Rogue GoldWell, here’s my total gold from dredging in Oregon — what a blast I had!

My total was 9.5 ounces of beautiful gold!

I had some people from one of the Internet gold forums ask “how” I found that much gold…

Here was my answer:

Well it was prospecting, prospecting and then more prospecting to find some rich pockets. I moved around a lot. I moved around so much that after June, I did not even tie my dredge to shore while dredging. I just dragged it wherever I felt like going with my nozzle while under water — even out into the gut of the Rogue River without a line to shore. I was “free” to prospect wherever!

I tied my dredge off to shore over night.

Basically, if you want a “how to” answer, I learned most of how I prospect from The New 49er’s Club.  So if I have to give credit it will be to Craig Colt who taught me a whole lot while working with him on his 8″ dredge a few years back. And of course the remainder I learned from Dave McCracken either directly or indirectly and other 49′er members.

The 49′ers are so valuable at learning gold mining, it would be hard to be without the membership and the members.

So out of the 90 days that were available in the season, I dredged about 70 of them. It would have been more if it were not for a death in the family (flew back to Atlanta), and I also lost some days when they removed the Gold Ray Dam.

Its really all about finding high-grade gold and mining it and then moving on to find more when it is exhausted.

It was a wild Summer in Oregon for sure! Got to heal up for next Summer.

I hope to see you guys out there!

Alan Mash

 

by Marcie Stumpf/Foley

As I rolled over, cold air rushed down my back, and I inched closer to my (ex-) husband, Bill, to get some warmth…Ouch! A sharp rock made contact with my hipbone and brought me wide awake. I didn’t move much, just enough to try to see what time it was by my watch. It was early yet, and unless I wanted to bundle up and build a campfire it was best to stay right where I was.

Once I was warm again, however, I ventured out of the sleeping bag far enough to look out the window of our tent…Yes, he was there again. Each morning, if I awoke early enough, I could watch the great blue heron who inhabited our mining claim. In the early morning hours he stood just a few feet from our tent, surveying his world. He could be seen during the day flying up and down the creek, but this was the only time to see him “up close and personal.” The cold soon drove me back to my covers, and as I lay there I wondered, not for the first time, how I managed to get myself where I was.

It had long been a dream for Bill and our son David to own our own claim. Through diligent research the previous year, they and a friend had managed to locate this one. When they told me about it the first time, I had a sinking feeling that this wasn’t going to be all fun and games. In the first place, it was remote (but they said we could drive all the way in), we would have to tent camp, since we could not drive the camper in, and, although it was only about 35 miles from the campground we were staying in at the time, it took three hours to drive that 35 miles (that was a real bad sign).

I didn’t see the claim at all that first year. It was late by the time we finished all the paperwork on it, and they told me it was no place to get caught in the rains. They did enough testing to know it was worth the price, and we settled for making plans for the next year. Although several friends would be partners, none of them would be able to work it during the first year, so we made plans for just the three of us. We were going to take both our 4-inch and our 5-inch dredge, since we weren’t sure which would work out best.

Spring finally arrived, and, as ready as we could be, we were off. I was beginning to catch the excitement that Bill and David were showing, but I still had a few butterflies concerning the road. I’d thought, after traveling Hwy. 49 through the Mother Lode area for several years, and the back roads, that I was cured of being intimidated by mining area roads. Both of them had been noticeably silent about the road in to the claim, however, which led me to believe it was not going to be something I was going to enjoy. The first hour of our trip in, we wound up, over and around several mountains, on a narrow paved highway. We left that for a dirt road (one lane) and I was given instructions to watch for oncoming vehicles. It was hard to see very far ahead, but I was watching carefully when we rounded a curve and my heart leapt into my throat–we were on top of the world, it seemed! As far as the eye could see in any direction there were forested mountains, all of them below us, except for one taller one right in front of us across what looked like a bottomless chasm.

As Bill slowly rounded the curve, he soothed me by saying that he’d been over it several times, and there was no problem with the road. As I looked across to the opposite mountain I could see a much higher, narrow, steep road hugging the edge of it. I consoled myself by thinking that at least I was not on THAT road. We crept down the side of the mountain, with nothing between us and the edge. Several times it was so narrow that pebbles rolled down, and down, and down….

When we finally reached the bottom it was to find a bridge which we crossed and started up the other side. As I held on to the hand grip and tried to keep my head from hitting the door as we bounced and jumped over the large rocks, ruts and washboard of the narrow road I gritted my teeth–it was now clear that we were on the road I had seen from the other side! (Lucky Me!)

Bill tried to keep up a chatter at first, but gave it up, since keeping the truck on the road with its full load was like handling a bucking bronco, and I did not trust myself to speak. There were still no trees on the edge, and that was on my side of the truck, of course. I wondered at one point if anyone ever did completely bounce right off the road, because we seemed in imminent danger of doing so. I became ill as each curve put us higher and higher above everything.

Finally reaching the top, we pulled off into a meadow to take a break, and I sat on a log waiting for everything to settle back into place inside. The next few miles were breathtaking. Beautiful high meadows full of ferns and many wildflowers, the road banks of deep red earth covered with vines and flowers, and a sky of such a brilliant blue it almost hurt. The air was wonderfully fresh and clean, full of the scent of forest and flowers. Meadows alternated with thick forests of huge pine and cedar laced with little babbling brooks.

We soon turned onto a non-maintained road and pulled over to lock the wheels of both vehicles into four wheel drive. About one fourth of a mile further we turned off again, went over a rise, and then…down. Down a steep hillside through new growth trees so close they continually scraped the truck. We had to scramble to close the windows as they thrust themselves inside. As he tried to straddle a rut that was growing ever wider and was more than 15 inches deep, Bill started to say something…Ooops! The truck fell into the rut avoiding a tree trunk, and we had to work our way back out. Then we had to stop several times to move large boulders that had fallen. Soon we arrived at a sharp switchback, and I had to get out and guide to back them both around.

Until I returned to the truck I didn’t notice the road. As I buckled up we started down and I caught my breath as the truck went over the edge. It was so steep it was like that long first hill you go down on a roller coaster, only this was very narrow and had large fallen logs here and there. We crept down in low four wheel drive, tilting first this way and then that as we drove up on the bank, in and through deep ruts, on or over logs–anything to stay on the narrow road. Then another steep switchback. No where to turn around, so we took it as wide as we could, and just barely made it. Then down another roller coaster ride, and another one.

The trees were so thick I still had no idea how far we had to go, but I was feeling so ill that I knew I couldn’t go much further. I was very relieved when we pulled up and stopped for a break at the bottom of the fourth one. I was looking ahead. I could just catch a glimpse of the creek below through the trees. As I started to get out, however, my foot met nothing but air! I looked down to see the turn in the road badly chewed up with big hunks of shale churned from vehicles trying to claw their way out. It had been torn up so badly that there was at least a 10-foot drop during the turn! Then the road tilted alarmingly where the hillside had slid–tilted so badly that I decided then and there that I was going to walk the rest of the way.

I never did ride up to that point, or beyond there going down. It was a walk of a mile or so from the campsite, but much better than riding. It seemed that last mile was just more than my stomach or nerves could handle.

When I reached the bottom I found a wide, wide wash. Probably 300 feet wide, with groves of trees near the edges, sand and gravel bars, and a crystal clear creek meandering through on the near side. Our campsite was to be just in front of the sheer bedrock face of a mountain that caused the creek to turn west, then south again, where it had worn through the bedrock and made a channel about fifty feet deep in the sheer sides.

Our claim started just above where we were camping, and continued down through the narrow canyon. I did not see the rest of it for a couple of days, as we devoted the first two days to setting up camp. David took the 4-inch dredge down piece by piece in the evenings to where they planned to start dredging.

We were at 4,800 feet elevation, and the nights were cold and wonderful for sleeping, but the days warmed up beautifully. It was the most peaceful, serene place I had ever seen. The area was steeped in mining history, and well documented. I had purchased a book that gave us a lot of information on the area. From that book I knew that our road in to the claim had been built by hand to construct a dam right where we were camped, in order to flume water 11 miles across these rugged mountains to hydraulic another mining area. Just 20 feet downstream from our tent, where the narrow canyon began, the two bottom logs of that dam still remained, the top one just breaking the water.

Our third morning dawned clear and beautiful, and we quickly made preparations to be gone for the day, since Bill and David intended to dredge first at the lower end of the claim. By the time I was ready they had gas cans, pry bars, and all the things they still needed, ready to go. I put the daypack on my back, grabbed the small ice chest with the shoulder strap that carried our lunch, and we started off.

From this point, our only access to the rest of the claim was a trail where the flume had been. There were no “banks” to the creek. We waded across, and started up the bedrock face at the point where the dam had been. There were enough handholds and footholds so that this was not a problem. Up on top there were rotting timbers in a pile, which must have been used for repair on the flume, and the small flat area was littered with square nails. We were about 60 feet above the creek. I could see the trail just to where the mountain jutted out to a point, and then a turn hid it from view. The trail was wide with a flat area on the creek edge, and I was pleasantly surprised. Actually, in all the concerns I had had about coming to this area, this trail had not entered my mind before now, which surprised me, since I have a terrible fear of heights. When we reached the point where the trail turned, I looked back at our camp. I turned back. From this point on the trail was narrower, so I spent all my time looking at my feet. It was also covered with leaves from trees and bushes above, and slick. My feet were still wet from crossing the creek, so I had to step carefully. There was no longer anything between the trail and the edge, and as I followed carefully, I noticed that the creek was getting much further below us. That’s when it occurred to me that the flume would have to stay level, but the natural drop in the creek was a pretty good one, so the further we went along, the further above the creek we would be.

I had dropped a little behind since I was going more slowly, so I paid attention to what I was doing, and tried to catch up. The further I went, the narrower the trail seemed to be. With the loaded daypack on my back, and the hard plastic cooler slung over my shoulder I was off balance a bit, and I soon found myself hugging the mountainside and creeping even more slowly than before.

All of a sudden, I almost ran right into Bill! As I looked up, surprised, he went around me and it was to see David in front of me, across a space where there was no trail at all! A slide had taken the entire trail, but there were places where he had scuffed out just enough space for one foot at a time across what seemed like a vast six-foot space. He was reaching his hand out to me and saying “…Now, Mom, this is going to be easy. Just put your feet right into my footprints. Dad will hold you from that side, and I’ll get you from this side as soon as I can. You’ll be past it in no time.”

Now, this child is talking to a person he knows doesn’t even climb a ladder; who is totally un-athletic, and who is already pretty strung out after the trip in to this claim and the “fun” of setting up camp for two days. I just looked at him, but he remained calm. He continued to talk to me as if I were a child while I stood there with my face pressed to the mountainside, loaded down with gear.

I looked down again at the footprints David had made on the bare mountainside. Since there was nothing else there, and it was straight down to the water (about 100 feet below us at this point), it wasn’t hard to imagine my body splattered, spread-eagled, on the huge boulders at the bottom. I pressed my face back against the mountainside, and told him to give me a minute. Well, I told myself, here you are–you knew something like this was coming–either you put your feet forward, or you turn around and everyone goes home. All the work up to this point has been wasted, and you’ll never ever do this. I knew I was not really ready to go home, so I decided not to think about it–block it out–and I looked at David and said “Don’t think you’re going to get off lightly for this one. Give me your hand again, and you’d better not let me fall!”

I don’t remember anything about crossing that space except that I was lightheaded and dizzy because I had to look down. I did cross it, however, and after that the rest of the trail seemed very good!

Bill and David had to spend the rest of the walk listening to what I thought of them for getting me into such a situation, and what we were going to do to the trail to improve it. They wisely made no comment or objection. By the time we reached the point where we were to go back down the mountainside, I was beginning to feel better.

On a previous trip down, David had taken a rope. Since the mountainside was so steep and we were now about 150 feet above the creek, he had it strung from tree to tree and cut some steps to help us get up and down. The only problem was that he, being 6’2″ tall, and having the legs of a giraffe, had cut steps for a much taller person. I ended up slipping and sliding down much more of the trail than I wanted to.

Numerous times my feet went out from under me trying to negotiate the long steps, and I would bump and slide (usually right into a “stickery” bush) while dangling from the rope by one arm. I had taken a few pry bars in one hand to leave each of them with one arm free. David apologized each time I’d fall, and promised to fix it the next day. By the time I reached the bottom I had big splotches of dirt, scratches, and bruises almost everywhere.

When we emerged from the trees at the creek we crossed again (which gave me an opportunity to wash off most of the dirt) and I noticed that it was much cooler. I looked up to see clouds moving in. We were soon at the dredge, however, and we all worked to get it set up and ready to go.

Once they’d donned their weight belts and fired up the dredge, I decided to take a break. David had been thoughtful enough to bring a folding chair with short legs–they are great for panning, and a real backsaver. I tried to find a sunny spot since it was now decidedly cold, but there didn’t seem to be one. I picked a flat place, pulled a book from my daypack, and sat down to read.

Suddenly, I sneezed six or seven times and my nose started running. Great! Now I was going to come down with a cold. Oh, well….I picked up the book again after digging out the Kleenex, and sat back with a sigh. As I leaned back in the chair, I encountered instant pain on my shoulder blade! It felt as if someone had just stabbed me with a long needle. I jumped up to find I had leaned against a bumblebee! That was it! My nose was running again, my shoulder was throbbing and everything to treat it with was clear back at camp, I was cold, wet, and tired! I stalked off into the trees. Although I’m sure you’d have a good laugh I’m not going to tell you just what I did there. Let’s just say I was riled.

