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

 

 

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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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

 
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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.

 

 

By Dave McCracken

Talking about putting yourself way out there beyond where you should not be!

Dave Mack

Actually, I had no business diving in that cave with the equipment I that was using. The gear was old and used heavily in my dredging program. The breathing regulator leaked out of the side. The mouth piece rubber was no longer being held on by a band or plastic wire tie. My underwater flashlight was not working well. It would flicker on and off again, making it necessary to bang it on something to get it to come back on. I simply did not think the whole thing through! I have been diving all my life, and I should have known better. But I do have an excuse, it was treasure fever that was clouding my judgment, and I had it bad.

It all started when an acquaintance of ours told us about the treasure in Hall City Cave. My brother Brian and I had been dredging in a very rich pay-streak, three to four ounces of beautiful gold every day with a six inch dredge in the middle of the cold winter months. We were only dredging about four hours a day. The gold was just pouring in. Then a big storm came in which knocked us out of the water for about a week. That is when the old man told us about the treasure which the Indians hid in the cave.


Mark Keene and Ivan Jackovich looking for
treasure in the same cave a few years later

As the story goes, some time during the late 1800’s a few renegade Indians attacked and killed the miners of a small hydraulic mining operation near the town of Hayfork, in Trinity County, in northern California. While the mining operation might have been small, they were doing very well. The Indians apparently stole about one hundred pounds of mostly nugget-gold from the dead miners.

Since the Indians were on foot, and also carrying a very heavy load, it did not take long for the posse to catch up with them. In fact, as a last ditch effort to get away, the Indians stashed the gold somewhere so they could move faster. When the posse caught up with the Indians, only the Indians knew where the gold was. The men in the posse told the Indians that they would not be hung for their crimes if they would tell where they hid the gold. The Indians told the posse that they had hidden the gold in Hall City Cave. Then they were promptly hung right on the spot.

As it turns out, Hall City Cave has a deep, submerged cavern at the back of the cave. The cavern is said to be bottomless, because no one apparently has ever been able to get to the bottom. And of course, not the posse, or anyone else, ever found the gold. Did the Indians hide the gold somewhere in the cave? Did they just dump it into the bottomless cavern to get rid of it? Did they have some secret hiding place in the cave, perhaps underwater? Or did they hide the gold somewhere else?

As the story goes, during more recent years, there have been several deaths in the cave. These were drownings, as scuba divers have tried unsuccessfully to recover the hidden gold nuggets. There is a strong legend that powerful Indian spirits remain in the cave to guard the treasure, to scare away or kill anyone trying to recover it. The old man told us the story. He believed that if anyone could recover the gold, it was us; because of our superior skill, our experience, and our integrity. Especially our integrity, since the old man wanted an equal third of the treasure if we found it. He had the information and the maps; we were to provide the necessary equipment and do the actual diving part of the operation. “What the heck,” we decided, we were not doing anything else productive; just watching the rain and waiting for the river to slow down and clear up.

The old man drove; and other than a few logs crossing the seldom-used old logging dirt roads, and a little snow, we got to the cave with little trouble. It only took about an hour to pack the diving gear up the semi-steep hill to the cave. The cave itself was not very large. It was about seven feet tall in places, ten or fifteen feet in others. Most of the cave was wide enough to walk through, except one spot where it was necessary to squeeze through sideways. The cave did not extend very deep into the mountain, only about forty or fifty feet. The water-filled pool at the back of the cave looked very deep as we shined our flashlights into the water.

The cave was dark and gloomy. Menacing spirits were dancing in the shadows as we shined our flashlights around the cave while moving the equipment into place. The small area of the cave succeeded in giving us a closed-in feeling. Something about the atmosphere inside the cave was very wrong. We all had the same feeling that what we were doing was not right, like we were trying to steal something that did not properly belong to us. There was an unmistakable feeling of menacing gloom inside the cave, the feeling like we were in big trouble and that we should get out. All of us felt the gloom!

In fact, the feeling was so strong, we went outside and had a short discussion, reaffirming our determination for being there; agreeing that the gold was indeed ours if we were able to recover it; and also resolving that if disembodied beings were in fact making us feel so nervous, then it was all the more likely that the gold was hidden in this place. And, of course, it was also okay with the others because it was me that was going to do the diving. I was the most experienced.

The water in the back of the cave was crystal clear and ice cold. I chose earlier to use my dry-suit, and I took fifteen pounds of lead off my weight belt to make me less heavy in the water. In dredging, it is necessary to weight yourself heavily to the bottom of the river. In diving, especially cave diving, you want to achieve neutral buoyancy so you can swim up or down as you like. My problem was that my weights were in 15-pound increments.

To take another 15 pounds off would make me too light. To leave it on made me sink rather quickly. It was a choice I had to make. How easy it is to simply make a decision. Then you are stuck with the consequences! I chose to go heavy. I figured it would be better to not have to fight my way down into the deep hole against positive buoyancy.

The pool of water at the back of the cave was the surface of what turned out to be a round shaft which extended deep down into the earth at almost a vertical angle. The shaft looked to be around six feet in diameter. Shining my flashlight down, I could tell that it was deep. I could also see what appeared to be additional chambers which extended off the top of the main shaft. “Perhaps this was an old mine?” No, I remember thinking, there were no tailings or waste dumps outside the cave. “It must be limestone,” I thought, remembering the limestone caves near Del Loma which the Indians used to conduct raids from the small town of Denny up on the New River, through 20 miles of underground connected caverns. “This underwater cave could be bottomless,” I thought.

Rather than wear the scuba tank on the first dive, I felt it would be safer to use the fifty-foot airline that I had brought along. I attached one end of the airline to my scuba tank, which was to stay at the surface. The other end attached to my breathing regulator, which went into my mouth. This way, I could do a preliminary exploration without having to worry about getting caught up in tight corners with a bulky scuba tank on my back. The airline also gave me a direct link to the surface. Rope does not generally work very well for this sort of thing underwater, because it has a tendency to get tangled around vital things.

I just wanted to do a preliminary look around without getting too far away from the surface; which in this case, was going to be no more than fifty feet. Then I could think about putting the tank on my back and venturing further into the darkness. As it turned out in the end, this was a decision I would be glad I made.

We only had one scuba tank; and since my brother was not experienced using scuba equipment anyway, I had to settle for him acting as a tender holding a flashlight at the surface. Besides, I had the only underwater flashlight, so there was not very much he was going to do for me if I did get into trouble. It was pitch dark down there!

Of course, my flashlight started giving me trouble as soon as I started down into the main shaft. My depth gauge had just told me I was only fifteen feet into the hole when the light quit the first time. I stopped quietly in the darkness for a moment, listening, trying to get more comfortable in my surroundings. “What was that slight rumbling noise?” It was very light. Was it the echo of our own movements and noise in the cave, perhaps my air bubbles against the upper wall of the cave? No, it sounded too deep and far away for that. It almost sounded like the heavy beating of drums from far away. It was a very distant sound. I found myself looking into the darkness, trying to figure out if the sound was really there at all.

I tapped the light a few times along the side to bring it back to life and continued deeper into the shaft. As I descended, I passed several openings that extended upwards off the main shaft. “Good places to hide the gold, maybe,” I thought to myself as I went by them. When my depth gauge read 35 feet, I stopped and looked down the shaft. The water was perfectly clear. With the bright light, I could see well beyond the remaining fifteen feet that my airline was going to allow me. The shaft continued to extend at the same straight angle into the darkness, giving the perception of endlessness. The angle was so steep that if they threw it in this main shaft, the gold would not have stopped until it hit bottom. “No way to reach that without a scuba tank on my back,” I thought.

Looking up at that point, I noticed that there was a smaller shaft extending off the top of the main shaft. This one was only about 3 ½ feet in diameter.

