By David R. Toussaint

Professional Gold Hunter’s Strategy Leads to Pockets of Gold

 

PrestonPreston poses with his collection which came from a pocket in northern Nevada.

A professional electronic gold prospector in Arizona has developed a gold-hunting strategy that has led to the discovery of more than 100 ounces of gold during the past few years. Preston Vickery, 42, of Kirkland, Arizona has used his gold-hunting strategy, which he calls “pocket hunting,” to find in-place gold in hard-hunted areas that have only frustrated other electronic prospectors. Now he’s ready to share his strategy with the world:

“Most others are stuck in the (placer) nugget mode,” says Vickery about other electronic prospectors. “They should be doing the whole area when they hunt for gold. You do placer and you do hardrock hunting.” Vickery has the right credentials to create his own method of gold hunting. While not a graduate of any mining school, Vickery got his education in prospecting from real-life experience and a family tradition. He’s been a professional gold prospector since his early-20’s and has also worked every facet of mining. “I’ve made a living,” Vickery says modestly. “I haven’t gotten rich, and I haven’t been on welfare.”

You might say prospecting is in the Vickery blood. Preston’s father was also a professional gold prospector and miner. The elder Vickery taught his son all he could about prospecting, including the geological indicators associated with gold formations. Now in his 90’s, Preston’s father is too old to get out much, but he still has a few things to teach his son about gold prospecting. Tracing the Vickery bloodline back even further, Preston’s grandfather was also a professional miner and prospector. Grandpa-Vickery spent much of his life working in lead and gold mines, and he wasn’t shy about passing on his knowledge to his son. Thus, Preston’s grandfather started a family tradition that has created three generations of prospectors and miners.

Now, when Preston goes prospecting, he uses the accumulated gold-hunting wisdom of three generations. Preston has been fairly successful over the years, but his gold-finds began to dwindle during the mid-1980’s. Most of the good nugget-hunting areas were being hunted-out, and it became harder and harder to make a living as a prospector.

It was about that time that Vickery bought a Fisher Gold Bug metal detector. “Once I saw what a Gold Bug could do, it wasn’t long before I bought one,” he remembers. One time out on the Arizona desert, Vickery watched a famous nugget shooter amaze a group of electronic prospectors. This top-notch nugget shooter waited until the other prospectors in the group were satisfied that a nugget patch they were hunting was thoroughly cleaned out. After asking permission, he swept the patch one more time with his Fisher Gold Bug, finding another two or three small nuggets. “He was the best I’ve ever seen,” says Vickery.”He worked quickly but thoroughly. He taught me how to clean out a nugget patch.”

Even though Vickery learned how to clean out a patch in the late ’80’s, fewer and fewer nugget patches needed cleaning out. It seemed like every place the old-timers found gold had already been hunted to death. Vickery could spend all day hunting and only find one or two nuggets. These finds might excite a weekend prospector, but they were not enough for someone whose livelihood depends upon finding nuggets. There had to be a better way. Contemplating his predicament, Vickery began to piece together things his father had taught him and things he had learned himself. The result was a new approach to gold hunting that he calls “pocket hunting.”

Using this new method, Vickery’s luck began to change; and he soon found three nice pockets of gold. What is a “pocket” of gold? “To understand this, you must first understand how gold ‘makes,’” says Vickery. The story begins thousands, maybe millions, of years ago. First, the earth splits, forming cracks and fissures. These fissures form an intricate structure of veins that sometimes reach a hundred miles across the earth’s surface. A second movement of the earth, such as an earthquake, is required to create the right conditions for gold to form within this system of cracks. If this second movement occurs, an “intrusive” can be formed, allowing chemicals and minerals to enter the crack. Gold forms if the right chemicals and minerals are present in the right concentrations. “Gold is just a quirk in the way nature works,” says Vickery. “All it is, is a big break in the earth’s surface. These cavities are usually cracks that develop into veins. Small veins sometimes pocket-out into kidneys. These fill up with solutions and sometimes gold is formed.”

These “kidneys” or “pockets” along the cracks in the earth are what Vickery looks for when he hunts for gold. He says that it is possible to predict the location of these pockets by visualizing the structure of cracks in which gold has a chance to form, or “make,” as Vickery says. These pockets of hardrock gold do not usually contain as much gold as the main vein that the old-timers mined, but 30 or so ounces of gold is nothing to sneeze at.

These cracks in the earth’s surface, which develop into veins, usually form along parallel lines, all traveling in roughly the same direction. To find the pockets of gold, Vickery extends the boundaries of his search area away from the historical diggings. He tries to visualize the system of cracks that gave the gold places to “make.” Many small pockets of gold could have formed along this system of cracks, sometimes up to 500 or more feet away from the original outcropping. “You go in the area where gold has already been found. Then you look for the way the structure (of veins) is running,” Vickery says. “You just try to put yourself in the area where gold has a chance to’ make.’”

“Smaller veins that formed parallel to the main vein were difficult for earlier generations of miners to find, especially without metal detectors,” Vickery says. The old-timers followed a vein by digging. If they did not see any more gold in their pan, they gave up and stopped digging the vein. If the vein picked up again farther on, or if a splinter vein made a small pocket of gold away from the main vein, the old-timers had no way to find it. “The old-timers would have dug along the vein for some distance to see if it would ‘make’ again,” Vickery explains. “The old-timers couldn’t get all the tiny splinter veins. Sometimes they were too far away. They didn’t have the technology to find them like we have today.”

Using his metal detector, Vickery found a nice pocket of hardrock gold on a prospecting trip to northern Nevada. But the trip did not start out on a happy note. Two days of hunting a well-known area near some historical diggings had produced only a few small nuggets. Putting his pocket-hunting strategy into service, Vickery found a 30-ounce pocket of in-place gold just a couple-hundred feet away from the hard-hunted old-time diggings. About four feet deep, the pocket had formed along a smaller vein that ran parallel to the primary vein which the old-timers had mined. Hidden four feet below the surface, the pocket gave off a strong signal when he passed his detector coil over it.

So what is the first step when pocket hunting for gold? The first thing Vickery does when he starts hunting an area is to climb a hill. Using binoculars, he studies the entire area and draws a map with reference points to provide bearings while he hunts. Next, he looks for gold indicators, cubes or clods of iron oxidation that form an “oxide zone” around the historical diggings. Patterns in the oxide-zone, like strings of red earth, that suggest a crack in the earth where iron formed, can also indicate a vein. Often times, if iron formed in a crack, gold also could have formed in another nearby spot along the same crack.

In particular, Vickery looks for any place that the red oxide lines shifted, forming a broken line. This shift could have created an intrusion that allowed gold to form a pocket within the crack. Visualizing the system of veins in the earth, he starts hunting, by searching right on top of the main vein, tracing about 400-to-500 feet to see if it picks up again in a spot unknown to the old-timers. If it doesn’t, he then drops downhill about 20 feet from the main vein and begins hunting in a line parallel to the main vein, now attempting to discover any pockets in splinter veins. Again, he hunts to a distance about 400-500 feet away from the original diggings. If his detector remains silent, he drops down another 20 feet and repeats the process.

If he finds any gold nuggets while searching, Vickery marks the spot and searches uphill to find the in-place pocket where the nuggets originated. If he finds a concentration of gold nuggets, he carefully works out where the concentration begins, where it occurs in the highest concentration and where it thins out. Then, using the edges of the concentration as two points of a triangle, he knows the third point of the triangle will be somewhere directly uphill where the nuggets originated. So he begins searching directly uphill from the highest concentration of nuggets. Vickery says he picked-up this method of triangulation in “Gold Canyon,” a novel by Jack London.

Pocket hunting for gold takes considerable concentration; it isn’t as easy as simply locating an old-time mining operation and swinging your metal detector around. You have to keep your hopes up, and not let yourself become discouraged. Pocket hunting provides the electronic prospector with a strategy for gold hunting that can result in more than an occasional placer nugget.

 

By Dave McCracken

You have a substantial prospecting-advantage with a modern gold detector!

Dave McCracken

 

 

woman with a gold nuggetI highly recommend The Fundamentals of Electronic Prospecting be read before reading this article.

All the rules of placer and desert geology apply to gold nugget hunting, and this knowledge should be utilized to establish where gold deposits and nuggets are most likely to be found.

Particular attention should be paid to locations which have little or no streambed or other material present, so the detector’s coil can search as closely as possible to bedrock or false bedrock layers. Also, exposed tree roots along the edges of the present streams, rivers and dry-washes have been proving successful, especially along the smaller tributaries in the higher elevations of known gold country.

Some of the most productive areas for electronic prospecting in the dry regions are in the near vicinity of old dry-washing operations. The old-timers were only able to make dry-washing work in very high-grade areas. They seldom recovered all the high-grade gold out of an area, because they did not have the means or equipment to prospect extensive areas. You have a substantial prospecting-advantage with a modern gold detector. Natural erosion over the years has likely uncovered more high-grade in the immediate area, or concentrated other spots into new high-grade gold deposits.

When prospecting old dry-wash workings, it is always worth a little time to rake back some of the old tailings piles and scan them with your detector. Dry-washers, today and during the past, almost always used a classification screen over the feed area. The screen was commonly around half-inch mesh. An operation shoveling onto the screen at production speed in dry high-grade gravel might have missed larger nuggets as they rolled off the top of the screen. Sometimes, when working a layer of caliche, if the material was not broken-up well enough, it would roll off the screen with nuggets still attached. A metal detector reads out strongly on these kinds of targets. Make sure to ground-balance to the tailing pile. One nice thing about prospecting in these tailing piles is that they usually are not filled with iron trash targets.

When dealing with natural streambeds above the water, you generally do not find too many other reading metallic objects besides gold, unless the spot which you are scanning is near an inhabited location, like a park or an old dump. So it is reasonably safe to dig any target that gives off a metallic reading in a streambed.

However, some locations have lots of trash and small iron targets. Sometimes, iron targets seem to accumulate heavily in the same areas as gold. This presents a big challenge! Once you have been scanning a particular area for a while, you will gain an understanding of how much “trash” (metallic objects of no value) exists within the vicinity. With some experience on gold objects, you will learn to distinguish the different tone changes between most gold objects and most trash targets. Pay particular attention to the very faint readings, as is often the case with natural gold targets.