When I came back I felt better except that my shoulder was killing me! I rummaged around in the daypack, looking for something I could use, but the only thing I could find was some aspirin. I debated taking a couple of them, but knew from experience that they didn’t help. My grandmother had always used a baking soda paste on bee stings so I moistened one aspirin, making a paste of it, and rubbed it right on the bee sting. I could hardly believe it, but it took the pain away in a very short time.

Once again I settled back with my book (this time checking the chair for bees), and started reading. Before I finished the first page..Splat! A very large rain drop fell on the page, and I raised my eyes to look at the sky. I had been so involved with my problems I hadn’t noticed that there were huge thunderclouds above us, and all of a sudden they let go with a terrific storm. We were pelted by huge drops, lightning and deafening thunder. We quickly shut down and covered the engine, and hurriedly started back for camp. Arriving thoroughly soaked, I put a big pot of homemade soup on to cook, and then snuggled down at last in my sleeping bag with my book.

It rained all day, and steadily for two more days, which actually worked out quite well. It gave me time to get over my cold, and it gave all of us a chance to rest up from our hustle and bustle. We unpacked the books we’d brought along, and spent most of our time reading while we listened to the rain on the tent, surrounded by the sweet smell of wet pine, fir, and cedar.

By the time it was clear again, we were really ready to get busy! The first order of business was to improve the flume trail, however, and when we left camp that morning we carried a shovel and our small camp broom. On our way down to the dredge I swept a portion of the trail clear of leaves, and left the broom at the other end of them, to sweep a portion that night. While I did that, David went ahead and started working at re-cutting a trail into the side of the mountain where there was none. We left both the shovel and broom on the trail until all areas of it had been improved as much as possible.

The reason for wanting to dredge the lower end of the claim was because it made a bend near the bottom, and widened out into a series of pools interspersed with clumps of large boulders: an ideal place for gold to come to rest after its headlong plunge through the upper canyon which mostly had very shallow bedrock.

We did not have to dredge there very long to find out that many huge boulders had also come to rest in the same pools–they appeared to have been laid in by a master–each of them too large to winch. They were wedged in so tight we couldn’t even dredge between them!

After some discussion (always lively in our family) about where we were going to dredge next, a decision was reached and we dismantled the dredge, packed it up the mountainside, across the trail, and back down at the new site. We could not move more than a few feet without having to do this, due to the many huge boulders that were strewn throughout the canyon.

In addition to moving the dredge and accessories it was necessary to have boulder moving equipment. We’d made a portable mount for our 8000 lb. electric winch so it could be cabled to a piece of bedrock or large boulder, and set it up in succession with a small generator, 12V battery, and battery charger. It was necessary to have the battery charger to charge the battery fast enough to move several boulders at the same time. That meant that each of these items also had to be moved from place to place with the dredge, since there were boulders no matter where we dredged.

Our days soon settled into a routine. While I dressed Bill carried water from the creek. I put some on the stove while I washed up, and the warm water was used to soak lightweight soiled clothing during the day. Once the washing was in to soak I put more water on while I cooked breakfast, and by the time we had eaten, I had more hot water to wash dishes. I packed our lunch while they filled our solar shower bags and put them out on the rocks to soak up sun during the day. We then loaded up our backpacks and were off to the dredge.

At the end of the dredging day we cleaned the sluice, screened the concentrates and carried them back to camp with us, along with gas cans that needed to be filled, etc. After climbing to the trail, and then back down again when we reached camp, I washed the clothing that had been soaking all day, removed the clothing hung the day before from the clothesline, and hung up the new. Then, I showered in our shower room and started dinner.

By this time Bill and David had finished the cleanup of the day’s gold, and while they took showers I weighed it, recorded it, and put it away. After dinner they gathered firewood while I cleaned camp. Then we could relax around the campfire, but we were ready for bed early.

Most of the gold we found was beautiful– chunky, or nugget, gold. Due to the rapid drop in the creek and the force of water through the narrow canyon we found very little fine gold, or gold in the overburden.

Because we left camp unattended all day, we had debated long about where to keep it! Although I was not thrilled with the idea, we finally decided that the only way to keep it really safe was to bury it. There was a large area around camp that was deep, soft white sand. We picked an easily identifiable place between bushes, dug a hole, and buried it. After filling our second jar I went to the spot where we’d buried the gold, dug, and….Nothing!

Bill came over to help and soon David joined in. We couldn’t find it! We knew it had to be there, somewhere, so we fetched the shovel to dig out the entire area between the bushes. After digging a deep pit we finally retrieved it, with relief. We’d probably caused it to sink by digging all around it. I had a hard time letting it go again, but from then on we placed it in a metal tin, which went into a bag, placed directly on bedrock in an area where bedrock was shallower and marked it with some equipment we weren’t using.

We rarely took a full day off since we didn’t know how long we would be able to stay. We systematically worked our way down the creek dredging, and found some rewarding pockets of gold. Two small areas yielded 27 pennyweights apiece.

As we neared one boulder almost the size of a house, it paid better and better. The boulder was not sitting on bedrock but sat right on top of the material. When they began uncovering the material around it, they found two boulders on bedrock which were supporting it. The problem was that one of the boulders underneath was at a very precarious angle, and if the large one above had shifted at all, it would have rolled, smashing Bill, David, and the dredge.

They kept telling me they would quit working there before it became too dangerous, but they found two coins from the 1840s, and then one from the 1830s, then a 6 pennyweight nugget–they kept getting closer and closer…..All this time I tended the dredge and stared at the rock looming above them. If it had shifted I could probably get out of the way, but they would have no chance to. I knew they were getting nervous about it because one of them kept a hand on the boulder at all times, but they couldn’t seem to bring themselves to stop dredging there. I was beginning to feel panic. How was I going to get them to stop?

Finally, I tugged on both airlines and had them shut the engine down. I said “Look, I understand that you’re excited about what you’ve found, and what you could find, but no amount of gold is worth either one of you, let alone both. I can’t tell you what to do. That’s your decision to make, but I can’t stay here to watch you any longer, worrying every moment that that huge monster is going to fall.” I picked up the pack and said “I’m going back to camp and you do whatever you have to do.”

And, that’s just what I did. They showed up about an hour later. They had already moved the dredge over to work down a small set of falls near the boulder. They never did comment on what I had had to say, but they were pretty sober the rest of the day, so they had done some serious thinking about it. I think they were both ready to move, but each hated to be the one to say so.

As we worked down the small set of falls, the gold production fell off some. When they reached the bottom of the falls, however, there was a small pool, and they found some nice crevices carrying gold in the bedrock there.

Once Bill came up to the surface of the water and asked me to put his mask on. He’d uncovered a pocket of gold and wanted me to see it. I put it on, and holding my breath I put my face down in the water. Bedrock was only about five feet deep, and the water was so crystal clear the sun was shining through to the bedrock. There, right in a band of sunlight, was an inverted cone-shaped depression in the smooth bedrock, filled with sparkling, shining gold. It totaled one and one-fourth ounces, the largest pocket we’d found.

We followed the bedrock down another small set of falls into a larger pool where the recovery was also good. This was also one of the few places where fine gold was recovered; a small bank on one side widened the canyon just enough to let some fine gold settle.

Although days off were few, I did take a few mornings to do some baking. All three of us had huge appetites, but we all lost weight (I found the perfect waistline exercise–shoveling dredge tailings!). One morning I stayed in camp to bake a cake. We were working quite some way down the canyon, so David told Bill to stay there with me, he would dredge alone (he wanted cake, too!).

We used an oven that sat on our propane stove which had a thermostat. But since it was outdoors, if a breeze came up the temperature fluctuated quite a bit, and it helped to have someone sit there to let me know when the temperature changed. I mixed up the cake, beating it by hand, and put the first half in the oven. While it baked I started some of the cleanup, and was humming along with the radio as I worked. Never has a cake smelled so good, or the scent filled the air as that one did.. David said later that he could smell it way downstream at the dredge. It was a beautiful day, and I had placed a big bunch of wildflowers gathered from a nearby spring, that morning, on our table. Birds were chirping, our friendly chipmunks were waiting in the bushes for any scraps we might have for them, hummingbirds were fighting over the feeder that hung from the edge of our tarp frame, and all was right with the world. Or, so I thought!

A year later, after hearing about it from someone else first, Bill related that he had just happened to glance up at the trail when all of a sudden a bear shuffled around the point, headed our way. It had evidently smelled the cake, too! He casually got to his feet and went to the tent, and when my back was turned grabbed his gun from the pack and laid it next to him on his chair, out of my sight. I was still humming along with the radio, cleaning up, and when I burst into song the bear must have heard me. Bill told me the bear looked up and saw us, and sniffed the fragrant air. Instead of coming on, however, he sniffed again, then turned around and went the other way.

Knowing that I would leave if I saw a bear, Bill took David aside when he returned to camp for lunch and told him about the bear. David left camp before we did that afternoon, to brush all the tracks from the trail. From then on, he left camp every morning before us and kept the trail swept for me. They enjoyed putting one over on me, and there were no further sightings of any large animals.

I was 48 years old that summer, and I really cherish the experiences we shared. Our lives took another direction not long afterward, and I don’t know that I will ever again be able to do something like that. It was a lot of work, but the rewards were great enough to make it very worthwhile. I am not speaking of the monetary rewards, although they were good; the rewards I am speaking of are less tangible, but greater. We did something that not many ever have the opportunity to do today, and that experience will always be with us.

We went back to the claim the next year. This time three other families (our partners) and another of our sons went also. That year brought its own unique experiences, mostly good ones, but it just wasn’t quite the same as the year that Bill, David, and I had our “Great Adventure” in the wilderness.

And by the way, that pan of gold up there is holding almost all of our “take” for the six weeks we spent there that year; our first pound of gold (1 lb., troy weight) found in a summer!

 

by George McConnell

What can go wrong will!! And does!!

Never has such an adage been more true than with small engines – on a prospecting trip – a BILLION miles from nowhere! The engine sits after your arm breaks from trying to start it, and tempers flare while someone screams “The thing worked last year!”

Here are a few tips:

Repair of anything in the field is much more difficult, not to mention the trips to town for a spark plug wrench, or a clamp, only to find the store just closed! Make up a small kit of tools and parts to keep with the mining equipment.

1. Pliers
2. 4-way screwdriver
3. Inexpensive socket set with spark plug socket that will fit your spark plug!
4. Allen wrenches
5. Extra engine oil
6. Extra pump seal kit and gaskets and clamps
7. Extra spark plug
8. Whatever else you can think of that you’ll need!

Ok-ok, the season is over and I’m dreaming of next year’s expedition. DON’T WAIT. Now is the time to pickle that engine!

How to “Pickle”:

1. Make it a habit to run the engine until it runs out of fuel. This helps stop problems from “modern” gas formulas, forming gum and goo in the carburetor.

2. Check the fuel filter and replace it if you’re not sure.

3. Disconnect the spark plug wire and “ground” it to the engine. Most small engines have a triangular “tab” for slipping the spark plug wire onto it.

4. Change the engine oil (dispose of the old oil properly). If you don’t remember when you changed it last, or just “checked” it, change it NOW.

5. Remove spark plug. If it looks oily, cracked, black, or just plain crummy, REPLACE it. If it’s ok, check the spark plug GAP – .020-.025 is typical. If you’re not sure, get a new plug and make sure it’s the right plug for your engine.

6. “Pickling” rings and valve, and cylinder walls, protection hint: Pour a TEASPOON of “Marvel Mystery” oil (any light oil will do) into the spark plug hole. (Don’t go crazy and overdo it.) Let it sit for a minute, then press your thumb over the spark plug hole (after making sure the spark plug wire is grounded to the frame. Caution: “Instant Shock Therapy” is very possible if it is not.) SLOWLY pull the starter cord, ONE TIME ONLY! You will feel a suction and then a pressure “poof” on your thumb. (If you don’t, it’s time for the repair shop engine doctor!) The oil is now distributed into the cylinder rings and other engine parts to keep them from freezing up and happy while in storage.

7. Make sure weeds and twigs are not hanging in or on the fan.

8. Clean the air cleaner (foam type) and replace if needed.

a) For the foam type, wash in light soapy water, squeeze and let dry. Oil it up, squeeze out the excess oil and re-install.

b) For the paper type, blow carefully on the inside of the filter with an air hose. If it’s too clogged, replace it.

9. Re-install spark plug and wire.

10. Wipe the entire engine down removing dust, dirt and goo. You paid a lot of money for it, take pride in it by keeping it clean.

11. Don’t “adjust” those little screws by the carburetor, unless you’re SURE of what you’re doing. Those “adjustment” screws normally don’t “un-adjust” themselves. Consult the engine manual for adjustments and tweaking for altitude load or for poor fuel, only after everything else checks out, (clean air filter, etc…)

Hint: After dredging, high banking, etc…, I cover the engine, after it cools, with a plastic garbage bag in case it rains! That way, it will start easily the next time.

Now you can get back to dreaming and planning your next expedition with reasonable confidence that y our engine will run when you get there.

See you on the river!

 

By Dave McCracken

You don’t know what frustration is until you have gone back and forth from your dredge to your dredge hole three or four—or eight—times trying to knock out a single plug-up!

Dave Mack

 

plug upOne of the main impediments to production in gold dredging is the occurrence of plug-ups in the power jet and/or suction hose. A plug-up is caused when a single rock, or a combination of rocks, lodge in the suction hose or power jet, which then prevent further material from being sucked up.