“Better to check out the close quarters of these smaller, upper shafts without the tank on my back,” I decided, as I jumped up into the smaller opening above me. I was wearing my dredging boots; and because I was weighted slightly heavy, it was necessary to span the perimeter of the almost diagonal shaft and use my legs against the sides of the shaft to climb upward. While doing this, I managed somehow to keep the flashlight pointed in an upward direction. Looking up, all I could see was darkness. I was hoping to find the water’s surface and a hidden open chamber with a treasure of gold nuggets inside…

I climbed upward until I felt the familiar tugging of my airline, telling me that I had reached as far as it was going to allow me. At that point, while breathing in, I got a full mouth of water! Getting a mouth full of water can often happen when gold dredging in fast water. When your regulator is positioned just right (or wrong?) into a strong water current, the rubber exhaust valve will sometimes allow water to flow into the final stage of the regulator. This will give you a mouth full of water if you happen to be breathing in at the time.

This happens often to me, because I mostly dredge in fast water. My body just accepts it as a normal routine. I simply use whatever is left in my lungs to blow the water out of the exhaust ports. Then, I carefully take in my next breath. There is always a certain amount of undivided attention that goes with taking this next breath; because if it is more water, it is necessary to act quickly to avoid drowning! Almost always, though, I get nice clean air on the first intake after blowing the water out of the regulator. That’s why it was such a surprising shock to me in that cave when I got a second mouth full of water!

Now I had no air in my lungs at all, and I whipped the flashlight around just in time to see the regulator sink out of sight into the darkness. I still had the rubber mouthpiece in my mouth. Pulling on the airline the way I did must have made the rubber mouthpiece slip off the regulator. How could I be so stupid to dive without fixing it first? The realization of my position was terrifying. My body was screaming for air, and I was a long way from getting any. “Do I go down 15 feet to the main shaft and then climb another 35 feet to the surface? I don’t think I can possibly make it that far! Or, do I go towards the surface in the small shaft in hopes of finding air up there?” These were my only two choices.

I don’t even remember turning around in the cave. Going down was not physically difficult because I was weighted heavy. But as I went deeper into the cave, the increased pressure of the greater depth compressed my lungs even further, making my body turn into a panicked, psychotic animal. My body was screaming to turn around and go back up the small shaft, to do anything, anything to get air!

Have you ever had anyone hold your head underwater, or hold you down while blocking your nose and mouth from taking in air? If you have, then you have some idea of what I was going through. It took every bit of discipline I could master to reach the bottom of the small shaft.

The momentum, and the extra lead on my belt caused me to slip even further down into the main shaft. My lungs were a vacuum; it felt like they were squeezed flat. This feeling and the panic were one and the same. There was no discipline left. Just a mad scramble to get up the shaft. It was difficult. The tunnel was almost straight up, and I was wondering if I might have made a mistake and gotten into the wrong shaft!

The extra lead on my belt was pulling me back down. My feet were slipping on the smooth rock surface, and there were no hand holds. I was making progress, but it was painfully slow. I found myself watching the action in slow motion from outside the body. Inch by inch the body was moving, but I was not going to make it in time. The panic and desperation were kind of a far off feeling now. And then the flashlight flicked off!

It was the sound of drums after all, and they were louder now, much louder, all around me, in fact. The monotones, rhythmic pounding of the drums had an alluring, hypnotic effect upon me. It was a wonderful feeling to be a part of the ceremony. No, I was the ceremony! This was not something that was foreign to me or something that came from the outside. It was something I have always had with me and chose not to look at. The distant feeling of enthusiasm, and a feeling of greatness took over as I watched my fellow warrior-brothers dancing and leaping with wondrous strength, glory and bravery around the fire. They were singing “Hey Yey Yey Yey, Hey Yey Yey Yey,” to the beat of the drum. And I realized with exhilaration that this was a place where effort, emotion and thought all came together as one; a place which transcends time. This was my place, and the realization brought about the enthusiasm to jump in and give myself completely to the eternal dance around the fire…

“The light went out.” The voice from another world said.
“What?” said another voice.
“He was just about to surface and I think he lost his light again,” said the strangely familiar voice, with obvious concern.
“Huh?” I remember asking myself. “What is this?” And the sudden realization of the sadness this would cause to my brother, and to my family and close friends. “Not this way” I told myself; and looking up, I realized that it was not a fire I was looking at. It was my brother’s flashlight at the surface, just above me.

It was not very hard to scramble up the last few feet to the surface. I came out of the water like a madman, gasping for air. The first breath was vastly painful, the second not so bad. I was left the rest of that day, and the next, with mixed emotions; the feeling that I was simply happy to be alive, and also the feeling that I had been robbed of something important. “You O.K. Bro?”, asked my brother.

Yeah, I was going to be O.K. I spent the next hour or so diving in the shallow parts of the cave. This was not the first time I have come close to drowning, or the second for that matter. I prefer to try and stay in the near vicinity until the shock wears off. Kind of like getting back on the horse again immediately after it has thrown you, I guess.

And the treasure? It is probably still there! You can have it if you can get it! I know now that it certainly does not belong to me, if only for the reason that I am not going back after it. I will get my nuggets the hard way; I’ll stick to gold dredging!

 

 

By Dave McCracken

Finding wild adventure, wonderful new friends, and riches in gold inside one of the most remote locations on the planet!

Dave Mack

 

This story is dedicated to my long-time, trusted friend, Mark Chestnut. He and I teamed up to perform a preliminary assessment of the gold dredging potential in the deepest remote jungles of Borneo, Indonesia. The ultimate success of this mission was largely the result of Mark’s professionalism and dedication to getting the work done under some very difficult conditions.

On his own, Mark led sampling expeditions with his team of Dyak helpers for days at a time into places where I am entirely certain that no outsider has ever been before, living under fly camps with the natives, eating the food they prepared from the jungle, running down through narrow gorges in long boats where the ride was so violent, that all of the boat paddles were broken along the way. I am very careful who I take along with me on these projects. Those that go must be of the highest caliber. Not only would I take Mark with me anywhere, but I would be comfortable in sending him to manage a project. There are only a few people I have worked with in our industry that I would trust with that responsibility.

Indonesia’s 13,677 islands stretch across 3,000 miles of ocean. Only around 6,000 of these islands have been named, and only 900 of those have been permanently settled. The principal islands of Indonesia are Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).

Three-quarters of the island of Borneo is called Kalimantan, and is part of Indonesia. The northeastern part of the island is owned by Malaysia.

Throughout history, Borneo, which is the world’s third largest island, has been a mythical location of indescribable riches and unfathomable mystery. Early explorers and traders sailed the pirate-infested waters of Indonesia and Borneo for many centuries, trading for prized jungle products, diamonds and gold, but generally staying clear of the forbidden unknown interior, which was known to be prowled by savage headhunters and cannibals.

The natives of Borneo, known as Dyaks, believed that the power of any individual was contained in his head. To cut the head off, and to possess it, was therefore to possess that individual’s power. The power of a head diminished over time, making it necessary to obtain new, additional heads; the more heads, the more power. While most often, Dyak tribes battled against each other, any outsider was also fair game.

Usually, head-hunting raids were well-organized ventures led by a supreme commander, in which hundreds of men would participate. The main weapon was a mandau (machete), which was made by Dyak blacksmiths, working with native ores and primitive forges. Early explorers reported these machetes held an edge capable of slicing a musket barrel in half! Shields were made of ironwood, following the longitudinal grain, so an enemy’s mandau would become wedged deeply enough to become lodged and pulled out of his grasp.

After a war party was fully organized, a Dyak medicine man would perform a ceremony to weigh and balance the different omens. If all was in order, the war party would usually travel by native long boat to a distance which was several hours on foot from the enemy village. Sometimes, the enemy would be pre-warned by their own hunting parties; and they themselves would mount an ambush on the raiding war party. In this case, the ambush was usually begun by firing poison darts onto the unsuspecting enemy with blowguns, and then hand-to-hand combat with spears and mandaus.

Captured women and children from a village were forced into slavery, and the village was looted of its valuables, especially traded goods from China and India. A celebration always followed a successful head-hunting raid. Those who brought back heads were heroes.

Head-hunting was practiced widely throughout the interior of Borneo up until the Second World War. Now, it is a thing of the past.

