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This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine
Sep/Oct, 1998 on Page 4. This issue is still available! Click here.

By Dave McCracken

“Discovering a King’s Ransom of incredibly rich blue stones in Madagascar!”

Dave Mack

sapphireI am writing this on my laptop computer from a comfortable and well-equipped base camp in the remote reaches of northern Madagascar, where the natural resources are very plentiful but almost completely undeveloped. The country was under control of a dictator until just a few years ago. Now, like many other mineral rich countries free from the iron grip of communism, and eager to catch up with the western world, this country is allowing mining exploration companies to locate and help develop its very rich resources.This country is verypoor; especially in the rural areas, where much of commerce, and even people, are still being transported around on wooden carts being pushed or pulled by barefooted men:

The weather here is very, very hot. Blistering! I am sure to lose the skin off the back of my neck from several hours of exposure today, even with my safari hat on. The natives work directly in the hot sun all day, every day. It does not seem to bother them.

This country has never been explored for mineral resources with the use of modem technology. Most of the natives are not even using shovels! Most often, they use small metal salad bowls to excavate the sapphire-rich gravels from their digging holes. The gravels are loaded into burlap bags and carried long distances to the nearest water for processing. Sometimes water is miles away. Some miners process less than a cubic foot of gravel per day. Yet, they have bags of rich blue sapphires to show for their effort.

This morning, our guide took us out to a small digging area close to this camp. There has been a substantial rush of Malagasy miners into this area because of a very recent sapphire discovery of huge proportions. As the discovery continues to be defined and developed over the coming months and years, it will likely evolve into one of the largest sapphire finds in history.

We are fortunate to be here right at the beginning. No other western mining companies are here, yet. There are presently an estimated 10,000 (and growing) Malagasy hand-miners working in the field. But, the deposit is so large, they have not even scratched the surface. And because the truly-rich stones come from deep diggings, these hand-miners will need to settle for the surface deposits, which by themselves, are enormously rich.

Here follows an explanation of the commercial potential by my longtime personal friend and mentor, Sam Speerstra:

The small area we went to this morning was being dug by hand-miners less than a meter below the surface. They were turning up lots of nice blue stones, some of them large in size. The excitement was felt everywhere. Even young children were digging and pulling blue stones. It was explained to me that it only takes one good stone to support a local family for a year or longer. Such stones are being found every day by hand-miners. A truly good stone can set a family for life. These turn up often. But the best stones are found deep, where only heavy equipment can go. The largest sapphire found so far was discovered near here only several months ago! The native who found it, and all his heirs, are set for life!

Check out this video sequence that I captured during one expedition we made into the sapphire area. It shows how these simple and friendly people are pulling so much wealth from the earth:

While they also do the mining activity right alongside the men, it is usually the woman that are selling gemstones to local buyers (who are also mostly women). Clearly, the women in these remote reaches of Madagascar have the most business savvy. I captured the following video sequence of a short buying transaction. Watch how firmly this woman holds to her (high) price of $4 for a beautiful blue stone, despite the fact that she probably had to sell it at any price to feed her children that evening:

My client is the person who owns the commercial rights on a lot of this property. The local hand-miners are providing a very valuable service, even though they are removing millions of dollars worth of stones from his properties. Where local miners are finding great value at the surface, mechanized equipment will turn up a treasure trove of the highest-quality material upon bedrock, several meters below. One small mechanized operation has been recovering as much as 50,000 carats of sapphires per day along the bottom in just one area.

My clients expect to recover 370,000 carats of gem-quality sapphires out of just one small dig over the period of about a year. That is a conservative wholesale value of 15 million dollars for one small dig. Yet this is only a drop in the bucket. They are planning to launch several simultaneous operations; but they admit that they will never be able to effectively cover the vast rich deposits located on their concessions. The deposit is estimated to cover at least 100 square miles!

This afternoon we visited a boom town that has recently sprung up in this area. I would estimate this one town contains at least 5,000 people. The entire community has developed during the last several months solely around the sapphire mining. Hustle and bustle and excitement are everywhere. Big trucks and small vehicles of every kind and shape are flowing into the town from other locations to bring necessary supplies to support this activity. A lot of people are getting rich here, and are displaying their wealth. Gold jewelry is almost unheard of by the working class in Madagascar, where the prevailing minimum wage is less than ten cents per hour. But there is a lot of gold jewelry in this boom town; it is around people’s necks, on their arms, at shops along the very crowded marketplace, which is nothing more than bamboo and rattan huts by the thousands. Fortunately, I had my video camera with me and was able to capture the following sequence:

 

I saw one man tied to a tree with his arms fastened to his sides in the central part of the boom town. I assume he was caught stealing or jumping someone else’s claim. Justice is dealt out harshly and swiftly here. It is a good place to stay out of trouble!

Sapphires were being shown and traded everywhere in this boom town and elsewhere. In fact, I have not gone anywhere during the last week where people have not flocked to me, asking if I want to buy sapphires. Because we are white, and presumably rich, people are literally attacking us with their sapphires; handful upon handful of rich blue and green stones. I saw some the size of cherries, and am told they are being found much larger. Today, I could have bought buckets full! At one point this afternoon, I thought there was going to be a riot, or that we would be crushed by the sheer force of people trying to sell us these beautiful stones for pennies on the dollar of their actual worth. I was told to not take any money out of my pocket, for fear of a stampede. Sapphire buying under these conditions could be dangerous!

Some of the sapphires shown to me were absolutely breathtaking. They are like nuggets of blue, radiant, transparent beauty. Mesmerizing or hypnotizing, these stones are really getting to me. I have felt gold fever in my previous exploits. I was struck with treasure fever a few years ago on a dig in Central America when we uncovered a hoard of pre-Columbian gold treasure. But sapphire fever is something else altogether. Maybe it was a combination of a number of factors — perhaps the high excitement level of all those people pushing these incredible stones at me. But the way the sapphires radiate a sea-blue color when held in the light creates a captivating lure which is very hard for me to overcome. Every uncut stone is different, each with its own radiant life-light and individual character. Short of actually being there to experience it directly, this following video sequence is the best I can do to demonstrate how beautiful these stones are:

Since I am here at the bequest of clients, I have behaved myself and focused on capturing some of the experience with my camera. I have to close now because we are getting ready to plan tomorrow’s events, which, I am certain, will be every bit as exciting as today. Tomorrow we will visit a place where several thousand hand-miners are digging their fortunes with nothing more than salad bowls!

****** Following day:

Tonight, despite my exhaustion, I cannot shake the excitement from what we witnessed today in the sapphire diggings.

I thought the last few days were blistering! Today, to get to this new discovery, it was necessary to hike several miles up a rather steep incline to the top of a mountain plateau, where literally thousands of hand miners are working a newly-discovered shallow sapphire deposit of enormous proportions. It must have been 120o F in the shade! Unfortunately, there was little shade to cover our ascent of this mountain.

We were traveling light, though, compared to the hundreds of local supply couriers who were hauling materials up the mountainside to support the extensive mining activity happening at the top. I saw people carrying huge loads, mostly of food and basic supplies. Even the younger, stronger couriers were sweating today.

At the top, we found yet another sizable boom town of at least a thousand people. There were restaurants and shops of all sorts. Three weeks ago, there was almost no habitation here. This shanty-town has been erected along both sides of the trail, just on the down mountain-side of a big strike. Excavation pits are everywhere, all throughout the town, and even along the narrow trail. My first thought was to make certain to be off the mountain before dark. Some of the excavation pits had no bottom in sight. What a shock to fall in one of those pits at night while looking for the bathroom! What bathroom?

I captured the following video sequence, which was taken at a water (mud) hole where women and children are processing the sapphire-rich gravels that are being packed in from miles away on the backs of miners:

We did not nearly reach the top before local miners started approaching us with their stones. Local stone buyers were around everywhere, as this is where stones can be purchased at the lowest price. The miners came to us in hopes of receiving more money for their labor. So we were slowed down a great deal by the scores of miners who wanted us to have a look at what they had found. This did not conflict with our mission, though, because we went there for the exact purpose of seeing what the local miners are finding. There is no doubt the local miners are finding impressive volumes of rich blue sapphires!

I captured the following video sequence of even children wanting to sell us handfuls of beautiful stones:

The diggings were so extensive that we could have easily devoted an entire week up on that single plateau and not see it all. We picked only one erosive canyon to explore on this day, and it kept splitting off over and over again, with mining going on up every split that we saw. So we only touched upon a small portion of the diggings.

Most of the excavations were small in size, with a bottom in sight. I think the reason for this is that the dirt and gravel must be packed out of the holes. At the point where the hole becomes deeper than three meters, the material needs to be taken out in buckets on ropes. This takes additional helpers. I am assuming the miners must have decided that it is more efficient to dig out of shallower holes. And digging they were, everywhere we went!

This arrangement makes my clients very happy, since the pothole method assures less than a third of the surface deposits are being worked, and almost none of the deep deposits, where the truly rich stones lie waiting. I say only a third of the surface deposits; because in their haste, the local miners shovel their tailings and waste material over about two thirds of the ground while digging their pits. Then, rather than dig through their own tailings again, they move on to a new location once an excavation pit becomes too deep to work efficiently. There is no shortage of new places to work. People were digging everywhere, with everyone we saw having sapphires for sale.

Here follows just one of many buying sequences that I captured on video today. It shows world-class gemstone specialist, Tom Banker, pay a local miner the price he was asking for a rich, blue stone:

The upside for my clients is that they can follow up in the abandoned diggings of the hand-miners with near certainty of making an easy fortune using mechanized earth-moving equipment. Here, Sam Speerstra explains how the geology of the area has caused the sapphires to form rich concentrations:

We did, however, see several deep digging operations today. One had miners down in a very deep hole, using buckets and ropes to get the dirt and gravel to the surface. We were told the excavation was over 30 meters deep. This group had the biggest and highest-quality stones we saw all day.

Here follows a video sequence showing Tom checking out one of the largest sapphires we bought today. I paid the full asking price of $100 for this stone. Tom says it will weigh 7 or 8 carats after it is cut and polished in Bangkok:

I saw one miner going into a deep, narrow hole with a lighted candle in his hand to illuminate his work area. He was smiling. Going down into that small, unsupported crawl-hole, I would not have been smiling no matter how rich the sapphires! My clients asked if I wanted to capture the underground diggings. But fortunately, the batteries for the light to my video camera were not charged. Too bad!

Another larger group of hand-miners had apparently tapped into some kind of natural cave system, saying that they were excavating several kilometers into the earth. They also had very rich stones to show for their effort.

Man, did we see sapphires today! Handfuls! Bucketfuls! And some big ones! Beautiful, radiant sea-blue. I love sapphires! I never paid much attention to them before. Now I want to have some for myself. Big blue ones that radiate that special magic feeling…Check out this following video sequence, and I think you will understand what I mean:

I am told this new area we visited today has sprung up over the past three weeks. My clients surveyed this area a month ago, and say there were only just a few miners, and no town existed there before. Now the place is crawling with people. I am told this very same thing is happening all across a very large geographical area.

This adventure is just beginning, and I look forward to future visits to follow the development of this magnificent find.

 

 

By Dave McCracken

Given your available resources, what are you trying to accomplish in the time allowed on this project?

Dave Mack

Knowing what to do in gold prospecting is only the first step. Beyond that, you must actually apply your knowledge to real life situations in the field. The inability to properly apply mining knowledge in the field is the primary cause of unsuccessful gold prospecting operations.

I have talked with prospectors who knew exactly where the sample holes should have been dug or dredged. They could even point out the specific places and give the reasons why. But, for various reasons, the holes were never dredged, or the sampling plan was abandoned before it was completed. Their failures were not necessarily due to a lack of willingness to work. Some of those guys were doing plenty of physical work every day! But, they just did not seem to be able to channel their work-energy into those areas that were really essential to get them into gold. They could not stay on track!

This is not only a matter of following through with a single plan. Sometimes, people are unwilling to depart from some course of action once they get started into it. Sampling requires more emotional flexibility than this. Many times, we are just guessing, or hoping, when we begin a sampling operation. Then, as we sink our sample holes, if we are paying attention, we learn more about the area and are able to adjust our sampling plan accordingly. We learn where the gold path (the highway that gold follows in the waterway) is more likely to be by finding out where it isn’t. We find out that the streambed is too deep in some sections of the river by dredging test holes in places where we can’t reach the bottom. We have to be prepared to adjust our sample plan each time we learn something new.

A lot of this comes back to identifying and taking the proper approach. This process begins with the fundamental question: What am I trying to accomplish in the time allowed to me on this project? And the second key question: Given my available resources, how is the best way for me to accomplish that? If you answer these questions with integrity, and then direct your activities accordingly, you will be on the right track.

Sampling technology is easy. Gold follows a path in the waterway and deposits at the bottom of hard-packed streambed layers. You find the deposits by first completing sample holes across the waterway to establish where (laterally) the gold path is located, and in what layer (depth) of the streambed it is found. Then, you sample down to the depth of that layer, along that path, until you find the deposit you are looking for. That is the essence of sampling technology, wrapped up in the last three sentences.

So what makes it difficult to apply? It’s the internal, emotional struggle involved in not knowing where the gold is. It’s easy to get discouraged after working hard to complete several test holes in a given area and not finding what you are ultimately looking for. Discouragement can override a person’s willingness to stick with a sampling plan. People give up on areas that have not yet been properly sampled. Negative emotions can obscure your recognition of positive signs. We all struggle with this. In fact, this is the main struggle you have to overcome in gold prospecting.

Sometimes, only small traces are the first sign that a gold deposit is near. These small traces of gold are exactly what we are looking for! We must then follow these traces to see where they lead. So we cannot allow our own personal discouragement distract us from looking for the small signs that lead us into the high-grade gold deposits.

Stop and think about this for a moment: If we already knew where the gold was, we would not have to sample. We could just go into production! But, if it were that easy, someone else would have already taken all the gold. The reason there is so much gold remaining in today’s waterways is because it is not visible. And, since no one can see it, most people believe it is not there.