Beginners are especially plagued with many, many plug-ups, because they have not yet learned which types of rocks, or which combinations of rocks, to avoid sucking up the nozzle. Everybody that dredges must get through this part of the learning curve.

When possible, an experienced gold dredger will watch to see what kind of rocks caused a plug-up every time he or she will get one. Beginners should do this as well. This way, after a while, you gain an understanding of which type of rocks and combinations to avoid putting through the nozzle.

For the most part, the rocks to avoid sucking up are those that are just large enough to fit in the nozzle that are sharp and angular, or that are shaped in such a way that if turned sideways, they could possibly lodge in the suction hose or jet.

Sucking up a larger round rock, just after a long-thin rock, or just after a medium-sized flat rock, is just asking for a plug-up. The reason for this is because the round rock, having more surface area, will move up the hose faster than the flat rock. So the round rock can catch up and possibly cause the flat rock to turn and lodge. Generally, we avoid sucking up large flat rocks altogether.

Generally, we avoid sucking up large flat rocks altogether. Just like there is a system of knowing how to avoid plug-ups, there is also a system for removing plug-ups quickly.

Many plug-ups occur in the power jet. These are generally caused for two reasons (in addition to sucking up the wrong rocks). The first is because of a design-flaw. Many power jets are smaller in diameter than the inside of the suction hose. Where the larger-sized suction hose meets the smaller-sized jet, there is a restriction which can cause rocks to lodge.

The other reason for plugs in the power jet is further up just beyond the inductor(s). High-pressure water comes from the side into the main jet tube from one or more inductors which can spin a rock just right to make it lodge.

Once you gain some experience in dredging, you can often tell from the feel of the plug-up when you get it whether the plug-up is in the hose or the jet. Jet plug-ups are usually very sudden; you can feel them “slam”, with a sudden complete loss of suction. Hose plug-ups sometimes leave you with some smaller amount of suction at the nozzle.

The first thing to remember with a plug-up is to stop sucking material into the suction nozzle as soon as you realize you have one!

All of us, sooner or later, experience the joy of loading a suction hose full of rocks and gravel. But you haven’t experienced life to the fullest until you have had the opportunity to do this with a 12-inch dredge! A plug-up is much easier to remove if you have not sucked up a bunch of additional rocks and gravel to complicate the problem.

When you get a plug-up in the suction hose, sometimes you can free it up simply by yanking forward on the hose, or by popping your hand over the intake of the suction nozzle. If there is still some suction, sometimes purging air from your regulator into the nozzle will help free the plug-up. When I get a plug-up, I will do this a few times, and then set down the nozzle (where it will not suck up further material) and move rocks out of my way for a little while to see if the plug-up will free itself.

I always like to keep the outside of my suction hose nice and clean. This means using a good wash brush to clean the algae off once every two weeks or so. Or, you can disconnect your suction hose from the dredge and clean it with a pressure washer. The good thing about a clean hose is that you can look into it for plug-ups as you move towards your dredge to knock the plug-up out of the jet. Sometimes, when you think it is a jet plug-up, you discover that the plug-up is in the hose. With a clean, clear hose, it is usually pretty easy to spot the plug-up quickly. This all saves time, energy and frustration.

When leaving your dredge hole to find a plug-up, always leave the suction nozzle positioned so that it will not suck up additional material, or will not get sucked against a larger cobble or boulder as the plug-up is being removed. As the plug-up is being freed, you need water movement through the hose to help carry the rocks which caused the obstruction out of the system. Sometimes, the offensive rocks free-up and then cause another obstruction further up the hose. On tough obstructions, I will generally follow the rocks up the hose until I am certain they are through the system. You can hear the rocks rattle up through your metal power jet if you are listening.

Another reason for leaving your suction nozzle so it will not get blocked by a cobble or boulder, is that when you are probing the power jet for the plug-up from the surface, you are paying attention to how much water is flowing through the sluice box. A plug-up slows the water down. When the obstruction is freed up, more water consequently flows through the box. If you are watching, you will then see the offensive rocks flow into the sluice (where you can take a look at them). This is, unless the suction nozzle gets sucked up against something down in your dredge hole which prevents forceful water movement through the suction hose.

It is really important to get this right. You don’t know what aggravation is until you have gone back and forth from your dredge hole to your dredge three or four—or eight—times trying to knock out a single plug-up!

You need to develop a feel for probing the jet from the surface for plug-ups. This is done with a “jam rod” (Also sometimes referred to as the “plugger pole.”).

What I mean by getting a feel for probing, is that you have to learn to feel around and find where the obstruction is in the jet.

Some beginners start off thinking the key is to simply slam the jam rod down into the jet over and over again—the deeper the better. This does absolutely no good if the plug-up is further up into the jet and the rod is just bypassing it. Sometimes the jam rod goes down into the jet, through the rocks causing the obstruction. The person comes to the surface, slams the jam rod deep into the jet a few times, feels no plug-up, decides the obstruction is in the hose, goes back down and follows the hose back to the dredge hole, follows the hose back up to the dredge, jams the rod deep into the jet, etc., etc., and finally decides there is something wrong with the pump! This is all part of the learning curve, and can be very frustrating.

What I mean by getting a feel for probing, is that you have to learn to feel around and find where the obstruction is in the jet. Some beginners start off thinking the key is to simply slam the jam rod down into the jet over and over again—the deeper the better. This does absolutely no good if the plug-up is further up into the jet. Sometimes the jam rod goes down into the jet, through the rocks causing the obstruction. The person comes to the surface, slams the jam rod deep into the jet a few times, feels no plug-up, decides the obstruction is in the hose, goes back down and follows the hose back to the dredge hole, follows the hose back up to the dredge, jams the rod deep into the jet, etc., etc., and finally decides there is something wrong with the pump!

And, this is why it is important to learn to get a feel for probing. I do this by probing down the jet about a foot at a time, probing at different angles, feeling for the obstruction. The obstruction is that solid-something that the jam rod touches as you are feeling around in the jet. Sometimes, it is barely a nudge as the rod slides past the obstruction. So you really need to pay attention when probing!

Once I feel the obstruction, I direct the jamming action to free it up. If smacking on the obstruction does not free it, try again after turning the engine down to idle.

Some experienced dredgers weld a “T” onto the upper-end of their jam rods. This is for the simple reason of avoiding the additional aggravation of having to remove the suction hose to recover your jam rod if it slips from your hand and slides down the jet and suction hose! If you make the T-handle narrower than the diameter of your power jet, you can turn the jam rod around and use the T-handle to help you find the occasional elusive rocks that lodge in the power jet.

It is also a good idea to have a bolt or some other solid rod material welded onto the probing-end of your jam rod. Otherwise, the pounding action can cause the probing-end to flair out. This causes problems when you jam the rod down through an obstruction, and the flared portion gets stuck when you are trying to pull it back out. The probing-end of your jam rod should be a smooth continuation of the rod itself.

If a plug-up is found in the suction hose, it can usually be freed-up by tapping against it with a smooth cobble from your cobble pile. If you look over the obstruction, you can usually see the best angles to tap against the obstruction. If one angle does not work, perhaps another angle will free it up. If the obstruction does not free up easily, the answer is not to beat your suction hose full of holes! The next step is to turn your dredge engine down all the way to an idle. This releases the heavy suction pressure holding the plug-up in place. Once the engine is idled down, you can usually tap the obstruction free with little difficulty. Then, by turning up the engine, often the rocks which caused the obstruction will get sucked through the system. Sometimes, they will also plug-up the hose or jet again—in which case, you go through the process all over again. This same procedure is used also in jet plug-ups.

If this procedure does not work on a hose plug-up, the next step is to remove the water from the hose. This can be done by lifting the suction nozzle out of the water while the engine is running at idle, or at just enough throttle to pump the water out of the suction hose. With no water in the hose, an obstruction is usually very easy to free up. In this case, however, it is wise to shake the rocks completely down the hose and out of the nozzle—to be sure you are finished with them. Here is a helpful hint: Remember to then toss the offensive rocks out of your hole, so you do not suck them right back up again when the dredge’s throttle is turned back up!

When a really difficult plug-up is in the suction hose near the jet, sometimes it is necessary to disconnect the suction hose and pull it up onto the bank to remove the obstruction. This is only on very difficult obstructions. If you are paying attention to what you are sucking through the nozzle, you should not be burdened with this chore very often!

All of this unnecessary additional work will prompt you to pay more attention to what you are feeding into the nozzle! I have spent plenty of time watching beginners invest more than 50% of their day just on freeing plug-ups!

Several years ago, in an effort to enhance production, we developed oversize power-jets and exterior suction hose clamps. In this way, the suction hose fits into a jet tube which is slightly larger in size than the hose. This can eliminate 95 percent or more of the plug-ups which a dredger will get on a normal day. Some of the dredge manufacturers are now creating dredges with oversized jet tubes and exterior suction hose clamps—which is one of the best things that has happened for suction dredges in quite some time.

Caution: just because a dredge has an exterior suction hose clamp does not mean that the jet is larger than the hose. You have to look closely and measure to be certain. If the mechanism has any part of the jet smaller in diameter than the inside of the suction hose, you are going to get plug-ups there no matter how careful you are at the nozzle. What I am saying is that an oversized jet tube for a 5-inch dredge should have an inside diameter greater than 5-inches.

Team work on removing plug-ups can be very efficient when two or more dredgers are working together. When I am nozzling and get a plug-up, I usually hand the nozzle to one of my rock men, or send the rock man up to find the plug-up. Once the plug-up is removed, material is immediately sucked into the nozzle. This creates a signal to the person trying to locate the obstruction that it has been cleared. If no material is moving through the hose and sluice box, it is a definite signal that the obstruction still exists somewhere in the system—or that the partner has fallen asleep and lost track of what is going on (It is a good thing that you cannot hear miners when they get frustrated at each other while underwater).

While sampling, or during production dredging, the end result is directly proportional to how much material you are able to feed into the suction nozzle. Plug-ups play a big part in this; because while you are spending time freeing up obstructions, you are not sucking up pay-dirt!

If you are having problems with plug-ups, sometimes you can improve production by just slowing down a little.

The real key is in oversized jets. The amount of work to build and install one on your dredge is small compared to the amount of energy and time you will spend knocking plug-ups out of your jet during the course of a mining season!

Everyone gets some plug-ups. The thing to do is improve your control of the nozzle to the point where you only get a few (or none) each day.

 

 

By Dave McCracken General Manager

Dave Mack

 

 

It’s always a great feeling for me to watch one high-grade gold discovery evolve into another exciting discovery through just a little more sampling further upstream. This substantiates our long-established theory that most high-grade gold deposits follow a common path down along the bottom of a gold-bearing waterway. More often than not, further sampling along the same path upstream or downstream from an already established high-grade pay-streak in the river will turn up additional rewarding gold deposits, sometimes even richer than the first!

And that’s what happened in this case. The first high-grade pay-streak that we located was directly at the top-end of the (very) extensive gravel bar near the top-end of K-15A (Mega-hole claim). You can read about how we made that fantastic discovery during a surface mining (high-banking) project in our July newsletter.

The thing that made this event so interesting is that it was the first time that we ever tracked the Klamath River’s gold path from a high-grade deposit up on a gravel bar to high-grade gold out in the active river; very exciting indeed! No doubt, this will have us taking a fresh look at other sections of the river this next season!

It was early during this past season, and Haze and Andi Williams had already consented to capture the video and photography for all of the week-long mining projects for the summer. They were also looking for a good place to put their new 5-inch dredge while they were in the process of filming the surface mining project in late June. So when Craig Colt made the high-grade gold discovery at the top-end of the gravel bar on K-15A, we all did the natural thing; we looked just upstream in anticipation of what might be a continuation of the pay-streak. Haze and Andi moved their dredge into location just upstream only a few hours after Craig made that discovery. This turned out to be a really smart move! Not surprisingly, they found the very same type of gold (course and nuggety) in the very same type of streambed material (ancient, compacted, dark-colored) at about the same depth below the surface.

It only took a few dredge samples before Haze and Andi were in high-grade gold just upstream from the gravel bar where Craig had made the original discovery. They were into it pretty good just before we started this dredging project. The nice thing about this deposit was that it was located in shallow, slow-moving water, not far from the edge of the river. This was a very safe place for beginners to dredge. Since they were going to be involved with this dredging project anyway, Haze and Andi suggested that we start the project in the gold deposit they had just located. This sounded good to me. It’s always good to begin a week-long project in a place where we can start some of the dredges working in an established gold deposit!

There were 24 of us involved with this dredging project, including myself. The first thing we did was gain permission from a landowner living across the road from Highway 96 (a New 49′er member) who possesses an access road which would allow our group to gain an easy perch at the top-end of K-15A, near to where Andi and Haze had been dredging their gold. An access road was going to save our crew from making a pretty fair hike in and out of the site every day. That was good!

The first thing we do is set up a camping area where we can have our planning sessions each morning.

The first day on these projects is usually focused upon setting up a group camping area and launching all of our dredging gear into the river and setting it up. There is a wonderful, shaded camping area on K-15A. Once we were all set up there, all I had to do was make a comment that the access road needed a little work before we could launch our dredges. By the time I got over there, the work had already been completed and we had easy access to the river, along with a nice place to stage the beginning of our program. It was great! This crew was so geared up to go, I quickly realized that it was time to assign some team leaders and let them get to work!

Andi and Haze offered us the use of their dredge, so we added an additional airline to allow a second person underwater. This team was so motivated, that we had a team already working in gold before lunch on the first day! As Haze and Andi were tied up capturing video and photography, others completely took their dredge over for the whole week and they didn’t seem to mind. They were showing off nice gold on that dredge just within the first few hours. That got the whole team pretty excited!