Because of the impassable mountains and rivers, much of the interior of Borneo is not accessible by automobile. Access to a portion of the interior can be accomplished by riverboat, but waterfalls and severe rapids prevent deeper penetration. Access to the most remote locations generally is accomplished by the use of helicopters. There are some landing strips in the interior. Small planes can be chartered, but quickly changing weather conditions can make even this type of access unpredictable.

Our mining venture was into one of the most remote and least-explored sections of Borneo’s interior. Going in by helicopter, we crossed over hundreds of miles of impenetrable jungle. There were mountains, having sheer cliffs hundreds of feet in height, extending for miles. We crossed over hundreds of rivers, many which were raging white-water. I remember hoping, as I always do when traveling by helicopter, that we would not crash. Because if I managed to survive the crash, I was gauging the magnitude of the effort it would take to return to civilization. It would be next to impossible!

The reason we were in Borneo was to perform a preliminary evaluation to gauge the potential success of a production gold dredging operation. Some base camps had been already built in the area by the company that hired us; some dredges were already on site; and the local natives were using the dredges when we arrived. We spent 30 days in the jungle, living and working with the native miners, learning their way of life and survival in the jungle.

The natives involved on our project were from two different villages. They were all very friendly and helpful. All were in excellent physical condition and used to hard physical work. Most were already familiar with basic gold mining techniques, since they have been mining gold by primitive methods for many generations.

Generally, no matter what else they wear for clothes, the natives wear nothing on their feet. Often, all the men wear is a pair of underpants. On one occasion, I went on a nine-hour prospecting/hunting expedition, where the terrain was so slippery and steep, most of the climbing was done with our arms. We scaled sheer cliffs with narrow, slippery walkways, where the bedrock was so sharp it cut into the soles of my jungle boots. The clay-like ground was so slippery, it was like walking on ice during most of the hike. I like to think that I personally am in pretty good shape. The pace was very fast, but was only a third of their normal speed. They had to slow down to allow us to keep up. I almost wore out a good set of authentic military jungle boots, and I had blisters on my own feet long before the expedition was finished. The natives were all barefooted, and not one had a cut or a bruise at the end of the day!

You have to be careful where you stick your hands at the bottom of tropical rivers!

The native men in the jungles of Borneo have a simple, adventuresome life–the kind that every little boy dreams of in America. Their responsibilities consist of hunting, fishing, finding gold and raising their families. For lack of any exterior form of entertainment, the family unit is very close there. These people create their own entertainment, excitement and adventure.

We found that while they were all very strong and helpful, they were also always fun to be around. Operating gold dredges was a new adventure for most of them, and they were having a good time learning how to do it.

The natives also have a high level of self-preservation, probably because their lifestyle is so closely connected to the basics of survival. On one occasion, after we had shut down a production dredge, one of the divers was bumped off the dredge into fast, deep water wearing a full vest of weights and no air. He was connected to a 100-foot airline. The airline was wrapped around something under the dredge, so no one could get at it. We all stood there and watched while this native pulled himself 100 feet up-stream, underwater, against a strong current without ever coming to the surface. We felt him frantically tugging one pull at a time. It never occurred to anyone that he might drown. When he reached the dredge, the look of agony disappeared into an uproar of laughter as he took his first breath. After that, we all used the same signal of frantically thrashing for air every time we wanted to communicate the danger in dredging a particularly difficult location. We always laughed when using the signal.

On one expedition, it was necessary for our guides to cut down a large hardwood tree to replace most of the paddles we needed to continue our journey.

The natives are also very adept with the use of a chainsaw. They are able to cut down a tree and slice straight boards out, without the use of any guides whatsoever. Compared to other jungle expeditions I have been on, we lived in luxurious base camps, with showers, sleeping quarters, meeting areas, dining areas–all on stilts ten feet off the ground. The base camps were clean, dry and comfortable–put together from lumber sliced out of trees solely from the use of a chainsaw. The long boats we were using also were made from the same lumber.

Because of the steep, rough terrain in the Borneo jungle, almost all travel is done by boat on the intricate river system. Consequently, all of the native men are skilled in the handling of their keting tings (native long boats). These boats are usually around 30 feet long and about 3 1/2 feet wide. These days, they are powered by 4-stroke engines, 8 and 10 horsepower Yamahas were being used in our area of operation. A long shaft mechanism is connected to the engine with a propeller on the end. The boat operator is able to manipulate the long shaft and propeller around like a rudder, but is also able to control how deep the propeller extends into the water. In this way, the keting tings can be maneuvered through
We went down through rapids which, as we approached, I thought the natives were just playing a trick, with a plan to turn around at the very last minute. Rapids with waves nearly 4 feet higher than the gunwales of the boat on both sides. And then, afterwards, we would come right back up through these rapids. At first, I thought this was reckless and chancy. Later, I realized it was routine. In thirty days, we never saw a single boat get into trouble.water only inches deep, even when transporting 1500 pounds or more of personnel, equipment or supplies.

It did not take long for me to realize the long shaft mechanism is the most effective means developed to propel long boats on shallow rivers. These long shaft propulsion systems are used all throughout Asia.

On one particular prospecting trip into the headwaters of a river, we rode these boats down through whitewater canyons so narrow that the sides and bottoms of the long boats were scraping the sides of the canyon on both sides–and we were going faster than a roller-coaster ride. What was most amazing to us, was that somehow, the natives were able to get the long boats up through those canyons! We were personally dropped in at the top by helicopter.

The operation supplied us with bottled water to drink, rice to eat, and the other basics which we needed. The natives had gardens and supplied us with fresh vegetables. There was a hunting team which supplied us with fresh wild boar and deer meat on a daily basis, and fresh fish from the river. Native cooks prepared the food for us, and we could not have found better food in most of the restaurants in Indonesia or elsewhere.

Notice the slash across the pig’s head?

Hunters use dogs to track down wild game–usually the babi hutan (wild boars). Often, a hunter will go out alone with a single dog. The dog catches the scent of a boar and starts barking. When the dog catches up with the boar, the boar will turn on the dog and stand there to defend itself. Meanwhile, the native hunter catches up and will either attack the boar with his spear; or more often, the boar will attack the hunter. When the boar attacks, the hunter sidesteps at the last second, and slashes the backside of the boar’s head with his mandau in a single downward stroke. This is kind of a ritual, like bull fighting in Mexico. The hunters take pride in returning with wild boars having the familiar slash on the back of the head. Most boars that were brought in were killed in this manner. Some hunters brought in two and three boars on a single day to feed the whole crew.

They also brought in payau (deer)–sometimes killed with a spear, and sometimes brought in alive. The natives and their dogs have a method of running down a deer alive, so it can be preserved until the meat is needed.

The natives also hunt bears; but this is usually accomplished also with the use of their blow guns. They weaken the bear with poison darts and go in for the final kill with a spear.

My earlier experiences in remote jungles always involved animal life which was dangerous to us while dredging in the river. I expected no less in Borneo. However, while we did see some very large buaya (alligators), the natives assured us that they have never been known to attack a man. Apparently, they like their meat dead and rotten.

The main river was actually pretty large in size!

During our prospecting, the natives did show us one specific area where the water runs muddy all the time–even when the water is running clear just upriver. The natives explained that the muddy water was either being stirred up by dragons or alligators. Needless to say, we did not bother to sample in that location.

The natives did tell us to be careful of the kujut (huge catfish) at the bottom of the rivers. While we did not see any underwater, native fishermen did catch one catfish which weighed around 60 pounds. It was large enough, and had big enough teeth, to take a man’s hand away. The natives said this was a small fish! Apparently, on the larger rivers, the natives have trouble with losing their dogs to these catfish. Some villages use full-grown live ducks as bait to catch these big catfish. They told us there has never been an occasion where a full-grown man has been attacked and eaten by a catfish. This, however, didn’t make us feel all that much safer while underwater.

We set up fly camps alongside the river when we prospected distant areas from the base camp.