In view of the fact that you don’t know where the gold is when you start sampling (or even know that it is there at all), your real personal challenge is to diligently adhere to your sampling plan, while watching very closely for the signs that will direct your search to those places in the waterway where the deposits are most likely to be found. This, in essence, is the game you are playing in prospecting. It is a game to stay ahead of your own discouragement.

The knowledge about what to look for is secondary to your willingness to apply yourself to the task of recognizing the positive signals when they are there. Your success depends directly upon what you do with the information you receive from your samples. These decisions are made internally. To make them correctly requires focus and discipline.

I often see people get discouraged when they fail to find a rich gold deposit in the first sample hole. We all experience this to some extent. But, this happens only because we have allowed ourselves to set unreasonably-high expectations. The sampling process is never about a single sample hole. Rather, it requires us to spread out across a waterway to find the “gold path,” no matter how many sample holes that may take. That’s the mission. Sometimes it takes 4 or 5 samples. Sometimes it takes more. How can you expect to guess it right on the first try? Isn’t that an unfair and unrealistic expectation?

It is better to view sampling as a quest to find and follow the gold trail up into the deposits, instead of just dredging a sample hole, or even a series of sample holes. What are we trying to do? Find a deposit, right? So, our job is not to simply put down a sample hole. It’s about finding and following a trail. This is what you need to be thinking about. This is the wavelength you need to dial into. Then, your focus will be where it belongs.

Don’t allow yourself to get too discouraged if a sample hole does not turn up a rich deposit. Instead, feel good about finishing one step in the series of steps necessary to track down a gold deposit. Analyze what you have learned from the sample. Consider how this new information should affect the way you proceed in your overall sampling program.

Can you see why personal application is the key to success or failure? No matter how much you know, if you are not out there actively, passionately, diligently sniffing out the path that gold follows as it lays down deposits in the waterway, you are not going to find very much, unless you are just plain lucky.

Consistent success depends on applying the right basic approach.

 

 

 
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By Dave McCracken

“Planning to Get it Right the First Time”

Dave Mack

Planning for a mining program largely involves the following elements:

1) Legal
2) Location and accessibility of the project site
3) Politics with government and local people
4) Timing
5) Operational considerations
6) Shelter and living-support
7) Specialized equipment
8) Supply of food, fuel, supplies and other needs
9) Security
10) Medical and/or emergency support
11) Communications
12) Personnel

All of these elements are vitally important and each must be managed well to make a mining program successful. I’ll just briefly discuss each element in general terms.


Sometimes, it is necessary to construct your own road into a remote location.

Because every project is different, relative levels of importance will change depending upon local circumstances. To give you some idea about this, I encourage you to read several articles about the challenges we have faced on different types of projects from our own past experience. Reading through the stories will give you insight into why good planning in advance vastly increases the potential for success in any project:

Legal

The serious part begins with acquisition of the legal right to pursue a mining project. While this is always important, the need to protect your own interest increases in proportion to the magnitude of your investment. It also increases in proportion to the potential for valuable success. My best advice would be to make sure your legal rights are secure during the very early part of the development-stages in your mining program.


Because gaining the legal rights to a mineral property can sometimes require substantial investment in itself, it is not uncommon to perform the preliminary evaluation, or even a preliminary sampling operation, before negotiation of legal rights are finalized. In this case, it can be wise to negotiate the final terms in advance, pending the outcome of your preliminary evaluation or sampling.

In other words, you might not want to buy or lease a mineral property until you are certain for yourself that a commercial opportunity exists for you there. And you also probably will not want to invest the resources to prove-out a deposit unless you are certain you can develop a project if something valuable is found. Balancing these two needs is a challenge that must be overcome.

Note of caution: In the event that you will invest your own resources into some preliminary field-work to evaluate a property before final negotiations are completed, some consideration should be given to keeping the results of your initial observation and results confidential. This is so that the information does not undermine your position in the negotiation. While this is not always appropriate (depends upon your agreement with the property-owner), it is definitely something that should be considered during planning.

The bottom line is that you will want to make sure that your investment into a project is going to be secured by legal agreements in advance.

In some countries, dealing with the officials can be the biggest challenge to your project manager.

Another note of caution: One has to be particularly careful when negotiating agreements with private parties and/or government officials in developing countries. Sometimes corruption will undermine the rule-of-law. Under these circumstances, legal agreements may not be enforceable. The U.S. State Department usually publishes a brief risk-assessment about doing business in most countries.

In any event, if you decide to proceed, it is wise to secure the services of competent legal professionals residing in the country where you will do business.

Location and Accessibility


The location of your potential project site(s) will substantially affect the cost and difficulty of pursuing a mining program. Equipment, fuel, supplies and personnel must be transported to the site, and withdrawn when the project is complete. This will need to be accomplished either over land (using roads or trails), by water (using boats) or by air (using airplanes or helicopters).

“Remoteness,” these days, often has more to do with the cost of transport, than the distance things need to be moved. For example, a project site that is accessible by a 2-day river trip on a sizable transport-boat can be much-more easily accessible, than a site that is much closer to civilization, but requires everything to be transported via a 45-minute helicopter ride.

  

As every situation is different, important consideration and cost-analysis must be given to how you will move gear, supplies and people to and from your project site.

The more remote the location, the higher-grade the mineral deposits will need to be to justify a mining project.

Politics with Officials and Local People

Any mining program will find itself interacting with government officials and people who reside in the area where the activity will take place. The politics involved with these various relationships is important to maintain, and always will depend, in large part, upon good judgment and emotional flexibility by the project manager. This is even more true when local people will be hired to help support the mining project.

Environmental considerations fall into this element. Not just the true environmental consequences; but just as importantly, the perceived potential impacts that local people, various NGO’s and government officials worry about — even if their perceptions are not based upon reality. You have to manage the real environmental considerations, and you also have to respond to the way people are reacting to your mining program.

Managing relationships with officials in developing countries is a very challenging and risky business.

Because each situation is entirely different, no matter where you do your mining, the best advice I can give concerning this important element is to make sure you have a level-headed project manager that has some vision and understands that every action will have a consequence.

 

Timing

It takes very specialized people to recover good samples off the bottom of a muddy river.

Effective dredging operations require underwater visibility. Visibility is necessary to execute a planned excavation of a dredge-hole, and also for more than one diver to work underwater in the same excavation.

Muddy water turns visibility to pitch black just inches below the surface. Submersible lights do not help, because they will not penetrate through suspended sediments. So a dredger’s progress in dirty water is reduced to whatever he can or she do by feel. It is a very slow process, and safety-margin for the diver is radically-reduced.

Many mineral-rich areas on the planet have distinct wet and dry seasons. It is important to look into this. Because waterways most-often flow at higher, faster levels during the wet periods – and can also run with poor or no underwater visibility.

More often then not, Rainy seasons create conditions that prevent dredging operations from being effective. It is very wise to plan your sampling and production programs to begin at the beginning of the dry season.

  

Besides making dredging conditions nearly impossible, the rainy season can also turn road-access into a nightmare! As an example of this, check out the following video sequence that I captured on a road in Cambodia during the rainy season:

When operating in developing countries, unanticipated delays can often delay start-up times by weeks or months. So it is better to time such programs to have all the legal matters resolved, important relationships in good order, and equipment ready to go well in advance of the dry season. While this may sound obvious, more often than not, our Pro-Mack Team has been called in to help with dredging programs just as the rains were beginning and the river was turning muddy. The water was so dirty in the following video sequence, that it was pitch dark only inches below the surface:

Starting a dredge-sampling or production program during the rainy season is near to creating a mission-impossible scenario for the project manager. And your divers, no-matter how enthusiastic they are in the beginning, are likely to lose some of thier motivation to continue once they experience the nightmare of a dark and mucky river-bottom..

Still, sometimes you are forced to do preliminary sampling when conditions are not ideal. In this case, it is important to make safety the primary concern and also realize that results will only be a fraction of what can be accomplished under more suitable conditions.

Project operational considerations

This is all about how you are going to do the sampling or production-part of the program. This is the mission-plan. What are you going to do? Where? For how long? Exactly how are you going to accomplish it? Who is going to participate? With the use of what gear and supplies?

Are you going to need a boat to move your equipment, fuel and people around on the river, or are you going to use roads or trails? Will your access to different places along the river be challenged by extreme fast-water areas, or water that is too shallow to float the dredge?

Are you going to set up a single base camp and return there at the end of each day? Or are you going to move the camp as you make progress sampling along the river?

How deep is the water and streambed material? This will affect the type and size of dredge you will need to accomplish the job, how much dredge-power you will need, and how long the suction hose and air lines need to be.

Will you be dredging in fast water areas? This might require you to bring longer hoses to extend your reach while keeping the dredge tucked into slower-water pockets along the edge of the river.

Are there any critters in the water, or along the edge, that you have to defend against? What special gear is needed for this?

In some places, equipment to move big rocks is even more important than the dredge you will use. Are their big boulders that will require special winching gear to move?

Will you need to bring along special tools to cut a trail or to build living platforms in the jungle?

How are you going to recover the gold (or gemstones)? This is a big question that should be resolved as well as possible during the preliminary evaluation, and entirely confirmed during sampling. If a specialized recovery system or process is required, you will need to bring the gear and supplies along with you so you can perform those tasks.

Shelter and living-support

How you will feed and shelter the people who are part of your project largely depends upon the nature of the people involved, how dangerous or uncomfortable the environment is, and how long they will be there.

  

Generally, you will find that helpers from the local village have their own way of providing shelter for themselves and the food that they eat along the river. Sometimes, they don’t require much more from you than a plastic tarp and some rice. I have been in a lot of jungle environments where the local help either brought along their own hammocks and a cooking pot, or already had small shelters set up along for themselves the river.

It is important to address the needs of the local help (which are usually not much) during the preliminary evaluation, and not impose conditions (or food) upon them that they are not comfortable with.

Bringing specialists into a harsh environment from the comforts of civilization requires careful planning. While this may not be true everywhere, it is my own experience that while local helpers are somewhat amused by the special requirements of westerners, they usually do understand that we are not jungle-dwellers like they are. However else they may feel, there is always respect (and desire) for the nice toys and tools that we bring along.

Sometimes, the most important part of shelter is to get off the ground.

The bottom line is that you must bring along whatever is necessary to shelter your personnel from the dangers and any severe discomforts of the environment. Every place is different. A tent goes a long way to keep bugs and (smaller) critters separated from people. Sometimes (often) it is necessary to set up camp off the ground, even when tents are being used. This may require bringing along some wooden boards to put up a platform. Sometimes the platforms already exist, made out of lumber, bamboo or small trees. Sometimes they can be constructed from materials that are present on site. For example, the following video sequence shows a preliminary base camp where tent platforms were constructed from hardwood lumber sawed out of trees on site (with a chain saw):

The locals will know what you need to do to keep your personnel safe from the more serious threats. You will have to use your own judgment how to provide people with support that will keep them reasonably comfortable under the circumstances. It is important to figure this out during the preliminary evaluation.

On many of the projects that I have been involved with, we hired several helpers from the local village that were also good at hunting and fishing. This reduced the amount of food that we needed to bring along.

A word of caution: When hunters bring dogs, it is wise to avoid making very much contact with them. These jungle dogs are loaded with critters that would much-prefer a human host! Hunting dogs generally increase the need to reside off the ground.

Another word of caution: When living with jungle-dwellers, you must be especially vigilant at imposing strict sanitary measures with anything to do with the food and water that you will consume. This is not easy; because your jungle helpers will not understand, and it is near-impossible to overcome normal routines that are part of their life and culture.

There is a lot to be said about bringing along a special cook who will look after the food and water-needs for the personnel on the team that come from non-jungle environments. This must be a person who already understands basic sanitary principles; and ideally, who normally resides within an environment where such measures are practiced. We have found from past experience that it is too late to try and teach sanitary measures to someone (who will prepare your food) after you arrive in the jungle. And since you cannot watch everything that is done to prepare your food, you can find yourself with a whole crew of sick (sometimes seriously) people even before you hardly get started!

The bottom line is that you have to plan on providing food and water that will not make your people sick, and it is important to provide them with a reasonably comfortable, safe environment to sleep at night.

Specialized equipment

As we have discussed equipment needs in other articles, I will not go into them here. The main point is that you must bring along the gear that will allow you to accomplish the mission.

When accurate samples are required where special recovery equipment is needed, and the sampling must be accomplished with portable dredging equipment, it is sometimes necessary to dredge the samples into special, floating catch-containers. Then the samples can be carefully processed on land.

Here is where you can buy Gold Prospecting Equipment & Supplies.

 

Supply of food, fuel, and other needs

It is important during the preliminary evaluation to establish where you will acquire fuel, food and other supplies to support your program. There are many primitive areas in the world that do not have structures, services and supplies like we do in the west, so you cannot just assume operational needs will be readily available. For example, the following video segments show areas where we have had to supply mining projects where even small corner food markets are not present, much less Safeway or Albertsons:

Sometimes, access is such that you can plan for a continuing supply of essentials and other needs as the program moves forward. Sometimes, difficult access requires that you bring everything in at the beginning, or plan on occasional deliveries. To keep costs down, deliveries must often be arranged by local boat traffic or by cart over primitive trails. The following video sequence was captured on a project we did in Madagascar, where local deliveries were made by ox cart:

Occasional or regular deliveries increase the need for dependable communications and financial arrangements so that you can better-coordinate with those who will provide the support from a distance.

As there is no refrigeration in the jungle, it is usually true that hunters will need to come up with something every day to keep meat or fish on the table. Even if local help will provide a local supply of protein, we have found that it is a good idea to bring in a supply of freeze-dried meals or canned goods – just in case the hunters have a dad day. Being hungry is hard on morale!

Security

Security is always a concern on a mining operation, on multiple levels. There is the gear out on the river, the gear and supplies at the base camp, the personnel involved with the operation, and the product that is being accumulated. Understandably, every situation is different; so flexibility and good judgment is required.