The team got right to work on Haze & Andi’s dredge!

The rest of our team stayed busy on the first afternoon launching a 4-inch dredge, two 5-inch dredges and a 6-inch dredge. Craig Colt had just finished devoting 3+ months into building the best 8-inch dredge ever made for the Klamath River. But we wanted to establish a good gold deposit where we could use it, before launching that beast into the river!

We placed the 4-inch dredge in shallow water just off the little perch that we had made, a perfect place where we could show beginners how to do the underwater work. This location was about 150 feet directly upstream from where Andi and Haze had been dredging some very nice gold, so the prospects were pretty good that our beginners would also find something good on the bottom.

During the first several days on these projects, we are more concerned with just helping beginners to overcome the underwater environment in a location where the water is slow and shallow enough so that there is very little danger of having any accidental traumatic encounters. It’s not uncommon for some participants to arrive who have some fear of the water, perhaps from an earlier near-drowning event. We have found that the key in helping someone to overcome these fears (if they want to try), is through a progression of easy steps, starting with something which nearly anyone can do.

The following video sequence captures how we follow a step-by-step process to help beginners become a productive part of the underwater mining crew:

This was a very easy location where beginners could learn!

The place where we set up the 4-inch dredge on this project was about the easiest I have ever seen. There was a shallow, even bottom in clear water where beginners were able to get used to crawling around along the bottom of the river in a safe place. It wasn’t long before all of our beginners were down helping in the dredge hole!

By the end of our second day, all of our beginners had eagerly progressed through their early steps and were contributing to forward progress in the water.

All of our beginners were initially assigned to the 4-inch dredge on this project. The rest of the crew was teamed up on the other dredges. One dredge was used to put down a sample hole about half way between the 4-inch dredge and Haze’s dredge. With good luck going our way, that dredge touched right down on beautiful gold within the first few hours.

Another dredge was sent several hundred feet upstream from the 4-inch dredge to do another test hole. But it could not find any hard-pack streambed up there. After several

tries, we decided that the river dynamics in that area did notallow hard-pack to form during previous major flood storms. Ultimately, that dredge was drifted down to work side-by-side with another dredge in the pay-streak.

The 6-inch dredge was drifted across the river to dredge some samples on the other side. This, because some members had reported several years ago that they were finding nice gold over there mixed with pieces of metal from some kind of old Chinese camp. This all took place at the top end of K-15A. But we were not able to find hard-pack streambed on the far side of the river, and did not want to invest very much time over there since we were doing so well on the road-side. One hard effort was made to dredge a sample in the middle of the river, but we gave up when the loose streambed material reached around 6 feet deep.

Meanwhile, our hard-charging beginner-team on the 4-inch dredge had managed to establish a pretty high-grade portion of the pay-streak in about 4 feet of hard-pack streambed, just behind a major change in bedrock. This turned out to be the reason for the pay-streak in the first place. There was a 4-foot bedrock drop-off; behind which, was filled with a hard-packed assortment of boulders and ancient hard-packed material. Here, beautiful golden nuggets were found along the bedrock. Once again, the beginner-team had walked right into the richest part of the pay-streak! With lots of excitement, the guys and gals on that crew worked out a continuous round of shifts, only shutting down the dredge long enough to put more fuel in the tank.

Here follows a video segment of a 4-inch clean-up that Haze captured during one of the first few days. It’s not surprising that the beginners learned how to dredge so quickly!

The beginner-dredge was bringing up nuggets on nearly every dive!

There was plenty of hooping and hollering going on about the beautiful nuggets being found on the 4-inch dredge. The nicest gold from the week was found by people who had never even operated a dredge before!

When some of the boulders were too large to move by hand, as a team effort, we moved in winching gear and attempted to pull them out of the way. Several of the huge rocks proved to be even too large for our winch, so they still remain in place, probably sitting on top of the best gold nuggets!

By mid-week, we had strategically positioned five dredges on top of the pay-streak and evolved ourselves into production operation. Here follows a video sequence of the productive activity once our team really got dialed in:

A sixth dredge was floated further down K-15A to sample for more high-grade gold deposits. My trusty helper, Craig Colt and I supervised this sampling, because most of it was done in either deep or very fast water.

All in all, we completed 5 good sample holes in several hundred yards of river. Each of the holes were put down to bedrock in ancient, original Klamath River streambed (never been mined before).

Because Andi and Haze had donated a pay-streak to this project that was easy to work in a location where there was near-zero risk that anybody could be hurt (slow, shallow water), we were in a unique position where Craig and I could run off with the most experienced participants and do some serious sampling. So we took the opportunity to place several sample holes down in a part of upper K-15A that we didn’t (until then) know anything about. The risk in this type of sampling is that we might not find much gold. Since we already had 5 dredges producing in gold, our group unanimously agreed that the risk was worthwhile just to see what we might find in that virgin section of the river.

Dredging sample holes in deep or fast water areas that you know nothing about is a very challenging activity; definitely not for the light-hearted! The main challenge is that you usually don’t know how deep the streambed is going to go before you reach bedrock. This leaves you with all kinds of uncertainties along the bottom of the river. The best thing to do is just pour on the steam the best you can. And it’s always a great feeling when you do reach the bottom! The whole program feeds on a never-ending stream of hope. Here follows a video segment captured as our sampling program was happening out on the water:

We were severely challenged by one section of very fast water which we believed, because of the difficulty, nobody had ever sampled before. The following video sequence captured some of the team spirit and fun involved in our sampling effort. Keep in mind that this is all the real thing. There is no play acting here. There is just a video camera that happens to be present while we were doing the work:

There was gold in each of the holes, but not the high-grade we are looking for. That’s just that way it goes in sampling; every stretch of river does not give up high-grade on our first pass through the area. Still, we did establish to our own satisfaction that most of this portion of the Klamath River remains void of any previous mining activity. This is a very good thing! The gold is there. It will just take some time to find it!!

  

Since K-15A is so close to Happy Camp, I was going home every night. Andi and Haze were also returning to Happy Camp. So they were able to capture amazing video footage of a forest fire that had just started up from a massive thunder storm during the dredging project. The fire was so severe, for several days, there was talk of evacuating the whole town!

We were fortunate to have Otto Gaither back this season as our shore boss. Otto adds a wonderful human touch to these projects. While Craig and I are more focused on the production-side of things, Otto is more concerned with making sure that people are eating right. Otto also started managing the beginner-dredge on this project, and the beginner-dredge has been breaking production records ever since. Everybody was raving about the meals at Otto’s camp during the mornings and evenings.

There is always a magic cultural chemistry which comes together in these projects, each one distinctly different from the rest – always with Otto at the center. And this project was no different. Towards the last day, when we realized that, as hard as our advanced team had worked in our extreme sampling efforts to locate some exciting, new high-grade, it was going to be the hard work of our main crew under Otto’s leadership, in a gold deposit that had been freely contributed by Haze and Andi, that was going to carry our week. And everybody was alright with that.

We pulled all of our gear off the river on the final day and performed a full clean-up of the week’s gold production. Everyone participates in every step of this process. Several other participants moved their personal dredges into the pay-streak to continue working it. Andi and Haze continued to work the same pay-streak throughout the remainder of the season, and did good until the cold weather chased them out. That was a great deposit!

  

All in all, we recovered 95.5 pennyweights of beautiful gold on this project, of which 56.3 pennyweights (more than half) consisted of nuggets. This allowed for just under a ¼-ounce share for each participant in the project.

 

 

By Dave McCracken General Manager

Dave Mack

 

   

Quite often in gold mining, your best-laid plans fall completely apart as soon as you get started. This happens to me on a regular basis. In late August, we had a firm plan to do a week-long dredging project on our Lower Seiad Claim (K-14). I know of a place there that should deliver up a substantial high-grade gold deposit. But the day before we were to start, a large truck drove off the highway and spilled some kind of oil into the Klamath River. Not wanting to take any chances of exposing our team to the possibility of hazardous material, we decided at the last minute that we needed to do our dredging project upstream from the oil spill. So we went up to UK-3. Through just several hours of sampling, we got right into a rich pay-streak up there. Everything turned out alright in the end. I suppose the lesson in this is that in prospecting, you just have to adjust yourself to setbacks when they happen and keep on moving forward.

Then, since we had not finished up the rich deposit that we found on UK-3 in August, we were planning to go back in there on our September group dredging project and pick up right where we left off. It is a lot of stress off my shoulders to begin a dredging project in an already-established pay-streak. This allows me to put more of my personal focus on working with the project participants. Out of the 15 people associated with the September project, 9 of them had never even breathed off a hookah-air system before. Wow; that is a lot of beginners to get grooved into an underwater program all at once! So already having an established high-grade gold deposit in place meant that we would not have to sample. This was good!

As these group projects only last a week, and the first and last days are mostly devoted to orientation, moving gear on and off the river and final gold clean-up, there really are only 5 production days to make the gold add up. Making the gold add up is important to the last day when it is time to split it off amongst all the participants. I know this better than anyone, because I am the one that weighs and splits each share. The bigger the share, the better it feels when you get it! So every day matters to the final outcome!

It is also true that a beginner who is worried about drowning in the river does not care very much at that moment about how much gold is being recovered. That person just wants to stay alive!

I devote a lot of the season helping beginners through the early stages of underwater mining. So I have an intimate understanding of the different feelings and motivations.

First of all, I just want to say that everyone has a primal fear of drowning. It’s really a matter of how energized that fear is at the moment. I’m a strong swimmer and spend a lot of my time around the water. So I am reasonably comfortable under normal (for me) circumstances. But when I tried surfing several years ago in Maui, and found myself tumbling head-over-heals along the underside of a big wave, I immediately tuned into a panicked madman fighting for my own life. It didn’t feel like I was going to live through it! After that, I was afraid every time I tried to catch a wave. Numerous times when I really had the opportunity to catch a great wave, I chickened-out and decided not to go for it. I never did learn to surf very well. I’m afraid! So it is easy for me to identify with the fear that others experience around the water. That fear is very serious stuff!

Many beginning participants on these group dredging projects arrive with a healthy fear of the water. Some have had earlier traumatic experiences. Some were born with fear of the water. Some just have a healthy respect. With 9 beginners in this project, I knew that a lot of my personal focus would need to be devoted to helping them get through the beginning steps of dredging.

Just for the record, these group mining projects are not a school or a class. They are joint mining ventures where all participants work together as a team to locate high-grade gold deposits and recover as much gold as we can out of them by the end of the week. Those that are not able to contribute to the underwater work are utilized in other activities on the surface to help with forward momentum. Those that do not know how to do the underwater activity, but who wish to contribute there, are helped through the beginning stages so they can become more productive to the group venture. Everyone (including me) learns something on every mining project. I’m sure that is true of any type of activity where a person is personally challenged. As the project manager, without compromising safety, my personal job is to get as much productive activity as I possibly can out of each member of the team. More productive activity channeled in the right direction will produce more gold by the end of the week. This makes everyone happy with the final result.

Showing someone how to get comfortably underwater during the first few days of a dredging project means that we will have yet another person helping us to recover high-grade gold later in the week. Therefore, my plan on this project was to direct our 5 more-experienced participants to get started in the established pay-streak right away, while I invested my time working with the beginners. This way, we would be accumulating gold from the very beginning. That is always a great way to start!

And here is just one more example (of many) of how a great mining plan fell apart even before we got started: We arrived on UK-3 on Saturday afternoon, only to discover that the Iron Gate Dam had increased its water release that very same morning, causing the river to rise about 18 inches in the section of river where we had intended to dredge. This made the water flow there too fast for us to dredge! So much for that plan!

One thing I have learned is that dwelling on problems or failures does nothing to increase the size of gold shares at the end of a project. So after allowing myself just a brief moment of personal disappointment in the realization that we would need to find another high-grade gold deposit with just 5 people, our newly-formed team did a complete survey of the UK claims in search of a new place to begin a sampling program.

The river was running higher and faster. So our options were actually reduced to just several locations. Each of these looked pretty good. As a group, we always allow some time to discuss each option. There is often some debate on these matters, but I must ultimately make the final decision. This time, we decided to go down to the upper part of UK-2. Mainly, this was because we had left some high-grade gold behind there during an earlier dredging project (last season). In addition, longtime supportive member, Lee Kracher, happened by at just the right moment and told us that his son had been pulling a lot of gold out of the river not far downstream from where we had already mined some high-grade along the upper portion of UK-2. I assumed this was probably an extension of the very same deposit we had been mining the year before. As Lee said his son was pulling out gold through the last day of his vacation, this area seemed pretty-much like a sure thing for our project.

I always go for the most sure thing I can find when results really matter! Our new plan required us to work until dark on the first day to get all of our dredging gear moved to our new project site.

Luckily, Craig Colt and Jason Inks were along to give us a hand on this project. Both have extensive experience in serious dredging and team management. We split up our experienced participants into two teams on the morning of the second day; with Craig’s team operating the 8-inch dredge, and Jason’s team operating the 6-inch dredge.

   

Because every day counts, we set realistic targets every morning. These are the things that we must accomplish to ultimately achieve our objective (plenty of gold) by the end of the week. Craig’s and Jason’s targets on Sunday were to both get their teams established in the pay-streak before the end of the day. We positioned their dredges downstream of where we had been dredging high-grade last season and they didn’t waste any time getting started.

