form factor is kind of nice, I often forget I have it on me.  It has a belt clip but can fit nicely in a pocket as well.

In the box is the radio itself, the AC drop charger, the antenna, battery, belt clip, headset (works with VOX) and an english manual.

The Baofeng UV-5R is available on Amazon.com for an amazing price.

Baofeng UV-5R ($27.63)baofengSmalluv-5r

I’d also recommend:

Baofeng USB Cable ($5.99)

Extra Battery ($5.89)

 

Update:

Baofeng has released a new version of this radio with 8 watts of transmit power.  That gives it much more range than most commercial handheld radios such as the Kenwood TK series which operate at 5W and sell for over $300.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP ($62.89)

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Where does placer gold come from?

Where does placer gold come from?

If you are trying to find gold it helps to know where it came from.

gold-panning

To start with there is only one kind of gold.  Placer gold and lode gold both come from the same place and are made of the same stuff.  Gold is not actually formed on earth it was formed millions of years ago in distant stars.  In large stars, much larger than our sun elements are combined together in their cores through the process of nuclear fusion.  Our sun like all stars runs on fusion too but it does not have enough mass to produce atoms larger than carbon or oxygen.  Larger stars can generate the gravitational force and heat in their cores necessary to produce elements as heavy as iron.  To create things like gold even more energy is required and that takes place in a supernova.


Supernova

When a large star runs out of light matter the fusion reaction is no longer sustainable and the star begins to collapse on itself very rapidly.  The supernova collapse takes place in a matter of seconds.  While the star is collapsing it produces heat very rapidly and explodes in what is essentially a humongous nuclear bomb.  Supernova events are so bright and powerful that they are brighter than then entire galaxy that hosts the star.  This nuclear explosion allows for higher energy fusion reactions that can produce heavy elements like gold.  The explosion also scatters the newly created material over great distances.
SolarNebula

So how did the star dust make it into the mountains and rivers on earth?  When our solar system began approximately 4.6 billion years ago it was a cloud of dust and gas called a nebula.  This nebula was composed of the remains from older stars that had spread their guts around the universe in supernova explosions.  The molecules of the nebula naturally pulled on each other by the force of gravity growing more and more dense.  As the nebula was collapsing in on itself it also started to spin faster and faster.  The condensing and spinning action formed the nebula into a disk, much like you spin dough into a pizza.  In the center where the force of gravity is the strongest a new star was created, our sun.  The swirling mass around the sun clumped together into the planets, moons, asteroid and comets that we see today.
Early Earth

The early solar system was different that it is today.  The big planets did not form all at once, it was a gradual process.  Small plantoids formed first and crashed and coalesced into each other to form larger planets.  In theory the distribution of gold was basically even in all the rocky material that made up the early solar system.  In the early earth, while it was still completely molten the heavy material (such as iron and precious metals like gold) all sunk to the center of the planet to form the core.  The process is similar to the way that dense material sinks to the bottom of your gold pan.  If you could mine the core you would be very rich but it would be very difficult with current gold mining equipment.  Current scientific theories estimate that there is enough gold in the core to cover the surface of the earth with a 4 meter thick layer of pure gold.


earth-core

We can only reach gold that is trapped in the crust of the earth.  The precious metals in the crust were put there by meteor bombardments that took place after the crust had formed.  As these meteorites crashed into the surface of the earth they disintegrated and mixed their material into the upper mantle.  The meteorite guts had the effect of enriching the amount of precious metals in the crust.

 

So we know where gold came from and how it was formed.  Stay tuned for a future post to learn how the gold formed into deposits in the mountains and streams that we mine.

 

Check out Part 2 & 3 here:

Where Does Placer Gold Come From? – Part 2 Deposits

Where Does Placer Gold Come From? – Part 3 Placer

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Propsecting Tools: The Gold Pan

Propsecting Tools: The Gold Pan

There is a whole world of tools to assist in gold prospecting out there.  Every day you hear of a new innovative product that will do all the work for you and leave you with clean gold while you sit in your lawn chair and drink beer.  Some of these claims are true, most are partially true or only work under ideal conditions.

There are concentrator jigs, highbanker sluices, magnetic machines, trommels of all shapes and sizes, rockers, dredges, blue bowls, miller tables and anything else you can imagine.

The quintessential tool for any prospector is and always has been the gold pan.  It is the go to tool in the prospector’s tool kit.  The concept is quite simple, you shovel gold bearing gravel into the pan, agitate it and allow the more dense material to reach the bottom.  You then remove the lighter material from the upper layer and re-agitate.  After repeating the motion several times you are left with only the dense material including gold.  Everyone has their own little tricks for panning, including myself, but it all boils down to the same thing.

Gold pans have not changed dramatically over time, historically they used a metal, shallow smooth pan.  Much like the one in the photo below.  That’s me in the photo, I was on an exploration trip in the Yukon and found that pan in an old cabin.  It was old and rusty but still worked.

Indian River Yukon

Today there are many styles of pans available with different kinds of riffles and shapes.  There are square pans, pyramid pans (which I’ll cover in a future post), and round pans.  Also they come in different sizes from 6″ to 30″.  Essentially the larger the pan, the more material you can run.

Realistically a pan is not a production gold separator by today’s standards.  You will really use a pan to test areas to see if and how much gold is present.  So a gigantic one doesn’t make a lot of sense.  I use 14″ pans in the field for testing, they allow a reasonable amount of material to get an idea of the potential grade.  I also have some smaller pans around 8″ diameter.  They are great for the concentrating process after you have collected your samples.
Assorted Pans

I prefer the green plastic pans made by Garrett.  The plastic gets roughed up over time and works to keep gold in the pan.  Also they have very effective riffles and a smooth side for finer panning.  The green color shows the gold really well.  Black works OK but in my opinion green is the best for spotting small gold.

I don’t like metal pans for a couple reasons, they are heavier which matters to me because I go to a lot of rugged areas that require hiking in.  They have less aggressive riffles.  Metal pans are also susceptible to rust and they require that the oils left over from manufacturing be burned off prior to use.

As a beginner or experienced gold panner I recommend plastic pans.  Check out the links below to get some for yourself.

 

Garrett 14″ Gold Pan ($10.60)

garrett14inchpanI have three of these pans and they work great.  The big riffles make it easy to move lots of material.  The gravity trap in the bottom holds fine gold very well.  They are tough!  I have fallen on them and dropped them down rock faces and they do not crack.  Also the green color makes gold extra visible.

 

VAS 8″ Gold Pan ($5.79)

IVAS8inchpan have a couple of these smaller pans that I use for cleaning up samples and panning small amounts of material.  This is a versatile pan, the large riffles work well when you have the pan full.  I use the smaller riffles most of the time for fine panning.  This pan also has a trap in the bottom like the Garrett and a similar green color.

 

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