Under a lot of circumstances, many security concerns can be resolved by investing some advanced-effort and goodwill into the politics with the village(s) in the surrounding area, and with the local people that are hired to help you. A good manager will strive to find the balance between helping a little with the needs of local people, with getting the job accomplished that he is there to do within the budget he has to work with.

One of the first key people to hire in a mining program is a good interpreter. This must be a person whose politics are not in conflict with the local villages. It is important that you enquire about this, because sometimes there are politics going on that you cannot see on the surface.

One of the first priorities during a preliminary evaluation is to pay a respectful visit to the village chief or elder(s). Bringing along a bottle or two of whiskey to present as a gift (unless it is a Muslim community) is almost always a great inroad, and eliminates the requirement that you drink the local brew (which can make you sick) when making friends.

I always make a strong effort to bond with the leaders of the local village(s). For the most part, it is accurate to predict that politics with the local people will go just about as well as you have made friends with the local leaders. Here is a place where a little time can be invested well.

When visiting with local leaders during the preliminary evaluation, I look around to see what I might bring as meaningful gifts that can be shipped over with the sampling gear if we decide to take things to the next level. I am not talking about spending a lot of money on gifts. Flowers don’t cost very much, but look how much they are appreciated when you present them in a meaningful relationship! Thoughtful gestures go a long way in a new relationship, especially when there is a wide gap between the cultures and the toys being played with.

Being thoughtful in advance can be far less costly than the loss of key gear or equipment by theft, once you are committed to a sampling program.

Some mountain-river environments have very limited access, and not very many people or traffic are moving around. These communities can be rather small, and there are not many secrets. If the general consensus amongst the local people is to support you and/or leave you alone, you will usually not have very many problems with security.

Sometimes you have to resign yourself that there will be a continuous audience of onlookers watching the mining activity along the river. This is mostly because local people have never seen anything like that before. So it may be necessary to work out some reasonable boundaries with the village elders.

  

Whenever possible, we set up camp some distance away from the local village. This is good practice for a number of reasons. But mainly, it sets up a natural boundary (by distance), creating some degree of privacy. I have never been on a project where local villagers did not respect the privacy we created by setting up our camp some distance away.

I have also found that bringing along some small gifts (like extra pocket knives or Leatherman tools) goes a very long way with the most productive helpers. Although, I keep those out of site, and only pass them out after I have managed some initial bonding with some of the helpers. Special rewards to the most enthusiastic supporters can help build productive relationships.

Generally, we have found that if you treat them with respect and kindness, helpers from the local village understand that we are not the same, have special needs that are different from theirs, and possess desirable belongings from another world – which belong to us. If something turns up missing, I usually make an issue of it right away. This can cause the item to turn back up a little later and eliminate future problems in this respect.

Places where your personnel are in danger from other human beings will require site-specific security measures. Some mineral-rich areas have ongoing civil wars, separatist groups or insurgencies to worry about. Some places have people or groups that kidnap outsiders and hold them for ransom as a means of supporting themselves and their political movements. Needless to say, these are concerns that are important to discover during the preliminary evaluation. Such concerns will almost always be outlined within the State Department’s information about the country. The following video segment was taken in Cambodia on a project where it was necessary to maintain our own local security force:

Increased security problems raise the level of cost. Therefore, the mineral deposits must be richer to justify the risk.

Some careful thought needs to be given to how you will secure money, gold or gemstones, sample results and the other valuable possessions during a mining project. This should probably involve a security safe during an extended production program.

During a sampling program, it just might be that the project manager needs to keep the valuables in his personal possession. Waterproof bags are good to have along for this.

A word of caution about this: If you are making payments to others in the field during a project, it is unwise to pay directly from the source of where you are keeping the valuables. For example, opening up the day-pack where you are keeping all the valuables to pay a vender in the village. Because secrecy is the only security you have protecting those valuables, it is better that outsiders do not see where they are being kept. Keep the bigger money-stash a secret from anyone who does not need to know. In a private place, pull out enough to pay for things, holding that money in a pocket, wallet, belt-pack, or whatever.

This secrecy-concept also extends to the gold you recover on a mining program. Especially during production! We always set up the final processing structure well away from local traffic, and only allow those near that should or must be involved. The product is never shown or advertised around. It is also hidden like the money, if there is not a well-anchored security safe where it can be locked up.

Showing large amounts of money or other valuables (relative to local levels of income and wealth) is a sure-way to increase security-risk on any mining or sampling operation.

As long as we are on this subject, you also should be careful with your valuables in hotel rooms within developing countries. Keep valuables out of sight, locked up in a suitcase, on your person – or sometimes the hotel provides a safety deposit box. You have to use your own judgment what is the best way to keep things safe. It can be a big mistake to assume the hotel staff, or even the manager, will not go through your room and belongings when you are not present!

 

Medical and/or emergency support

When setting up a mining program, it is important to establish how and where your personnel are going to receive medical care if they need it, and also emergency support if there is any kind of serious problem.

A lot depends upon how inaccessible the project site is. When there are villages nearby, you can sometimes find some local medical assistance for matters that are not of a serious nature.
The villages sometimes will have a method worked out to manage medical emergencies.

Sometimes you can locate an emergency-evacuation service from a larger town or city that will send a helicopter or small plane to recover someone who needs emergency medical care. It is a good idea to arrange this service in advance, and work out how you will communicate with them in the event that you need their help (at any hour). It is a good idea to arrange a medical-evacuation service, even if there are local medical services available. This is because medical care generally is better as you get to larger hospitals that provide service to bigger populations

   

There is also international emergency medical evacuation insurance available at relatively low cost. This service will send a medical team out to recover you in a medical emergency anywhere in the world when competent medical assistance is not available where you are located. We always require any and all personnel who accompany me on a project outside of America to obtain this type of insurance.

While there are probably many other options for this type of insurance, I have personally had good luck with Travelex Insurance Services (800 228-9792). They provide $50,000 in world-wide medical evacuation/repatriation insurance, plus other benefits, at a cost of around $260 per year. And I happen to know that they make good on it. One of my guys was critically injured in an automobile accident during a project in Madagascar several years ago. Local medical care was poor. So the insurance company immediately arranged to send an airplane with a medical team on board. They evacuated my guy to La Reunion Island (France), where they proceeded to save his life. As soon as he was safe to move again, they repatriated my friend to a hospital in San Francisco. He survived only because of this insurance.

The type of work, and the environment where we perform it, is already dangerous enough. Preventative measures are the best way to avoid medical emergencies. The more remote the location, the more careful everyone has to be.

During preparation for a project, one of the first things we do is have all my helpers go into the local county health department (America) and bring themselves up to date on every inoculation that makes good sense for the location where we will do the project. Because we work in the water, it is important that my guys are up to date on their hepatitis, typhoid and tetanus shots. In addition, county health departments have written guidelines (put out by the World Health Organization) for all areas of the world, listing other concerns (and preventatives) for specific areas.

The three primary ways to get into a medical situation during a project are:

A) Accidents: While accidents do happen, they mostly can be avoided by planning things out well in advance and having responsible people involved who are being careful. Good management and responsible people can generally stay a few steps ahead of Murphy’s Law (Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, at the worst possible time!).

 

No matter how good they are at what they do, we never include “wild and crazy guys” in projects where I am asked to participate or provide a team. The risks to the project are too high.

B) Critters: The local people will know what they are and how to deal with them. It is important to find out what the threats are, especially within the water-environment where we work.

Because we dredge in the water during the sampling phase, it is vital to find out what the critter-problems are (if any) during the preliminary evaluation.

When I first visit a potential project site, one of the most important things I look for is to see if local villagers are bathing, doing laundry and swimming in the river (especially the children). It is always a good sign if they are. Life revolves around the water along these river-communities. So if you do not see people in the water, it is important to find out why.

There are plenty of things to worry about in the water – like snakes, flesh-eating fish, flesh-eating reptiles, electric eels, different types of aggressive mammals, and smaller critters that make you sick in different ways. The local villagers will know about them all (if any). They will also know how to avoid danger. When talking to the locals about the potential dangers to divers in the water, I cannot over-stress the importance of having along a really good interpreter – who will take his time and do his absolute-best to establish some dialog and understanding on this important subject.

If there are local villages within the vicinity of where we will do a project, during the preliminary evaluation, I try and visit each and every one of them. Besides the other things that I do during these visits, I also try and find out if there are sick people in the village – and what they are sick from. In addition to gaining an idea if the sickness might be something that could impact upon our project, it also creates an opportunity to return with medical supplies to help the village if and when we follow up with a sampling program. Helping the sick people in a village is a sure-way to make friends.

C) Sanitation: During my visit to the local villages, I also look to see what they are doing for toilet facilities. If they are going right out into the river, we will need to bring along our special full-face dive helmets to reduce exposure to dangerous bacteria.

Often, the primary sanitation-concern is inside your own base camp. Not to get too graphic about this; but it is common practice all throughout the developing world (especially in the remote areas) for people to wipe themselves with their hand, not wash well (if at all), and then go directly into food-preparation. Locals normally can drink water (with apparent impunity) from the river (or a well having ground water exposed to unsanitary conditions from the village); water that would put an outsider into a good hospital for a week (and there probably won’t be a good hospital around under those circumstances)! They use that water for drinking and cooking. Because these are practices everyone does in their community, and they are part of their everyday world, it is nearly impossible to have locals do food preparation for you without substantial risk to your personnel.

The best way to avoid continuous problems with sanitation (can be very serious), is to set up your own camp some distance away from local communities and bring in your own cook. This can be someone from the same country who lives in an environment where sanitary-measures are a normal way of life. Then, your cook must insist that he or she is the only person that comes in contact with the food that you will eat and the water you will drink (and that will be used for cooking). This can be a little tricky when there are hunters or fishermen involved, but it can be worked out.

When initially setting up a base camp, it is important for the project manager to walk through and review all the vital elements that will affect sanitation. How and where are the toilet facilities set up? Does everyone know where to go? Is there tissue paper — and will people actually use it? Is there a place to wash up (with soap)? Where is the drinking water coming from and being stored? Is that being kept well-separated from unsanitary water? Do all your personnel know where to find the good water? How about the cooking water? Where are the cooking and eating-utensils being cleaned up and then stored? Who is cleaning game animals, how and where?

We also always bring a medical kit along. Besides the standard items included in an emergency medical kit, here is a list of items that we also include:

Aspirin
Anti-Rash powder/spray
Domeboro-ear preventative
Ear antibiotics
Eye wash
Hydrogen peroxide
Antibiotic ointment
Pain pills
Internal antibiotics for wounds
Antibiotics for respiratory-infection
Diarrhea antibiotics
Lip balm
Salt tablets
Thermometer
Malaria medicine
Alka Seltzer
Tums (anti acid)

While all of these items can be purchased over the counter in many places outside of America, it is wise in today’s world to obtain a doctor’s written prescription for any items that would require it during international travel.

 

Communications

Several levels of communication are necessary in a mining operation. Communication is usually necessary between project personnel and local helpers, between the different personnel involved with the project, and between the project and the outside world.

For communication with locals, I cannot overstress the importance of finding someone who knows each of the languages very well, who is honest, helpful and genuinely interested in your project. This is just as true when dealing with government officials.

An enthusiastic interpreter will dig for the information that you want to obtain. When communicating with local people on the river, sometimes it is necessary to ask many questions in different ways, to different people, to bring them around to the same concepts that you are trying to express. When you work with people from different cultures who have radically-different backgrounds, often you find that they just do not conceptualize things the same way that you do. A good interpreter is able to bridge this gap and help you get the information you want with some degree of accuracy. He will also help you avoid misconceptions or misunderstandings that can build up stress with locals along the river.

There are plenty of low-cost weatherproof walky-talkies available today which can be very helpful in a field environment where personnel are separated by relative short distances – like between the base camp and where some mining or sampling is being done along the river.

Longer-range radios are often used between the base camp and civilization. Although atmospheric conditions sometimes make this mode of communication unreliable.

Satellite phones keep getting more portable and easier to use as time moves forward.

The cost of satellite telephone systems has come down dramatically during the past few years, and is probably the best solution for a remote base camp’s link to the outside world. Many satellite systems will allow a laptop computer to be connected for data-transfer. This is particularly useful for sending progress reports and images. It is also useful for sending supply lists to whoever is supporting the operation. A satellite telephone is very valuable in dealing with emergencies!

Personnel

I saved this section for last, because it is really the most important. If you study all of the material on this web site, you should realize over and over again that it is the personnel on your project that determine the final outcome. They are the key factor that makes it all happen.

Mining projects are not easy. There are many challenges to overcome. Every decision made by the manager and others involved with your project will move the world in a direction that either contributes or subtracts from the momentum necessary to reach key objectives. Ultimately, the people you choose to play in your band will determine exactly how the music sounds. I have discussed this very important element in other articles:

There are so many details that must be put in their proper place and managed correctly to accomplish a successful sampling program, or a production mining operation, that there is little chance of ultimate success unless the program is managed and implemented by experienced, responsible, enthusiastic people that are strongly motivated to make it all come out the right way.

 

 

By Dave McCracken

“My first breath was so shallow, it seemed almost insignificant in satisfying my need for oxygen.”

Dave Mack

 

I was doing all right with dinner. This was my first occasion to eat Thai food in Bangkok, but I have sat through a lot of similar dinner meetings in other Asian countries. I knew the routine from past experience. Eat a little bit first. Then, taste-test before taking a big bite!

This time, however, we had more than just a few drinks before dinner. This was a first-time meeting with new clients who had asked me to evaluate some potential gold dredging properties in Madagascar. Initial meetings are always a little tense for me. First impressions mean a lot all around. I always want to get an idea who I am working for. The clients want to know who they are paying, how good a job I am likely to do for them and how much they can depend upon me. So these first meetings are pretty important. I want to do my “best” to get through the initial discomfort of unfamiliarity, while not extending into the relationship too quickly. This process is a “touchy-feely” sort of thing. I definitely want to impress the clients and instill confidence.