Actually, as far as wildlife goes, it was the pacer (ground leeches) that had most of our attention. Luckily, there were no leeches in the river! But, if you needed to go up on the river banks, or if you were going to take any kind of hike through the jungle, you were going to get leeches on you. They were everywhere! Some bushes had blood-sucking leeches on every leaf–on every branch!

The biggest problem with leeches is psychological. They are slimy, sleazy creatures. You just naturally want to get them off you as quickly as possible. When you try and brush a leech off with your hand, it then sticks to your hand like glue. When you use your other hand to get it off, it ends up on that hand. Meanwhile, there are two or three more sleazing up your legs–or maybe a dozen, depending upon where you are standing or walking. Leeches move pretty fast!

Leeches have a very strong sucker-mouth, which attaches to your skin and sucks the blood right out. It doesn’t take long. In fact, they can attach to the outside of a thin pair of pants, or on the outside of a T-shirt, or on the outside of a cotton sock, and suck the blood right through the garment. It is all pretty slimy business! The nice thing about these leeches is that they do not carry any disease.

When we started, I figured we had it together over the natives with our lightweight long-sleeve shirts, tucked into our thick Levis, which were tucked into our jungle boots. All most of the natives were wearing on the hikes was a pair of shorts or underpants! However, it soon became obvious that the natives could easily find and remove the leeches from their own bodies. Sometimes, we didn’t find a few of our leeches until we got back to camp. Generally, a leech will drop off you once it has had its fill of blood.

“Leeches do not hurt you. What’s a little blood? We found the best way to get them off was by scraping them off with the sharp blade of a knife.”

A small red mark on your skin is left where a leach has been sucking. It goes away after a few weeks. The natives told us leeches are used regularly to suck the infection from injuries in their native medicine.

Overall, the adverse animal conditions were very mild–compared to the crocodiles, piranha, electric eels, African Killer Bees, black flies, mosquitoes, and poisonous vipers we have encountered in similar jungle conditions in the Amazon and elsewhere. I was only bitten by one mosquito in 30 days! A few leeches are not a bad trade-off for not having to deal with truly dangerous critters.

Our guides and helpers were a good bunch of guys to have on the team.

We did have several very amusing experiences having to do with leeches. Where is the worst place a man can get a leech stuck onto him? One day, we were riding upriver in a keting ting. These long boats usually have one person operating the motor, and another person in the bow with a paddle to help keep the boat pointed in the right direction, and to signal the boat driver to watch out for submerged rocks and logs. We had just finished a short prospecting hike, and thought we had removed all the leeches from our bodies. It always seems, however, that no matter how thorough you are, a few more show up afterwards. We were going upstream through a boulder-ridden section of river, when the bow man jumped up and yanked his shorts down. Right there, in the worst place imaginable, was a leech hanging off the man. One of the other natives pulled out his machete to give him some help. Just at that time, the boat rammed into a submerged log, and the bow man flew overboard. We all just had to stop and laugh for the longest time before we could get going again. Needless to say, this was a subject we all laughed about right up until the time of our departure.

During our sampling operation, we spent a great deal of time traveling many, many miles around in the long boats. It was a great way to get a good look at the jungle and the wildlife. In many places, the trees grow out across the river from both sides to make a natural tunnel.

One day, we were traveling by boat along the river’s edge, when a large biawak (lizard several feet long, with sharp teeth and very fast) jumped off a tree limb directly into the boat in front of me. He would have landed on top of the native in front of me, but the native, ever alert, saw it coming. I saw it out of the comer of my eye, but thought it was just a branch falling out of the tree. The native jumped up just in time, and the lizard fell into the bottom of the boat between his bare feet. Then, yelling like a mad man, the native and lizard both danced around quickly, trying to get out of each other’s way. Finally, the lizard went over the side. All this, about three feet in front of me; and so fast, I didn’t have a chance to react! We all laughed so hard that we almost had to pull the boat over to the edge of the river.

One day, while prospecting, we came around a bend in the river, traveling by keting ting, and a million fruit bats took to the air. Known also as “flying foxes”, these are huge bats with wingspans of two to three feet. There were so many that it was like a dark cloud above us as we traveled beneath them on our way downriver.

Mark Chestnut poses for a photo with his sampling team after returning from a 5-day sampling project deep into another world where no outsider has ever gone before or since.

Some of the local natives also hunt a certain breed of monkey, not for the meat, but for a particular healing stone possessed by only one special monkey in each tribe. Apparently, these healing stones are in great demand by Chinese medicine men, and a very high price is paid for them, much more than the price of gold by weight.

According to the local natives, if a monkey becomes sick, the special monkey will pass the stone to the sick monkey until he or she is healed. The problem for the monkey hunters is in determining exactly which monkey is carrying the stone. A sumpit (blow gun) is used to fire a poisoned dart at the monkey. Blow guns are made of a single piece of ironwood at least two meters in length, with a straight hole bored through its center. The darts are made from bamboo, and are dipped in a deadly poison made from the sap of a Tajom tree mixed with the venom from a cobra.

We ran into a few monkey hunters during one of our expeditions. These men hunt for gold during the dry periods when the water is low in the rivers. They hunt for monkey stones during the rainy periods. We noticed immediately that the monkey hunters each had almost a full mouth of solid gold teeth. When I inquired about this, the natives told us the poison used on blow gun darts is so toxic, that just the vapors near the mouthpiece of a loaded blowgun will cause a person’s teeth to fall out after a period of time. Besides, solid gold teeth are fashionable in Borneo, similar to clean, white teeth in our culture.

I noticed that many of the natives had gold teeth. I never did find out exactly how gold teeth are fashioned and how dentistry is performed deep inside the Borneo jungle. Many of the older men and women have tattoos on their hands, legs and arms. We were told the tattoos are made with tiny metal needles dipped in a particular tree sap, or in charcoal, leaving permanent black marks.

The predominant religion in the area of our operation was Christianity. The natives preferred to take Sunday off to conduct their own religious services. This was added to by other, more ancient rituals and customs. For example, after we had arrived and began our dredging activities, the rains started picking up. One of the natives had a dream that the local jungle guardian spirits were angry because of the loud noise of the engines brought in by the foreigners (us). Many of the natives worried over this dream, considering it might be a bad omen. Word reached the main village many hours up river. Within a few days, a whole delegation came down to our base camp led by the village chief.

The following day, they put on a ceremony along the edge of the river, while sacrificing the heads of two chickens to appease the jungle spirits. All of the local natives showed up to participate. All work was cancelled for the day. The following day, the weather cleared up, and operation conditions were improved until the time of our departure. Coincidence? The local natives didn’t believe so. Me? I choose to go along with the local customs of the natives of any area which is providing the hospitality. Who am I to challenge the beliefs of others? The natives believe Borneo is an old land, and that old spirits still linger around to help control the weather and certain events to protect the animals and local people. We found that different villages had this same belief, but had their own rituals for making peace with the spirits.

We had fried chicken for dinner on the night of the ritual. Uhm uhm good!

The local miners are recovering gold from the rivers by panning with their Tulangs (gold pans). These are similar to the Sarukas used in South America. They also use their keting ting motors to wash the streambed material from bedrock, so the flakes and nuggets can be exposed and removed from the bedrock cracks and traps. Some of the natives were using hoes underwater to rake gravel off the bedrock. They would then dive down using a facemask to recover gold from the bedrock traps. Sometimes they hit hot spots and do quite well.

One native told us he recovered over four kilograms (around ten pounds) of gold, mostly nuggets, in several months of hard work by primitive methods. But they don’t really need to recover a lot of gold. The jungle provides for most of their needs. Their villages also produce woven baskets and other products from the jungle which are exported to the outside world. A little gold allows for extra luxury items which improve their standard of living.

Long Shaft System

Local miners are doing very well by blowing gravel off the bedrock using their long-shaft propulsion systems!

I think the thing that impressed me most during the entire expedition was the friendliness of the people. Children ran out and waved at us when we went past their villages by long boat. Adults invited us to stay with them in their homes. The Chief of one village gave me his own favorite blowgun, one which he had personally used for the past 12 years.

