looking for the source

In the last post I explained that while our new spot ended up having spectacular gold, but we soon learned that we were only getting material brought down by small springs over the top of a bedrock cliff.

For the last few weeks we’ve been working on finding the source of that gold on the ridge up above.  In the National Forest, we’re not allowed to simply blaze new trails whenever we feel like it.  We have to work our way through the forest, with as little damage as possible, dig test holes, then go back and apply for permits to build more trail.  Sounds simple enough? Its not. The forest is thick here, so thick you cant even really see what lies ahead of you until you get right up on it.

But we have been trying.  We spent part of a day stuck on a tree where the excavator slid sideways and pinned the tree between the track and blade.  We couldn’t cut the tree, we had to winch the excavator off by hand.

With the wash plant sitting idle, we have been digging holes, getting bucket samples, fill the hole in, and rinse-repeat.  Tedious and frustrating.  The crew’s morale has been low.  We even spent part of a day sneaking into our old dig site and running some of that dirt, just so we could remember what gold looks like.

 

 

I’m sure you are wondering, if there is still gold there, why are we spending time digging test holes?  It’s because we are almost out of paydirt in that spot, we need to identify a new dig site if we are going to continue mining, and we only have one summer to do it.  We can’t do both.

What makes matters worse is just digging a bucket sample isn’t enough.  We’re digging into ancient river benches, just because you dig one hole, doesn’t mean you’ve found the correct spot in the river channel.  You could be digging in the wrong side of a curve, or where the water was too fast to collect gold, or miss the channel completely by a few feet.

We’ve found a spot that we do have access to where the gravel looks good.  Its 100 feet away from the hot spot identified on the magnetometer survey, but we thought it was worth running a few yards through the trommel to see what happens when we get into the bench.  The returns so far have been disappointing, but seem to be improving as we get further into the formation.  Summer is waning, the kid will have to go back to school soon, but all we can do is keep trying.  Gold is where you find it after all.

Nothing is ever easy..

Last time, I kind of left you all wondering what kind of gold we were getting at our new spot.  Let me share with you what happened, and it’s nothing like I was expecting when I wrote the last post.

 

We started digging into the bottom of the hill at the new spot. Once we got the mudslide problem handled, we were able to start processing the material.  The returns were good. Really, really good.  The gold was bigger, and there was more of it.  We calculated the yield at more than 50 dollars a yard.  For those of you not in the mining business, to put this into perspective, consider that most commercial operations look material at least 15 dollars a yard to be considered profitable.  We were on top of the world, after 7 years, it looked like we had finally found what we had been searching for.  We bought an excavator. We started filling in our old dig.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until we hit a wall, both literally and figuratively.

As we dug into the hill, we started to expose rotten slate bedrock.  This is not always a bad thing, sometimes the gold will work it’s way down into the cracks of the rock.  We even found a quartz vein in the wall; when we crushed the pieces and panned them there was gold in the pan.  However, more dirt we ran, the bigger that wall got in front of us, and the worse our cleanouts got worse.  The wall was now taller than the reach of the excavator.

We stopped and spent a day testing buckets all the types of material we were  seeing to try to see where the gold was coming from.  The tests showed that the gold was coming from the dirt on the top of the wall.  Our returns were good because we were digging in the stuff that had sloughed off from the top. Somehow, we had to get on top of it.

If I haven’t described the new spot to you, its a steep valley where multiple little springs run down from the top of the canyon wall.  These springs bring down tons of soil and rotten vegetation, and it’s sopping wet.  We spent a day trying to work our way up the hill, it only resulted in us pulling the track off the excavator and spending the rest of the day trying to put it back on in the mud.

We considered building some sort of ramp, but it would take weeks to haul the material to build it, and it would extend almost to the river.  Once we got up there, there would still be no way to maneuver.

I wish I could tell you that we figured it out, but we haven’t yet.  We DO know that there is probably only one way to do it.  We have to go back down the trail about a 1/4 mile and try to work our way up to the top of the valley through the woods.  In the National Forest, we are not simply allowed to drop the blade on the dozer and create trails wherever we need them.  It takes permits, time, and money to get approval for that kind of thing.  We will have to weave our way through the trees as we are not approved  to cut them.  If you’ve never walked through the forest in Alaska, you might not know that very rarely do you find that you can easily walk through the forest, there is usually a pretty thick underbrush.  if its hard to walk, imagine what it’s like to drive a tractor.

I’m home with internet to write you this because we had to make a trip back to town to get the new excavator welded.  The thumb on the excavator broke off along an old weld and it was more than we could fix in the field.

The plan is to attempt to get to the top this week, do some testing to see if we can find the source of that good gold, and then if we find it try to figure out how to get it down for processing.

I wish I could leave you with my usual optimism, but it’s hard to find right now.  We know there’s gold there, we are just not sure we are going to be able to reach it.  It’s starting to get dark in the evenings, its almost the end of July, and there’s no going back to our old spot at this point.

Incredibly frustrating, but that’s gold mining for you.

 

An unexpected road trip

Things are moving right along.  In the last post I shared with you the challenges of opening up our new excavation.  It’s nothing but mud, broken slate, and a pain in the neck.


With our new rock base, we we able to start testing the material.  It looked good, really good.  The gold is bigger, and there is more of it.  The only problem is, we could only dig into it with the excavator, which is also what we use to load the trommel.  Imagine the frustration of finding a spot that’s twice as good, but you can only run it half as fast!   We’d have to spend half the day staging, drive the excavator to the wash plant, and then spend half the day running material.