In this case, we started with drinks, jokes, stories and discussions of the latest movies. I had to listen to the discussions about the movies. By the way, it never ceases to amaze me that my acquaintances in other countries have always seen the latest movies before I have. They know every American actor, and every movie each actor participated in. They also know every American sports star. No doubt about it, America’s biggest influence upon the rest of the world is the medium of entertainment! Our entertainment, for better or worse, is seriously affecting the rest of the world. By the way, you might also be interested to know that in every single other country that I have visited during the past few years, Americans are held in the highest regard. Contrary to what our own news media would have us believe, we are very well liked and respected in many foreign countries.

This initial meeting was going pretty well. Clearly, the clients were extending very warm, informal hospitality toward me. I was feeling quite comfortable. There were seven Thais and one American in this meeting with me. The American helped balance things for me, as the Thais kept shifting back and forth between English and their native language. This is very common in these types of meetings. The clients speak together in their own language, and then address questions or comments to me in English. It makes me a bit uncomfortable to be the only one in the meeting not knowing what the others are discussing, especially when it becomes clear that at least parts of the discussion are about me. Over the years, I have evolved a method of dealing with this that centers on an emotional faith that “the clients trust and respect me.” Otherwise, I would not be asked to meet with them in the first place. I generally just try to “go with the flow.” If there is a joke or a comment that involves laughter (sometimes directed at me), I take it in good humor, and go along with it. I know that if they are comfortable enough to joke around at my expense, I have already made it a step closer in establishing a trusting relationship with the clients. Most of the time, I don’t know what is being said in the other language or what the laughter is about.

So it was, on this evening in Bangkok. We did not discuss business at all that night. It was clear that this was just a “social meeting,” a time set aside for all of us to get acquainted. I was feeling very good by the time we sat down to dinner. The food was “so-o-o” good! I was enjoying it so much that I guess I stopped paying attention to what I was eating. All I remember now is that the chili on my plate looked like a green bean. So, into my mouth it went, along with a spoonful of other things off my plate. By the way, the Thais eat with both a fork and a big spoon together, using the spoon as the primary implement. The spoon is used to shovel food into your mouth. It is much more effective than just using a fork as we traditionally do in the west. It’s quite easy. I picked up a knack for it right away! “Hey, I can shovel down food with the best of them!”

As soon as I took the first bite of that spoonful, I knew I had made a serious mistake. It was like biting into red-hot boiling oil. The question was what to do about it? I vividly remember the calculated solutions. There were only three possibilities: First of all, however, I did not know where the bathroom was in this restaurant, nor was I going to try asking directions with a burning mouthful of food. Secondly, I could spit the food out on my plate at the dinner table of my clients, but this would have been unforgivable behavior, a real social faux pas. Finally, I could chew the food up, swallow it, and then quickly ask where the bathroom was located, or, I could just swallow the food without chewing it up any further.

Since chewing was clearly making matters worse with every bite, I chose the final option. I swallowed, simultaneously drinking the full glass of water in front of me. Then I swallowed several ice cubes, and placed one ice cube in my mouth in an attempt to cool my mouth off a bit. This was not working. My mouth was truly on fire! I could not even feel the coolness of the ice cubes in my mouth!

“I remember seriously wondering if I would ever get another breath”

Shortly after swallowing, the severe burning sensation extended down my throat and into my stomach. It felt like I had swallowed boiling acid! What to do? I sat there trying to appear normal. The Thais were discussing something in their language, not paying much attention to me. I decided that there was no other course of action at the moment except to wait it out and see if things would improve. However; the situation quickly grew worse. My eyes started watering out of control, while simultaneously the extreme burning in my throat and gut worsened. Sweat started pouring down my face. Then my throat began constricting in such a manner that it was becoming difficult to breathe.

I quietly wiped the tears from my eyes with my napkin, trying to appear normal. That was when one of the Thais first took notice that there was something wrong with me. “Is everything all right, Dave?” he asked. I could see the growing concern on his face. I tried to answer that I had eaten something very “hot,” but the words would not come out. My voice had completely shut down. I was having great difficulty breathing. My entire throat and upper chest were out of control. Convulsions were beginning to erupt throughout my throat, as if my throat, completely on its own, was trying to expel the source of the heat. This was making it almost impossible to get a breath of air. I was strangling!

The man who had addressed me quickly broke into the group discussion. Suddenly all the attention was now on me. It was too late to do any further “damage control” to avoid embarrassment. I could not even swallow the spit in my mouth, which was flowing like water, probably a reaction to the intense heat. I was choking on my own saliva! This situation had become critical!

The man who had first addressed me jumped to his feet, quickly came around the table, and escorted me to the bathroom. We spared no time. All of the others followed. Clearly, everyone was extremely alarmed. We went right to the toilet. The man told me it was crucial to “toss it up as quickly as possible, and to make sure I got all of it out. This was not difficult. By this time, the convulsions had extended all the way down into my stomach. The chili was even hotter the second time it passed through my already burning throat!

I remember seriously wondering if I would ever get another breath. My first breath was so shallow, it seemed almost insignificant in satisfying my need for oxygen. I had been in this situation several times before, almost drowning once. Another time, when I was a kid, I sucked in a full breath of gasoline while trying to siphon gas from my mother’s car for use in my boat. It takes enormous self-control to gradually recover and regain one’s breath after an experience like this. First, you must take the smallest breath possible, just to get the respiratory system functioning again. Then, a little more each time, as the spasms will allow. All the Thais stood behind me while I recovered. One person stood with his hand on my back, speaking words of encouragement during the course of only a few minutes. I remember, all the while, wondering how I was ever going to recover from this embarrassment.

Afterwards, back at the dinner table, my hosts wanted an explanation as to what had occurred. First, I needed to recover myself a bit and regain a steady voice. Next, I drank lots of ice water. Eventually, I was ready to eat again. I guess I mainly wanted to show my hosts that I was all right, and that I could accept their hospitality — without it killing me!

After a while, I told them the whole truth of it: My not wanting to spit food out at their table; and trying to act normal, while almost strangling to death. I went through all the motions several times. I acted out the burning and gagging sensations (while trying to act normal) — kind of like a scene from “I Love Lucy.” They howled with laughter, which was probably an emotional reaction to the stressful experience for all of us. This made us very good friends. Now I could spit out anything I want on their table, if I wanted to. In fact, I ought to do it sometime just to see their reaction! Every time we get together we laugh about the experience — once again! They probably laugh about it a lot even when I am not around. Indeed, this experience created a bond between us.

There are a few valuable lessons to be learned in every bad experience. From this situation, I learned that it is better to be human than perfect. People are quicker to accept you when you are not afraid to show some vulnerability. When you freely allow others to laugh at your expense — without taking offense, you also make it easer for them to trust you and show kindness. I learned that you have to let your guard down to allow others to get inside of you. It is from that “inside ” inner core-of-being that meaningful relationships are formed.

 

By Dave McCracken

Being first into northwestern Cambodia to have a look at the gold, ruby and sapphire deposits!

Dave Mack

 

We were really in Cambodia for another purpose. Our earlier gold prospecting efforts in north-eastern Cambodia warranted a follow-up expedition with an 8-inch production dredge. While we were waiting in Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital) for the dredge to clear Customs, there was a big shake-up in the Khmer Rouge rebel regime. Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, was captured and placed under arrest by his own generals. The 30-year civil war was finally over!

 

Several of the key Cambodian players involved with our dredging operation were originally from the Pailin area of northwestern Cambodia. Pailin is well known as one of the richest gem areas in Asia. It has also been the stronghold of the Khmer Rouge regime since the early 1970’s, protected and defended by six million land mines. While we were waiting for customs to clear our equipment, old acquaintances from Pailin reestablished friendly relations with the Cambodian officials associated with our program. Pretty soon, we were involved in serious negotiations, and we were being encouraged to make an expedition up into northwestern Cambodia to take a firsthand look at the gold, ruby and sapphire deposits.

 

Our invitation was extended from the top officials controlling the area. We were provided with substantial security and invited to stay in the home of one of the area’s leaders. Vehicles were provided to us, along with guides. It was clear from the beginning that our expedition was well organized and planned.

  

 A small family operation, where a gravel pump was being lowered off a tripod
to excavate gravels onto a classification screen for gem recovery.

The first thing I noticed while traveling into the area was that they love Americans. During our entire stay, I did not see anyone who did not greet me with a heartwarming smile. Many people cheered when they saw us, as we were the first Americans into this region of Cambodia in about the last 30 years. Several generations of people there have never even seen an American before.

We were stopped at the final security stop for a passport check. I gather that is something they seldom do when you are being escorted by colonels and generals who are carrying documents signed and stamped by the highest level of government. I think the guards were so surprised to see us, they wanted to check what planet we were from! After looking at our passports, we were waved through with big smiles and cheers from all the border guards.

A Vietnamese tank which did not survive the mine fields alongside the road to Pailin.

On the road to Pailin, the United Nations was already busy removing land mines. It appeared as though there were hundreds of specialists removing the mines. We were told that because the mines cannot be located with metal detectors (because there is no metal in the mines), the mines were being pinpointed by using some type of sophisticated electronics from airplanes above.

Once we arrived at our destination, we were warmly received by the top officials (and their many soldiers and bodyguards) with a celebration that lasted far into the night. During the following days, we were given a substantial tour of the ruby and sapphire fields. Most active mining was very small-scale and primitive.

But the product being recovered was clearly rich and abundant. We saw some small hydraulic mining operations in the ruby fields, where the miners were recovering a lot of stones, while processing just a little bit of gravel. We saw simple panning and screening hand operations, where the excavation was being done underwater with buckets. They were recovering handfuls of rubies.

As gemstones have a much lower specific gravity than gold, we were mindful that suction dredging for them was going to require a special recovery system.

  

Cambodians give a new meaning to the term “hand mining!”

In one area, local officials were demonstrating for us how rich the area was using a gold pan. Then, one of the soldiers reached down and grabbed a single handful of gravel off the surface of the river-bottom. He came up with three rubies. Pretty soon, all of the soldiers were doing it. They gave the rubies to me. It didn’t take long to fill up a whole bag. It was pretty convincing to me! The rubies were small. My understanding is the deeper you go into the gravel, the more plentiful they become and the bigger they get.

The problem for the local miners is that they cannot excavate more than about a meter deep, because they are using buckets in moving water. We were told most of the bottom stratum of gravel in the rivers have not yet been mined.

    

Fine material is screened out and then gems are hand-picked from the screen.

All the same, I saw some fantastic gems-one ruby about the size of a baseball! They offered to sell it to me at a wholesale cost of one million dollars. Unfortunately, I was not carrying that kind of cash with me.

The annual rains were just beginning as we finished up with our expedition. Besides establishing that valuable deposits do indeed exist there, we were able to make friends with the people who control the area, along with many others. Naturally, we are invited to return with dredging equipment.

This preliminary evaluation was very successful, even though it was done with almost no planning in advance. Based upon the information that we gathered, though, we would be able to do good logistical planning in advance of our next project into the area.

 

By Dave McCracken

A good challenge forces you to reach down deep inside and raise yourself to the occasion!

Dave Mack

The yawns being given off by my friend permeated the room so heavily that they clearly placed an uncomfortable shadow over the enthusiasm all the rest of us were feeling. We were on one of the most exciting treasure hunting expeditions I have ever been engaged in, and I was thanking my lucky stars just to be part of the expedition. All of the people involved were very good at their jobs and were enthusiastically involved with this project except my friend. He was bored. In fact, he was so caught up in his own personal boredom, that he was certain everyone else, and the whole world, was also seeing the world in the same mundane way. Talk about being on a different wavelength!

After our planning meeting was over, I gently approached my friend about his outlook. He agreed wholeheartedly with my observation. His viewpoint was because of some unknown factor that he could not quite pin down; he just was not able to take on the project (or life) with enthusiasm like the rest of us.

I asked if someone was sick in his family, or if he had financial or other personal problems that were holding him back. He said there was nothing like that holding him back. To him, for as long as he could remember, he was not able to experience real enthusiasm.

I don’t think any of us can expect to get more out of life than what we invest of ourselves into it. Wouldn’t it be wrong to take more than we give? How can we expect our passion to come from something outside of ourselves?

If we put passion in, perhaps we can get more passion and excitement out of it, whatever the endeavor.

My friend was waiting for some influence outside of himself to give him something to be passionate about. He was looking for some hidden reason why he was not feeling enthusiasm. I suggest that all of this might be a “backwards” approach.

I suggest the impact of life upon us (how we end up being affected by it) is exactly as we choose it to be. If we decide that the way we are going to feel most of the time is due to some (or lack of) outside or hidden influence or the way others have treated us (or not treated us) in the past, naturally, that’s the way it will be for us.

But it does not have to be that way. It can be any way we choose it to be. There are any number of responses we can choose for every given situation.

You do not have to win every battle to be a winner. If you win every time, you are not putting yourself to the real test. That’s not really winning, is it?

You do not have to be “rich” to be successful. Money is not life’s measuring stick.

Life must have worthwhile challenges for life to be interesting. A good challenge requires a fair chance (perhaps even likelihood) that you could fail in the endeavor. Real challenges make you fear the consequences of failing. A good challenge puts you to the real test. It forces you to reach down deep inside and raise yourself to the occasion. It makes you improve yourself. It makes you become more passionate, more brave, more tolerant of others and more secure in yourself.

A real challenge forces you to live life more fully!

I suggested to my friend that perhaps if he took on something more challenging he might discover his own personal enthusiasm. This thought brightened him up considerably.

Some philosopher once said that if taking on something is really difficult for you, try taking on twice as much. Then, the first limit you set for yourself will not seem like too much, anymore. There is certainly some profound wisdom in this philosophy. We do indeed set our own limits for ourselves by the decisions we make or the decisions of others that we agree to.

Ironically, my consistent observation has been that those people who are most challenged in their lives are happiest, most passionate and most enthusiastic even if there is a great deal of pain and misery in their lives. This is true in war-torn Cambodia. It is true in the remote portions of Madagascar where there is no medicine to save a sick child and where people work their guts out just to eat. In all their pain and suffering, those people really have passion in their lives. They are truly thankful for the little they do have. They are happy to be alive today. The few comfortable, good moments really have meaning to them.