One of the main keys to successful electronic prospecting is to slow down your sweeping action. You cannot do it fast like when hunting for coins. You almost have to crawl across the ground. Remember, you are listening for even the faintest whisper of a sudden increased threshold hum. A gold target may sound like a coin—only a quieter signal.

Different types of detectors have special non-motion or pinpointing settings which allow the coil to be moved very slowly and still pick up targets. This means you are able to slow down your sweep to almost a standstill and still hear a target as the coil moves over it. On the other hand, these settings may be too sensitive to use for nugget hunting on some detectors, depending upon field conditions and how fast you are sweeping. When in doubt, experiment while using a test-nugget on or in the ground you are searching.

Another important point is to overlap your coil sweeps. The area covered by the search-field under your coil is similar to a triangle. Directly underneath the coil, the search area is about the same size as the diameter of your coil. The search area becomes narrower as it penetrates the ground further away from the coil.

However, the size of this triangular search-field is not constant underneath the coil. It changes as mineralized conditions change in the ground below your search coil. If you do not overlap your search strokes, you can leave as much as 50 percent or more of the area below the search coil behind, without being adequately searched.

Image 1

You have to use your own judgment about how to discriminate between which targets to dig, and which to leave behind. This comes with practice and experience. Discrimination of any kind, whether by electronic circuitry or the audio sounds given off by the target, has limited accuracy. The depth of a target and the degree of ground-mineralization in that particular location can confuse any discriminator. In some places, you will want to dig every target. In other places, where there is lots of trash, you may find it more productive to discriminate your targets by sound and/or in combination with electronic discrimination features on your detector. In this case, you have to balance the need to leave some small pieces of gold behind, with not wanting to dig a bucket full of trash and valueless iron targets; and therefore, less gold.

When in doubt, dig! Or at least toss your sample nugget down and get a comparative reading.

With lots of practice in the field, you will eventually reach the point where your metal detector is like an extension of your arm—like an extension of your perception and knowingness. You will gain the ability to look down into the ground and have a pretty good idea of what is there.

Big nuggets are generally not too difficult to find. In most areas, however, there are hoards of smaller gold targets in ratio to each large nugget found. Small pieces of gold are your bread and butter! Most gold is small gold, but it has to be large enough to be worth your while. Some of the modern gold detectors will pick up pieces of gold so small that you could be finding them all day long; and at the end of the day, not have accumulated very much gold by weight. In this case, you may want to move to a different area.

Just like in other forms of gold mining, electronic prospectors have to set standards for themselves. Someone pursuing the activity to make money will be motivated to recover volume-amounts (by weight) of gold. Another person pursuing electronic prospecting as a part time activity may receive his or her best thrills by recovering the smallest-sized targets.

One interesting development in the electronic prospecting field, which I have not seen happen in other gold mining activities, is the tremendous emotional success gained from finding extraordinarily-small pieces of gold. Normally, in gold prospecting, we get excited to find a big nugget or a rich deposit. These are easy to locate when scanned over by a metal detector. The big challenge with a metal detector is in locating the smaller pieces. Experienced prospectors know that if they are finding the small pieces, they will easily-find the big pieces.

When scanning, keep your coil as close to the ground as possible. It takes a coordinated arm and wrist-action to keep the bottom of the coil parallel and close to the ground throughout the full sweeping action. Allowing the coil to move one or two inches away from the ground during the outside of a sweeping motion will also reduce depth-penetration by one or two inches. This will certainly result in lost gold targets. You have to practice keeping the coil close to the ground. Shorter sweeps is usually the answer.

Sometimes it helps to kick rocks out of the way, or use a garden rake to remove multiple smaller obstructions before you search an area. This allows you to keep the coil close to the ground with minimum obstructions.

During your prospecting activities, it is possible that you may find occasional targets which could potentially be classified as artifacts. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act defines just about anything you might find as a “protected” artifact. There are criminal penalties for disturbing or removing artifacts. What constitutes a protected artifact is primarily up to the judgment of local bureaucrats. Searching for natural gold targets is legal. Messing around with old junk and trash may be illegal. Sometimes, it is better to just leave old items where they lie. You will have to decide.

The main suggestion I commonly give to beginners about electronic prospecting is to not give up. With practice and by working in the right area, you will surely find some gold!

PINPOINTING

When you do have a reading target, its exact position in the ground should be pinpointed. This can be done by noting when the detector sounds out while scanning over the target in fore and aft and left to right motions. A steel or iron object can be often be distinguished by noting the size and shape of the object during the pinpointing process. Sometimes trash objects are large and/or lengthy in size.

Sometimes a stronger-reading target will seem to cover a larger area than it actually does. If you are having trouble getting an exact location, continue to lift the search coil higher off the ground while scanning with an even back and forth motion. As the coil is raised higher, the signal will become fainter; but the position of the metal object will sound-out at the very center of the search coil.

PINPOINTING WITH THE GOLD PAN IN WET AREAS

Once you have pinpointed the exact position of a target in an area near water, one way of recovering the object is to carefully dig up that portion of ground, using a shovel or digging tool, and place the material in your gold pan. Here is where a large plastic gold pan comes in real handy. Be careful not to cause any more disturbance or vibration of the streambed than is necessary while you are attempting to dig up a target. It is possible to miss the target on the first try and cause it to work further down into the streambed because of its greater weight in the wet environment. Sometimes you can lose the target, and not be able to locate it again with the detector.

Sometimes the ground is hard and needs to be broken up or scraped with a small pick. Keep in mind that a sharp blow from a pick can destroy a coin or disfigure a gold nugget, reducing its value. Digging and scraping is better than pounding, if possible. In hard ground, sometimes it is easier to loosen the material up and shuffle it into several small piles. These can then be flattened out and scanned to see which contains the target.

Once you have dug up that section of material where the target was reading, place it in your plastic gold pan and scan it with your detector. If the contents of the pan do not make your detector sound-out, scan the original target area over again. If you get a read in the original location, pour the contents of the pan neatly into a pile out of your way, pinpoint the target all over again, and make another try at getting the target into your gold pan. Continue this until you finally have the target sounding out in your pan. If you cannot see the target, and water is immediately available, pan-off the contents until the target is visible.

There is a good reason why you should not ever throw away any material from the target area until after you know for certain exactly what the reading target is. If you are looking for placer gold deposits and it happens that your detector is sounding out on a gold flake or nugget, the chances are pretty good of additional gold being present in paying quantities within the material which has been dug out of the hole, even if it does not sound-out on your detector. Remember, small particles of gold often do not make metal detectors sound-out. Therefore, the possibility exists that there could be hundreds of dollars worth of gold in a single shovelful of material not tightly-concentrated enough to cause your detector to sound-out. So wait until you have seen the reading target before you start throwing any material away.

If you dig for a target and then cannot get any further reads on the detector from either the pan or in the original target area, quickly pan-off the pan’s contents. There is always a possibility of a concentrated gold deposit which is no longer concentrated enough to read-out on your detector. In this case, you are most likely to have some of the gold deposit in your gold pan, which will quickly be discovered when you pan off the contents.

There is also another reason why you save the material from a hole until you have recovered your target. Because of the shape of a gold pan, and depending upon the size and shape of the coil you are using, if the gold target (especially a small target) ends up in the bottom of your pan, your coil may no-longer be able to scan close enough to the bottom of the pan to sound-off on the target. Because of this problem, gold pans have limited workability as a pinpointing tool in electronic prospecting. Sometimes, you can have better luck scanning the bottom-side of a gold pan.

DRY METHODS OF PINPOINTING

There are several popular methods of pinpointing reading targets in the dry regions where water is not available for panning. Some prospectors use a plastic cup. Material from the target area is scooped up and passed over the coil. If the contents of the cup do not sound-out on the detector, the target area is scanned again until the target is located. Take another scoop, pass it over the coil for a signal, and repeat until the target is in the cup. Then pour some of the contents into your hand. Pass the cup over the coil, then your hand, until you locate the target. Put the rest away in a neat pile, and repeat the process until you recover the object.

One important point to mention is that most search coils have equal sensitivity to targets both above and below the coil. In other words, during pinpointing, you can pass material over top of the coil and obtain the same results as if you turn the detector upside down and pass the material across the bottom of the coil.

Your handy magnet can be a big help when you are having difficulty finding a faintly reading target. Sometimes it is just a small piece of iron.

There is also the hand-to-hand method of pinpointing a target. You can reach down with your hand and grab a handful of dirt or material. Pass your hand over the coil to see if you are holding the target. Continue until you have the target in one hand. Then pass half the material in that hand to your other hand. Use the coil to find which hand has the reading target. Discard the material from the other hand and pass half the material from the reading hand to the second hand, again. Keep up the process until you only have a small amount of material in the reading hand. Carefully blow off the lighter material to locate the target.

Another procedure is to grab a handful and pass it over the coil as explained above. Once you have a reading handful, toss it in a pouch for later panning.

Some prospectors prefer to sprinkle a handful of reading material slowly on top of the detector’s coil. There are different ways to do this. One effective way, which requires some practice, is to sprinkle material over a slightly slanted coil while you vibrate it so that material slowly sweeps across and off. When the target drops onto the coil, the detector will sound-off with a distinctive bleep. Then, all you have to do is gently blow the dirt off the coil, or recover the target from the top of the pile where the material is landing. This method is nearly impossible in wet material.

One important thing about using your hands to pinpoint and recover gold targets, is that some of today’s most sensitive high frequency gold detectors react to the salt (mineral) content on or in your hand. When this occurs, your hand will give a reading when passed over the coil by itself, sometimes even a strong signal. This makes hand pinpointing methods more difficult. In this case, the plastic tray or cup works just fine, or the method of pouring material onto the coil.

If you find a gold target, be sure to scan the hole again. Sometimes it is worth doing a lot of digging and/or raking, with alternate scanning of the immediate area. Gold targets almost never travel alone! I have seen dozens of gold flakes and nuggets come from within a one-foot square area on bedrock. Many times!

HOT ROCKS

Sometimes you get soft or strong signals from your metal detector when the coil is passed over rocks which contain heavy mineralization. These rocks are called “hot rocks.” This needs to be clarified. It isn’t necessary for a rock to have an extraordinary amount of mineralization to sound-off as a hot rock. It just needs to have more than the average ground which your detector is ground-balanced to. The opposite of this is also true. A rock containing less mineralization than the average ground will change tone on a detector in the opposite way. These are called “cold rocks.” A hot rock from one location could be a cold rock in another location containing higher mineralization in the average ground.