Then we set up a 5-inch dredge just off a shallow sand beach where I could work with the beginners. I always begin with those who seem like they will get through the initial steps quickly. Those persons are then directed to operate the 5-inch dredge as part of the ongoing sampling program, while I work with the participants who will require more time along the edge of the river. As soon as they demonstrate that they are up to it, some beginners graduate off to help on one of the other dredges where they can be more productive. By more productive, I mean that a good sampling program requires that we do sample holes out into the deeper, more challenging parts of the river. Sometimes, this is where the richest gold deposits are found. Sampling for high-grade is a lot like playing hide-and-seek. You have to be prepared to go anywhere the deposits might be located.

Starting into the third day, both of our serious dredges were pushing out further towards the middle of the river. While they were finding some gold and small nuggets in closer to the bank, we believed the gold was going to get better as we moved further out. It did, but it still was not as good as we wanted. So we decided to move the 6-inch dredge further upstream, closer to the area where we were mining rich gold the season before. By trial and error, we just kept up the process of doing small dredge samples here and there and checking the results to trace the gold into the richer portion of the pay-streak. The following video was captured just as Jason’s team was starting to uncover what we were looking for:

Shortly thereafter, Jason’s team started expressing the excitement of seeing gold while uncovering bedrock on the river-bottom. In other words, they were hooping and hollering it up pretty good. This is always a good sign to me that things are moving in the right direction.

“The first nuggets started coming up after we moved the 6-inch dredge further upriver”

By the end of the third day, all of our beginners (except for one person who insisted from the beginning that he was not going underwater) were through the initial learning curve and being productive underwater. So we moved the 5-inch dredge just upstream of Jason’s team, and they immediately also started uncovering high-grade gold along the bedrock. Everybody started getting pretty excited!

There is nothing quite like seeing gold nuggets on the bottom of the river to help a person get over their initial fear of the river! I’m serious! It is always good to try and get a beginner extroverted. A good way to do that is to get the person helping to uncover high-grade gold from the bottom of the river!

Some participants arrive on these projects with deep-seated fears or phobias of the water. Some participate with the hope of overcoming these fears. Others arrive with no intention of going underwater; they just want to help on the surface. This is alright with me. We talk this all over as a group on the first day, and always then move forward with an understanding that everyone will just participate the best that they can to help get the job done. It is important to get the right kind of team chemistry in place on the first day. Working together with a good team, so far, we have always managed to locate high-grade gold.

Interestingly, everyone I have worked with that has started out with a serious fear of the water goes through very similar stages as the fear is overcome. I always just start the person out doing something that he or she is comfortable with – like just sitting or standing alongside the river without a face mask, getting used to breathing through a hookah regulator. Sometimes this first step is the most difficult in the whole chain of progressive steps! It is not unusual for someone’s body initially to reject having a regulator in his or her mouth (creates an impulse to gag it out). Still, a person standing up on the bank has little to fear from putting the regulator back and trying to breathe from it some more. Amazingly, the body always makes its own adjustment about this rather quickly all on its own. It is not a mind process. Thinking or talking about it does not seem to help very much with the process. The answer is to just keep the regulator in the person’s mouth until it is no big deal anymore. This usually happens pretty fast if the person just does it.

The next step is to have a person just get comfortable wearing a face mask. Sometimes we start out with this step before the regulator. It doesn’t really matter. But, if we are trying to overcome a healthy fear, we always do these two steps by themselves, before we ask the person to wear the face mask and breathe through the regulator both at the same time. It is just a simple matter of taking things one step at a time. No big deal. This all plays out alongside the edge of the river, while the bigger sampling program out in the river is being moved forward by the more experienced participants

Everyone has a threshold where traumatic fear overcomes everything else. This is commonly referred to as “panic.” That’s the place where you lose personal control and totally freak out! Water can bring that threshold very close to the surface with some beginning dredgers. I have worked with so many people on this over the years that I have developed an intimate sensitivity to what people are going through. The important key is to avoid pushing someone beyond his or her personal threshold of fear.

The step-by-step routine works every time. Most of the process is just to get the person’s body accustomed to being in a different environment. That’s all.

Once the person can breathe comfortably through the hookah regulator while looking through the face mask (even while standing or sitting alongside the river), the person has already made it well beyond the half-way point in getting comfortable underwater.

This all gently progresses to having the person float around in shallow water along the edge of the river while looking underwater through the mask and breathing through the regulator. Here is another milestone in the program, because the body initially doesn’t believe that it can breathe with your face in the water. Again, the key is just to do it!

The internal fear almost always presents itself in discussions, like “I have never been a mouth-breather.” I have found that discussions usually do not help very much with the progress. So I just coax the person to just keep putting his or her head in the water as much as he or she can tolerate until the body makes an internal adjustment. Initially, the person never believes that the body will adjust. That is just part of the internal fear being expressed. The body always adjusts just by doing it. It usually happens very fast. Because personal embarrassment also comes out with the fear, I usually back off a bit and just allow the person to work through this on his or her own. I usually only step in when I see the person is not continuing to put his or her face in the water. That’s the key. In 25 years of helping beginners, I have never seen a time when the person did not get through this step very quickly, as long as the person just stuck with it.

Usually, within just a short time, the person is swimming around comfortably while looking around at the fish, or watching the dredging program if it is close enough to be seen. That’s when I go over and gently press the person underwater. This step is always done in shallow-enough water that the person can push his or her head above the water’s surface if he or she feels the need to do so. They almost never do, though. By now, the person is already through most of the fear. This is relatively an easy step in the progress.

Then I straddle a set of weights across the person’s back to let him or her sink to the bottom in shallow water. This is also an easy step, because the person always finds that he or she has more personal control with the weight, than when I am holding him or her down. Soon thereafter, I buckle the weights onto the person to keep them from slipping off. The person has now comfortably made it to the bottom of the river. It’s not so difficult as long as we don’t try to move things along too fast and overstep beyond the person’s fear threshold.

In dredging, it is important to be weighted heavily to the bottom of the waterway. But the heavy weights usually make a person a bit top-heavy. Because of this, you cannot swim or walk around very effectively. The right way is to crab around on the bottom using your hands and legs. Balance is everything.

The final step in the process of helping a beginner is always to have the person go underwater and roll over onto his or her back, and then roll back over again. We do this several times. About the worst thing that can happen is that you lose your balance and roll onto your back like a turtle. So, in shallow water, we just get the person to do this right away and get it over with! I am always standing right there with the person’s hookah line in hand – more for moral support than anything else. Once a person has rolled around on the bottom of the river a few times, the body will automatically learn how to maintain its own balance. From there, the rest is pretty easy.

Until the person as demonstrated an acceptable level of personal confidence, we usually have someone keep a firm grip on his or her hookah airline just for safety. Although, to date, I have never actually had to drag anyone in by their airline.

Really, it is amazing how fast people adjust to the underwater environment! Most people have more courage than they allow themselves credit for. The following video sequence was captured while several of our beginners were working through the process:

Out of our 9 beginners on this project, the 4 woman got through the initial learning curve surprisingly fast. This was probably because they were giving each other a lot of assistance and moral support. By mid-week, we had woman dredgers helping with an important portion of the underwater work on both the 5 and 6-inch dredges. The following video was captured just as the two dredges were beginning to recover high-grade gold:

Everyone was so excited about it, on the 5th day; even the guy who insisted that he would never go underwater decided he wanted to give it a try. As he had spent so much time watching the others learn how to do it, it only took him about an hour to get underwater. Now 100% of our dredging team was working in the water.

While we had both the 5 and 6-inch dredges into high-grade on the third day, we could not set up the 8-inch dredge there because of the way the river was flowing in that particular location. There simply wasn’t enough room. That was too bad, because the 8-inch dredge will process more stream-bottom than the 5 and 6-inch dredges combined. This is especially true when Craig Colt is operating the suction nozzle!

Craig’s team pushed their downstream sampling program further out beyond the middle of the river in search of high-grade. But they still had not struck the pay-dirt that we were looking for. In a sampling program, if what you are doing is not producing adequate results, you try something else. And you just keep trying different things until you find something good. The problem here was that we only had several days to make it all happen. We were running out of days!

So once all of our beginners were safely established underwater, I personally took on the mission of locating the dredge excavation which Lee Kracher’s son had made earlier in the season. Nobody was quite sure where that was. We could not see where it was from the surface of the river. Lee had pointed downstream and across the river. That’s all we knew. Since they had recovered high-grade from that location, our plan was to move the 8-inch dredge over there for our next sample. We were feeling a strong need to do something effective, and soon!

I take the opportunity to do a lot of underwater prospecting during these projects. By this, I mean swimming around underwater to have a look at what is on the bottom. It’s the only way I know of to see what is down there! By doing a survey of the bottom, I can see where the bedrock is visible and what it looks like. Seeing exposed bedrock will allow our team to dredge samples nearby without having to go through deep streambed material (which takes more time and effort).

Surveying the river-bottom also allows us to discover where the hard-packed natural streambed is and where the boulders are. It also allows us to see where others have dredged before. I almost always swim around and survey the bottom of the river before deciding where we will dredge sample holes.

There are two ways I know of to survey the bottom of the river. One is to put a long extension of air line on your dredge’s hookah air system; like about 200 feet. Then, with your weights on, you can survey a big area around where your dredge is floating.

The other way is to float with the flow of the river, diving down on single breaths of air, to get a look at the bottom. Doing this without a wet-suit makes it easier to get down to the bottom and stay there longer. While you cannot stay down very long on a single breath of air, not being connected to anything allows you the freedom to survey long stretches of river.

Depending upon the circumstances, sometimes we float long stretches of river holding onto the bowline of my boat, just drifting along with the flow. It’s amazing how much you can discover about a stretch of river just by swimming it a few times! The following video sequence was captured while I scanned the river-bottom of UK-2 looking for that pre-existing dredge hole that Lee told us about:

It just took a little while for me to find the excavation which Lee’s son had left behind. While swimming along, I just kept looking for a dredge hole, a cobble pile or the tailings. I spotted the cobbles first. This turned out to be big hole; Lee’s son had done a lot of work! Fortunately, the excavation was just as he left it. He had been dredging in about 5 feet of original hard-packed, gray-colored Klamath river-bottom material. There were some large boulders visible. It would have taken us the better part of a full day or longer just to open up a good sample in this same location using the 8-inch dredge. Luck was on our side that someone else had already accomplished all that work for us and made the gold discovery there. It was going to be easy for us to go right into production in this hole!

This is one of the great things about being a member of The New 49′ers; it seems like someone is always coming along and letting you in on some already existing, exciting opportunity!

To save time, we just put the 8-inch dredge nozzle in the front of the boat, and I reverse-motored the whole platform across the river. This is a common way for us to move a dredge around when sampling in slower-moving water. Once to the other side of the river, all we had to do is tie the dredge off and go to work. The following video segment shows how we transferred the whole 8-inch dredge program from one side of the river to the other:

Two hours later, we had our first high-grade clean-up on the 8-inch dredge. The following 2 video segments were able to capture some of the excitement (and relief) we all felt when we finally got the 8-inch dredge into high-grade gold:

By Wednesday afternoon, all three dredges were in high-grade gold and all of our beginners were helping push underwater production forward. That sure was a long way from where we began at the beginning of the week!

As is normal, there was not much for me to do on Thursday. Our whole group had already pulled together as a polished team. Everyone already knew everything that needed to be done. Those that were so frightened of the river early in the week had long-since evolved into experienced gold dredgers who were working together with the team to recover as much gold as we could in the time remaining to us. I could have taken the day off and probably nobody would have even noticed! I always find myself feeling a bit helpless towards the end of these projects when everyone else is doing all the work and there is little for me to do.

   

Because so much time is required to do the whole process, we always accumulate our concentrates in a bucket throughout the week and do the full gold clean-up on the final day. We also needed to pull all of our dredging gear off the river this time, because it was the end of our dredging season along the upper Klamath River. We all worked together on this. Fortunately, there are several river access points down towards the lower-end of UK-2. We used the boat to tow all 3 dredges down there. Then we used the electric winch mounted in the back of my truck to load the dredges on trailers, tie them down and hoist them up to the road. Even the 8-inch dredge came up the hill without a single hitch! The following video sequence captured how smoothly the whole process went:

“Dave Beatson from New Zealand”

We often have visitors in Happy Camp from other countries. This time, we were honored with the presence of David Beatson, who is a very enthusiastic gold prospector from New Zealand. David is one of those rare individuals that always adds more life and fun to the party. He also carries a big part of the work load! It was interesting to listen to David talk about his gold mining adventures in New Zealand. There is a common bond created amongst gold miners that cannot be duplicated in most other types of endeavors. Here follows some of what David had to say:

This season, we were also rewarded with the presence of Otto Gather on all of the group projects. We call Otto “Mister Mom,” because everyone looks to him to provide all of the important basic necessities, whether it is a cup of coffee in the morning, fuel to keep the dredges operating, a spare part, a Band-Aid, or even a spanking if you deserve one. I’m not talking about anything kinky here. Otto has a kind way of telling a person to quit being a sissy just at the time you need to hear it! He adds much-needed life and substance to these projects that make them better for everyone.

Final clean-up was finished in camp on late Friday afternoon. All participants are always encouraged to participate in the final clean-up. Because we accumulate so much gold, there is actually quite a lot of work involved! The following video sequence captured the highlights of the full process which we normally follow:

“Otto Gather provided a lot of help on this year’s group mining projects!”