“Perhaps we need the challenge of an occasional crocodile in our lives!”

Please do not misunderstand the point I am trying to make. I am not saying that pain and suffering are good. The point I am trying to make is that it is perhaps difficult to experience real passion and enthusiasm in our lives if we are so comfortable that the only adventure we experience is on the television.

Yes, we experience television with a passion. But what about life?

Perhaps, in the end, it is not about rich or poor — or about winning or losing. Just maybe, it is about experiencing everything out of life you can make happen. My guess is that this comes from putting in as much as you have to give. And that comes from being truly challenged in life, maybe even taking some chances.

We each set our own limits for ourselves. If we are not passionately trying to overcome those limits, then maybe we are cheating ourselves out of the best that life has to offer.

We easily forget this lesson in the West, where day-to-day life is not as dangerous as it might be. In many of the Third World countries I have visited, people have to face actual physical dangers in their everyday lives such as crocodiles. Let’s face it; there is not a lot of time to worry ourselves about petty concerns when we are concerned about getting eaten by a crocodile. Perhaps we need the challenge of an occasional crocodile in our lives!

 

 

By Dave McCracken

Unfettered development of natural resources are the foundation of a free, prosperous society!

Dave Mack

 

 

Bangkok Rail SystemWhen we get out of bed in the morning, we step onto the carpet (calcium carbonate/limestone is used in the carpet backing). Many of us go directly to the kitchen to switch on the electric light and coffee pot. They are made either of aluminum, iron, copper, glass or ceramic (glass and ceramic are made entirely from minerals–silica sand, limestone, talc, lithium, borates, soda ash, and feldspar). While moving around the kitchen, we will be standing on linoleum (calcium carbonate, clay, and wollastonite) or ceramic tile. Once we get our cup of coffee, we may sit down to read the newspaper. Running across the travel section, we recall that we are planning a trip today, so we take a moment to consult the Official Airline Guide and then refer to the Yellow Pages of the telephone book to find the local number for the airline. All of these papers are filled with kaolin clay and use lime-stone, sodium sulfate, lime and soda ash in their processing. Then we fix a piece of toast and sneak a piece of cake from last night’s party (bakery items, such as bread, contain gypsum as an ingredient, and cakes have a high content of gypsum in the icing). The plate we are eating off of is made of glass, ceramic or china, the last being a special form of ceramic.

All of the food that we eat relies completely upon industrial minerals for its growth and production. All fertilizers are composed of some combination of potash, phosphates, nitrogen, sulfur and other minerals. Soils with a large degree of acidity must be regulated with gypsum, limestone or sulfur. In fact, without industrial minerals, there could not be any modem-day agriculture as we know it.

As we get ready for our trip, we brush our teeth with toothpaste (calcium carbonate/limestone/sodium carbonate). Ladies put on lipstick (calcium, carbonate and talc) and powder (talcum), and men might prepare their hair with hair cream (calcium carbonate). Other forms of makeup would have various minerals as a constituent. The lavatory countertop in the bathroom where we stand is a nice synthetic marble or synthetic onyx (titanium dioxide, calcium carbonate and alumina hydrate).

The sinks, lavatories, toilets and similar fixtures throughout the house are kept shiny with cleansers (silica, pumice, diatomite, feldspars, and limestone). Kitchen and bathroom tiles are installed, kept in place, and maintain their waterproof condition with putty and caulking compounds (limestone and gypsum).

Our automobile is entirely composed of metals and industrial minerals. Tires contain clays and calcium carbonate. Mag wheels are made from dolomite and magnesium. All of the glass in the car is made entirely from minerals, as is the fiberglass body now becoming popular on many models.

Many of the components in a car are now being made of composites, generally combinations of fiberglass and plastics. Plastics require calcium carbonate, wollastonite, mica, talc, clays and silica for their manufacture. The paint which makes our car so attractive is largely composed of industrial minerals–titanium dioxide, kaolin, clays, calcium carbonate, micas, talc, silica, wollastonite, and others.

In fact, every speck of all paints that we encounter today, from that on our house to the strip down the middle of the road, to the interior of our homes and offices, and everywhere else, is mainly composed of industrial minerals.

Gasoline and lubricants come out of the ground, but also depend upon industrial minerals; because the drill bit which originally reached the crude oil was made from iron and faced with industrial diamonds. Drilling fluids, used for well drilling, are composed almost entirely of barite, bentonite, attapulgite, mica, perlite, and others. It is necessary to employ clays and zeolites in the catalytic cracking process for crude petroleum to arrive as gasoline and lubricants.

Concrete pavement is composed of cement and aggregates–sand and gravel or crushed stone, such as limestone, dolomite, granite, lava, and so on. Cement is manufactured from limestone, gypsum, iron oxide, clays and possibly pozzolan. Even blacktop has industrial minerals as aggregates.

The buildings we work in are made from concrete, stone, brick or wood (wood is mined from the earth by Mother Nature). Many buildings have steel structural members. Besides the steel being made from iron ore, the steel production process requires fluorspar for fluxing, bentonite for pelletizing, and possibly chromite for hardening. Steel production requires the use of high-grade refractory bricks and shapes made from bauxite, chromite, zircon, silica, graphite, kyanite, andalusite, sillimanite and clays.

The interior of our buildings and homes are enclosed by wallboard or sheetrock (gypsum with fire-retardant additives, such as clays, perlite, vermiculite alumina hydrate and borates) joined together with joint cement (gypsum, mica, clays and calcium carbonates).

Plate-glass windows are made entirely from industrial minerals.

Our office supplies also come out of the ground. Pencils (graphite and clays), invoices with self-contained carbon paper (bentonite, other clays, or zeolites), pens, paper, calculators, computers, office equipment all come from metals and industrial minerals. Even some inks contain calcium carbonate or other fillers.

During our leisure time, our recreational devices, including golf clubs, tennis rackets, fishing rods and skis are commonly made from graphite or fiberglass. Our back-pack frames and pots and pans are often made from aluminum (all aluminum for whatever usage originates with bauxite, one of the most widely used industrial minerals).

Our communications and electronics equipment employ numerous industrial minerals. The standard product of the electronic industry for years has been the silicon chip, made from quartz or silica. Optical fibers, made from glass, are replacing some copper wiring. Television screens and computer monitors are made of glass, but critical tubes also contain phosphors made from rare earths or lanthanides, a family of industrial minerals. Even the super conducting materials that are presently getting so much attention use industrial minerals (yttrium, lanthanides, titanium, zirconium, and barite) in their manufacture.

Filtering and purification are major duties of the industrial minerals. Preparation of our drinking water uses minerals for purification and clarification (limestone, lime and salt), as do the wastewater-treatment plants (zeolites, soda ash, lime, and salt).

Many of our medical supplies and pharmaceuticals come directly from minerals, or could not be manufactured or processed without the use of metals and minerals from the ground.

Everything comes out of the ground, one way or another. Everything! Whether Mother Nature or people do the mining through agriculture, or mankind does it through mineral extraction. Mining is the basic building block of our entire society as we know it today. In fact, the reason why the United States of America is the leading economic and industrial nation in the world is because we have figured out how to utilize raw material from the earth better and faster than other nations.

Our entire social, economic and industrial base fully depends upon our ability to pull metals and minerals from the earth and utilize them.

So when you read articles in newspapers and magazines, or see special documentaries on television about how bad mining is for the country, you know you are hearing from individuals who really do not understand what it takes to keep things going. None of those people want to go back to living in caves! Or more likely, they are people who are pushing forward a political agenda (many without even knowing it) to re-establish government control over all productive activity (socialism or worse).

Even all of the materials and equipment used to prevent pollution, or to clean up existing pollution, will need to be mined out of the ground and/or processed from metals and minerals taken from the earth.

“Look at the terrible hole mining left in the ground! “

This is what the environmentalists say about us. They do not say anything about the wonderful buildings, homes, highways, modem appliances, medical wonders, communications and electronics which were created from that hole in the ground; things which they take for granted every moment of their lives.

All of the environmentalist/conservationist individuals and groups running around trying to shut down agriculture, timber harvesting, mining and other productive activities, are utilizing the products from these very same activities in everything they do during every hour of every day. In fact, the very success of the environmental movement fully depends upon our modem infrastructure, all which is a result of metals and minerals being taken out of the earth. They could not get by unless we continue our good work!

Here is a very interesting video which shows the truth about how modern mining helps develop more advanced economies and provides more freedom and opportunity to everyone:

So the debate is not really about whether mining and productive activity will continue. The debate is about who will control it. This battle has been waging since the beginning of recorded history. It has not ended since we have arrived in the modern age. But we have reached the modern age largely because America led the way in granting individuals the personal freedom to pursue mineral extraction in private enterprise, along with all of the innovation which evolves from it. America established the right of an individual to own and possess the fruits of his or her hard work (the right to own your possessions).

All of the noise about the evils of mining and development (in the name of environmentalism, saving the planet, global warming, etc) are really a ploy to re-establish total government control over all means of productive activity, and to erode your right to the ownership of what you have earned.

That’s it!

Editorial note: Much of the information contained here was taken from United States Geological Survey Bulletin #1958

 
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By Dave McCracken

“A Preliminary Evaluation”

Dave Mack

Note: This is the non-proprietary portion of an initial report from a preliminary evaluation of a potential suction dredging project in Northern Sumatra (Indonesia). The opportunity to do something with this prospect still exists. The evaluation was done in April of 2005. The gold values have been modified to reflect gold prices in mid 2010.


This project is located on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, directly to the west of Singapore. I arrived there by flying to Singapore, and then by taking a 1-hour boat-ride to Batam Island (Indonesia). From there, I caught a flight to Padang. Padang is the capital of Western Sumatra. At the time, this was a better connection than trying to fly directly to Padang from Singapore.

A representative from the company that hired me was waiting at the airport in Padang. We then drove 2 hours north to a place called Bukittinggi where they have a home and office. The company manager was already up at the base camp. They had arranged for a driver to bring me up there on the following day.

Bukittinggi is a lot like the towns we have in the West. In fact, as shown in the following video segment, if it were not for the different language on the signs, this city could easily be mistaken for almost any town in America.

The roads and other infrastructure in western Sumatra are pretty darn good. The people seem nice. Things are relatively inexpensive. English is not spoken very much, but the people are forgiving and do their best to help figure things out.

The location of this project was situated about a third of the way north to Medan (from Padang). Medan is the capital of northern Sumatra. It is the second-largest city in Indonesia.

There is a good road that leads to the project-area and follows alongside the river. So accessibility to the river is generally very good.The following video sequence was taken as we were driving north to the project site. You will notice that they drive on the left side of the road in Sumatra:

The river is about the same size as the Klamath River in northern California, but will reduce in size as the dry season progresses. The river is flowing with clear water. Although, visibility can be lost during the afternoons if local miners are sluicing upstream (more on this follows).

During my visit, the river was ideal to sample using a 5-inch dredge. Productiondredging or volume sampling could easily be accomplished using 8-inch dredges or larger.

There are regular access-points to the river from the road along the river. And there are small villages along the road where local miners and other laborers or helpers and various services and supplies are available at relative low cost. Power and land-line telephone appear to be present along the entire road.

As the speedometer was not working on the vehicle that we were using, I did not get an exact mileage-count on the amount of river that is available to this project. But it is safe to say that there is at least a 20-mile stretch of readily-accessible gold-bearing river where local small-scale miners are actively recovering gold.

Our client has hired a local administrator from the main town along the river. The local administrator has arranged permission to temporarily set up a base camp in a vacant house which is owned by the government. The house and property are ideal for a base until other arrangements can be made. There is a small store and restaurant on the property. There is some storage. The house has several comfortable bedrooms, electric power, bathrooms and a dining room. The local cook does a good job. It is a comfortable setting. The base camp contains all of the basic structure needed to support a gold dredging project.

  

Local communities are generally Muslim. Friendly. I did not detect a single bad feeling from anyone during the entire time that I was on the river. There was actually a lot of friendly interest, because white folks are not often seen in these parts.Here is a video sequence I captured in a nearby, larger-sized community:

  

It will be important to be mindful of possible cultural differences, though. Any westerners brought in to assist with this project will need to be careful to not disrupt local tranquility. Hiring a good, local administrator will be important so that we can facilitate communication in a positive way. Interpreters will be important in key places where local labor is being directed or managed by outsiders.

Our client has done a great job putting the basic support structure in place.

My client is a mining engineer from Europe who settled in Sumatra and has devoted the past 20+ years locating and developing mineral opportunities there. We have worked together on several projects in the past, two which were located in Borneo (Indonesia), another in Cambodia.. He has been involved with numerous different types of projects which I will not go into here. He is very experienced at working in Sumatra. He understands the culture(s) and he speaks the languages.

One interesting thing at the moment is that my client has also recently located an important iron-ore discovery in the same area. He is in the process of quantifying the deposit with a company of consulting-geologists that are based out of Jakarta. I was fortunate to meet the Director of this consulting-group during my visit. They are doing exactly what we have in mind: They are mapping and certifying reserves of proven mineral deposits in a manner that the final documentation can be placed on a bankable balance sheet.

While pursuing the iron-ore program, my client observed that the locals along the river were actively sluicing for gold. So he asked me to come over for a look. This was my first trip to this particular area of Sumatra.

Local Mining Activity

I observed three different methods of active gold mining occurring along the river:

 
1. Panning gravels from the gravel bars alongside the river.

2. High-banking the river gravels from the gravel bars in and alongside the river (description follows).

3. Panning river gravels that are being extracted from the bottom of the active river by divers (referred to in this report as “dive-miners”).

I could also see the telltale signs of past high-banking activity in placer diggings alongside the river not far downstream of the main town. My client’s local administrator told me that he believes the richest area along the river is upstream of the main town. That portion of the river extends away from the main road. I did not get a look at it on this first visit. He says that gold nuggets as big as several kilograms in size have been found up there. But, because local miners have no means to deal with the larger boulders, they mostly do their mining further downriver where we saw them operating.

I observed a of dozen or so active panning operations along the edges of the river where locals are panning surface gravels.