Dyak sampling team

The natives were excited to dredge with us, because it was explained to them that we were “professionals, gold prospectors from the outside world.” They pretty-much had taught themselves to dredge from scratch during the two months prior to our arrival. Except for when the water was muddy, they would insist on going down to help us. They wanted to participate also in the muddy water, but we insisted that it was too dangerous, because someone might get hit in the head with a rock.

Just like during any other activity, these natives dredge barefooted. Even the individuals who were wearing wetsuits wore nothing on their feet!

Instead of lead weight belts, they were wearing jacket-like vests, tied together with fishing line, with big pockets. River rocks were stuffed into the pockets to weigh down the diver. It seemed to work alright for them, but I’ll stick to my lead weight belt and steel-tipped rubber boots! Of course, we had to be very careful to avoid throwing rocks on unprotected toes.

And we found gold; lots of it. We intend to return to Borneo with a larger sampling team and do a much more involved sampling program. If this project goes well, the company is interested in our bringing over an even larger team of experienced dredgers to work on a gold- sharing venture.

  

There is a lot of gold in East Kalimantan (Borneo). In the deep jungle, because of a rather steep gradient, the gravel inside most rivers I observed was generally very shallow to bedrock. Just like in California, some rivers had lots of fine gold, and some had jewelry gold–two ounce-sized nuggets, and much larger, are not uncommon. In the areas we sampled, the smaller-sized tributaries all seemed to carry a steady line of nugget and jewelry-sized gold, usually under a foot or two of hard-packed streambed material. Huge sections of exposed rough and cracked bedrock are common all along the rivers and creeks, which have never been prospected with a metal detector. We found gold lying all over some exposed rough bedrock in one area we were sampling. And we found deposits in the main river which could potentially yield pounds of gold or more per day to a production-dredging team. Because of the complete lack of modern suction dredging equipment during the past, many river channels are completely virgin of earlier mining activity and the opportunity is extraordinary.

Because of the inaccessibility of the gold bearing areas, Borneo is probably not a good place for the casual, small-scale dredge operator. However, with the proper infrastructure set up (expensive), Borneo could be a modern gold dredger’s dream come true!

One of the consultants on this project told me he first went to East Kalimantan about nine years ago, He said he has known many people who have never been able to get it out of their system, He himself pretty-much has lived there ever since. He told me “once you drink from the waters of East Kalimantan, you will always need to return again.” There is something about the area, the natives, the lifestyle–measured against the fast-paced rat race of our own lifestyle that makes one wonder… Whether it is because of the adventure, the kindness of the natives, the gold nuggets and great mining opportunities, or the water—or maybe a little of each of these things, I know that I personally will be going back!

 

 

 

 

By Dave McCracken

“Finding gold, and a little too much adventure, in the deep jungle…”

Dave Mack

 

This story is dedicated to one of the best and most loyal friends I have ever had, Eric Bosch. Eric and I started our dredging careers at about the same time. We formed a close, working partnership early on, which we pursued for many years together, from California, Canada and Alaska to the deep jungles of Borneo. Our fantastic adventures together were many and will always be cherished. I’m glad we survived them! Eric played an important roll in helping to start The New 49’ers, and he managed our commercial underwater mining projects and training programs for a number of years. He is the best and strongest gold dredger I have ever had the honor to work with. The best and richest pay-streaks I ever helped recover were always with Eric at my side, often while he was operating the suction nozzle when the gold was first discovered. Eric and his family are the most kind-hearted and dependable people I have ever known. There is no bottom to the amount of enthusiasm they will invest into any program they get involved with. It has truly been one of he greatest honors of my lifetime to share adventures with them.

I had a premonition that something was going to go wrong on this hunting trip. I had hunted wild boar with the Dyak natives before; but they had always killed the boar before I caught up. These Dyaks are extremely fast in the jungle with their bare feet. I could keep up with them for awhile. But when they started chasing their hunting dogs at a full run, almost straight up and down the sides of steep mountains, I was worried about having an accident and hurting myself. I did not want to take the risk of suffering the embarrassment of having the natives carry me four hours out of the jungle, rather than the meat that we came for. Now I was resting at the bottom of a narrow creek bed. All of the natives had run off.

The sound of the dogs was getting louder; they were herding the pack of wild boars directly down into my location!

It all started several years ago when a mining company hired one of my teammates and I to do a preliminary dredge sampling evaluation on some mining concessions they own in East Kalimantan (Borneo). We spent 30 days on that project and everything went perfect. During our time on the concessions, we found rich gold deposits and encouraged the company to follow up with another more extensive sampling project. The company which owns the concessions was more interested in lode mine development, so the dredging potential sat idle for several years. Finally, the company decided to allow a second party to come in as a partner to fund the dredging exploration and development. This was how we got back to Borneo.

  

Eric Bosch and the leader of a Dyak sampling team working on a sampling dredge.

The sampling project was going fine. However, since the Dyak natives have a standing policy to not work on Sundays, and there was nothing else productive to do with our project, I asked if they would take me with them on today’s hunting expedition. Of course, they agreed. The problem was in keeping up with them. They grew up in this hot, humid, thick jungle, steep-terrain environment. Keeping up took all my determination. I had expended a great deal of effort to create a mutually respectful relationship with these natives. I wasn’t going to lose it now by making them slow down or turn back.

We had hiked three and a half hours up a narrow creek bed without any sign of deer, bear or wild boar. The dogs work the side hills. If they locate a deer, they run it down and hamstring it. If they find a bear, they chase it down, surround it, and hold it there until the Dyaks catch up. The natives then assault the bear and kill it with spears. If the dogs get onto the scent of wild boar, they herd the pigs down to the creek bed and drive them at the hunters. As the pigs attack the hunters, the hunters dispatch the pigs either with spears or machetes.

“Never run away,” one of the hunters told me, “When the pigs come down on you, your only chance, your only chance, is to kill the pig. It is not difficult if you maintain a focused determinism. Never throw the spear; never even let it out of your hands. Never turn and run. Wait until the last moment when the pig is in range. Aim carefully for the vital spot just behind the front shoulder. You only have one chance. Otherwise, the pig will hurt you–sometimes very badly,”

I found myself remembering the hunter’s words as the frenzied sounds of the dogs grew progressively louder. They were coming my way fast. I could hear them running down the sides of the hills just above me. I had not planned on this. I held the spear a little more firmly in my hands, pointed in the direction in which they were coming. And I kept wondering, “What do I do if there is more than one pig coming at me?

What the heck was I doing here at this very moment? Was this stupid, or what? You know that feeling? It is complete regret of the present situation! That was the way I was feeling.

The abundant kindness and hospitality of our Dyak guides made it very easy for us to form lasting friendships.

Everything on the sampling project was going as planed. The company built huge, comfortable, fully-outfitted base camps in the jungle They even had satellite TV! Most preliminary jungle dredge evaluations I had done in the past were supported from fly camps. A fly camp usually consists of little more than a tarp suspended over a few branches constructed to keep most of the rain off us during the night–sometimes with a rough platform from freshly cut branches built off the ground. The natives don’t seem to mind the irregular sleeping surface of different sized branches. I prefer an air mattress–or the floorboards from a river boat. But this trip was luxury. We had cooks who created restaurant-quality meals. We had refrigerators and air conditioners. We had beds. There was not a mosquito alive inside that base camp! That was the problem; there wasn’t enough adventure.

Base camp had all the comforts of home!

I need a certain amount of adventure in my life to keep everything in balance. I have always been this way. While my life in California as a dredge miner for gold may hold more adventure than many people would be comfortable with, I have found that it is therapeutic for me to devote some time each winter doing mining projects outside of America. There is something all-encompassing about the jungle environment. A week or two in the jungle, and I find myself wondering if the other life in California is real–or something out of my imagination. Why is this? I think it is because the jungle environment requires all of your attention. The margin for error is very small. There is always some degree of danger. And even when there is little danger, the environment is completely different from the normal life-environment in California. This requires you (me) to focus all of your attention on the present. This releases you from all of the hundreds of other things and problems which normally occupy your attention. Most of your day-to-day normal worries are quickly forgotten in the jungle environment. This puts things back into their proper perspective. Later (as long as you survive the experience), you return home appreciative of the things that you have. For me, it is like a new lease on my normal life every time I return from one of these projects.