Altogether for the week, we recovered 118.4 pennyweights (5.92 ounces) of beautiful gold. That included 27 pennyweights of very nice nuggets to go around. Everyone was pleased with the result, and we all said our goodbyes before going our separate ways. This was the end of another very special chapter in each of our lives.

 

 
  

We recently completed a very productive week-long (dredging) Group Mining Project on our Kinsman Creek claim (K-7), which is located upstream on the Klamath River about 30 miles from Happy Camp. We had done an earlier Group Dredging Project on this same claim a few years ago and actually broke our gold production record there. So we felt pretty good about investing another week to develop more of the claim’s underwater gold deposits.

There were 24 of us involved with this most recent Project, including myself and my longtime, trusty assistants, Jake Urban and Jeff Butcher. Richard Dahlke was present to give us some help, and Otto Gaither has also been helping us out with this year’s week-long Projects, taking on the job of “??Shore boss” ?? which basically means keeping all of the gear running, team needs supplied and resolving most of the organizational challenges which come up along the way. Having a full-time “shore boss” on a Project allows me to spend more time working with participants to sample for high-grade pay-streaks.

From a long history of prospecting on this section of river, we already knew before this Project started that there is a rich line of gold nuggets, flakes and fines traveling down the far side of the river, and a strong line of fine gold traveling down along the highway-96 side of the river. Members have mined different high-grade and moderate-grade pay-streaks on K-7 over the years. Our basic plan for this Project was to dredge test holes between the areas where others had already established high-grade. We believed it was likely that we could discover more high-grade that had been overlooked by the earlier mining activity.

The main problem we were facing early in the week was that the Klamath River was still flowing abnormally high because of the record amounts of rain we had last winter. High (fast) water was making it nearly impossible for us to complete sample holes out in the middle of the river.

Our first day was devoted to setting up a base camp for the Project, and also launching 4 dredges and a small boat onto the river at K-7. I used the boat all week to ferry people, gear and supplies around to both sides of the river along the entire length of the claim. We set up a great camp in the shade right there on K-7 in large pull-off areas on both sides of Highway 96. This made it possible for most of the participants to visit before and after project hours. Otto and others organized some great potluck meals every evening throughout the week. It was a great camp!

On the morning of the second day, we split ourselves into 4 teams. On dredging Projects like this, we normally form up our initial teams based upon the relative experience levels of the people who are involved. Then, we direct each team to dredge test holes in a coordinated sampling program, taking on tasks which each team is comfortable in performing. The advanced team normally samples the more challenging areas (deeper or faster water). The least experienced group (usually consisting mostly of beginners with a team manager) samples in the less difficult areas (shallow, slow water). Those with moderate experience pull together in 1 or 2 teams to sample and dredge in those areas which require some skill, but are not too difficult for those who are involved. In this way, we are able to utilize all of the Project participants in a well-orchestrated sampling plan in search of high-grade gold. As the week evolves, we keep adjusting the teams so that everyone is given an opportunity to participate in a variety of ways according to their personal level of skill and competence. Several of the participants who began this week with no past dredging experience stayed with that same dredge all week. Others progressed to helping perform very productive dives on the advanced dredge before the week was over. Through some juggling around, we are always able to find a good place for everyone to contribute to the mining Project.

We place a lot of attention with the beginners during the first day or two of these Projects. The idea is to help them through the initial steps so that they can become more productive participants in the ongoing sampling and productive aspects of the bigger program. Beginners are graduated to more advanced work as the days go by and the sampling program evolves. All of the effort combines to a very effective mining program.

We were very lucky during this Project to have Jeff Butcher on board as the team leader of the beginner-dredge. Experienced dredger that he is, Jeff’s lifelong professional background is in firefighting and emergency services. He also has a bottomless depth of patience and understanding, while never losing track of the work that needs to be accomplished by his own team. So in addition to bringing his full team up to a level of competence within the first few days of the Project, Jeff’s team also discovered and began developing a moderate-grade gold deposit using a 5-inch dredge right on the first day! While some of Jeff’s people were graduating off to other dredges during the week, the remainder stayed there and contributed to a substantial part of the week’s gold recovery.

Richard Dahlke put a very productive team together consisting mostly of participants who had some amount of previous dredging experience. They dropped a 6-inch dredge down river to about mid-way on the claim; and again, managed to get into a moderately-rich pay-streak on the far side of the river. Through some trial and error, they quickly discovered that most of their gold was being recovered out of a gray hard-packed layer up off of the bedrock. So they quickly organized themselves into a production crew, and devoted most of the week trading off in shifts to contribute to the ever-increasing amount of gold that was adding up in our bucket.

Jake Urban also put a team of moderately-experienced participants together and launched a substantial sample out into the river from the high-way 96 side of the river. Jake is more of an aggressive, competitive team leader. He is happiest when his team is producing the most gold during a Project. So we directed Jake’s 6-inch dredge to an area where they were challenged with faster water conditions. The gold deposit they found there was richer than what the other two teams were mining, but it still was not the high-grade that I was hoping to find on this claim.

‘Jake Urban directing the activity of his team.”

Again, higher water levels were making it nearly impossible for us to push our sample holes out into the middle of the river where we anticipated that the highest-grade gold deposits were going to be. We were doing the best that we could under the circumstances.

The following video segment was edited together to show the process we were going through to develop these gold deposits:

We almost never begin these Group Mining Projects already knowing where the high-grade gold is located. We initially choose a mining property where we hope high-grade is going to be. Then we must find the high-grade through a well-coordinated sampling plan in which the whole group helps to accomplish. Difficult river conditions can sometimes prevent us from completing important samples which can help us trace down the high-grade deposits. This was the problem we were facing on about the 4th day of this particular project. We had to decide if we would just keep working the moderate pay-streaks to get as much gold as we could out of them, or if we would keep sampling for something better. This is

a tough decision that I am often faced with during these Projects. We always spend some quality time as a group in the mornings discussing the situation as it develops and debating various solutions.

“A-team smiles for the camera’

Our 4th dredge team on this Project was being managed by Rick LaRouque. Rick was joined by several other moderately-experienced dredgers. But these were some seriously motivated guys! They started referring to themselves as the ??”A-team’ from the very first day. Everyone in the Project agreed that’s exactly what they were! As the A-team was prepared to do just about anything to strike high-grade, we decided on the 5th day that the other 3 teams would continue to recover as much gold as possible from the moderate-grade gold deposits, while the A-team continued sampling for high-grade gold. So we floated their 5-inch dredge down towards the lower-end of K-7, not far from where other members were dredging high-grade just last year. I spent a lot of the 5th day working with the A-team. Time was running out! And while we kept picking up signs of the high-grade that we were looking for, high, fast water out in the middle of the river was preventing us from getting far enough out there to reach beyond where the earlier members had already mined.

Fortunately, the water release from the Irongate dam was reduced just in time, and the river dropped about a foot by late on the 5th day. This made a huge difference in the speed of the water out in the middle and allowed us to reach out into the river just far enough to strike high-grade before the 5th day was finished. The streambed material was shallow out there, so we were able to uncover enough bedrock to see gold scattered all over the place. That’s when we uncovered some very nice nuggets!

This following video segment was edited together from footage captured by our shore boss as we evolved through the sampling process of discovering the high-grade. It began with seeing just few flakes of gold. Through some trial and error, working closely together, we walked our way right into a rich pay-streak. It was incredible:

As hard as they worked for it, in all of the Group Projects I have been involved with, I am not sure I have ever seen a more excited group of miners. The A-team seriously wanted to dredge until it was too dark to see! No question, in just an hour or so, they had recovered more gold on their single 5-inch dredge, than all the combined gold recovered from the other 3 dredges for the entire day!

The thing about high-grade is that when you uncover it, the whole world changes to a much better place. Especially when you first discover it! I was fortunate to be down on that particular dive with Buzz Schwartz. The A-team had just reached bedrock on a sample in the middle of the river and said they thought they had seen some gold during the dive. Buzz and I went down to open up the hole and have a closer look. About 30 minutes into the dive, we uncovered a crack in the bedrock that was just loaded with golden treasure! Each time we expended the hole, we just kept uncovering more beautiful flakes and nuggets. Even underwater, I could hear Buzz yelling out his personal excitement.

Here follows a video segment which shows how excited the A-team was as we were looking at the gold that we had just recovered from the initial rich discovery:

‘Exhilaration” is the best word that I know of to describe the feeling that you experience when uncovering high-grade gold. I’m serious; I cannot think of very many things in this life that will prompt a more exhilarated feeling than what you experience when you uncover Mother Nature’s rich, virgin treasure! That’s also the way everyone felt in camp that night when we showed them what we had found!

‘Our A-team was carefully planning its next moves early on the morning of the 6th day.”

The 6th day of the Project found our whole company eager to get an early start on the river. The first thing we did was float Jake’s dredge and team downstream to fall-in alongside the A-team. It did not take very long for the teams to get both dredges into production. I personally devoted most of the rest of the day using the boat to ferry participants from the other 2 dredge teams, so each person on the Project had an opportunity to dive down and dredge up some of the high-grade gold deposit. The following video sequence goes a long way to demonstrate the action and excitement as it continued to unfold:

While all of this additional activity slowed everything down bit, I felt it was important to give everyone on the Project a chance to see what real high-grade gold looks like when you find it. Perhaps this was even a greater reward than getting a share of the gold. Because once you have actually seen high-grade gold, you will thereafter always know what you are looking for during sampling. It is one thing to hear or read about it. It is quite another to actually experience high-grade as it is being uncovered from the bottom of a waterway. Dredging high-grade gains you some personal certainty that Mother Nature’s rich natural golden treasures are right there for the taking. All you have to do is go out and find them. Finding high-grade once lends confidence that you can find it again.

As usual, there was very little I could do to participate in the last day of dredging out on the river. So I spent much of the day leaning back in the boat, watching with pride how all of the team participants enthusiastically worked together. They were pushing to recover as much gold as possible during the time remaining in our Project. They knew how to do everything without any further direction from me. Watching them discuss and work out a production plan together, once again, made me reflect upon how lucky I am to be part of these mining Projects.

Most of these people did not even know each other only 6 days before. Yet, here they were on the river working together as an experienced team of prospectors who had overcome all of the unknowns that we began with, worked their way together through some pretty difficult conditions, kept the faith throughout the whole process, and pulled off a wonderful success in the end. The transformation of group chemistry during these Projects into something really rewarding never ceases to amaze me! With that amazement always comes my own personal sadness that another fantastic partnership will soon end. Still, I am certain that meaningful friendships are sparked on these Projects that will last a lifetime.

The process requires too much time to clean-up the gold from multiple dredges each day. So we allow our final concentrates from each day to accumulate in a single bucket which remains in my care until the end of the Project. We devoted the 7th day to pulling most of our gear off the river and doing the final clean-up of the gold that we had accumulated during the week. As you will see from the following video segment, it was a lot of gold:

  

Everyone participates in the final clean-up steps, and every participant receives an equal share of the gold. In all, we recovered 120.2 pennyweights of gold. That’s about 6 ounces. There were 327 nuggets in all, which allowed everyone at least 14 nuggets.

There were a lot of smiling faces on Friday afternoon!

 

 
Dave Mack

This entire group, including myself, was comprised of 22 people. We started with 13 participants, but my two assistants (Craig Colt & Shawn Higbee) were there to help coordinate the activity. George and Heidi Hurteau contributed to a lot of the dredging activity using their own dredge. Scott Langston was already present with his personal dredge when we started, so we invited him into the group project. And a real strong member named Leif (we call him Hercules) from Sweden also jumped in to give us a hand. All in all, we used a 3-inch dredge (to start less-experienced participants), four 4-inchers, and a 5-inch dredge. It was a pretty sizable project!

Since the area was so accessible for our group, we decided to sample one of the areas along the Salmon River. We had heard that there had been some successful dredging there in the past, so we were hoping to get in on a piece of that action.

We started the week sampling the upper end of that area, just below the set of rapids. It was a good place to allow our more-experienced participants to begin the serious sampling activity, while I could start working at getting less-experienced helpers comfortably into the water.

Hercules (Leif Sollier) at work!

In supervising these group dredging projects, I am finding that my biggest personal challenge is to balance the need to get an effective sampling activity going as quickly as possible (followed by some volume production to accumulate some gold to split off at the end of the week!), while also helping less-experienced helpers get through the initial stages of panic and fear. It also takes some time and effort to groove more experienced participants into the finer points of underwater production techniques.

In the foreground, Dave Mack is giving direction to New 49′er member, Fred Zajac, who participated in this group mining project.

Total recover for the week weighed in at 2.5 ounces. Half of the weight was in nuggets!

It took me the first few days to size everyone up so that I knew how I could effectively (and safely) utilize the human resources to get some good sample holes completed. As the less-experienced helpers gained more experience, we moved them further out into the river. And it was not long before, as a team, we started to figure out where the gold is (and where it isn’t) on that portion of the Salmon River.

By the end of the 2nd day, even though we were accumulating some flood gold in our concentrates, we had pretty-much established that the area just below the rapids had been dredged before – probably back in the late 1980′s. Just about all our sample holes were finding loose cobbles and boulders (with light sand or silt around them) along the bedrock.

Since Scott Langston’s dredge was in good hard-packed streambed material about 120-yards behind us, and he was getting a pretty good showing of gold there, during the 2nd day, we broke out the new Griphoist (pretty-serious hand-operated rock winch) and invested several team mates there to get Scott’s sample hole enlarged. That proved to be a smart move, because Scott’s dredge immediately began recovering good gold (with nuggets) as we got down to bedrock through about 3 to 4 feet of material.