  

I also observed around a dozen active high-banking projects. Most of these projects are being accomplished with the use of two motorized pumps. One pump is used to suck ground-water out of active excavations, lowering water levels so that workers can excavate bottom gravels. The other pump is used to create suction through a 4-inch PVC (plastic) suction pipe. Material is washed down to the intake-pipe at the bottom of the excavation, sucked up and directed through a primitive (very) sluice box that rests on stilts out of the water. These pumps allow gravel-material up to (approximately) 3-inches in size to be passed through the pump.

Local miners are building wing dams, which allow them access to gravel out in the active waterway.

Local miners are actively wing-damming (building a barrier to direct the water around an open excavation) around shallow places in the active river where they want to mine. They then pump the excess water out of open excavations, while processing gravels out of them. Whole teams of local miners (as many as 20+ people) are working together in these high-banking projects.

The downside is that tailings-water from some of the high-banking projects is allowed to flow back into the active waterway. This eliminates water visibility for some distance downstream. Depending upon where you go, underwater visibility can be lost by mid-afternoon. But even in those places, there remains an opportunity to do underwater work starting early in the morning – or possibly doing night operations with the use of flood lights from the surface. Or by dredging upstream from active high-banking operations.

Dive-miners on a floating platform

I also observed some mining activity where local divers are bringing up gravel from the bottom of the river and panning it at the surface. These divers do not have access to the right kind of air compressors for underwater breathing, so they are free-diving (holding their breath while diving down under the water) to excavate bottom-gravels from the active river. Because of this, their production-capability is severely limited. All of the dive-miners I observed were bringing gravels to the surface with the use of metal cooking pots.

As the purpose of my first visit to this river was to confirm the existence of potentially-viable gold deposits within the active river, these dive-miners are the ones we decided to spend some time with.

Local dive-miners carve their diving goggles out of hardwood or bone from some kind of big animal. Lenses are made from glass that is glued onto the goggles with epoxy. The goggles are attached to a diver’s face with a strap cut out of a piece of tire-inner tube rubber. There is no face-seal, and there is no way to equalize pressures inside the goggles. This creates a natural limit to how deep dive-miners can go beneath the water’s surface.

Nevertheless, local dive-miners are diving down to around three meters and bringing up gravel. And the gravel contains a lot of gold in proportion to the volume of gravel that is being processed. The local gold-buyer told us that around 5 kilograms of gold are being bought every day from local miners along this river. The going price is around $44 per gram. If the gold-buyer is telling the truth, that amounts to around $220,000 in gold.

To put this in perspective, a 10-inch dredge in experienced hands, with some underwater visibility, should be able to process about as much volume as all of the mining activity combined that I observed along the river.

All of the local miners we spoke with agreed that the richest gold is located in the deeper-water areas of the river where they are not able to reach using their methods. While divers can get underwater, they do not have the technology to excavate the deeper-gravel deposits that exist down there. A person can only get so much accomplished using a cooking pot on a breath of air!

So unless they are lucky enough to find rich deposits in the shallow spots along the edge of the river, existing technology available to local miners generally does not allow them access to the higher-grade areas located along the river-bottom. For the most part, local miners are working average gravels along the edges.

Confirmation

All of the images of the mining activity that were initially sent to me by my client showed high-banking activity that was taking place outside of the active river.

Sometimes, there can be high-grade deposits being mined alongside the river; but local conditions (deep gravel, dirty water, etc.) do not allow for a viable dredging opportunity within the active river. Therefore, the main purpose of my first visit to this area was to establish if there are high-grade gold deposits inside the active waterway, and to assesswhether or not we can perform a production dredging program there.

  

Approximately 5 miles downstream from the main town, we found a company of around ten local dive-miners who were swimming down to bring up gravel from an underwater excavation. We observed that they were recovering a substantial amount of gold in proportion to the small volume of gravel being processed. As this was an excavation project inside the active waterway, my client and I made a quick plan to complete our initial confirmation while working with this group of dive-miners.

After spending a little time getting to know these dive-miners, one of their leaders offered to take us on a short tour and show us some of the richer areas where they had done some dive-mining along the river. He showed us several places where he said their team-program had recovered as much as three ounces of gold per day at times. Each place he showed us was consistent with the types of areas where we find high-grade pay-streaks on the Klamath River in northern California.

According to our guide, the combinations of water-depth and/or gravel-depth usually prevent dive-miners from pursuing the richest deposits in the river.

  

This river is very similar to the rivers that we dredge in California. There are regular directional changes, a steady drop, and fast-water areas in the river, which create the natural diversity required to form high-grade pay-streaks. There is plenty of bedrock showing and deep water pools.

Our guide told us that the river gravels pay in gold-values starting from around a foot below the surface, all the way to the bedrock. He said the richest gold is often on the bedrock, and sometimes they can see gold inside the cracks when they are able to get down that far. He said that 1 and 2-gram gold nuggets are not uncommon. He said the biggest nugget he personally found was 10-grams (32.1 grams to the troy ounce).

In anticipation of the eventual need, several years ago, I shipped a T-80 air compressor, a dive-regulator and the required air-fittings over to this client in Sumatra from California. He arranged to mount the compressor with a small Honda motor. We brought that diving gear along with us on this trip.

So after getting to know our guide on the river, we volunteered to use the compressor to help his company of dive-miners excavate gravels from the deepest part of their ongoing excavation. I offered to allow them to keep all the gold we found, as long as we could buy it from them at the going price. They readily agreed. The purpose of this was to allow me the opportunity to get a direct look at the streambed conditions from which we would recover the gold, and to allow me to measure the amount of gravel that we would process so we could place a relative value on the raw material.

It did not take long to get me into the water, where with the use of a cooking pot as a digging tool, I started filling a wash-bucket with gravel from the bottom of their ongoing excavation. Filling up buckets with material underwater is a pretty slow process. It required three gold-panners to keep up with my progress.

The existing excavation from this company of dive-miners was pretty substantial, considering that progress was being accomplished using cooking pots while free-diving down to around three meters of water. They had worked down a face of bedrock along the edge of the river to around 6 or 7 feet into a semi-hard-packed streambed material. They had not yet reached where the bedrock bottomed-out (where the highest-grade material should be located). Even so, I did see some gold flakes in the bedrock along the face that they are following.

According to the dive-miners, they have been working that specific excavation for 2 months, and had so far recovered around 2 kilograms of gold ($80,000.00). To put the size in perspective, we could open an excavation that size in about half a day using a 10-inch dredge. Opening an excavation is much slower than continuing one that is already opened up. Conservatively, the local dive-miners had recovered 2 kilograms of gold in about 25% of a day’s ongoing production using a 10-inch suction dredge.

The local gold buyer weighed the gold recovered from our 20-bucket sample and offered to buy it for approximately $25.00 (US) in local currency based on the daily price of gold on April of 2005.

Since I was able to stay deep using the compressor, I extracted gravel from the bottom of the hole. I brought up 20 buckets of material, which were carefully panned by several helpers from the local mining team. In all, we recovered 1.1 grams (around $48.00) from my sample. This amounts to approximately $2.40 (US) per bucket at current gold prices. This was a typical medium-sized wash bucket. A single 5-inch dredge would excavate the volume of material contained in a wash-bucket in several seconds. A 10-inch dredge would scarf it up in the flash of an eye!

The thing that makes this so interesting is that the gravel I brought to the surface, for the most part, was material which had been sliding down into the bottom of the hole from the upper-side of the excavation. Although I did get some material that adjoined the bedrock on one side of the hole, I was forced mainly to extract gravel that was sliding down into the hole from further up in the excavation. The nature of scooping samples with a cooking pot underwater is that you take whatever you can get. Unlike dredging, you do not have an option to move top-material out of the way to get down to more productive stream layers located deeper in the river.

At the same time that I was taking samples from the deeper part of the excavation, the other dive-miners from the local company were bringing up samples from shallower streambed material. While I did not add it up, I did observe that their pans seemed to have just as much gold as we were getting from deeper in the hole. Most of the material I brought to the surface slid in from the shallower area where the other dive-miners were working.

While it still remains to be confirmed from a more organized sampling program using a suction dredge, this preliminary indication, along with the information given to us by these miners, indicates that the average gravels in this river almost certainly do contain commercial gold value.

More often, we are accustomed to finding that average river-bottom gravels carry non-commercial gold values, and that it is necessary to locate the high-grade gold deposits which usually form in the contact-zones between flood layers or on top of the bedrock. The existence of commercial gold-value in average gravels likely means that the pay-streaks will be even higher-grade.

We have confirmed that commercial gold deposits can potentially be dredged from this river. The next step is to follow up with a preliminary dredge sampling program.

Recommendations

First: I am suggesting to my client that he follow-up to see if exclusive commercial rights can be obtained for mining gold along this river. If so, I am advising him to arrange it as soon as possible. If the client is looking for a partner to develop the prospect, as long as the cost is reasonable, we can help arrange the financial resources to help pay for concession-rights.

Whether or not acquisition of exclusive rights (not excluding local mining activity) to develop the gold deposits along the river will affect the way we should proceed:

A. Quantification and marketing the proven reserves: If we can obtain the exclusive commercial rights, we should look hard at the concept of implementing a sampling program in concert with credible consulting-geologists to confirm and certify the existence of proven reserves. The purpose here would be to market the reserves to a larger public-traded mining company. In this event, we are prepared to help provide the funding and expertise to perform the sampling program. A good start would be to consider contracting with the same firm our client is using on the iron-ore project to perform the geological functions required to map and substantiate proven reserves.

B. Mining high-grade gold deposits: In the event that exclusive commercial rights on the river are not available, or a preliminary dredge-sampling survey convinces us that average reserves are not marketable, based upon what local miners are recovering from the river using primitive methods, it is a near certainty that money can be made using dredges to target high-grade gold deposits.

A preliminary dredge sampling program will be necessary whichever way we move forward with this project.

There would be several objectives in the preliminary dredge sampling program:
1. Determine if the average gold-values in the river will support a quantification program (outlined in A above) with the purpose of marketing proven reserves to a larger mining company.

2. Establish the value of high-grade deposits to get an idea how much money can be made from going right into commercial production.

3. Work out what recovery equipment will be needed to pursue either step A or B above.

4. Work out how we will harmonize a dredging program with local miners, general populations along the river, and others (government officials) who will take an interest in what we are doing.

It would be wise to allow no less than a month for the preliminary dredge sampling. To keep costs down until we confirm a commercial opportunity,if possible, I suggest we use the client’s existing structure as much as possible — meaning vehicles, local staff and the existing base camp.

To perform the preliminary sampling, we would need to hire several local dive-miners. I would like to choose them.

If possible, I would also like to hire an assistant/interpreter person who can stay with us throughout the project to help facilitate communication and coordination with locals. This might be someone that the existing geology-firm could provide. Having someone who is sincerely dedicated to projecting our intention and goodwill during the sampling project will go a long way to facilitate steady progress in the field.

Therefore, the next step is for us to find out:

A. Can we obtain exclusive commercial mining rights on the river? If so, at what cost?

B) Can we obtain permission to proceed with a suction dredge exploration program? If so, at what cost?

PumpsPumping systems used to support local high-banking operations.

If gaining permission to use a suction dredge is going to delay the project, we also have the option of proceeding with a system like what the locals are using in their high-banking operations. Just by adding an air compressor and an extended suction hose, we can adapt a sluicing operation (like what locals are using) to an underwater dredging program. In this case, we should allow a week to fabricate an improved recovery system. If we go this way, with just a little instruction, we can hire locals to do all or most of the work. So, for the most part, this would just be another local mining operation.

Having said that, using a floating dredge would be much more efficient for moving the gear around to each place that we want to sample. A 5-inch suction dredge in experienced hands will also out-produce one of those sluicing outfits about ten times over! Still, if necessary, we could get the preliminary sampling job accomplished using (for the most part) local equipment.

Dave McCracken
Underwater Mining Specialist

 

 

By Dave McCracken

Every successful gold miner will tell you he or she is absolutely willing to devote whatever time and energy is necessary to locate the next discovery!

Dave Mack

Why is it that some people are able to succeed well at gold mining on a continual basis, while others have difficulty making it work?

There are a multitude of factors which contribute to the success or failure of any operation, but there is one factor which I feel underlies all the rest. It has to do with time.

Upon close inspection, you will find that every person who is doing well in these activities, other than the occasional lucky person, has been willing to devote a great deal of time to his or her mining activities. While luck does contribute to some excellent discoveries, you will find that good luck comes around more often when you spend more time searching for gold.

Unquestionably, there are skills, techniques, and standard procedures to learn in order to succeed well in gold mining. It takes time to get through the learning curve.

People who get involved with the idea of getting rich quick are usually disappointed. People who are willing to devote whatever time is necessary to polish their skills, and who are willing to devote themselves to locating the next discovery, usually do pretty well.

And, it is not necessarily true that you need to spend a lot of time before you start making important discoveries. It is mainly the willingness to devote lots of time. We have seen many beginners, who were approaching the activity with the correct viewpoint, do very well right from the start.

Most good things in life take some time to develop. Get rich quick schemes tend to cheapen the value of an activity. More often than not, it takes time to do things the right way, to make things come out good in the end.

Older people, wise with age, often say that their most worthwhile accomplishments took lots of time and energy. And, for them, the time and energy spent was the best part of it!

There are few activities which are better, more exciting, and more rewarding than gold mining and treasure hunting. While it can be aggravating at times during the testing stages when you are not finding what you are looking for, this just makes the thrill of discovery all that much better.

Every successful gold miner will tell you he or she is absolutely willing to devote whatever time and energy is necessary to locate the next discovery. And this is a lesson we could all learn from.

 
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This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine
Sep/Oct, 1996 on Page 14. This issue is still available! Click here.

By Dave McCracken

“Having the Gold Mining Adventure of a Lifetime!”