Put another way, when your detector is properly ground-balanced to the average ground, it will sound-off on rocks containing condensed heavier mineralization. Often, the signals given off by these hot rocks can be mistaken for signals which might be given off by gold targets in the ground. Some locations have lots of hot rocks. Naturally, since gold travels with other heavy mineralization, you can expect to find hot rocks in the various gold fields.

Hot rocks come in all sorts of colors and sizes. A big hot rock, depending upon the degree of mineralization over the average ground, can sound very similar to a gold target. The same goes for small hot rocks.

Quite often, most of the hot rocks within a given area will be similar in nature, color and hardness, but not necessarily in size. After searching an area for a while, you will know what most of the hot rocks look like. This makes pinpointing targets a little easier, especially when dealing with small hot rocks. When receiving signals from rocks which are dissimilar to the average-looking hot rock of the area, check them out closely, especially when they have quartz. Some of these may not be hot rocks at all, but gold specimens.

If you are finding hot rocks on top of the ground, you will almost always find them buried, as well.

Metal targets gradually lose signal-strength in proportion to the increased distance from the coil. Hot rocks rapidly lose their signal-strength as they are scanned further from the coil. Also, a metal target tends to create a more specific, sharper signal as the coil is passed over. The signal given off by most hot rocks is not as sharp. It is more of a mushy sound which doesn’t have as clear a change in tone-intensity as the coil passes over the target.

When uncertain about a reading target, one way that some hot rocks can be identified is by passing the coil over the target from different directions. If the target only sounds out when being swept from one particular direction, then it is nearly certain that the target is not a gold nugget.

Sometimes, when lowering the sensitivity on your detector a few numbers, the signal given off by a nugget will continue, but weaker. A hot rock signal will quickly disappear by lowering the sensitivity. You can get a better idea how your detector is reacting to sensitivity changes by running it over your test-nugget.

Another test is to slowly raise the coil further away from the reading target as you are scanning. The signal of a metal object will become progressively fainter as the distance is increased. The signal given off by a hot rock will rapidly die away as just a little distance is put between the target and the coil. Most hot rocks in a given area will have a very similar sound, the intensity depending upon size and distance from the coil. Sometimes, you will find that a gold nugget gives off a much sharper signal. But not always. Much also depends upon the size of a gold target, its distance from the coil, and the amount of mineralization interference in the ground that is being scanned.

Each area is different. The hot rocks in some areas are reasonably easy to distinguish. In other areas, it is necessary to dig every signal.

Larger hot rocks are easier to detect. Many can simply be kicked out of the way. It is the smaller pebble-sized hot rocks which create faint signals. In some locations, these signals are so similar to the signals given off by gold nuggets that you have no other choice but to dig them up.

If lots of hot rocks are making it difficult for you in a particular area, you might try experimenting with smaller coils. Smaller coils are more sensitive to smaller pieces of gold. Therefore, the sharpness of the signal over gold targets is also intensified. This may give you the needed edge in distinguishing the slightly-different signals being given off by hot rocks in that area.

Some gold prospectors go so far as to ground-balance over top of a hot rock until it no longer gives off a signal. This will eliminate a large portion of the hot rocks in the area, but it is also likely to eliminate a large portion of the small and marginal signals given off by gold targets. This procedure may work well in areas containing just large nuggets. However, most areas I am aware of have dozens or hundreds of smaller pieces of gold for every larger piece that you will find.

Since cold rocks are made up of a lesser-concentration of iron than the average material which your detector is balanced to, they give off a negative reading signal on your detector. Ground-balancing over a cold rock will cause your detector to react positively to the average ground within the vicinity.

PRODUCTION

Once you find a location which is producing gold targets, you will want to thoroughly work the entire area. This is commonly accomplished by carefully gridding the site. By this, I mean creating parallel crisscross lines on the ground, usually about four feet apart. You can do this by drawing light lines in the sand with a stick. Grid lines allow you to keep track of where you are, and what has already been searched.

If there are obstructions in the producing area (“nugget patch”), they should be moved or rolled out of the way if possible. The smaller rocks and materials on the ground can be raked out of the way. This allows you to keep the coil closer to the ground. In a proven area, this will surely mean more recovered gold targets.

Some areas produce quite well on the surface. Then, by raking or shoveling several inches off the surface and scanning again, sometimes you can find even more targets. I know of numerous small-scale mining operations in many different parts of the world, using metal detectors as the only recovery system. They use a bulldozer to scrape away material which has already been scanned, two or three inches at a time. A layer is removed; the area is scanned thoroughly with metal detectors to locate all of the exposed gold targets. Then, another layer is removed and scanned. This process is done all the way to bedrock. They make good money at it!

I have heard of others doing the same process on a smaller-scale by attaching plow blades to four-wheel drive vehicles. Some even do it using ATV’s!

While hunting over a proven nugget patch, be sure to keep your detector properly tuned all the time. Otherwise, you will certainly miss gold targets.

PROSPECTING OLD HYDRAULIC MINING AREAS

Perhaps the most productive areas of all to prospect with metal detectors are areas which were already mined by the old-timers using hydraulic methods. Many of these areas are left with a large amount of bedrock exposed. This allows immediate and easy access for search coils to get close to old gold traps. Sometimes, the exposed bedrock has been further-deteriorated because of direct exposure to the elements. Once a nugget patch is located, raking away decomposed bedrock sometimes can produce remarkable results.

While searching such areas, pay attention to the color of dirt which covers and surrounds nugget patch. You might discover a pattern. In our area of operation, it is a white powder which often signifies the possible presence of a good spot. Perhaps in other areas, it might also be this white powder, or something else.

PROSPECTING OLD MINING TAILINGS

It is usually possible to find piles and piles of old mining tailings throughout most proven gold-bearing country.

Many of the larger earlier gold mining operations (the ones that were set up to move large volumes of material), concentrated on recovering only the fine and medium-sized values from the material being processed. This meant that the larger material was classified-out so the smaller material could be processed through controlled, slower-moving recovery systems. On the larger operations, classification was usually done either with mechanical vibrating classification screens, or with the use of a “trommel.” A trommel is a large circular screening classifier which rotates and tumbles material through, allowing the smaller classification of materials to pass through the outer screen and into a channel which directs them to the recovery system. The larger materials are passed down the inside of the trommel to be discarded as tailings.

In many of the larger operations, there were no means to recover the larger pieces of gold which were screened-out along with the other large materials. As a result, larger nuggets were sometimes discarded along with the waste material as tailings.

Anywhere you see large tailings piles, especially near the present waterways, it is evidence of a large volume operation where it is possible that the nuggets were discarded with the waste and are likely to still be there. Some large tailing piles still have large goodies inside them, which sing out very nicely on the proper metal detectors. One way to distinguish the right kind of tailing pile to be looking through is there should be a pretty wide range of material sizes in the tailing pile. Tailing piles which consist only of the larger rocks (cobble piles) were most likely stacked there by hand during a smaller surface-type operation.

Scanning tailing piles with a metal detector is proving to be highly-productive in some cases, and should not be overlooked as a possibility for finding nice specimen-sized gold nuggets. VLF ground-cancelling detectors are usually best-suited for this, because tailings almost always also contain a large quantity of mineral content, which is likely to cause interference on a BFO-detector.

PROSPECTING OLD MINING SHAFTS

Even the most experienced cave explorers shy away from entering declining mine shafts because of the dangers involved.

CAUTION: The first thing to say about prospecting in old mine shafts is that they are dangerous! There are different things that can go wrong when prospecting around in such places, one main danger being a potential cave-in. The shoring beams in some of these old shafts may have become rotten and faulty over the years. So it is best not to lean up against or bump any of the old wooden structures situated in old mine shafts. Loud, sharp noises should also be avoided.

Shafts which extend down into the earth on a declining angle are particularly dangerous; because if the ladders or suspension systems are faulty and collapse while you are down inside, you may not have any way to get out again. It is never a bad idea to bring along a caving rope, and use it, when exploring declining-type old mine shafts. Caving rope is different than mountaineering rope in that it is made not to stretch nearly as much. But I suppose, when going down in dark holes, any rope is better than no rope at all!

Another potential danger involved with exploring old mine shafts is encountering poisonous or explosive gasses. Entire mines were shut down because of such gasses—even when they were good-producing mines. These, however, were usually caved in and closed off to prevent unsuspecting adventurers from entering at a later date and getting into trouble.

Before you enter any old mine and start sorting through its low-grade ore piles, or pecking samples off the walls of the mine, it is a good idea to make sure the mine is not already owned by someone else. Or, if somebody does own it, it is wise to get the person’s permission first. There is probably nothing more dangerous in a mine shaft, cave-ins and poisonous gases included, than some old cantankerous miner who catches you, uninvited, in his mine and thinks you are stealing his gold!

There is probably more danger in prospecting old shafts than in any other gold prospecting activity.

After all that, just in case I have not succeeded in scaring you out of the idea of entering old mine shafts in your prospecting adventures, here are a few pointers about how and where you might find some rich ore deposits, or rich ore specimens, with the use of your metal detector:

But first, let me recommend that if you do go into such places, you bring along a buddy and leave another one at the surface with explicit instructions to not enter the shaft under any circumstances, but to go get help in the event that you should get into trouble within. It is also a good idea to let a few others know where you are going, just in case your outside-man doesn’t follow orders and you all become trapped inside.

There are two main sources of possible gold and silver in an old mine:

1) High-grade ore specimens that may have been placed in the low-grade ore piles and left as waste material.

2) High-grade ore which has yet to be mined.

With the exception of the largest production hardrock mines, there is always a certain amount of rock (ore) which has been blasted away from the wall of the tunnel that was not milled and processed. This was because some ore is of such apparent low-grade value that it is not worth the expense to process.

Sometimes the vein being followed into the mountainside was not as wide as the tunnel needed to be in order to progress into the mountain. Therefore, that rock material which was not part of the vein itself, or the contact zone, that looked to be of lower-grade value, was also discarded into the waste piles.

Crushing and milling ore is, and always has been, somewhat of a timely and expensive process. For this reason, a good many mines only processed what appeared to be the highest-grade ore that was blasted from the ore body. The rest was usually piled out of production’s way inside or outside of the shafts.