The success on Scott’s dredge prompted us to immediately drop all the dredges back down the river about 100 yards, and we started a whole new series of samples on the 3rd day, all which were going down into hard-packed material – meaning that no-one had been there before us with a dredge. This was good!

While we were getting pretty good gold out of each sample, by the 4th day, we established that the gold was richer towards the other side of the river (on the side away from the road). This caused us to abandon two excavations and start new ones further upstream. Early success in these holes motivated us to rig up for more serious winching on the 5th day. I have a 4-ton electric winch mounted on the back of my flatbed truck. We set my truck up

on the side of the road and double-pullied back to increase pulling power. Then, after some discussion about winching techniques, by half-way through the 5th day, participants were slinging boulders like they had been doing it for years.

Vincent Xavier, from San Diego, gives his “thumbs up” on his day’s mining experience.

Marge Strutt gives her approving smile of the day’s clean up.

By the end of the 5th day, our accumulated concentrates for the week were looking pretty good. We had pulled several gold nuggets (from small up to 2.5 dwts), and we had pulled two platinum nuggets (the larger one weighing in at 8.5 dwts!). Other than a few less-experienced dredgers that I was continuing to work with near the bank, all of the participants were taking shifts out in the deeper-water holes. We were operating four dredges in gold, and winching rocks using two winches.

I’ll say that the 5th day was one of the most hectic and stressful days I’ve had in a long time. That is a lot of action to keep track of! My main concern was that no-one got hurt. I ran and swam around non-stop trying to stay on top of everything. As it turned out, the participants had everything under control.

On the 6th day, after a short talk about safety and teamwork, we set out to work knowing that this would be the only real full production-day of the week. By this time, group-participants were doing nearly all the work like a well-seasoned crew. We had established a pay-streak through sampling. Everyone understood where the gold was coming from and how we found it. The participants set up all the winch rigging, did all the start-up routines with the dredges, worked out the dive teams, and were into production as if they had been working together for years.

I spent most of the 6th day sitting on a rock-perch calmly keeping a watchful eye over the whole program. It was quite impressive. Boulders were being winched simultaneously from both sides of the river. Four dredges pumped material non-stop, with shifts changing one person at a time. Signals were given flawlessly. And I proudly watched it all unfold, in awe that 21 people could be brought together and shaped into such a fine team in less than a week. I was also already feeling sad that just as the team was really pulling together, the project would end soon. We recovered 4 or 5 nice gold nuggets on the 6th day, the largest being 1/4-ounce. There was lots of excitement and team-pride at what we had accomplished.

Scott Langston proudly holds the week’s 2.5 ounces recovery from the dredging project.

Dave Mack and Eve Kihn take a moment from the training to smile for the camera.

I spent most of the 6th day sitting on a rock-perch calmly keeping a watchful eye over the whole program. It was quite impressive. Boulders were being winched simultaneously from both banks. Four dredges pumped material non-stop, with shifts changing one person at a time. Signals were given flawlessly. And I proudly watched it all unfold, in awe that 21 people could be brought together and shaped into such a fine team in less than a week. I was also already feeling sad that just as the team was really pulling together, the project would end soon. We recovered 4 or 5 nice gold nuggets on the 6th day, the largest being 1/4-ounce. There was lots of excitement and team-pride at what we had accomplished.

We spent the 7th day processing all the concentrates from the week, and pulling most of the dredging and winching gear off the river. Total recovery for the week weighed in at 2.5 ounces. Half of the weight was in nuggets. Group participants performed all the final clean-up steps, and we split the gold. By unanimous consent, the participants drew chances on the 10 largest nuggets. Everyone was happy with the final result. It was a good week!

Ryck Rowan, from Washington, is focused on the pointers Dave Mack is giving from his years of dredging experience.

Team members closely watch the final clean-up activities of the week’s dredging.

 

 

 

By Dave McCracken

 

We just completed this season’s third special Group Dredging Project along the Klamath River. It took place on the Club’s new Upper Klamath properties, near UK-3. These properties are located near where Highway 96 meets Interstate 5, around 65 miles upriver from Happy Camp. There were 15 participants in all (12 men and 3 women), including several experienced helpers, Craig Colt, Jake Urban, Lily Fuller, Ken Eddy and myself.

Three of the participants were dredging for the first time ever, and several others only had a little previous experience.

One of the primary objectives of these Projects is to help all participants achieve personal confidence while dredging underwater. Lily Fuller, Jake Urban and I take this responsibility very serious. Under our careful guidance, all beginners on this Project were doing very well underwater by mid-way through the week.

Nearly all of us camped in the Club’s long-term Klamathon campground for the duration of the Project. Camp-Klamathon is a large, scenic camping area (free to members) which extends along the Klamath River within about 2 miles of the UK claims. This is a popular camping area for members who are mining in the area. As other members were also camping and mining in the area, we spent some of the after-hours visiting and enjoying our time together during this adventure. Club member, Ernie Kroo, showed up about midway through the week to resume one of his traditional rolls as the Camp Barbeque-Master. The food was great!

The Club has access to well over 60 miles of mining claims to choose from along the Klamath River and its tributaries when organizing these Group Projects. The options are almost unlimited with this much waterway to choose from. Choosing a productive location is one of the most important first steps. This is because once we launch a Group Project into an area, there is not enough time to withdraw and begin the sampling process somewhere else, and still expect to recover very much gold by the end of the week. So we always choose our location very carefully.

However, making the decision where to go on this particular Project was not difficult. Because so many other members have done very well on the new UK properties this season, and because Craig and Ernie already had a 6-inch dredge working in high-grade gold that we discovered during the July Dredging Project on UK-3, we decided it would be wise to do this Project on the UK claims.

There was already an ongoing gold rush taking place on UK-3 when we arrived there last week. So we decided to direct our sampling effort further down river on UK-2. There was only one other member (Mark Johnson) dredging when we arrived at UK-2. He was dredging out near the middle of the river near the top-end of UK-2. Mark was kind enough to show us some of the gold he was accumulating in two separate bottles. The bigger bottle enclosed some very nice nuggets. Wow!! Seeing those nuggets got us really fired up. So we doubled our efforts to get our own dredges into the water and position them on both sides of the river downstream from where Mark was dredging.

Other members were already recovering high-grade gold even before we began this project!

Having some beginner-dredgers on a Group Project requires a place where there are some easily-accessible, slower, shallow-water areas; comfortable places where we can get people started, and there is still hope of finding high-grade gold.

There was a perfect place to set up two 4-inch dredges about a hundred yards down from where Mark was dredging. Because the river narrowed slightly down there, it appeared that we could place our less-experienced participants in slow-moving, shallow water in line with the high-grade path of gold that Mark was following upstream from us. The prospect of this made me really happy. Because picking gold nuggets off the bedrock goes a long way to help beginners get motivated and into the spirit of things!

Finding one or more rich gold deposits is one of the primary objectives that we must accomplish during these week-long Projects. And we must accomplish this relatively early in the week, or chances are that we won’t have very much gold to split off at the end of the week.

Already having a 6-inch dredge in a high-grade deposit up on UK-3 took a lot of pressure off me this time around. Even so, the whole group was eager to find new high-grade deposits during our time on UK-2.

Craig and two of our most-experienced participants operated the 6-inch dredge up in the pre-established pay-streak on UK-3 for the entire week. This started building up our gold reserves from the beginning of the week. It was nice to see the gold building up even on the first day!

Ken and two of our other experienced participants set up a 5-inch dredge just below a small natural riffle in the river on UK-2. Their plan was to push out under some swifter-moving water to see if they could find some high-grade out there – which they immediately found on their first dive. With luck smiling upon us, they established a high-grade deposit right on top of the first layer of hard-packed streambed, about 4-inches from the surface. They were recovering lots of fine gold and some big-sized flakes. The water was fast, but the gold was easy; because it was being recovered right on the surface of the streambed.

We began getting good dredge sample results within the first hour of the Project!

I devoted the first few days working with Jake, Lily and the less-experienced participants on the two 4-inch dredges. That part of the program was going well, with everyone quickly adjusting to being underwater. So well, in fact, that I upgraded one of the 4-inch dredges to “intermediate status” on the second day. They then began sampling further out into the river – where they immediately started recovering high-grade gold and some very nice nuggets. By the end of the second day, this 4-inch dredge looked to be recovering about as much gold as Craig’s 6-inch dredge was getting upriver! There was a lot of excitement over the nuggets being recovered.

With three dredges already into high-grade gold by the end of our second

day, we all knew it was going to be a great week!

By the end of the third day, our remaining three people on the beginner-team were managing the second 4-inch dredge all by themselves, and had launched into sampling. Returning from one of the other dredges, I found the beginner-team repositioning the 4-inch dredge “because there was no hard-pack” in the place they had been operating it, and they were not getting very much gold. It made me proud to discover that they had taken matters into their own hands, and were implementing good solutions. The solution in this case, meaning that they had to ease themselves out into slightly faster, deeper water that was further from the safety of the stream bank. As they eased themselves out there, they found gray hard-pack on their own, and started recovering high-grade gold, along with some nice nuggets. Boy did that make them happy! This situation prompted me to upgrade them all to “intermediate status.” We didn’t have any more beginners on this Project!

As we had several dredges into high-grade gold almost from the beginning, after some group discussion on the matter, we elected to devote a second 5-inch dredge with three of our intermediate participants into dropping back towards the lower end of UK-2. Their mission was to do a sample hole in a location where we have heard rumors that there exists a rich nugget pay-streak in a deeper gravel deposit. As the gravel really was deeper down there, after devoting several days to the effort, and not being able to get a good sample of the underlying hard-pack, we decided to back off and leave that prospect for another day with a larger dredge. So, about mid-week, we pulled the second 5-inch dredge back upriver and put in line, just downstream from where the two 4-inch dredges were already recovering high-grade gold. After just a little sampling around, this dredge also located high-grade, and began recovering some of the largest nuggets we found all week.

By mid-week, most of the dredges involved with the project were recovering nuggets!

Meanwhile, Ken’s team on the other side of the river decided to dredge a hole down through the hard-pack to see if they could find bottom. They found it at a depth of around four feet in the gray-pack. With even more luck on our side, through some trial and error, they discovered that in addition to the surface gold deposit, the gray layer of hard-pack was also paying consistently in fine gold and flakes throughout the material. Then they found the largest nugget of the week on the fourth day. So they devoted the remainder of the week production-dredging to the bottom.

There is clearly an evolution happening in these organized Group Dredging Projects. They are getting better. The nature of the Projects brings the whole group together in a team-building experience. With five dredges working in high-grade gold by about mid-week, we really had some great team-chemistry going. Maybe the best I have ever seen.

Also, it appears to me that we are attracting more experienced miners to the Projects. This increased experience helps focus the Projects in a more productive direction.

During these Group Projects, we all meet at camp every morning to review theory concerning the various tasks that we are performing in the field; subjects like how to move and tie off dredges in different circumstances, how to avoid and cope with plug-ups (when rocks obstruct the flow of material through a dredge system), what to look for in prospecting, how to increase the volume of production, standard operating procedures in teamwork situations; all of the important things people need to know to improve their skills in this field. Mornings are a good time, where we share our experiences, and everyone can get their questions answered.


During the morning sessions, we also discuss the progress we have made and make plans for how we will reach the next objective. Objectives can change on these Projects every day. First, we just want to find some gold. Then we want to find something better. Then we want all the dredges to be producing in gold. Ultimately, we evolve into a production-mode with the purpose of recovering as much gold as we can during the time remaining in the Project. We take it a step at a time, progressing towards where we need to be at the end of the week – which is having plenty of gold to split off.

In all, we recovered nearly 7 1/2 ounces of gold for the week, of which 30.8 pennyweights were nuggets. Each participant received 11 gold nuggets (165 nuggets were recovered).

 

Measuring out 14 equal shares was the highlight of the week!

Two new pay-streaks were located and developed during the Project. Naturally, since we depart the area once the Project is over, other members were already showing up during the last few days, and another small gold rush was started on the UK claims just as we were leaving.

If starting gold rushes were a measurement of how successful a Group Dredging Project is, I’d have to say this was the best Project ever! There were so many members watching us do the final clean-up process on the dredges at the end of the week, that it was difficult to move through the crowd of people!

We came close to breaking a record (we recovered around 8 ounces of gold on one earlier Project) in the amount of gold we recovered; and we would have done it, had we just dredged another hour or so in the river. The problem is in not knowing exactly how much gold we have accumulated until we do a full clean-up on the last day.

We have one more Group Dredging Project this season scheduled for September 10 through 16. There is still room for a few more participants, if anyone might else be interested in joining us. With the right team, I think we can break the all-time gold record. Does anyone want to guess where we will do the Project?

 
 
 

By Dave McCracken

“Our target for the week was to dredge a pound of gold.”

Dave Mack


This project was made up of a smaller group than normal. Four participants arrived on Saturday morning. A fifth person arrived later in the week.

Since it was going to be a smaller group than normal, my two helpers (Craig Colt and Shawn Higbee) and I had made a plan to use one of the Club’s large commercial rafts to get us all into the deep canyon along the Klamath River just downstream from Happy Camp. I have always had a good feeling about this section of the Klamath. As the area is somewhat inaccessible, few people have been down there with dredges. We spent some time sampling down there earlier in the summer during a group prospecting project above the water. While we were sampling the banks down there, I took the opportunity to swim some of the river with mask and snorkel. The area looks good, with lots of exposed, rough and irregular bedrock showing along the river-bottom. There are lots of faster-water areas there where the pay-streaks should not be buried under very much overburden. I’m thinking there will be high-grade gold there that is not too difficult to find.