Dave & Alley
Author’s note: This story is dedicated to Alan Norton (Alley), the lead underwater mining specialist who participated in this project. Under very difficult conditions, Alan made most of the key dives which enabled us to make this a very successful venture.Alan lost part of his ear to a hungry fish one day; and the following day, Alan was making a key sampling dive again because we needed him to. There are very few people I know, if any, with more courage, dedication and enthusiasm to successfully complete a difficult mission than Alan.First came several Toyota Land Cruisers. Then, a couple of Isuzu Troopers, followed by a number of small pickup trucks. These were just in front of two large Russian troop carriers, all filled with armed troops. They came in on us fast, carrying along a big cloud of dust from the dirt road. Even before the vehicles came to a stop, soldiers were jumping out of trucks and running out to secure perimeter positions. They were carrying AK-47 machine guns, M-79 grenade launchers and Chinese rockets. I had seen these guys before. I had fought with them, and I had fought against them. They had that unmistakable look in their eyes. They would kill with little or no provocation.

Once the perimeter was secured, three generals stepped out of their Land Cruisers and enthusiastically approached us, their personal bodyguards close behind. The generals looked friendly. Their bodyguards looked seriously unfriendly! The generals, whom we had not met until now, hurried right up to me and each of my men and gave us big hugs, hand shakes and slaps on the back, like we were long lost sons. The bodyguards stood there with machine guns pointed in our general direction, doing what they were supposed to do to ward off any potential menacing threat to their leaders–which, by the way, never crossed our minds. We did the natural thing; we acted like long lost sons!

We had not been in Cambodia even for one hour before we were packed into Land Cruisers of our own and driven to Kampong Saom on the coast–which was almost half way across Cambodia. The end of the dry season had caused the water levels in the Mekong River to drop so low that deep-water ships were no longer delivering cargo to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Therefore, it was necessary for us to go to Cambodia’s only other deep-water port in Kampong Saom to take delivery of five full ocean shipping containers of mining and additional equipment, supplies, boats and vehicles that had been shipped over there from America to support our project.

Since nothing happens immediately in Cambodia, we ended up spending about a week at a gorgeous beach while waiting for the shipping containers to be released by Cambodian Customs. Our hosts were taking good care of us. The hotel was comfortable, the beer was cold and the crab meat was freshly cooked on the beach–and it was all we could eat. In fact, we were just about getting bored. That’s when the generals showed up.

Isn’t it amazing how fast boredom can turn to fear? After hugs and handshakes, the generals agreed it was time for target practice. They had their bodyguards throwing beer cans out into the water so they could shoot at the cans. Pretty soon, lots of people were shooting at them. The few civilians that had been enjoying the beach scurried off quickly and respectfully. Everyone was laughing and having a good time except us. We were laughing, but not sure if we were going to be the next targets! It was all too much at once. We didn’t even know these people and they were all enthusiastically shooting their guns off. We were surrounded!

Pretty soon, one of the generals handed me some kind of machine gun I had never seen before and challenged me to shoot a fresh beer can. It was the only beer can remaining on the beach! This was a tough position for me to be in; those guys were not the best shots. I calculated whether I should try to out-shoot them, which might cause the generals a loss of face in front of their men, or to miss the can and perhaps lose their respect? On an impulse, I clicked the machine gun over to full automatic and fired a short burst to find a mark, adjusted slightly, and hit the can, knocking it up into the air on the second burst. No one had used automatic fire–probably to conserve bullets. All the generals burst out in a roar of laughter, followed by all their men. Deciding to quit while I was ahead, I handed the machine gun back to the general with the clip still half-full of bullets. That was the end of target practice and the beginning of my very warm friendship with that general. About a week later in Phnom Penh, this general and his very kind family, with great ceremony, adopted me as their number-one son.

The beach was just the beginning of 60 days of non-stop adventure which took me and three of my men from one end of Cambodia to the other in search of gold and valuable gems.

As it turned out, the generals were directly involved with this exploration project–which, by the way, was the first precious metal exploration project in Cambodia since the United Nations returned control of the country to a Cambodian coalition government in late 1991. During the course of the project, it became abundantly clear that our presence, and our successful venture, was very important to these generals and the Cambodian government. Cambodia is just getting back on its feet after decades of war and agony. The country is hungry for capital investment from the east and west. Successful ventures such as ours would help facilitate that.

Our project took place in northeastern Cambodia on one of the three main tributaries of the Mekong River. We were hired to help this operation put its suction dredging equipment into production and to help find high-grade mineral deposits.

The area is remote. In fact, it is the same area America bombed in the early 1970’s (with B-52’s) to prevent the Viet Cong from moving supplies on that portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. You just would not believe the number of bomb craters; I have never seen anything like it. In fact, up until the time of our project, I don’t believe a single bulldozer had visited that section of Cambodia since we bombed it! While these conditions probably never did slow down the Viet Cong very much, they certainly did slow us Americans down a lot! It took literally weeks for us to transport our equipment to the work-site. Trucks and trailers would disappear into craters and then come back out, one after the other, like a big roller coaster ride–only in slow motion–for hundreds of miles! It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen!

All the while, our security troops were worried about being ambushed by Khmer Rouge rebels–roving bands which were still occasionally shooting up taxis, burning bridges, robbing various business establishments and causing other acts of terror around the countryside. Our generals were very concerned to make sure there were no embarrassments on this operation. Therefore, they sent along a 300-man military force to provide security. Each of us was also assigned several personal body guards. They also issued each of my men and me our own machine guns–which we gladly took. You kind of feel naked without a weapon when everyone else is walking around with some kind of heavy fire power! Here follows some video segments that I captured of our interaction with our bodyguards and some of the troops that were assigned to our project:

By the way, the people of Cambodia are the kindest-natured people I have ever associated with. Everyone is very polite and friendly. Unless it is worth dying over, you never see an argument in Cambodia! During the entire 60 days of our project, there was not a single person I smiled at that I did not receive a heartfelt and sincere smile in return. They seem to genuinely like Americans. In fact, any product or item that says Made in America is in great demand in Cambodia–especially hats and insignia which carry American flags and symbols.

One night, we had to make an emergency dash through rebel-held territory so that we could meet a production deadline. We were driving like madmen through bomb craters, up and down, with grenade launchers and machine guns hanging out windows. Our security people were very concerned we would be ambushed. Better to be safe than sorry, I suppose. But, I never saw any direct sign of danger. Even so, the eminent concern–with guns and grenades pointed out windows, with everyone on moment-to-moment alert–created a charged atmosphere which we usually only experience on television in America.

We received incredible hospitality from native villagers in every community that we passed through or stopped to visit. Many villagers had never seen white men before. You have to remember that Cambodia, for the most part, lost an entire generation of people to the Khmer Rouge regime. Locals told us the ratio of women to men in Cambodia is five to one, because the men were either killed in war or murdered. That ratio is about how it appeared to me.

The equipment we sent there to use for sampling took a very heavy beating during the trip across Cambodia. The axles we mounted on the dredge platforms were badly bent from being dragged through hundreds of craters, and there was quite a lot of other damage, too. So we found ourselves staged for about a week in the last town before we would reach the river. This was a place where various supplies and services were still available. There, my men and I supervised final repairs and preparations for our sampling program. It is very challenging to do this sort of thing in an environment where most of your helpers do not think the same as you do, and do not speak any of your language:

Between the delays at Customs, the painstaking trip across war-torn Cambodia with the equipment, and the time we had to spend repairing gear at the final staging area, we only had about 2 weeks remaining to accomplish what we went to Cambodia for in the first place. A final distance to the river of 35 kilometers does not sound like very far; but in Cambodia, where anything and everything can go wrong; this last 22 miles still seemed like a long way to go. Even so, there was a lot of excitement when we had everything ready and began our final journey to the river from the last bit of civilization that we would see. The following video segments demonstrate the excitement that we were all feeling to finally get started on our dredge sampling program:

Along the way to the river, we started seeing lots of diggings alongside the road. We thought the holes were water wells at first, because they were perfectly round and uniformly about 2 ½ feet in diameter. Then we realized they must have been something else, because there were so many, and they were positioned so closely together. We stopped to take a look as soon as we saw some locals actively working inside one of the holes. These turned out to be sapphire miners! They were digging about 10 meters down to bedrock and recovering handfuls of pretty blue stones from the bottom gravels. These miners were selling their gemstones for mere pennies (Me and my guys were buying!). We found out these miners were from the Cambodian hill tribes; jungle dwellers that pretty-much are the same as they have been for hundreds or thousands of years. A number of humanitarian groups are now present in Cambodia attempting to prevent the modern world from impacting too dramatically upon these ancient tribal people. The following video segment captured some dialog that we had with a few of the sapphire miners. It presents a good example of how simple and kind the people are from the Cambodian hill tribes:

Immediately upon our arrival at the river, we realized that we had 2 serious problems to overcome. The first was that there was about a 10-meter drop from the bank down to the active river. There was no ramp or other simple way to launch the 10-inch dredge and special recovery platform that we brought with us for this job. Not wanting to use our security force for this, we immediately set out to hire around 30 men from the local hill tribe village to dig a ramp. That exercise took about 6 days to accomplish. So we were not going to have use of the big dredge until the final week of our project.

Our second serious problem was that the (sizable) river water was running mud-brown. We did not know it at the time, but there was some active dam construction happening upstream in Vietnam. The ongoing construction was turning the river to mud-water. That meant that we were not going to have any visibility underwater. There is a way to get the work done in dirty water; but besides the serious safety problems associated with dredging blind on the bottom of deep tropical rivers, you have to do everything by feel. This slows you down to just a fraction of what you can accomplish with some underwater visibility. This was going to be a difficult mission to accomplish!

All travel on the river from our base camp had to be accomplished by boat. The boat that we arranged broke down on our first trip downriver to survey the area. As it was just before dark on our return to camp, and the mechanical problem seemed pretty serious, we actually started making plans to sleep on a sand bar that was located out in the middle of the river, maybe 5 miles away from our camp. With no dinner and no shelter from the mosquitoes, it was a pretty bleak feeling out there. I captured the following video segment just as our guide was suggesting that we spend the night there on the sand bar. Fortunately, they got the boat motor operating just as darkness was almost complete. It sure felt good to finally arrive back at camp that night where there was a hot meal and perfectly good tent waiting for each of us:

While we were doing our initial survey downriver, we came upon a local river mining operation that was using a long-handled (about 15 feet long) shovel, suspended by a floating platform made of bamboo. This dredge was being used to excavate sand off the bottom of the river. The locals called this a “Vietnam dredge,” because the river mining technology had been imported by miners across the border in Vietnam. Almost the entire dredge was made out of materials from the jungle. Even the lines being used to tie off the dredge out in the river were made from jungle vines. The only part of the dredge we could see that was from our modern world was the head of the shovel. That looked to be fashioned from the car hood of a bombed-out jeep. This river location was part of the Ho Chi Minh trail. So there were plenty of bombed-out jeeps around, and some ruined Vietnamese tanks, too. In fact, there was a lot of painful history here!

Author and several team-members trying out a “Vietnam Dredge,” made from bamboo, which local miners use to bring gold off the bottom of the river.

Upon discovery of the local river mining program, we immediately took the opportunity to make friends with the local miners and the elders of their village. This is standard procedure anytime we are performing an preliminary evaluation in a new area. While their methods might sometimes be somewhat primitive compared to ours, I have found more often than not that hundreds (or thousands) of years of local mining experience has given the miners who occupy an area a strong perception of where the richest gold areas are located. We did not have much time remaining to make a rich discovery for our clients. Any head start the locals could give us would surely be a welcome development! Ultimately, the locals told us that their dredge was positioned along the strongest line of gold that they knew of in the river. That was a big help!

To get an idea of how much gold they were talking about, we accepted their invitation to go down and operate their Vietnamese dredge for a little while. The following video segment captured my guys running the local production equipment. It worked by pushing the shovel down into the sand, and then using a make-shift windless to raise the river-bottom material to the surface. There, local wooden gold pans were used to process the material:

While the local miners were recovering a fair amount of gold from the river-bottom sand deposits, their success did not appear to help us very much. This was because we wanted to sample for the high-grade gold deposits which are almost always located at the bottom of hard-packed streambed layers. In working their Vietnamese dredge for awhile, it did not take very long for us to realize that the long-handled shovel would not penetrate the hard-packed streambed material that was under the sand. Too bad!

5″ Pro-Mack Sampling Dredge

Still, knowing where local miners were supporting their villages with gold from the river gave us a starting point. The following day, we moved two 5-inch special sampling dredges onto the river some distance downstream from where the locals were mining, but directly in line with them so that we had a better chance of sampling on the strongest path of gold in the river

My guys were initially quite challenged by going down into the pitch blackness along the bottom of a muddy, tropical river. Because there is zero visibility down there, everything must be done by feel. This is not easy to do, because your imagination cranks up into overdrive about what might be lingering around down there to bite or eat you in the dark. Remember those horrific nightmares you had when you were a kid? That stuff doesn’t ever go away. The terror is still present; it is just buried. Going by yourself down to the bottom of a tropical river in total darkness, and having to feel your way around to figure out what is down there, energizes all you nightmarish fears right back to the surface. It is difficult to do what you are supposed to do down there with all this internal fear playing out inside of you! It takes courage and a lot of discipline.

So my guys challenged themselves with acquiring some preliminary sample results using the 5-inch dredges, while I was pulling the 10-inch dredge together and installing a special shaker table in the base camp that we would be needing to process large samples. The table needed to be anchored in concrete. All of this took several days. Time was running out!

On the second day of sampling, our lead diver, Alley Norton, touched down in some hard-pack and came up with a pretty good showing of gold. The following day, I encouraged Ally to go back down and open up the hole (get a bigger sample). We had to keep dredgers separated while sampling, to avoid someone getting smacked with a cobble being tossed in the dark. There simply is no way to tell where anyone else is when you are dredging in muddy water. Alley’s hard work and enthusiasm paid off. Considering how small his sample actually was because of the dirty water, he recovered a lot of gold! We had located high-grade!