But there is such a thing as too much adventure. This is when dangerous conditions become so extreme that you are not sure if you are going to survive–or possibly crawl away with severe and lasting disabilities. Too much adventure brings out the feeling of terror and panic. I was feeling terror as I watched an 80-pound male pig round the bend in the creek bed just up in front of me. He was running for his life, the dogs just behind him. Just as he came into view he turned around and threw himself, snorting and squealing and biting at the dogs. Some dogs backed off, while others moved in on him from behind–as a team. The boar was no match for the pack of dogs. I found myself hoping, hoping, pleading with destiny, that the pig would be brought down by the dogs right there. But just as quickly as the boar turned on the dogs, he turned away and ran down towards me. Around 30 yards away, at a full run, he spotted me–an easy target–and he aimed himself directly at me, snarling, spitting and squealing in a killer rage.

My strongest inner voice was screaming at me to turn and run. I overrode that urge, held the spear tightly, pointed directly at the boar as he came at me…

He came fast and it was difficult to target the exact kill zone behind the shoulder. I felt like I might be better off just to make sure I hit him anywhere with the point. Then, at least, maybe I could hold him off me with the spear. As he came within range at a full run, I aimed the best I could and got him in the hindquarter. This caused him to scream bloody murder. I held him off me while he was goring at me with his tusks and snapping his jaws, trying to reach me, only inches away from my hands.

The dogs descended on the boar, biting him, snarling, in a frenzied attack; and I found myself more worried about being bitten by the dogs. Naturally, I backed off from the violence. In turn, the pig shook himself off the spear and hurled himself at me again. Only this time, in the confusion of backing off from the turmoil, I was in a retreat position and not able to hold the pig off. I was going to get it bad! I had never experienced such violent determination before. The pig was almost on me again as, backing up, I fell over a log onto my back and dropped the spear. I threw my arms over my head to keep from being bitten on the face or neck, expecting to get bit on the arm or the side. But it didn’t happen. Overcoming my fear, I looked up to see the pig only inches away, with the dogs having bitten into its hindquarters, holding the pig off of me.

Enough of this! My fear turned to anger and determined action. What was this lowly animal trying to take my life? I remember thinking, “Quit being a sissy, dude!” In an instant, I jumped to my feet, grabbed the spear, took aim to make sure I did not hurt any of the dogs; and with all my might, slammed the point of the spear down into the target kill zone of the pig. One last convulsive bite at the spear and the pig died. I remember thinking how easy it was to kill the pig when I finally just decided to do it.

Eric was back at camp separating the gold from our final sample results from the little remaining iron particles, so we could weigh and log accurate results and relate those back to the volume of streambed processed in each sample.

I stood there for awhile in a shocked daze, looking at the dead pig, a few of the dogs still biting at it. I had not noticed at first that the rest of the dogs had run off barking at something else. I found myself thinking how it would be to tell this story to my mining partner. Eric was at the base camp overseeing the final gold clean-ups for the previous week’s sampling results. Eric would appreciate the adventure and be sorry he didn’t take part. He likes to hunt even more than I do!

Eric and I had sampled several different concessions during this trip. The first area was a very remote location, requiring helicopter support of our operation. We decided that while the high-grade gold deposits were present, the cost of providing logistical support made it difficult to mount expanded sampling and production dredging operations.

Our Dyak helpers were always ready to jump in and try to do all the work.

  

Consequently, we found ourselves sampling a new group of concessions which were more easily and economically accessible by river boat. This new area was huge and showed excellent long-term potential. Fine gold seemed to be evenly dispersed throughout the gravels, hard-packed streambed strata and loose gravel alike. The fine-sized flakes of gold were present in every sample we took, from bank to bank in the river. We were looking hard at what kind of recovery system we would need to devise to recover this gold on a production-scale using suction dredges.

The company had six diesel-powered 8-inch production dredges located on this concession, along with all of the necessary support gear. They also had two unused 10-yard per hour placer test plants which utilized mechanical classification and jigs for fine gold recovery. Eric and I were feeling quite good about the promising results we were getting. The company could utilize the production dredges and placer plants for an expanded sampling venture and preliminary small-scale production operation. They could do exceptionally well in the areas we had already tested. Eric was doing the finishing work while I was helping our jungle guides put meat on the dinner table.

As I came out of my stupor in the creek bed, I realized that I was just standing there in a daze while the dogs were already herding another wild animal down at me. Could I do this again? Barks, squeals and the stampeding sounds of animals racing down the hillside were getting louder by the moment. It was another wild boar, a small one this time. But he came at me just the same as the first, in a mad rage, wanting the taste of my blood. This time, at a distance from any emotion, I stood my ground, took aim at the kill zone and nailed the pig on the first try. It was really just a baby compared to the first one; no great kill. But he was after me, just the same. And I got him. What a relief!

Returning to base camp in a long boat with the meat from my kill and the hunting dogs

Just that fast, the dogs were gone again, and I could hear the natives yelling and whistling just up the hillside. Then the familiar barking again. Was this ever going to end? Another crazed pig rounded the bend. This one was a female (no tusks). The dogs and the Dyaks were right behind it, yelling and whistling. But the pig never turned. It ran right down on me. I could see the fear and apprehension on the faces of my Dyak friends. They figured that pig was going to eat me alive! But, I had already been through the gauntlet twice. My emotions returned. I stood my ground. In my own killer rage, at the exact right moment, I raged back at the pig, driving the spear into its heart. The pig died quickly. The Dyaks stopped, seeing the look in my eye, the other two dead pigs, the blood on my hands; and that immediately changed their assessment of who I was. Almost immediately, they were laughing and shouting and dancing all around me and the pigs. This was a momentous occasion for all of us.

Ah, California–what a great place. I might not even need to go anywhere this winter, even though I am presently writing proposals for a preliminary evaluation in West Sumatra.

Since returning home with stories of this hunting adventure, my friends and family keep asking if I plan to hunt with the natives during my next trip. My answer is that I may help them hunt for pigs, but definitely not for bears!

 

By Dave McCracken

I know I’m going to have a great season! How about you?

Dave Mack

Springtime! The days are getting longer and warmer. The birds are chirping. And, there is a magic in the air created by all of the living things waking up for a new start. This is when most of us who live on or near the river start really feeling the gold fever itch. Miners start returning to the river, and you can really feel the excitement about the prospects of the new season. What is it about spring that gives people so much renewed hope and interest? Even people who failed utterly during seasons past, who considered giving up gold mining forever, seem to be rejuvenated at the beginning of a new season!

Spring and early summer is usually the time when most of us are pulling our mining equipment out of storage, wiping off the cobwebs, doing the needed repairs, and ordering the necessary replacement gear and additional equipment to start our new gold mining adventure. We are also spending a lot of time thinking about where we are going to mine.

Having a successful mining season depends on many things. But all of these basically fall into four separate categories: having the right equipment; having the experience and knowledge to do it properly; having a location where recoverable gold deposits are present; and most of all, having good management–meaning the right approach!

Basically, if you have dependable equipment and you have a gold bearing location, and you know how to use the equipment to find and recover gold deposits, then you obviously can be successful. Creating the condition of having the right equipment, knowledge and location will be accomplished by you. You will decide on what equipment to use and how to service it and keep it operational. You will decide how you are going to improve your mining skills–or you will decide you don’t need any improvement. And you will decide where you are going to mine. Therefore, the final category, management, is more important than any of the others.

It is very important to know all of the technical aspects of successful gold mining: what pay-streaks are and how to find them, how to cleanup, the best way to utilize your equipment, etc. The “how-to” is one of the most important categories, but, what good is it go know the technical points if a person is going to approach gold mining with a losing attitude?

There is an emotional scale on which any person or group can be found with regards to any subject or activity. At the top of the scale is enthusiasm; down about halfway is anger and resentment, and at the bottom is total apathy and regret.