In the smaller operations, the kind where the ore was crushed and milled by hand and then processed with a gold pan to recover the values, only the highest of high-grade ores could be processed at a profit. The rest was usually laid aside out of the way.

The sorting of a higher-grade ore from lower-grade ore has always been a matter of judgment on the part of the person who was doing that part of the job. And, until the more recent breakthroughs in electronic detecting equipment, sorting needed to be done by eye or by feel (weight). There simply was no other way.

The interior of mine tunnels was often poorly lit with miner’s candles during earlier days, and the air inside the shaft was often foul after the powder explosions used to blast ore from the interior of the mountain. As a result of all this, it is not difficult to imagine that some higher-grade ore was likely discarded as waste material in most mines.

How rich the ore was in a mine will have a lot of bearing on whether or not a present-day prospector will find high-grade ore in the waste piles of that mine. The size of a mine does not necessarily have anything to do with how high-grade its ore was, although it may have a bearing upon how much waste ore will be available to test.

County reports can be looked over to locate the old mines within an area. Many of these reports also include information about the grade of ore being extracted from some of the mines.

When you are testing ore samples from a mine with a metal detector, and you do not come up with any specimens, try a few different piles. If you still do not come up with any specimens, it was probably not a high-grade mine. Try another.

Keep in mind that the floor of a mine shaft is likely to have some iron, brass and other metallic objects which will cause your detector to read-out.

One of the fastest and most effective ways of thoroughly checking out samples of ore is to lay the detector down on the ground or upon a makeshift bench with the search coil pointing upward so individual ore samples can be quickly passed by the most sensitive portion of the coil. The 3-inch diameter search coils are probably best-suited for this kind of work, because of the increased sensitivity, and because there is seldom great need for increased depth-sounding when testing ore specimens.

The most sensitive portion of the search coil is usually located near the center of the coil. It can be easily pinpointed by passing a coin back and forth across the coil while the detector is in tune, and by finding that spot where the coin causes the loudest and sharpest reading. The most sensitive area should be marked brightly with a Magic Marker so it will be easier for you to move ore samples directly past it. It is worthy to note that the top of the coil should have similar sensitivity to targets as does the bottom.

Ground-balancing would probably best be achieved by tuning to the overall ore pile. But, you may need to experiment. A lot will depend upon the grade of ore you are looking for. High-grade gold specimens will require the surrounding mineral to be cancelled out. On the other hand, sometimes high-grade ore is full of fine particles of gold which would not sound-off on a detector. In this case, the high degree of mineralization in the ore specimen might sound-out like a hot rock. Therefore, you would not want to ground-balance out high mineralization. So, depending upon the nature of the ore in a mine, you will need to use your own best judgment regarding the proper way to ground-balance.

Bring along a bucket, canvas bag or a knapsack so you will have something to carry your specimens as you find them.

Both BFO and the VLF ground-cancelling metal detectors can be successfully used to locate high-grade ore specimens. For the individual who is interested in finding a wider range of high-grade ore specimens rich enough to be worth milling on a small-scale for the gold and silver values, perhaps a BFO is the better type of metal detector to be used for the job. This is because the BFO does exceptionally well at picking up highly-mineralized ore. When you are dealing with hardrock veins, high mineralization is a good index of gold being present, especially when you are working with the ore that was blasted out of a previously-successful gold mine. Ore which contains large amounts of locked-in values or lots of fine gold that is thoroughly dispersed throughout the ore is not likely to read-out as a metal on any kind of conventional metal detector, although the high degree of mineralization which usually goes along with such ore probably will sound-out on a BFO-detector as a mineral. So the BFO-detector is handy in finding rich ores which might otherwise be undetectable.

By placing a BFO-detector on its mineral setting and keeping the pieces of ore which sound-out, you can accumulate a lot of good-paying ore. With the use of a BFO as such, the perimeters of ore piles can be scanned first to find a pile that has a lot of mineralization.

Portable rock crushers and mills and processing plants are available on the market. Perhaps by combining these with the use of a good BFO-detector to pick out the highly-mineralized, discarded ore, a small operation could be quite profitable without having to invest the higher costs associated with developing a lode mine from scratch.

LOCATING RICH ORE DEPOSITS

When prospecting around in an old mine with a metal detector, don’t discount the idea of searching the walls of the various shafts to locate rich ore deposits which may have been overlooked by the miners who originally developed the mine. With today’s market value of gold and advanced milling techniques, a small-scale mining operation can be run profitably in ore producing about ½-ounce to the ton in gold values, or perhaps even less. Abandoned mines which will pay this well and even better are scattered all over the west. If a person were really interested in locating a lode mine that he could work at a profit, one way would be with the use of a BFO-detector to prospect the various abandoned mines within the area of his or her interest. In using the BFO to scan the walls of such mines, highly-mineralized ore deposits can be located, samples can be taken for assay, and a person could find the mines having the richer-paying ore deposits. When prospecting like this, it is a good idea to bring a can of spray paint, a pen and paper and some zip-lock bags, so samples can be accurately marked as to where they came from, along with their respective deposits being marked with the spray paint.

If you are not interested in starting up a lode mine, but are just prospecting around for a bonus, again, the VLF detector is good for looking through mineralization and detecting the richest deposits. If, however, you do locate a reading metal inside the wall of a mine shaft with a VLF detector, and you have determined that it is not some falsely-reading mineralization, it could be well worth your while to investigate further. This is because the chances are pretty good that you have located some bonanza paying ore. I know of one highly successful high-grade gold mine in the Mother Lode area of California that is using VLF detectors as its sole method of determining where to blast. At this writing, they have located and recovered millions of dollars in gold during the past two years, in a mine which was failing prior to the use of metal detectors.

MEDICAL

Bring along some mosquito repellent during electronic prospecting ventures. Otherwise, if bugs are around, sometimes it is difficult to put your full attention on listening to what your detector is trying to tell you.

In some areas, you also have to be careful of ticks. Some ticks carry Lyme disease. Some insect repellents will keep ticks off of you. DEEP WOODS, TECNU 10-HR INSECT REPELLENT, and OFF seems to work pretty well. Spread the repellent on your boots, pants and other clothing.

In the hot climates, you should bring along the proper sunscreen and apply it to exposed body parts.

It’s always a good idea to bring along a good first aid kit, and at least leave it in your vehicle in case of emergencies.

Extra clothing and water is also a good idea. You can leave it in your vehicle. You never know…

 

By James B. Wright

Learning to interpret sound anomalies on your metal detector.

 

Noise comes to those who would use an electronic metal detector in three different basic forms:
1) Locally generated sounds (such as motors, river rapids, people talking, etc.).

2) Equipment-generated sounds (whistles, squawks, buzzes, etc., from equipment maladjustment or defects).

3) And a third noise, which is the sound of a good piece of equipment operating the way it should.

The counter-measures which must be taken against the first two types of noises should be obvious. Kill the engine, stop the talking or wear headphones which prevent outside noises from entering the ear. And, of course, adjust the equipment properly, or have it fixed, and learn to adjust it properly.

The third type of noise is the good type. It is the noise that is created when a good instrument is set up right and working most-efficiently. This noise is a “frying” sound, kind of like rain on a quiet lake, the wind through the pines, a gentle rapid on the river or a crowd at a ball game. It is a good, clean steady hiss. On a meter, it may be a steady deflection of 25-40% of full-scale.

Unfortunately, you cannot have sensitivity without this type of noise, simply because noise is built into all physical processes and all of nature.

What is “noise” as used in this context? One good example is the sound you get from your television set when it is tuned to an unused UHF channel. This is when you see snow on the TV screen. What you are seeing and hearing is the composite of a large number of random electrical impulses, all continuously being generated by the very atoms which make up the television, as well as those which make up the earth, the atmosphere, the sun and the rest of the cosmos. This is the sound of Nature doing her thing!

So, what’s the point of all this?

When you send a signal into the ground and try to detect a response from bits of gold, or from other types of deeply-buried chunks of metal, you are usually dealing with a very weak return-signal amid a sea of pre-existing natural “noise.” The detector must identify and amplify the desired signal and try to discriminate against the unwanted noise.

This is where the user becomes a part of the detection system. Because human hearing is able to pick out signals buried in noise better than any piece of electronic gear (except for certain radar equipment which is gawdawful expensive).

Why then must we not only tolerate noise but appreciate it? Because, if your equipment is so sensitive that it will sense the intrinsic “noise” of Nature, it will sense an equally-weak signal from your target. If your detector sounds-off on hot rocks or black sands, it is alive and well and doing its job.

Your job is to learn to hear and interpret the anomalies in the noise, the “whisper” that is just slightly different, the smallest change in the pitch of tone.

This is what weeds out the expert from the rest of the pack. He (or she) is like a good sonar-man, picking out the submarine while ignoring the chatter of the whales, the fish and the other noises of the sea.

 

By Dave McCracken

Sometimes, you will find that you are as close to winning as you can be, even though things have never looked worse!

Dave Mack
 
A short time ago, my dredging partner and I were sampling in a new section of river. We were looking for high-grade pay-streaks, dredging test holes, and hadn’t had any luck from five very well-done samples. We floated down to a new section of river, where the water was very fast. It was on the inside of the tail-end of a bend of the river–an excellent place to find a high-grade pay-streak.

The problem was that we hadn’t found a single speck of gold in the previous five sample holes. This was uncommonly-bad! Usually, we at least find some showing of flood-gold in every test hole in river-dredging. For the most part, I had decided that this section of river must have been very low-grade. We had about a half-mile left downriver to the next river access–where we would be able to pull the dredge back out of the river. So, we decided it was worth a few more sample holes as we drifted down in that direction.

This new section of river had slow water towards the bank. I had it figured that the pay-streak would be located out under the fast water — which is often the case. I don’t know why, but mother-nature often has a knack for hiding her natural treasures in areas which are more difficult to get into!

We set up the dredge in the slower water alongside the bank, got everything running, and I started the sample hole right out on the edge of the fast water. Once the hole was down far enough to protect me from the current, I pushed the hole out under the fast water where I figured the pay-streak would most likely be. This was very difficult, because the force of water was pushing very hard against the suction hose and my airline. I just muscled the work through against the current, but it took a great deal of effort. I was in that zone where heavy effort, physical pain, and emotional stress are all the same?