But a few days before this last project was to begin, while Craig and Shawn were busy getting all the dredging gear and the raft ready, the water-release from the Iron Gate dam (upriver) was increased, raising water levels about a foot, and turning the river a green color. Underwater visibility was down to about two feet at the surface. It would only be about half that on the bottom of the river. This created very poor conditions to be trying to coordinate a group mining program – especially under faster-water conditions. One look at the river prompted me to direct Craig and Shawn to put the raft back into storage. We needed to find another place to go.

From earlier communication with the group (they all flew out together from Chicago to do this project), I knew they preferred to dredge in a river, rather than on a creek. That left me comparing our Scott and Salmon River opportunities. Both were running with crystal clear water. While I was trying to decide where to do the project, Dale Carnagy stopped by the office to show me a whole bunch of very nice gold he and Jason Inks had just dredged together a few days before down on the Salmon River. These are two long-time members of the Club who have spent most of this summer dredging along the Main Stem of the Salmon River. Jason was working a pretty good pay-streak further upstream, while Dale just made a very high-grade strike at the lower end of the claim. Dale’s best day working alone, so far, was about three ounces of nice flakes and nuggets. It was really nice stuff!

Dale told me Jason had gone off to get a winch, because the boulders were really slowing them down. They decided to work this high-grade deposit side-by-side, helping each other with the boulders.

It did not occur to me until after Dale left the office that I should have asked him if they might like to have 5 more partners for about a week, to help them get their high-grade pay-streak opened up. I gathered that they did not have much winching experience, and (I was hoping) the support of an organized project might just be the thing they could use at the moment.

The following day was the day before the group would arrive from Chicago to begin the project. I needed to decide where we would go. Just as I was about to drive down to the Salmon River to make a proposal to Dale and Jason, they both arrived back in my office to show me even more gold they had dredged. It looked really good! Nice nuggets!!

The great thing was that Dale and Jason did not even hesitate to offer up their rich pay-streak to help out the Club in a week-long project. While they would benefit from gaining exposure to a more commercial approach to opening up a hole filled with boulders, I am certain their primary motivation was to do something good for the Club.

This saved us a lot of time, because it meant that we could use the two 5-inch dredges and 8,000-pound electric winch that Dale and Jason had already brought into the lower canyon area.

As soon as the project-group arrived on Saturday morning, we checked out everyone’s personal gear to make sure everyone had what they would need. Then we drove down to have a first-hand look at the project site where Dale and Jason were dredging along the Salmon River. This was down in a pretty deep canyon area. But there was already a trail leading in, so it was not bad access in comparison to how bad it might have been.

I wanted to make sure all the guys were up for making the hike in every day, and that the group was comfortable about our taking control over an existing successful project that was started by other members. We were going to be dredging in someone else’s rich pay-streak. That doesn’t happen very often. It was important, before getting started, to make sure that everyone was alright with that.

After some discussion down on the site, we all agreed together that we would form up a team that would allow me to manage the project for a week. We would evenly split the gold recovered during the week amongst all the participants, and then turn the pay-streak back over to Dale and Jason. We were all pretty jazzed-up!

Dale and Jason had already dredged several sample holes in this section of the Salmon River while trying to establish the size of the pay-streak. The holes were of various depths, some going all the way to bedrock, and some which were blocked by rocks that were too large to roll out of the dredge holes.

There were big rocks in every hole. It was clear to me right from the beginning that an organized winching operation was going to be the primary key to progress and success in this project. So we all spent Saturday afternoon throwing rocks to build-up a small island in the middle of the river downstream of the dredges, and using cables to anchor the electric winch (on the island) to a large boulder further downstream. We pulled the first big rock out of the dredge hole before calling it a day, to make certain that the winch was set up properly. It was.

Sunday morning was devoted to moving our camp down to the mining claim. This was going to save us three hours of driving back and forth to Happy Camp every day. Several of us stayed down there for the remainder of the project. Salmon River country is some of the nicest area on this planet. It is a great place to camp!

Sunday afternoon found us making two journeys down into the canyon, hauling in our personal dive gear, and some special rigging to make the slinging of boulders go more quickly when winching.

We connected 5 HOOKA airlines to the two 5-inch dredges. The plan was to have two people work each dredge, and one person sling boulders and get them out of the hole. We decided to drop back and start a new hole, not far behind where Dale had dredged his 3-ounce day just a few days before.

In normal group dredging projects, as the supervisor, I am challenged with three main objectives:

1) I must help less-experienced participants through the early stages of their underwater learning curve as soon as possible, so they can participate in accomplishment of the other two objectives. Sometimes beginners arrive with some fear of going underwater the first time. But we always get through it.

2) We must find a pay-streak. This normally requires all of the participants to perform the necessary steps to complete a sampling plan in the section of the river that we have chosen. Sometimes the sampling phase takes two or three days. The idea is to try and find something rich enough to get everyone excited, and provide us with enough gold to split up at the end of the week.

3) Once the pay-streak is located, we pull ourselves together as a production-team to recover as much gold as possible in the remaining time allowed to us. This is always the best part.

All of the participants in this project had past HOOKA or SCUBA experience, so the first objective was already accomplished before we even started. Because Dale and Jason had already located this pay-streak, all we had to really focus on from the beginning was organizing ourselves for optimum production under the circumstances. While we were certainly going to work hard, and the boulders were going to require a structured approach, not having to worry about the first two objectives was going to make this project more like a vacation to me. This was a good way to finish my season!

Dale and Jason had already established that the gold was coming off the bedrock and out of a 4-foot-thick, yellow layer of streambed material lying on top of the bedrock. We found the yellow layer shortly after getting started, and the guys immediately started seeing large flakes of gold here and there in the material.

This pay-streak was different than most others I have seen. Usually, high-grade gold accumulates either on the bedrock, or in the contact-zone between two different layers of streambed material. Here, the gold was widely disbursed throughout the yellow streambed material, and did not seem to be any more concentrated at any particular level. I’ve occasionally seen this in some original streambed layers on the Klamath River, too.

There was definitely a greater concentration of gold along the bedrock. Almost all the gold we were finding consisted of large flakes and small nuggets.

It was time to begin winching boulders out of the hole almost immediately after we started dredging. I began the underwater part of that, since getting the big rocks far enough out of the hole was going to be critical to reaching bedrock. There is a system of slinging big rocks out of a beginning dredge hole, which

requires some planning in advance, a good and fast communication system with the winch operator, and a lot of intention to make the boulder go where you want it to. You have to make your winching system bigger and stronger than the boulders. Otherwise they start running around wherever they want to go, increase the danger to people and gear, and eat up a lot of precious time. While having a strong winch is definitely important, the main keys to a smooth winching program are leaving yourself a smooth runway (so you are not trying to pull a boulder past some big obstruction that is directly in the way), and re-slinging the boulders as often as necessary to keep them from slipping free and rolling back down into the dredge hole.

Keene sells a really good cable rock-net for winching. But to get the most out of Keene’s rock net, you must also have a 4-point harness made up so that the net can be attached to the pull-line of your winch. Then, slinging is mostly a matter of draping the net around the back-side of the boulder and giving the pull signal to the winch operator.

Most boulders pull out of the dredge hole without any further difficulty. But some need to be nursed along. I suppose the most important thing for the underwater guy to do is immediately stop the pull and re-sling every time he or she sees that it is probably not going to work. This prevents the rock from slipping free and ending up back in the dredge hole. It also prevents the rock from getting into a place where it is going to be more difficult to get out

We pulled boulders out of the dredge hole non-stop on Sunday afternoon, not touching down on bedrock yet, even though we were about six feet deep into the yellow streambed material. The excavation was getting pretty big. This was necessary, because it was important to not leave any loose boulders resting up on the face of the hole that could roll in on any of the divers. So the deeper we went, the wider we had to make the hole. This is normal.

Between the two dredges, we estimated that we recovered around 1 ounce of nice gold flakes during the first day of work. We figured we would do even better once we established ourselves on bedrock.

We do not do a full and final clean-up of gold at the end of the day on any serious dredging program. It takes too long, and would subtract valuable time from the productive activity in the dredge hole. However, we do clean the high-grade portion of the concentrates out of the dredges each day and make a pretty close estimate of how much gold we recovered. This is important to both planning and morale. By comparing how much gold we are getting to what we are doing, and where, we can focus the following day’s effort towards what seems to be most productive. Seeing the gold also gets everyone pretty excited!

As we do on every day of these group projects, the following morning found us planning our day’s activity over a chalkboard at camp. This is the time to talk about everything we are doing, cover all the reasons why, debate ideas on how we might do it better, and finally decide upon a team-plan for the day. We spent considerable time each morning on this project talking about winching procedures, signals and the need for the underwater person and winch operator to establish communication and an organized system to make the process go quickly, smoothly and safely. There was also a lot of discussion about how to excavate a deeper dredge hole safely, in a way that kept the richest pay-dirt (down along the bedrock) from getting covered up with boulders or cobbles by the time we got down to it.

Since bedrock in this hole was deeper than we anticipated, we decided to initially spread our hole in the direction of the streambank where there was visible bedrock showing along the edge of the river. Establishing some bedrock along the bottom of a dredge hole is the first major objective in getting a production operation underway. We were eager to make that happen.

Finally, towards the end of the day on Monday, we had some bedrock showing on the side of the hole that was closest to the bank. We were seeing some pretty nice gold on the bedrock, too. By now, we had winched around 50 boulders out of the excavation, and it was really getting opened up. But we were getting slowed down by some very big rocks that were going to be too large to winch out of the hole. While we could use the winch to roll them into the hole, we did not want to move them in until we had a chance to get the gold off the bedrock where the huge rocks would eventually end up. This forced us to slow down so we could do things safely. We estimated about another ounce of flakes and small nuggets were recovered by the two dredges on Monday. The hole was opened up to make some pretty good progress on the following day.

The key to the best progress in a streambed that has lots of boulders is to look ahead of yourself and decide where things are going to need to go. My experience has been that it is best to initially winch every possible rock out of the hole. Once some bedrock is established, don’t allow it to immediately get all covered up by new boulders. Winch them out, too. You have to make some room in advance for the really big ones that can only be rolled once.

This is where we found ourselves on Tuesday morning; rolling the really big ones to the rear of the dredge hole, where we had left room for them the day before. Rolling the big ones out of the way opened up our hole nicely, and allowed us to establish bedrock all across our dredge hole.

Some of the rough and irregular bedrock was giving up a lot of gold flakes. We connected up an air-powered chisel and were pulling nice gold out of cracks as deep as we could break them open. By now, the hole was large and safe. We pulled around 3 ounces of nice gold on Tuesday. Now things were beginning to get pretty exciting for everyone. By now, we estimated that we had accumulated around 5 ounces of gold in getting the hole opened up.

During our planning meeting on Wednesday morning, based upon our production from the day before, we made a target to recover 6 ounces of gold for the day. Everyone agreed that this was something we could accomplish; and it would place us well ahead of our weekly target of 12 ounces.

But then we had a turn of bad luck on Wednesday morning, when our dredge hole pushed right up into an old dredge hole that someone else had worked years before. Here, the hard-packed yellow streambed material turned to loose cobbles, boulders and sand. This was a pretty heavy blow to our morale, and completely undermined our gold-target for the day (and the week). We found ourselves in a meeting up on the stream bank trying to figure out what to do next. While it was a great learning-experience for all of the participants to see what previously-dredged material looks like at the bottom of the river, all of us were feeling the weight of how much effort it was going to take to begin another dredge hole from the beginning in all those big rocks. But it was really the only thing we could do.

After cleaning up the small portions of yellow-pack to recover the last of the gold that remained in our original hole along the bedrock, we moved the dredges forward and repositioned the winch to open up an entirely new dredge hole. We decided as a group that even if we could not finish the new hole, we could at least add more gold to what we would split off, and leave Dale and Jason with an excavation in the yellow-pack that they could develop into a production program for themselves after we left. The new excavation was pretty-much a repeat of the first. By Thursday afternoon, we had winched another 40 or more boulders, and had touched down on bedrock again in several places. We recovered another ounce or so of nice gold. And we left Dale and Jason with a production-hole that they could further develop on their own into something very valuable.

The group from Chicago needed to fly their airplane back home on Saturday. So we all decided that Friday should be spent on getting personal gear back out of the canyon, and performing all of the final clean-up steps on the gold we had recovered for the week and split it all up. This took all day.

For the week, we ended up with just short of 7 ounces of gold, which included 3 ounces of nice nuggets. This amounted to about an ounce for each of the 7 participants. Everyone was happy.

Although it is very important, we learned early on that the amount of gold we recover on these projects is not the only measurement of success. Participants gain valuable experience, giving them an improved ability to find more gold on their own afterwards. There is the excitement and adventure of the project. And each successful project improves our perception of where more valuable high-grade gold deposits lie waiting.

There are fantastic feelings of excitement that come from locating a high-grade golden pay-streak of Mother Nature’s treasure! Had we not run smack up into some earlier dredge hole, I’m certain we would have surpassed our target of recovering a pound of gold on this project. But that’s the way it goes. We’ll shoot again for the 1-pound target in next year’s group projects. As it was, we all were feeling pretty happy about the way the week turned out.

We also have a much better idea of what we are looking for to find the underwater high-grade gold deposits on the Salmon River!

It is members like Dale and Jason that make The New 49′ers a truly great group to be associated with. Once again, I find myself counting my blessings.