A person at the top of the scale, approaching the activity of mining with interest and enthusiasm, would try to do everything the right way. He or she would obtain the best possible equipment within his or her available resources. The equipment would be properly maintained. Communication would be energetically and enthusiastically undertaken to determine new and exciting places to mine, with plenty of new friends and allies being made along the way. And the person would be absolutely willing to learn everything possible about those aspects of mining that would affect his or her type of operation, even though he or she may already know a great deal.

Everybody makes mistakes–especially when learning. A person high on the emotional scale would recover quickly from mistakes, and enthusiastically approach his or her mining operation with the new-found knowledge. The idea of failure or giving up would probably never be considered. Also, at the highest level of responsibility, the person would not be found blaming others or “the world” for his or her momentary setbacks. Instead, the person would confront his or her mining activity with renewed energy and build his or her own success in the world. This is the way that successful people do it! It is the way you win in the game of gold mining.

A person who is further down the emotional scale will not take responsibility for the problems that are occurring in his or her mining operation. The person will feel more like his or her success and destiny are not really self-created, but are more at the effect of other people or the world at large. Most likely, the person will be found resenting others who are succeeding. The person is not as willing to make the extra effort to do things the right way in the first place, and not as willing to confront mining with the necessary perception to be able to predict what things to prepare for. Therefore, more mistakes will be made. In anger and resentment, this person is generally found striking out at the world, and generally is blaming others for his or her “bad luck.”

This type of person, for lack of incentive, and for lack of personal responsibility, will usually approach mining impatiently. If he or she does not have enough money to buy the proper equipment, rather than wait and do it right, the person is likely to buy worn-out gear, or equipment that is not large enough to work efficiently in the person’s operation. He or she is more likely, for lack of personal incentive, to allow damaged or worn equipment to go on without service or repair, which ultimately results in more damage or costly accidents. The

person is more likely to get angry and to give up because he or she is not able to locate an acceptable gold deposit right away. And the inability to find paying deposits is neverbecause the person does not know how. In the person’s “expert opinion,” it is because there simply is no gold left, or someone else already took it all.

A person in the resentment stage is more likely to be seen blaming the dredge because it is in a poor state of repair. He or she generally won’t have very many real friends; and the friends the person does have will generally be found to agree on the same negative viewpoints: “The gold has already been taken.” We already are experts on mining.” “Watch out for others so they don’t steal our gold,” etc. A negative person generally will give little help to others when it comes to passing along useful information about the potential location of valuable gold deposits. Therefore, he or she places little value on the information received from others, because he or she knows “no one would give me real information on the location of gold!”

Also, negative people have difficulty learning new skills. Learning comes from perception–which results from taking the responsibility to take an honest look at the subject or activity. A negative person generally has the idea that he or she is wrong in some way if he or she admits that something can be learned about a subject.

A person at the bottom of the scale has completely given up and is not even blaming anyone else for failure, anymore. Such a person has little or no chance to succeed at gold mining on a continual basis.

All of us can be found somewhere along this scale as regards to how we are approaching gold mining–or life. There are levels between enthusiasm and anger, and between anger and total apathy at the bottom. A person’s basic survival (or success) level is largely determined by his or her volume of positive energy, in comparison to the volume of negative energy. That is what this scale is all about. People having more negative than positive will be found lower on the scale.

Of course, we all have our momentary good and bad moments–those times we sank our dredges, we were ready to give it up altogether. But, when we found the big nugget last year, we felt totally on top of the world!

The question is, how do we approach our gold mining ventures most of the time? Are we willing to stick ourselves way out there to confront every possibility in order to prepare? Do we share and communicate with others in order to improve our chances of success and theirs? Do we try to do everything the right way in the first place? Are we willing to defend our industry when it is in trouble? When we are not enjoying immediate success, do we utilize all of our energy to create success? Or, do we use our energy to complain or justify our failure? Just how are we positioning ourselves around this activity of mining?

When it comes down to it, how well we do in gold mining on the long term always comes back down to how we are approaching the activity. We ARE responsible for how well we do. Isn’t this great?

Just how do you change the way that you are? You do it with personal discipline, by boosting yourself up to a higher level of responsibility.

There is more to success than hard physical work. Success breaks down to the above four categories. Knowing how to do it properly is one of them! If success is continually lacking, then something is definitely lacking in one or more of the four categories.

If, however, an operation is temporarily not recovering very much gold, it does not mean there is a management problem–or even a problem with the other three categories. By the nature of gold mining, there are times when we are not into gold deposits–but rather are looking for them.

If a person is blaming anyone other than himself for the long-term lack of success of his or her operation, there definitely is a problem with management!

But, it is Spring; there is magic in the air, and we all have renewed high expectations about the upcoming season. As a sobering thought, in the renewed excitement, some people seem to forget all of the pain and misery they were experiencing last year–only to recall it again once they get started. Spring cannot change the basic way you approach mining. Only you can do that. To experience the magic of success in any activity, failure and inability has to be overcome by positive energy and personal discipline. True magic cannot be obtained by forgetting failure or justifying it away.

So, if you want to experience excitement, and the true magic feeling of recovering valuable gold deposits continually, you must depend upon and improve your own skill, rather than depend on your luck. Your skill will improve in direct proportion to your correct basic approach to gold mining.

Spring is here, and it is time to work on the dredges. I cannot wait to get into the water! I know I’m going to have a great season! How about you?

 

 
Dave Mack

Thank You for Your Interest in My Group Mining Projects!


Dave McCracken
P. O. Box 153
Happy Camp, CA 96039
(530) 493-2012
dave@promackmining.com 

Dear Fellow Prospector,

I am very happy that you are considering spending time on one of my joint mining ventures during the upcoming season.

I have scheduled one week-long above-water project for the upcoming season, and four week-long dredging projects. Each project is 7 days long. Each is a separate project.

Because of limited space in these projects, it is essential that you reserve a position on the project of your choice as early as possible.

Above Water Project: This is an exciting opportunity to help find and recover gold deposits that are located outside of the active waterway.

We will begin by going into areas where there is a strong likelihood that we will find high-grade gold deposits. Sometimes these deposits are found inside bedrock cracks along the bank of the river. Sometimes, high-grade gold is found in the contact zones between the dry streambed layers up on the bank.

Our mission for the week-long project will be to prospect different areas until we find a deposit rich enough to develop for its gold values. We will be prospecting with digging tools, gold pans, and perhaps vack-mining gear.

Once we find the deposit(s) we are looking for, we will organize a plan to develop the deposit(s) so we can recover as much of the gold as possible in the remaining time of the project. Likely, that will involve bringing some motorized sluicing machines into the action. We struck a high-banking production record during a recent above-water Project!

Dredging Projects: These dredging projects are for people who desire to experience the thrill of recovering high-grade gold deposits located at the bottom of the existing waterways. We will be primarily using 5-inch, 6-inch and 8-inch dredges during these dredging projects. Less-experienced participants will have the option to start using a 4-inch dredge (with hookah air).

No prior experience in dredging or diving is necessary. But if you have serious phobias about sticking your head underwater, or are deathly afraid of the water, I advise you to think it over carefully before you decide to participate in the dredging program. Perhaps an above-water project is better suited to your needs.

Should you decide to participate, be assured that I will help you to go underwater and help you understand what to do, as long as you are willing.

The places we choose to prospect with dredges will pretty-much be geared to the abilities of our participants. We will all have to remain a bit flexible on this part, since there will be multiple individuals involved, and our abilities will vary.

We will have enough dredges available to keep everyone busy. We can plan to allow the more experienced people prospect out into the deeper, faster-water areas, while less-experienced participants can prospect the easier areas (where pay-streaks are found just as often). We will have to sample it all, anyway. We will accommodate the needs of everyone while doing a good job looking for the rich deposits.

We will work as a team, taking turns on the suction nozzles. Do not fear; there is plenty of other work involved to keep the program moving along. Sometimes, we will be winching boulders out of the way. Sometimes, the water is shallow enough that others can help to move cobbles out of the way. Everyone on the team will gain more experience in proper dredging and gold recovery techniques.