The suction hose was swept back into the current several times, which required me to go back, drag the hose over towards the bank, pull it back upstream, and get it back out into the sample hole. All this, to keep pushing the hole further out into the current, and deeper towards bedrock.

When I reached bedrock, I uncovered it slowly to see if there was any visible gold in the cracks. All I saw was a few small flecks–nothing to get excited about. It was gold, however; and seeing it on the bedrock was encouraging. It was the first gold we had seen in that section of river. Seeing the flecks on the bedrock meant that I was beginning to dial into the right wavelength!

Having it in mind that the best gold would be further out into the current, I pushed the hole in that direction. The further I pushed, the more difficult it was. The bedrock out there showed no gold. My arms felt like spaghetti!

So I pulled back into the original place where I spotted the gold flecks on bedrock, took another small cut off the front of the hole, and worked it down to bedrock slowly so I could see if there was anymore gold. I did not see any. So I assumed this area must also be low-grade and decided to call it quits.

As I was dragging the dredge’s suction hose in towards the bank, the thought crossed my mind that I ought to test the inside of the dredge hole–over towards the slow water.

If the streambed material had been deeper, it is likely I would not have tested toward the inside. Why? Because I had it in my mind that the pay-streak was out under the fast water; not under the slow water. But, because the streambed was shallow, and I had seen some gold on the bedrock where I first touched down, I decided to take a quick cut off the inside of the sample hole.

Sure enough, I spotted several small flakes of gold on the bedrock. So I took a larger cut off the inside, pushing towards the bank. About halfway down to bedrock, I started seeing flakes of gold in the gravel–kind of like Christmas. On the bedrock, I uncovered a pothole full of gold; it was about eight ounces in all–about half of it was jewelry gold. And that began one of the richest pay-streaks we ever found!

There is a lesson in this!

Everything we do, everywhere we go, is the result of the decisions we make. Sometimes we get going on a path which is just not the right direction! This is not just in gold mining. Sometimes the signals are there, telling us we are going the wrong way — often by the amount of pain and discomfort and effort it is taking to keep moving in the wrong direction. Have you ever found yourself in a major difficulty — only later, sometimes much later, to realize that it was one of the best things that ever happened to you?

The lesson is to never give up hope! Never say die! Sometimes, you will find that you are as close to winning as you can be, even though things have never looked worse. This is especially true in gold mining.

This is not to say that you should keep pushing hard in a direction that is not working. It is to say that if one direction does not seem to work, take it a little further, and then look around for another way to go. Don’t get fixed in one mind-set. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish, and keep your awareness open and your imagination working to find the available opportunities to accomplish your goal.

We manage group gold mining operations in northern California just about every other weekend during the spring, summer and fall months. During these operations, it is my personal responsibility to make sure that silt, sand and gravel are not washed back into the river off the bank from our tailings-water. This requires continuous effort to keep tailings water directed along the natural contours on the land outside of the river. Sometimes I spend a lot of time running up and down the bank trying to stop the water or slow it down. One thing for sure, if you stop the water in one place, pretty soon it is running down the bank somewhere else! Gravity is a force of energy that never stops.

In many ways, this is not dissimilar to a person’s intention to accomplish a goal. Sometimes, we will find our immediate progress slowed down or stopped altogether. But if we maintain our intention, and study the barriers to our progress, we can usually find other ways to make progress. The key is in maintaining the intention, keep pushing along, and having a little patience.

The best things in life usually take a little time to accomplish. And the best memories often come from the accomplishment of difficult goals.

 

 

By Dave McCracken

There is always action and controversy of some kind going on in the gold mining business. I guess that’s why most of us like it so much!

One thing about participating in gold mining or prospecting, is that it is never boring. Nor is any part of the administration of the gold mining industry boring. There is always some action going on!

This is one of the things which makes our industry so interesting. People who participate tend to be non-conformists by nature, or at least on a temporary non-conformist quest of some kind.

Some people get involved in gold prospecting as an escape from the humdrum of their normal, everyday existence; get up early, go to work, come home, watch TV and go to bed, try and pay the bills on time, etc.

Getting out into the great outdoors on a quest for adventure, even on the most remote possibility that something of value may be found, is enough of a lure for many to pursue prospecting activities. In some cases, it is not the gold which is of primary importance. When found, the gold is just a bonus to many participants. The real treasure is the opportunity to get physically and emotionally free of our normal, everyday existence. This is refreshing and revitalizing. It gives us a chance to put things back in a more balanced perspective.

It’s been said that the best way to solve a problem is to get outside of the problem and view it from the outside. Sometimes it’s not enough to take a walk or go for a drive. Sometimes, the best way to get out of a problem, or to be able to view a whole existence from the outside, is to launch yourself into a new adventure or a new existence. After a few days on a quest, or in a complete new environment, or after a few days in a brand new dramatic activity, you can often look back at earlier problems, or your normal life, and see them far more clearly. Everyone can gain from an exciting vacation or experience.

Different people gain different things from being involved with our activity. While one person might get back in touch with the basics of nature, another might connect with the historical values of those who were there many years ago. Others enjoy the search and the excitement of the potential find. Some are emotionally disappointed in not finding what they are looking for. But everyone is touched in some way. These activities are never dull.

Even the guy that wasn’t able to find any gold this time, while perhaps disappointed at this moment, at the same time he is not all caught up in the problems at the office. He stopped thinking about the office last week. Right now, he is planning his next adventure in such a way as to improve the amount of gold he will find.

There can be more to life than normal survival routines, raising the family, earning the pension and paying off the house. This is where dreams come in. Take a person’s dreams away and you have destroyed that person. It is not only about how much gold the person finds. It is the fact that the person desires and is interested in going out looking. This is therapy; a person pursuing his or her dreams, no matter how silly or inconsequential those dreams may be to others with dissimilar interests.

Being involved with the administration of the industry is not dull, either! People associated with this business are either friendly and supportive, or they are out to do us in. The controversy over the 1872 Mining Law is just one example; those people who are against us will invent just about any lie or excuse why all mining should be stopped. There is no middle ground. There is no reason. But there is drama; plenty of it!

And this is the way our whole industry is. Some people are excited. Some people are disappointed. Some people like us. Some people hate us. Some people want to tell you the whole story about the rich gold deposit they are looking for. Some people are incredibly secretive. Some people want to share the gold deposit they located with all the other miners and friends in the area. Others want to keep all the gold for themselves. Some people want to argue and complain about what the problems are that face our industry. Others are willing to pitch in and give a hand to help resolve problems. But there is always action and controversy of some kind going on. Gold mining is never boring. I guess that’s why most of us like it so much!

 

BY STEVE HICKS

Placer miners at work

Placer mining is relatively simple as long as you don’t expect to make a profit; but it becomes much more difficult if your intention is to make some money. If you want to make some money, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to learn from other people’s mistakes, than to put yourself through the school of hard knocks. By far, the most common mistake I see is inadequate or improper sampling, which is often due to gold fever. Other mistakes are: not properly cleaning up bedrock, not researching the past mining history of your area, and starting a mining venture under-funded.

Placer miners diggingFirst, we will cover sampling. A common remark I hear is why put the time, effort, money, etc. into sampling when it can be better-spent on actual mining and making some money? All too often, individuals lose thousands of dollars on their mining ventures; but had they done some sampling and found out that the ground was too low-grade to mine profitably, they would have only spent hundreds of dollars. I have seen an individual go broke trying to mine ground containing less than $2 of gold per yard when there was un-mined ground about 300 yards away running slightly over $100 per yard. That is not a typographical error; it is one hundred dollars. This is, of course, an extreme example; but all too often rich ground is missed. Even before sampling, a literature-search is in order to get an idea of the ground’s value.

Another common mistake is not separating overburden from pay gravels. Novice miners frequently like to run low-grade overburden. This is because the more gravel they mine, the more gold they recover. While mining everything on a property will maximize the amount of recovered gold, it could bankrupt a person at the same time. If the overburden only contains $2 of gold per yard, and your mining cost is $5 per yard, then you are losing $3 for every yard put through the wash plant.

On the other hand, if you can strip low-grade overburden for $1 per yard, then you have saved $2 per yard which can be directed toward mining the pay gravels.

Gold sample in panOften, new miners leave a lot of gold values in the bedrock. Some highly-fractured bedrock may have values several feet below the surface. The deepest I have ever read about was a Canadian mine going down nine feet into bedrock to get all of the values.

Most often, the bedrock values will be in the top two feet of bedrock. Once you mine the top six inches, check the next six inches to see if there are still enough values to make it pay. Once again, you must evaluate your mining costs for ripping up bedrock to determine if the effort will pay adequate dividends.

Starting a placer operation under-funded is another common mistake of novice miners. It is a mistake to count on finding some profitable ground to pay off debts right away and carry you through the rest of the season. Unforeseen problems have a way of cropping up, such as equipment breakdowns or a severe water shortage later in the season.

Even though most individuals reading this article won’t be running a large-scale mining operation, these tips should help you toward a more profitable operation even on a smaller-scale. Maybe, with some increased sampling or more efficient mining, you just may find that big nugget this season!

About the Author: Steve Hicks is a geologist specializing in sampling gold placers. He has previously worked a number of years as a mineral examiner for the BLM in Alaska and Montana. Presently he is doing placer consulting work and residing in Livingston, Montana.

 

By Dave McCracken

“Dredging for Diamonds and Gold During the Rainy Season…”

Dave Mack

 

Author’s note: This story is dedicated to Alan Norton (“Alley”), the lead underwater mining specialist who participated in this project. Under near-impossible conditions, Alan made half of the key dives which enabled us to make this a very successful venture.
There are very few people I know, if any, with more courage, dedication and enthusiasm to successfully complete a difficult mission, than Alan.

If I can make it go right, I try and go overseas at least once or twice a year, usually during our winter months in California, to participate in some kind of a gold mining or treasure hunting adventure. Sometimes I am paid as a consultant to do preliminary evaluations for other companies. Sometimes I just go on my own. Doing these projects in remote and exotic locations is kind of like going back into time, or like going into a different universe. It is always a great adventure! Sometimes, on these different projects, everything goes smooth and easy. Sometimes we uncover fantastic riches. Sometimes we find nothing at all of great value. And, once in awhile, conditions are extraordinarily terrible and put all of our capability and courage to the final test. Such was the case on our recent testing project into the deep, dangerous jungles of southern Venezuela.

