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.

Bazooka

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


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

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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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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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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.

Hedley PanningHeldey Sample Location
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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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Lytton Prospecting Trip

Lytton Prospecting Trip

In March I took a trip to my new placer claim near Lytton, BC.

The claim is located approximately 30km to the North of the town of Lytton on the Fraser River.
Access to the claim was gained via Highway 1 from the lower mainland to Lytton, the ferry is taken to the West side of the river and then 4×4 roads to the claim. We took Spencer Road North which is a dirt road. The driving distance from Abbotsford is approximately 230km and took about 4 hours to drive. The map below shows the route taken.

LocationMap

This was my first time taking the ferry across the Fraser river.  It is the weirdest ferry I’ve ever been on.  The ferry is connected to large cables that are anchored on each side of the river.  It travels along the cable as it goes across.  Ther ferry is held up by what looks like two canoes.  Once it starts moving it immediately drifts in line with the current, it is a bit of an unnerving feeling being such a small ferry.

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Once past the ferry you are on to Spencer Road West which eventually become the Texas Creek FSR.  The claim is about 30km up this road.  The road is in decent shape but you don’t want to slide off.  Check out these photos.

West Spence RdSpencer Road

Once at the claim I was excited to find a way down to the beach to take some samples.  First I had to set up my camp, I chose a location near the road for easy packing of gear.

While finding a way down I came across what looked like an ancient river channel.  There is evidence that a creek may run through here seasonally but not this year since it was such a dry winter.  The hike wasn’t too bad getting down there.  Once at the beach I found a spot to start digging for my first sample.

Lytton Claim ChannelBeachAccess

I managed to get four samples over the two days that I was at the claim.  Each sample consisted of a measured volume of material concentrated on site by gold panning by hand.  I use a special pyramid pan to concentrate on site, more on that in a future post.  I then concentrate the sample individually at home.

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It was a good trip.  There was gold in all my samples and I’ll definitely be going back to this claim.  I’d like to investigate that possible channel as well.

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