I captured these following video segments towards the end of the third day of sampling:

As we had less than a week remaining to accomplish our mission, we all focused the next several days placing the 10-inch dredge and platform into the water. The local help had completed our launch ramp according to plan. Wow, was that a lot of work! Once the big dredge and recovery system were floating in the river, we still had to dial it all in to get it working right. This was particularly important with the sophisticated recovery system that we had brought along for this job.

Before opening up Alley’s discovery with a production sample, we needed to make sure the recovery system was working right. This all took another two days, because the large volume of sand from the bottom of the river was overwhelming the gravel pump that was supposed to transfer classified material to the recovery system. This problem required us to get very creative in the middle of the jungle. Through some trial and error, we constructed several water blasters to inject water into the feed of the gravel pump. This made sure that enough water was going into the feed to keep sand from packing up in there. While all of this took up valuable time, we had to get the big dredging system fully functioning before using it to perform the final production samples in Alley’s rich discovery

We only had 2 days remaining on the project when we finally floated the big dredge over Alley’s rich discovery. Talking about racing against the clock! So while Alley went down in 6 meters of underwater darkness to suck up the sample, I stayed up on deck to fine tune the dredge’s recovery system. You can only put one diver down on a big, powerful dredge in dark water. So our other guys helped where it was needed. Alley spent several hours opening up a large hole through about 2 meters of loose sand. Our plan was to first pump most of the sand off the hard-packed streambed material where Alley had found the gold. Then we were planning to flush the sand completely out of the recovery system before dredging up the pay-dirt. This was to minimize gold losses because of too much sand overwhelming the system at once.

We were making good progress on our plan. But about half way through the day, Alley climbed back onto the dredge with a lot of blood flowing down the right side of his head and face. A pretty sizable chunk of his right ear was missing and it was bleeding profusely! Blood was actually squirting out with the pulse of his heart! He said while operating the dredge’s suction nozzle on the bottom of the river, it felt like a submerged log with rough bark brushed by his head, scraping his ear. When he reached up to touch where the pain was coming from, he could feel that a part of his ear was gone. That’s when he came to the surface. Seeing all that blood and the bite out of Alley’s ear was very dramatic for everyone that was present.

Back at camp, we bandaged Alley up as best we could. We always bring a substantial medical kit with us on these projects. We applied antibiotics just to be safe. Alley said the pain was not too bad. He was mostly worried about how ugly it was all going to look later. I would have been worried about that, too! There wasn’t anything else we were going to do about that situation out in the jungle, though. So we decided to set aside that problem for another time. We were going to depart Cambodia in a few days, anyway.

Collectively, my guys and I decided it was wise to not do any more diving in the river until we found out what bit Alley. Whatever it was, there was a chance that we could still salvage the sampling project by wearing more protective gear while underwater. We still had one more day available to perform a final production sample!

As none of our bodyguards or the other military guys in camp seemed to have any idea what bit Alley, we decided to drive the motor boat up to the hill tribe village where the Vietnamese dredge was operating. We had already made friends with the villagers and elders there. Once there, we removed the bandage from Alley’s ear to show the elders, and they immediately knew what bit him. They told us that there is a fresh water blow fish that lives on clams at the bottom of the river. Apparently, this type of fish must have come alongside Alan’s head; and in the very poor visibility, thought his ear was a clam. One bite and there it went. The villagers assured us we would have no further problem with that fish if we started wearing hoods, gloves and full face helmets in the river while it was muddy.

Afterwards, we heard the story of one of our military men bathing naked in the river and losing his vital organ. Apparently, the man had just been married several weeks before. Luckily, we had been taking our showers up on the bank!

When we arrived at their village, the local people were busy preparing for a “grand celebration” that was to take place that evening. All of us were invited to attend, and it would have been impolite for us to decline their kind hospitality. The celebration turned out to be a funeral ceremony for one of their important elders who had died 3 years before. I have seen similar traditions in Madagascar, where the big celebration of someone’s life happens by the whole village several years after the person dies. These hill tribe people were busy decorating a whole shrine that would be dedicated to the person, carving all sorts of symbols relating to the important things the person lived through. Interestingly, the biggest symbols I recognized were American military helicopters and B-52 bombers. No doubt, the later part of the Vietnam war must have been a very traumatic time for these very simple hill tribe villages, with the Viet Cong using their river for a highway, and the Americans dropping thousands of tons of bombs all around.

These people seemed nothing but pleased to have us Americans present, so we accepted their invitation to participate in their party that evening. Indeed, the party turned out to be one of the most interesting events I have ever been part of. A center covered circle had been built for the people who wanted to express their grief over the loss of a loved one. Inside that area, there were around 20 people who were crying and almost howling in deep grief. Outside the circle, the rest of the village paraded round and round in a dance in joyous celebration of the person’s life.

My guys and I jumped in with the outer group. They were beating on different-sounding chimes to make their traditional music. The sound was so interesting that I captured it on tape. The occasion was something I am sure that none of us will ever forget. We were honored that they allowed us to participate in such an important tribal event. They were honored that we joined in with them. It was a wonderful bonding experience between us and remote villagers of the deep jungles of Cambodia. The following video segment and audio segment capture some of our hill tribe friends as they were preparing for the party, and then capture some of the music and feelings that we shared together that evening:

The following morning found our team back on the 10-inch dredge, preparing to perform one last production sample. This was our last day to accomplish what we went there to do. So much effort and money had been invested to transport this fantastic equipment halfway across the world, through some of the most difficult circumstances on the planet; only to finally arrive on our last day right over top of what appeared to be a very rich gold deposit.

It was so important that we get the best possible production sample, Alley insisted that he take the first dive. He had started the sample on the previous morning, so he knew the layout of the hole in the total darkness of the river bottom. Total darkness down there would have required either of my other two guys to spend valuable time figuring out what Ally had already done. As this gold deposit was really Ally’s personal discovery, we agreed that he would take the first dive of the day to open up his hole. I would spend that time dialing in the recovery system as well as I could. Then I would finish the sample during the afternoon with a second long dive. My other two guys were content to support us from the surface. I don’t think they were quite over the emotional shock of Alley’s blood and guts from the day before. Who could blame them?

As I knew this would be a memorable occasion that none of us would ever forget, I captured some video of Alley bravely overcoming his fears and going back down into the deep black hole that attacked him on the previous day, something very few people would do. You will see from the following video segments how good the production dredging equipment was that we managed to place on top of that rich gold deposit. I believe the recovery system was the most sophisticated that had ever been used with a suction dredge up until that time. It was truly a miracle that we ever got the equipment there, or that we found such a high-grade gold deposit under those difficult conditions. With all that we had been through, in my world, there was no other choice but to perform that final production sample:

After a few hours of diving, Alley came to the surface; because his ear was throbbing in so much pain, that he said he could no longer focus on what needed to be done on the bottom of the river. By then, the recovery system was dialed in as well as we were going to get it. So I suited-up and went down into Alley’s deep, black hole. This was actually my first dive on this entire project. During the week or so that we had been on the river, there were just too many other things that needed to be accomplished which only I could do to bring everything together in time for this final production sample. So there I was, taking the last and most important dive of the whole project!

I will never forget in military jump school, the first time I bailed out of an airplane. It was one of those situations where I really did not have much of a choice. But looking way down there at the ground made jumping feel totally wrong. My body did not want to do it. So it was necessary for me to flick some internal emotional switch, override my natural instincts, and just force the body to make the jump. Going down into deep muddy water is much the same; the body does not want to do it!

I have actually done quite a few dredging projects where it has been necessary to perform the underwater work in muddy water. It is never easy! Especially when the water is deep! It was around 6 meters just to the bottom of this dirty river. That is a long way to go down in the dark. I worked my way down there slowly by following the suction hose, which is where I knew that Alley had left off. When I reached the suction nozzle, I rotated my body around it in a circle, feeling around with my legs and feet to try and find Alley’s dredge hole. Letting go of the nozzle was something I was not prepared to do, because it was the only thing that gave me a reference point down there in the total darkness. Also, feeling around tentatively with steel-tipped work boots felt safer than reaching out in the dark with my hands!

I soon found that Alley’s hole was just off to one side of the nozzle. Experienced dredger that he is, Alley knew better than to leave an unattended suction nozzle down inside of a dredge hole in the sand. The walls never stop sliding in on sand-excavations or loose gravel. If you leave a suction nozzle down inside of one, within just a short time, the suction nozzle and hose will be overwhelmed and buried. That would have been the end of this project. There was not enough time remaining to dig a hose out of the sand in the dark!

Once I found Alley’s hole, I memorized where the suction nozzle was positioned several feet away, and then I followed the edge of the hole all the way around to get some idea how big it was. This was the hard part, because it meant that I had to reach out and feel everything with my hands. All that blood pouring down the side of Alley’s face the day before was vividly on my mind! There were creatures down there with serious teeth! Here is where I had to flick another fear-switch off and just do the work. These fear switches are not really turned off. They are just suspended. I speak from bad experience. Depending upon how many of your internal fear-switches are in suspension, it just takes one small event to turn them all back on into nightmarish panic and terror. I have been there. It is not fun!

Reaching out meant feeling out as far as I could outside the outer edge of Alley’s hole to make sure there were no boulders up there that would roll in on me in the dark. I did not find any. Slowly but surely, I explored all of Alley’s hole by feel. It was pretty big; maybe 30 feet in diameter at the surface, funneling down to a center point about 2 meters deep. Alley had pumped a lot of sand! Before I went down, he told me that he touched down on the hard-pack streambed at the bottom of his hole, but that the sand kept sliding in on him. So he had not been able to get a sample of the hard-pack, yet. This was for me to do!

I invested about 2 hours into taking a sizable cut off the front and one side of Alley’s hole, working the sand back step-by-step in the darkness. I wanted to uncover enough surface area of the hard-pack as possible. This was so that further sand-slides would not prevent me from getting a good sample of the hard-pack. With time, I started uncovering the hard-pack. This is where the loose sand met the cobbles, boulders and gravel that were tightly compacted together. Though I could not see it, it felt just like the hard-pack we dredge along our properties in California.

While the dredge was plenty powerful enough to pull apart the compacted streambed material, my progress was slow. This is because I could not see the oversized rocks that had to be moved out of the way, and I could not put my hands out in front of the nozzle in the dark without getting them hurtfully banged up. Mainly, I just poked around down there in the dark to suck up anything that would go up the nozzle. Each time a loose cobble would block the nozzle opening, I would wrestle it off and put it behind me. It was not long before I had more loose cobbles behind me than I could manage. It was too far to throw them out of the hole, and trying to pack them out would have caused more sand to slide in. So I just juggled everything around down there the best I could, determined to get as much of that hard-pack up the nozzle as possible. Ultimately, my progress became overwhelmed by loose cobbles in the hole and sand sliding in from the sides. I had not reached bedrock, but I did get a fair sample of the material that Alley had touched down upon with the 5-inch dredge several days before. By my measurements in the dark, I estimate that I sampled less than a cubic meter of hard-packed material. That was all we were going to get under those difficult circumstances. It was a good feeling to finish what we had traveled so far to do.

The guys turned the dredge down when I reached the surface. I had to wait at the ladder for the longest time to allow my eyes to adjust to the bright sunny day. As I was waiting, my guys were making a lot of enthusiastic noise about visible gold in the recovery system. When I finally was able to see again, I climbed up onto the dredge to see that the entire recovery system was inundated with a thick layer of small golden flakes. It was, by far, the most gold I have ever seen recovered out of such a small volume of gravel. This place was rich!

We had just enough time before dark to run our concentrates over the shaker table back at camp. Everyone there experienced an incredible feeling of pride. Under very difficult circumstances, against all odds, we stuck it out right until the last hour to make this project a success. Watching all that rich gold flow across the shaker table had all of us in awe about how rich this river is. Who would have ever guessed? Right there on the Ho Chi Minh trail! While I am sorry to have missed capturing the gold-laden recovery system on the dredge, I was able to recover myself enough to capture the following video segment of the final clean-up. To put it in perspective, our small sample caused that shaker table to flow gold like that for a full 15 minutes!

We returned to civilization the following morning, and departed Cambodia a few days later.

Follow ups:

A short time later, our clients met with some serious misfortune by aligning themselves with the losing side in a power struggle over who would control the government in Cambodia. While they survived the events, they have been banned from the country forever.

Shortly after my clients found themselves in big trouble, all of the equipment and supplies we sent over (that they paid for in advance) were taken away. The only thing remaining there today that shows we were ever even present is part of a steel frame from one of the large floatation platforms. Everything else is long gone.

The wars in Cambodia are now long over. The people there are very friendly. You do not see guns there anymore. People are focused on getting ahead in business. They want to be like America. The government is trying hard to attract foreign investment.

Nothing since our project has been done to develop the deposit that we located. Although the government of Cambodia has offered to make an exploration license available, I have yet to raise the high-risk capital necessary to go back over and do something about what we found

I made a special trip back to the site of our discovery 2 years ago. The bad roads have been replaced with a highway! Schools have been built in the village communities. The people out there were happy to see me. Most importantly, dam construction in Viet Nam was finished and the river was running clear!

While I was out there, I hired a local boat to take me downriver to see if anyone was doing anything with our deposit. Nobody was there. Even the Viet Nam dredges were gone! It appears that my guys and I were the only ones whoever really understood the significance of what we found there. Local miners cannot access the rich material using their technology. With clear water, we could process hundreds of times more hard-pack in a day than what I sampled down there in the dark.

The following video segment was taken in the very place where the earlier segment showed us operating the dredge:

Alley and his brother are now managing a successful concrete business in Phoenix, Arizona. He never did anything to fix the bite out of his ear. Now he says the tattered look gives him personality and character. Since nobody will believe he had his ear nearly bitten off by a clam-eating fish while prospecting for gold at the bottom of a muddy river in the jungles of Cambodia in the middle of a war along the ancient Ho Chi Minh trail, he now just tells people that his ear was bitten off by someone while fighting in a bar on the north side of Phoenix. That’s already more adventure than most people can handle!

Note: This story was pulled together from the non-proprietary portion of an initial report from a preliminary evaluation of a potential production dredging project in Northeastern Cambodia. The opportunity to do something with this prospect still exists.

 

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