Venezuela lies on the north coast of South America along the Caribbean Sea. It is a South American country that ranks as one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of petroleum. Before its petroleum industry began to boom during the 1920’s, Venezuela was one of the poorer countries in South America. The economy was based on agricultural products, such as cocoa and coffee. Since the 1920’s, however, Venezuela has become one of the wealthiest and most rapidly changing countries on the continent. Income from petroleum exports has enabled Venezuela to carry out huge industrial development and modernization programs.

Columbus was the first European explorer to reach Venezuela. In 1498, Columbus landed on the Paria Peninsula. In 1498 and 1499, the Spanish explored most of the Caribbean coast of South America, and Spanish settlers were soon to follow the explorers.*

Almost all Venezuelans speak Spanish, the country’s official language. Indians in remote areas speak various tribal languages.*

I personally was contacted by an American investment group that was in partnership with a Venezuelan mining company. They hired me to spend around thirty days doing a preliminary testing evaluation on a concession (mining property) the company owns in the deep jungles of southern Venezuela. The property was reported to contain volume-amounts of gold and gem-quality diamonds. A river flows across the concession for approximately twenty-five miles.

The company had purchased a 6-inch dredge along with the support equipment. They wanted me to complete a dredge sampling program to see what kind of recovery we could obtain from the river. I brought one other experienced dredger along by the name of Alan Norton. Alan and I had spent several seasons dredging together on the Klamath River in northern California, and I had learned years ago to always bring at least one very capable teammate along when doing diving operations in the jungle environment. This proved to be a really wise decision!

We flew into Caracas, which is the capital of Venezuela, a very nice, modern city with big office buildings and hotels creating a beautiful skyline. Caracas enjoys the reputation of having one of the best night-lives in the world. Poverty is also visible along the outskirts of the city where thousands of people live in small shacks called Ranchos.

The company put us up in the Caracas Hilton where we spent a comfortable night, only to fly out the following morning to Ciudad Bolivar–which is a fairly large city, and the diamond capital of Venezuela.

Upon arriving in Ciudad Bolivar, we were promptly met by representatives of the company, along with the company’s bush boss, an American adventurer by the name of Sam Speerstra. Sam would make a good match for Indiana Jones. It was quickly apparent that he loved danger by the way he drove us through traffic to the small landing strip that we were to shortly depart from on our way to the concession. Sam had us unpack our bags while he arranged to have the aircraft pushed out onto the runway by a half dozen or so airport workers.

The dual engine aircraft was not in the best state of repair. The engine shrouds were held on with bailing wire, some of the cargo doors were held together with duct tape, and the instrument panel was held in place with safety pins, some which were not holding very well.

Sam enjoyed my apprehensive observations of the plane while our baggage was being loaded. Proudly, he told me the aircraft company we were using had the best record of non-accidents in the whole country. However, he also said the landing strip on the concession was quite small and hard to get into because of a large hill that had to be dropped over quickly in order to touch down at the beginning of the runway. In fact, he informed me the company had lost one of its planes trying to land on the concession during the week before. I asked if anyone was hurt. “All dead,” Sam responded, with a smile on his face. And he was serious! .

While, for proprietary reasons, I am not able to divulge the exact location where we were operating, I can say that we were at least several hundred miles into the jungle south of Ciudad Bolivar, towards the Brazilian border.

In this instance, we were asked to do this preliminary evaluation just as the rainy season was getting started. Shortly after taking off in the dual engine plane, we began seeing large rolling clouds. The further south we flew; the larger and more dense the clouds became.

About halfway to our destination, the pilot put down on a small landing strip in a relatively small village to pick up a full load of mining equipment which he had to leave there the day before. He had not been able to get out to the concession because of the almost zero visibility caused by the heavy rains and clouds. As we landed on this strip, the first thing we noticed was a completely wrecked plane that had crashed there. This added to our apprehension and to Sam’s sense of adventure.

It took about an hour to pack the airplane completely full of mining equipment. Since we had to remove the seats to make room for gear, Alley and I were directed to lay up on top of the gear that was stacked up in the belly of the plane. No seat belts! And the plane was loaded so heavily, even the pilot was not sure whether or not we were going to make it off the runway when we took off. We barely made it, and the plane was very sluggish to fly for the remainder of that trip.

We were in and out of clouds for the remainder of the flight, much of the time with zero visibility outside of the airplane. Occasionally, we would break through the clouds and see nothing but dense jungle below us as far as the eye could see in any direction. This was the Amazon! Sam took the time to educate us on the many different types of animals and insects which would certainly devour us if we were to have the bad fortune of crashing. Tigers and jaguars, driven out of some areas by villagers, only to be more hungry and ferocious in other areas. Six-foot long electric eels, called Trembladores by the natives, capable of electrocuting a man with 440 volts, and man-eating piranha were all through the rivers and streams, according to Sam. He told us of bushmaster snakes, the most dreaded vipers in all of South America. Sam said he personally had seen them up to twelve feet in length with a head about the size of a football. “Very aggressive–they have been known to chase a man down.” Sam said you could see the venom squirting out of the fangs even as the snake started to make a strike– one of the most horrifying experiences he had ever seen. “But, not to worry, I brought along a shotgun just in case we get in trouble,” Sam told us as hundreds of miles of jungle passed beneath us.

After quite some time, at a point when the clouds cleared away just long enough to see, Sam pointed down to a short runway cut out of the jungle. At first, we could not believe we truly were going to try and land there. Sure enough, it was the base camp for the concession. We made one low pass over it. The base camp looked large and well equipped. There was also a small local village right near the base camp. The landing strip was filled with puddles and looked to be mostly mud. Alley and I were a little nervous after Sam’s big buildup, and we had very good reason to be nervous.

In order to land on the strip properly, the pilot had to fly just over the treetops, around a ridge, to drop quickly over a hill almost into a dive to get low enough, fast enough, to meet the beginning of the runway. The pilot’s skill was very good, although it is the only time in my life I have ever been in a plane that actually tapped the tops of trees as it was going in for a landing. The thump, thump of the trees hitting the wheels of the plane put me in somewhat of a panic. But it was all for nothing, because within seconds we were safely down on the runway. The pilot and Sam seemed to think nothing of the hair-raising landing experience. Alley and I felt like cheering that we were still alive. This was the mental state we were in when we arrived in the jungle. And it was just the beginning!

Local villagers came out to help us unload the plane. They all seemed like very nice people. After having a chance to load our gear into the bungalow, Sam gave us a short tour of the base camp. The whole area was fenced in. There were numerous screened-in bungalows for the various crew member sleeping quarters, a large kitchen, an office, and a large screened-in workshop area. The company had spent a lot of money getting it all set up. There was a jeep and two off-road motorcycles—all in a poor state of repair. They operated, but without any brakes.

After we had a chance to relax a bit, Sam insisted we go meet the “Capitan,” who was the chief of the local village. We had to arrange for several boats and a small group of local Indians to support our operation along the river. Sam explained to us that public relations were very important and that we must go over and have a friendly drink with the Capitan. We assumed Sam was bringing the Capitan a bottle of Scotch or Brandy or something as a gift. But that’s not the way it happened. Sam preferred to drink the local mild alcoholic beverage called Cochili. This drink is made by the local Indians from squeezing the juice out of a special plant that they grow. The juice is allowed to ferment in the open air for several days or weeks, depending upon the weather. It is a milky white-like substance with clumps of bread-like soggy goo (kind of like pollywog eggs), along with some greenish-brown mold mixed in–it was great to behold! It smelled almost as bad as it looked.

We met the chief, who looked totally wasted on something–probably the Cochili drink. And immediately upon our arrival, the chief ordered some children to bring glasses and drink for everyone. Promptly, our glasses were filled to the rims. Sam quickly downed his first glass, licked his lips, smiled and said, “This is all in the name of good local public relations!” To be polite, I downed half my glass and did my best to choke back my gag. The stuff tasted terrible! I realized my mistake right away when one of the kids immediately took my glass and refilled it to the brim. Alley was paying close attention and slowly sipped his drink, and I followed suit. There was no place to spit if out without being seen, so we had to drink it down. Sam put down three or four more glasses and shortly was slurring his Spanish in final negotiations with the chief. I’m not really sure they understood each other concerning any of the details, but everyone seemed happy with the negotiation.

It was a good thing that the rainy season prevented the remainder of our mining equipment to arrive in the jungle for the next two days. Because I spent the next few days with a severe case of the jungle blues. I was popping Lomotil tablets left and right to try and dry up my system and finally started making progress on the third day in the jungle. Man was I sick!

Alan boasted that he never had a case of diarrhea in his life and that he never would. Sam spent several hours every evening drinking Cochili with the local Indians who would accompany us into the jungle. He was getting to know them better.

The weather was hot and muggy, although the heavy rains had not started yet in earnest. The jungle was alive, especially at night when the jungle noises were almost deafening. It was certainly not a nice place to go for a friendly, evening hike. We were glad for the fence that surrounded the compound.

On the third day, still weak from the fever, but feeling like I should be productive at something, I decided to take a motorcycle ride on the new jeep trail which had recently been hand-cut several miles to the river. Why is it that I always know when I am going to come upon a nasty snake just an instant before I see it? As I rounded the first corner on the trail, a large viper took off ahead of me up the trail faster than a man could run. No brakes! Finally, I stopped the bike, turned around, and returned to camp to rest up some more.

“Once the rains started, the water was so muddy we had zero visibility underwater and had to find our way through the broken branches of submerged trees by feel”

The remainder of our gear finally arrived on the following day. We assembled everything to make sure it was all there. It wasn’t. We were missing the assembly bolts for the six-inch dredge; we had only one weight belt; and we had no air reserve tank for the hookah system! This was not good!

We finally ended up using bailing wire to hold the dredge together, and had to settle for hooking the airline directly to the dredge’s air compressor. One weight belt was all we were going to get—not much margin for error! The entire operation would depend upon us not losing that single weight belt.

On the following day, all the equipment was packed to the river by the local villagers. This was not an easy two-mile pack, because the trail was very muddy and was quite steep up and down the whole distance. Alan and I were using one of the motorcycles to get up and down the trail, which was a real adventure with no brakes.