For some time we’d been considering another excavator, then our backhoe started exhibiting the same problems it spent all winter in the shop to resolve.  Decision made, we had to find an excavator.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this.  We have never borrowed money to buy equipment.  As far as I’m concerned, debt is the main reason that miners fail.  You’ve got to be able to weather the breakdowns and the times the pay runs out without worrying how you’re going to make your next payment.  That philosophy though, does make buying equipment challenging, the used equipment available in Alaska is sparse, overpriced, and usually in need of repair.

What an adventure this search lead us on!  We took an atv ride to visit an excavator that had lived it’s life on the beach.  It ran perfectly, but we ultimately passed on it because the cab was nothing but rust.

Then around the campfire, searching craigslist on my phone, I saw it.  The exact model excavator as our beloved kubota.  We have a whole trailer full of spare parts for that model.  Only one problem, it was 500 miles away.

Alaskans are used to driving.  If you ask one how far to get from one city to another, you will usually get an answer in hours, not miles.  We were looking at at least 7 hours each way, hauling a trailer over mountain passes with no cell signal and virtually no services.


We left at 5 the next morning.  I forgot how beautiful the drive is.  We passed a glacier and several spectacular vistas.  We found the seller’s home and didn’t even haggle on the price.  It was perfect, it even had (sigh) an enclosed cab!

It took a while to close the deal, it turned out the owners were miners.  If there’s one thing miners like more than mining, it’s talking about mining.  Eventually, we bid them fairwell and headed back home.

It was a caffeine fueled, white-knuckle trip back.  My husband got us home at three in the morning.  I had long since become so tired I was not only seeing things, but hearing them too.


Armed with “cabbie”( as we named the new excavator to differentiate it from the other one) we were able to continually keep the washplant stockpiled and running.  When the choke on the trommel motor started rattling loose, we jammed a stick in it and kept running.

That’s probably enough for one post.  I’ll tell you about the cleanout next time.  In movies and in books I hate cliffhangers, but here I’m going to do it to you anyway.

After all, have to keep our readers coming back.  Thanks for following us!

A sticky situation

Meanwhile, back at the mine.

Things have been going pretty good.  Trommel has been running great, new water pump has allowed us to speed up processing.


However, looking at our current dig site we started to realize at this rate we were going to run out of material to run in short order.  We decided to start working on developing our new dig site.  It’s scary to abandon a site where the gold returns are reliable and move to untested ground.  While the magnetometer survey we had last year tells us there’s a good indication of gold, it’s not a guarantee.  We won’t really know until we start processing.


First step, we had to remove a few trees.  Drag them down to camp, cut them up for firewood, or save them for our dear friends the wood turners to turn into works of art.

We’ve been having very unusual weather lately, thunder and hail.  Fire crews have been out looking for lightening caused ignitions.  We even had a fire crew come into our camp fully armed and ready. They were relieved to find it was just our campfire smoke they had been tracking.


The rain and the natural drainage at out new site ended up causing some problems for us.  It wasn’t long until the area turned into a soupy mess.  Mud to the top of the tracks on the dozer.  Digging into the bank, water started pouring out and causing a mud slide.  It was the stuff that would have made great reality television.  Me hollering at my husband on the excavator as huge rocks and mud start falling toward him. Him furoiusly trying to free the tracks from the mud so he can move out of the path of the slide.  While it may have been exciting for the viewer, it was not that fun to experience, we knew we had to step back and find a safer way to do things.

As we all learned in Sunday School, “the wise man builds his house upon the rock” and that’s something we DO have in abundance.  Rocks.

We are hoping that a good platform to work from will allow the hill to drain and also allow us to dig from a safe distance should things start sliding.  We’re going to let it dry out for a few days and try again.  I’ll keep you posted.

One good thing about the rain is that the forest has provided us with another treasure.  A great addition to steak night!

Once more

 Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more – William Shakespeare

After an agonizingly late spring, we finally got the mine back up and running.  And we’re finding GOLD!

Earlier this year, we made a promise to ourselves to not let things like breakdowns get us down this season.  First of all, it doesn’t make any difference, if your broke down – you’re broke down- attitude has nothing to do with it.  Also, we wanted to get back some of that feeling that made us become gold miners in the first place. We’re in God’s country, with the people we love, doing what we love – what’s there to feel bad about?

In the last post I mentioned that we lost the seal in our main water pump.  After hours of international calls, and finding out there’s a three week window to get the 200 dollar set of o-rings (highway robbery); we did the only sensible thing – we bought a brand new Honda water pump!  We should have done this years ago – water came FIRING out of the end of the trommel, we had to adjust the level.  Now as a result – we’re able to run a lot more dirt.  And we all know what that means….

Spring came in with a vengeance – I swear I could actually hear the plants growing.  Frosty nights turned into 70-80 degree days.  We even had to take a break and find some water for our crew to cool off in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turns out we did have a little break down, we lost a hose on the backhoe.  We used the time to do some dental work on the excavator.  It looks much better with all its teeth

 

 

 

 

 

 

After running the trommel for a while we did a clean out.  We were happy with the amount of fine gold and black sand we were getting.  So we ran a little more.

 

 

 

 

 

After a few days of running, the carpets had visible gold in them.

 

Since Christmas we’ve been waiting to try out the mini trommel that Santa brought the crew from our friends at Gold Fox USA.  We were very pleased with how fast it was to run the concentrates from the sluice box, and how much gold it trapped.  I’ll do a video for you guys once we get it a little better figured out.

 

 

 

All in all, a good few days at the mine.  It’s almost time to start clearing our new hot spot that was identified on the magnetometer survey we had last year.  We’re almost out of dirt in our current spot, and now that we have everything else dialed in so well – I can’t wait to see what’s in there!