We will be moving the dredges around until we find the gold deposit(s) that we are looking for. Then, we will invest the remainder of the week developing the gold deposit(s) to recover as much gold as we can get in the time remaining.

All the gold we find during a 7-day project will be accumulated and split equally amongst each of the project-participants.

California Dredge Permit

You will need to obtain a California suction-dredge permit only if you want to operate the suction nozzles of the dredges we will use on the project. A dredge license for 2007 cost $42.50 for California residents (have lived in California for at least the past 6 months), or $167.25 for non-residents. Permit fees usually go up slightly in cost each year.

As it takes 5 or 7 days to get a dredge permit through the mail, I advise you to submit your application before you arrive for the project. To have an application sent to you, I suggest you contact: the California Department of Fish and Game, 601 Locust Street, Redding, CA 96001, telephone: (530) 225-2300. Here is an example of how to fill out the form.

If you do not want to spend money on a dredging permit, you do not need to obtain one to participate in one of these dredging projects. Your only limitation will be that you cannot operate the dredges’ suction nozzle. But, you will be able to help in every other way. You can still dive down underwater and help the person who is operating the nozzle. You can help us move the gear around, winch boulders out of the way, and do the gold concentration and clean-up. There are plenty of things you can do to help in an active dredging program.

Team Effort

These surface mining and dredging projects are a team-building program. This is because we must all work together in a team-effort to recover the most gold possible by the end of the week. The nature of these projects is that they result in being a great adventure for everyone who participates. Since different people have varied abilities (and sometimes disabilities), as well as different levels of endurance and strength, we will need to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each group before planning what we will do and where we will go in search for high-grade gold. Our mission on each project will be to have a careful look at what we have to work with as a team, and then apply ourselves within those limitations to find as much gold as we can in the time allowed to us.

Gold Splits

Every participant who is present throughout the entire mining project will receive an equal split of the gold. There are no exceptions, limitations or exclusions. Every effort will be made to make these shares equal. If there are specific nuggets that prevent us from making an even split by weight, we will cull those nuggets out and decide to do one of the following, according to a majority vote amongst the participants:

1) Do a drawing amongst the participants to see who gets the nugget(s); or,

2) Trade the nugget(s) to whoever offers the most for them in smaller gold. The smaller gold can then be evenly split up amongst the participants.

No Gold Guarantees

We are going to find some amount of gold. That is for sure! But because this is true gold prospecting, I cannot make any guarantees about how much gold we will find. All we can do is invest the week using our best efforts to locate something that is going to add up well. While this takes skill, there is also some luck involved. But, with a good team, it is pretty likely that we will find something to get us excited.

My promise: As the project manager, I will employ my many years of experience to try and guide us into something that will make this a rewarding program for everyone. You will be actively involved, because I will bring the team into all of the key decisions, discussing our various options. We will make most of the decisions together, but I will ultimately decide what we will do.

Liability and Restrictions

Each participant in the project will sign a Joint Venture Agreement before becoming involved in a project. This Agreement will be an acknowledgment from you that you understand that there are risks involved, and that you are qualified and prepared, based upon your own past experiences, to assume the risks upon yourself. You will promise to be extra careful to not do things that you cannot safely accomplish, and will not hold me, The New 49’ers, other project-participants, or anyone else personally responsible in the event of an accident.

Gold prospecting is a challenging activity. We may find ourselves hiking across uneven, rocky terrain, or we may find ourselves rafting or boating down a fast-moving river. We will be packing heavy gear around and doing a variety of challenging physical activity. You should not come if you are not up to the physical challenges involved with these projects.

Because I do not know your limitations, it will be up to you to decide what you can or cannot do. You must agree to stay safely within your own physical limitations. You must let me know what they are. I will not push you to go beyond them, as long as I know what they are. I will find a way for you to contribute within your ability. I will also reserve the right to reject any person (with a full refund of entrance fees) who I do not feel can participate safely in a project.

I will also reserve the right to discharge any participant from a project who is either misbehaving, causing safety problems or who is making the experience miserable for other participants in the program. In this case, we will prorate the refund to the unused time of the project, and the gold share to the number of days the person actively participated.

Equipment Needs

For the above water prospecting project: You will need some basic digging tools (shovel and trowel), a gold pan and a #8 classification screen. If you have a vack-mining machine, I suggest you bring it along. All these are available to you in Happy Camp if you don’t already have them.

Also, please remember to bring clothing and footwear that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty. For outdoor safety, bring a good sun hat and sunscreen, along with a container for drinking water.

I will provide the motorized equipment and boating gear if we use it. For the dredging project, you will need your own wet-suit, face mask, protective gloves, and foot protection. This is all available in Happy Camp should you need to purchase anything. However, I would advise you to call ahead and ask the people in the store to set your size aside for you (530) 493-2012. I will provide the dredging equipment, hookah breathing gear, standard-sized weight belts and gold-concentration equipment. I will also provide the winching gear and boat(s) if we need them.

If you are heavy, or your body is not an average size, it is a very good idea that you bring along your own weight belt; something that will stay on you properly when you are underwater.

Ear protection is also a good idea for those who will prospect in the water. Some use Swim Ear, which is an over-the-counter solution that helps prevent fresh-water ear infections. A prescription from your doctor for Domboro Actic Solution (Bausch & Lomb Acetic Acid 2% in Aqueous Aluminum Acetate Otic Solution) is even better. I understand that you can now buy Domboro in tablet-form over-the-counter, and mix your own solution.

You must be fully responsible for your own belongings. If you plan to bring valuables in the rafts or boats, I suggest you also bring a heavy-duty, waterproof bag to keep the valuables (cameras, money, etc) safe and dry.

Travel, Food & Lodging

These group-mining projects are a daytime program. We usually meet at a particular location at around 9:30 am, work together throughout the day, and finish up sometime between 6 and 7 pm.

To participate, you must arrange your own transportation to Happy Camp, California, and also arrange your own transport while participating in the project. A two-wheel-drive vehicle is fine. We usually car-pool to and from the work area each day. Sometimes we camp at or near the mining site.

You also must provide your own meals and drink. We will each bring our own lunches out into the field with us when we go each morning.

You also must provide your own lodging. There are motels around the area. Our office in Happy Camp can assist you to make contact in advance (530-493-2012). I advise you to be a little flexible on your advanced lodging plans, because we will not know where we will end up mining until about the time we begin. This is because if we find out about a hot new gold strike somewhere away from Happy Camp, we may want to go there to get our share of the gold. Also, we cannot fully-decide where we will go until after we size-up the group as a whole. Ultimately, our last minute planning could affect your motel plans or where you ultimately decide to make a camp.

Tent or RV camping is fine. We can arrange for a place where you can set up, usually very close to where we will be working. There is no charge for camping out on our mining properties.

Joint Mining Venture

While these projects have been talked about in the past as training programs, it is important to understand that the primary purpose is to locate and develop high-grade gold deposits in a joint mining venture. Any learning experience from this is incidental to the main purpose.

Cost

The cost of participation is $600 for a dredging project, and $500 for the above-water project (half-price for participating spouse in either type of project). No children are allowed on these projects. There is a $100 discount for New 49er Affiliate, Associate or Full Members in good standing. This is because New 49’er members are already actively contributing to maintain the properties where we will be mining.

It takes a non-refundable, advanced payment of $100 to guarantee a place on a specific project. Please send your advanced payment, along with your name, address, telephone number and email address to: The New 49’ers, P. O. Box 47, Happy Camp, CA 96039 (530) 493-2012. Please include the date of the desired project, and let us know if a spouse will actively participate in the project. It is a good idea to contact us in advance to verbally reserve your preference, pending receipt of your deposit.

Come Ready For Adventure!

I have my eye on a number of areas that I have been watching for a long time – places where few others have gone before! The rubber rafts and boats are ready to go. All the equipment is ready. Now, it’s just a matter of us coming together in a group effort to go down and find the rich gold deposits.

I’m really looking forward to it!

All the best,

Dave McCracken
Project Manager

 

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