One very interesting thing about this jungle is that huge trees, for no apparent reason at all, come crashing down. At least several times a day, we would hear huge trees crashing down in a deafening roar. On one occasion, Alan and I were returning to base camp on the jeep trail. We had just come up that trail fifteen minutes before. As we were going down a muddy hill and rounding a bend, we ran smack right into a huge tree which had just fallen across the trail. Good thing I was driving! We smashed into the tree with both of us flying off the bike. Luckily, neither of us were hurt more than just a few bumps and bruises, although the front-end of the motorcycle was damaged. Chalk up one more for the jungle.

During the time while equipment was being transferred to the river and set up, we took several airplane rides to survey the section of river which we were planning to sample, and to make arrangements at a small village (with a landing strip) about twenty-five miles downstream to obtain fuel and some basic supplies as needed during our sampling trip. Once we started, we would not be in contact with the base camp until our sampling project was complete–which was to be about twenty-five to thirty days later. In flying around the area and landing on the two strips, it soon became apparent that the pilot was very skilled. While he definitely was flying by the seat of his pants, the conditions were normal and it was no big thing (to him). Sam just had the advantage of prior experiences at the concession and was psyching us out–all in fun. It only took a little while to catch onto his game.

One of the things we quickly learned in the South American jungle, is that you never stand still for more than just a few seconds. Otherwise, a steady line of ants, mites, and other meat-eating critters will crawl up your legs, inside or outside your pants, and go to work on you. We had plenty of mite bites–which hurt, itch, and generally drive you crazy for about five or six days before they start healing. And, we learned to never brush up against bushes as long as we could help it, for fear of getting fire ants all over us. They sting like crazy!

We never allowed our bare skin (especially bare feet) to come in contact with the bare ground in or around the camps. This is because of chiggers. Ants were everywhere. Whole armies of big ants could be seen to follow a single file line up and down the trail for a mile or more, carrying torn up leaves from a tree which was actively being stripped clean by other ants. The whole jungle was crawling with life. Every square inch had some creature that was starving to take a good bite out of us. Perhaps it was the muggy weather, or maybe weakness from the jungle fever, but my first impression of the South American jungle was that it was doing everything it could to suck the life energy out of my body.

On more than one occasion, some huge animal would go crashing through the jungle just a short distance from where we were standing. We never saw the animals, but had the continuous feeling that some huge cat or wild boar was ready to come smashing in on us. And, of course, the shotgun was never in my own hands when this occurred, which was probably a good thing for everyone else in the vicinity.

“We allowed the natives to swim in the river first to make sure there were not going to be problems with piranha and Trembladores”

While we were packing gear, one of the village-helpers came running in to show off a bird spider he had caught and skewered on the end of his machete. This spider was bigger than my hand; it looked like a huge tarantula. According to the natives, these fearsome spiders catch birds to feed on, not flies, in their webs.

Our first few days on the river were absolutely, breathtakingly, exotically beautiful. The sun came out. The river was low and semi-clear. The water was warm, but just cool enough to give us satisfaction from the muggy air temperatures. We did not need wetsuits other than to protect our bodies from scrapes and bruises. We dredged a half dozen or so easy sample holes. Gravel was shallow to bedrock. The first camp was quite comfortable. The Indians were using their bows and extra long arrows to catch great-tasting fish. Everything was perfect. I remember wondering why I had such a problem adapting to the jungle in the first place. It was like paradise on the river, and we were even getting paid to be there!

We allowed the natives to swim in the river first, to make sure there were not going to be problems with piranha and Trembladores. This is not a bad thing to do. We did not make them swim first. They simply dove in. We always watch for this in a jungle environment. The local Indians know what it is safe to do. After watching the Indians swim for quite some time, we decided it was safe.

The natives live under grass roof shelters–often with no sides. They hang hammocks from the supporting roof beams and sleep at least several feet off the ground. Since Ally and I don’t sleep very well in hammocks, we brought along cots, instead. On our first night in the jungle, Sam insisted the cots would be just fine on the ground. They had short legs which put the cots about six inches off the ground. Alan and I both had sleeping bags which could be zipped up. Sam simply had one dirty white sheet. About midway through the night, Sam’s cot collapsed on him. Shortly thereafter, he was dancing around the camp yelling, “Fleas!” He was barefooted, and the natives spent the next two weeks picking chigger eggs out of the bottom of his feet with sharp pointed sticks.

Let me explain chigger eggs: These critters somehow lay eggs inside the pores of your skin. The eggs grow larger and larger, causing an open sore. It keeps getting worse until you realize it is not just a mite bite. The egg has to be removed with a sharp piece of wood, kind of like a toothpick. The eggs I saw were about the size of a soft, white BB when removed. It was explained that this was really a sack full of eggs. The trick was to get rid of them before the sack broke. Otherwise, the problem was severely compounded. Apparently, the dogs carried these chiggers all over themselves. We were instructed to not pat the dogs for this reason. It was a good lesson for us, and we learned it quickly from Sam’s experience.

We had a three hundred-foot roll of half-inch nylon rope with us for the mining operation. The following day, Alley and I allocated one hundred and fifty feet of that rope to be used to tie our cots up into the shelter beams to keep us well away from the ground. Our Indian guides were quite amused by this. The rest of the rope was used in the dredging operation.

On about the fourth day on the river, Sam returned to the base camp to supervise the other surface digging testing operations. Our cook became extremely angry soon after Sam left. I later found out that he was contracted by Sam to spend only five days in the jungle. Sam left without taking him along. He was stuck with us in the jungle for the next twenty days or so, and we all paid for his anger in the food he prepared for us. We would get fresh-made pan-fried bread every morning that was so saturated with oil that you could squeeze the oil out of it in your hand. This, along with a can of sardines for breakfast. We got leftover bread from breakfast for lunch, along with more sardines. We also got sardines with stale bread for dinner. The cook was basically on strike. Luckily, there were plenty of banana and mango trees along the river to supplement our diet.

“It was easy to follow the tributary because it was running straight black mud”

But we had our attention on other matters. The heavy rains began on the day Sam departed. In one night, the river rose up at least fifteen feet. And it roared! Entire trees were washing downriver. It was a torrent. The water was the color of brown mud. The river rose up and spread out into the jungle, making the whole area into a huge, forested lake. There were no riverbanks to be found in most areas. Our own camp was within four feet of being washed away. We knew where the river was only because of the swift moving water. Some of the river was difficult to travel upon, because it was flowing through the treetop canopy, which was occupied here and there by huge nests of African killer bees and other hornets and varmints. It was a nightmare!

On top of that, the natives caught a hundred-pound Cayman (alligator) with a net out of one of our dredge holes where they had been fishing. It was certainly big enough to take a man’s arm off. At that point, the natives told us these animals came much larger on the river.

That was the day Alley decided to come down with his own bout of jungle fever.

Since Alley was incapacitated, I chose that day to hike back to the base camp and have a talk with Sam about the adverse diving conditions. Although we had recovered some diamonds and gold already, I was not comfortable with the recovery system for diamond recovery. I also was not excited about diving in the swollen, muddy river. I would like to get a look at what is going to eat me before I die! Even the natives, who were standing in line to dive in the clear water, absolutely refused to dive in the river once the rains started. This was definitely a very bad sign. Sam managed to get the big boss on the radio and I explained the problems to him. In turn, he told me that his entire company was depending upon the results of my sampling project to justify further investment in the project once the rainy season tapered off. “It all depends on you, Dave.” I told him we would do the best that we could.

The next day, Alan was so weak from diarrhea, that he was barely able to get out of his cot to do his duty outside of camp. I felt my own duty was to go do some sampling with the help of two natives as my tenders. Rather than dredge on the main river (which was raging), I decided to test one of the main tributaries which had the reputation of having lots of diamonds. The natives left me to keep an eye on the dredge, which was tied to the canopy of some trees at the mouth of this tributary, while they hacked a trail through the tree branches several hundred yards up this creek–which was now an endless lake out into the jungle. It took several hours for them to make the trail with their machetes. It was easy to follow the tributary because it was flowing straight, black mud, compared to the brown color of the river water.

While I was standing on the dredge waiting for the natives to finish the trail, a huge bee buzzed by my head. Within a couple minutes, there were about a dozen of these bees buzzing me. They were really mean! I had my hat off and was flailing around wildly trying to keep them away. There was no place I could go off to, to get away from them. Finally, I had to jump into the water and hide underneath the sluice box. This is where the natives found me when they returned. They were quite amused.

It took quite some time for us to drag the dredge up this tributary, because the branches were just hacked off at water level. I was looking for a place we could work off of a streambank, but eventually gave up on that idea. The water was simply too deep. I ended up throwing the suction hose over the side of the dredge, primed and started the pump, put on my seventy-pound lead weight belt and other diving gear, crawled over the side and shimmied carefully down the thirty-foot suction hose. The problem was feeling my way down through the submerged tree limbs to find bottom. There were logs and branches everywhere. I was in total darkness–complete zero visibility. Everything was done by feel, sensation and yes, fear. I finally found the bottom and estimated it to be about twenty-five feet deep by the amount of suction hose I had remaining with me on the bottom. It was scary down there!

After seeing the Cayman on the day before, I had visions of being grabbed by a huge alligator, and other visions of being grabbed by a huge python. A strong voice from inside my heart was telling me to end the dive. It was too darn dangerous! Any emergency would have me and my airline all tangled in the branches. Having to dump the weight belt would put an end to the entire program, because we only had one weight belt.

I decided that I should complete the sample after all we had gone through to get me on the bottom. This is what I was being paid to do.

As I dredged into the gravels on the bottom, by feel, I discovered more buried branches and logs. These, I simply tossed behind me just like I do with oversized rocks. I got into a pretty steady routine down there and was making good progress. But the strong picture of huge alligators and pythons was right there with me all the time. Do you know the feeling you have when watching a scary movie when you know something terrible is just about to happen? And when it happens suddenly it scares the heck out of you? This was the state I was in when something heavy jumped onto my back. I let go of the hose, turned on my back, and kicked this thing off of me like a crazy man–like I was fighting off an alligator. Then I realized it was just one of the water-logged heavy pieces of wood I had thrown behind me.

This was a terrible feeling of terror and embarrassment. I’m serious; I was so scared, I wanted to crawl right back up into my mother’s womb. I was left wondering what the heck I was doing there. Why was I doing this? It was nuts!

It is impossibly-difficult times like this, and how you manage them, that contribute to the definition of your personal character and integrity. And I freely admit that staying down there to finish the sample was one of the most difficult challenges I have ever overcome. This was a total mission-impossible situation! After a moment to get myself refocused, I turned around and finished the sample hole to bedrock. I carefully shimmied back up the suction hose, coiling my airline as I went, to make sure it was not tangled in branches. When we cleaned up the sluice boxes, we were rewarded with several gem-quality diamonds, one which was quite large and handsome.

“I let go of the hose, turned on my back, and kicked this thing off of me like a crazy man!”

When I got back to camp that night, Alan was still sick in his cot. I did not hesitate to tell him of my experience. I also told him he was doing half the diving from then on, starting the next day, with or without jungle fever!

And that’s the way it went for the next twenty days or so. We completed four samples per day, with Alan doing half of the diving. Some days, the river was so high we had to tie off on branches of trees out in the middle of the river. We would take turns watching for trees being washed down the river, and would pull each other out by the airline every time this occurred, to keep from getting snagged by the trees and dragged down river.

The diving was extremely dangerous. Each time one of us went down, we did so knowing there was a definite possibility that we would not live through it. The only other option was to give up. But, we had originally agreed to do our best to overcome the difficult conditions. That’s how we got the job in the first place. We didn’t really have any other choice. I look back on it now and can enjoy the adventure. At the time, however, it was not any fun at all. It was crazy!

The biggest problem was the lack of an air reserve tank on the dredge. Sometimes it would take as much as ten minutes to feel a way down through the submerged branches in the total darkness. We had to find a path. There was no easy, fast way to get back to the surface. Cutting the weight belt loose would probably be sure death. Not only that, but we would probably never recover the body! No reserve air tank meant almost no margin should the engine quit for any reason–which, luckily, it never did.

However, the heat from the compressor did melt the airline, causing it to blow off altogether when I was down on one dive. We run the airline around our neck and through our belt for safety. With no air reserve tank, we were able to hear the compressor working underwater by the vibrational sounds coming from the airline. I had just spent quite some time finding a path to the river bottom and started dredging gravel, when my air supply was abruptly cut off and I no longer heard the compressor noise from the airline. But the nozzle was still sucking. I stayed there for a few seconds trying to understand the problem and what to do, when suddenly my air supply returned and I heard the compressor noise again. I almost just kept on dredging, but decided after all to go up and see what had happened. When I got to the surface, Alan was holding the airline onto the compressor output with his bare hand. He got a pretty good burn out of it. An inexperienced underwater miner never would have known what to do. Alley saved my life. This is one of the reasons I seldom do these projects alone.

“He made his bow out of the core of a hardwood tree, using a machete to carve it exactly the way he wanted”

As we progressed with our sampling further down the river, the natives would move all the gear to new camps every three or four days. Some camps would be reconstructed out of already-existing structures. Other camps had to be built from scratch, using plastic sheeting for the roofing material.

Our main native guide was named Emilio. He was a real jungle man in every sense of the word. He walked with a limp because of an earlier airplane crash in which he was the sole survivor. His family hut had been hit by lightning several years before, and everyone in the hut was killed except Emilio. He was a real survivor! One night, he went hunting with our shotgun–which was only loaded with a single round of light bird shot. In the darkness of the jungle at three o’clock in the morning, Emilio snuck right up on a five-hundred pound female wild boar and shot it dead–right in the head. We had good meat for several days, and even the disgruntled cook cooperated with some excellent meals.

Emilio taught us how to hunt with bow and arrows–mainly for fish. But, he was able to bring in a few chicken-like birds on several occasions. The meat was tough and stringy, but that was probably because of the cook. He made his bow out of the core of a hardwood tree, using a machete to carve it exactly the way he wanted. The arrows were made from the same hard material, using poison from snake venom on the tips for big game hunting. The natives did not have any modem weapons whatsoever, other than the shotgun we let them use while we were there.

Even Emilio refused to dive during the rains. And, our doing so considerably raised the natives’ evaluation of our physical abilities and bravery, even if we were greenhorns in the way of the jungle.

Each Indian we met was very skilled and uncanny in jungle survival. They could tell a boat was coming up the river three hours before it arrived by hearing the change in bird sounds. You will never find a harder bunch of workers anywhere.

The canoes we used were also carved
out of the trunks of hardwood trees. A skilled native takes about six months to make a good dugout canoe, which sells for about sixty dollars. Mostly, the canoes are paddled. But the more affluent natives do have outboard motors, which make the canoes go along at a pretty good clip. The natives are very skilled at driving the

canoes over top of submerged logs and through rapids. A lot of the time the boats were loaded so heavily that there was only about a half-inch of freeboard on each side. Yet, we never swamped a boat.

The gold pans they used, called Beteas, are also carved out of huge logs. Several classifications of screens are used on top of the Beteas to classify material and screen for diamonds. The natives have a special way to quickly rotate the screens, which causes diamonds to move to the center of the screen where they are easily picked out. It is quite something to watch.

Many native miners only go after the diamonds. They know they only need to find about one or two diamonds a year to make it worth their while for the extra things they want. Otherwise, the jungle provides for all of the basic survival needs of the natives. They are quite self sufficient.

“I was running down the trail at full speed like a mad man out of control, swinging my hat about

The natives received about two dollars a day in wages and were happy to get it up until the end of our project. We wanted to extend one more week to really finish the job right. However, the natives made it clear that no amount of money could sway them from going back to harvest their gardens on time.

While we were hauling our gear along the mile and a half-long trail to the landing strip, I was swarmed by African killer bees. It was terrifying! I heard them coming from quite some distance away. It sounded like a bus coming through the jungle. First, there were only a few bees around me, then a whole bunch. In panic, I was running down the trail at full speed like a mad man out of control, swinging my hat about. Then they were gone. I put my hat back on only to get stung right on top of the head. I felt completely spent. It was time to go home.

When we returned to the base camp, we found out Sam had plenty of problems of his own. At least half his sampling crew had to be evacuated from the jungle due to an outbreak of malaria and yellow fever. When we arrived, he immediately needed our help to Griphoist the jeep out of a creek that it had crashed into. Apparently, the jeep had a problem jumping out of first gear while being driven down a hill. The lower gears needed to be used to keep the jeep from going too fast, because of the no-brakes situation. Sam was driving the jeep down a steep hill with four natives in the back. It popped out of gear and they made one mad roller-coaster ride to the bottom, only to smash right through their man-made bridge into the creek. Miraculously, no one was hurt and the jeep wasn’t wrecked. We managed to get the jeep back onto the trail and hightail it back to the base camp just as total darkness descended on the jungle. Sam looked at it as just another great adventure; just another day in the life of a jungle-man!

Our trip back from the jungle to Caracas was relatively uneventful, except that I was able to buy a nicely-cut diamond in Cuidad Bolivar for pennies on the dollar at U.S. prices. I presented this to my (ex) wife when I returned home and she was quite pleased to have it mounted on a ring.

Over all, our project was successful. We found diamonds, and we found some gold. We did exceptionally well considering the impossible conditions. The largest diamond located on the concession while we were there was over eight carats. But that came out of one of the test pits on Sam’s digging operation. We never found gravels deeper than three feet to bedrock, and there was very little oversized material to move by hand–other than submerged logs. The area would be a breeze to work in clear, slower water–like during the dry season. Everyone involved was impressed with our test results. We submitted a proposal to do a more extensive test/production project with more men and larger equipment, but internal politics within the company ultimately killed the program altogether.

I’ll say this: If we ever do go back, I guarantee it will not be during the rainy season. And we will have a cook who can find no better pleasure in life than to feed us well.

* The World Book Encyclopedia, 1987 Edition.

 

 

 

BY DAVID KAREJWA

 

 

Dredging is very hard and tedious work at its best. The more we dredge, the more we realize how much time is actually spent moving oversized material out of the way.

Some pay-streaks don’t have any large boulders at all. Then again, some pay-streaks have an abundance of boulders—many of which are too large to move by hand. When this is the case, gold production results no longer depend on how well you can operate a suction nozzle; they depend on how efficiently the boulders can be moved out of the way.

Many of us started by using two-ton come-alongs to pull the boulders out of the way. And while this may work fine on a very small-scale operation, or an operation which only runs across an occasional boulder, it does not work well at all on a commercial scale.

Pay-streaks can be time and energy-consuming to find in the first place. Being ineffective at moving the boulders out of the way can greatly lessen a dredger’s ability to succeed. I have been dredging on a somewhat serious level on the Klamath River during the past four or five years along with a number of other serious dredgers. Together, we have innovated new boulder-pulling equipment concepts which have improved our sampling and production capabilities to an enormous degree.

The most comprehensive demonstration of underwater dredging I have ever seen is contained in Dave McCracken’s video, ” Advanced Dredging and Sampling Techniques.” Detailed winching and rigging techniques are also fully laid out with diagrams in Dave’s book, “Advanced Dredging, Volume 2.” These are highly recommended for those of you who will get serious about winching.

We found that a winch can be mounted on a floating platform, and the platform can be anchored out in the river behind our dredge hole. We use an electric winch in most cases, but new designs are including hydraulic winches.

The platform is anchored to the rear—either by cabling it to a boulder or a tree on the bank, a boulder or a group of boulders in the river, or to a dead-man placed in the river with tailings from the dredge dumped on top to anchor it.

The winch cable and boulder-harness extends down into the dredge hole. Also, the winch controls, on a cable, are waterproofed, and extend down into the dredge hole. When a boulder needs to be winched out of the hole, it is just a matter of slinging it, and winching it back, with all of the winch controls directly at your fingertips. This greatly improves the situation over having to put an additional person up on the bank to operate the controls of a mechanical winch, having to give signals, etc. It allows for single-person operations. While I don’t advocate people dredging alone, a lot of people do. If you are one of them, with this system, you are able to dredge for awhile; and when a boulder needs to be winched, you can simply sling it and drag it out of the way—just like that.

The old way required single-dredgers to sling the boulder, then go up onto the bank to operate the winch. When the boulder got jammed against some obstruction along the river-bottom, the person would have to go back into the water, try to free it up, back to the winch, back and forth, etc., until the boulder was finally moved out of the water. It was a nightmare!

One excellent advantage to a floating winch, we have found, is that the pull is also in an upward direction on the boulder. This helps slide the boulder more easily because of less friction along the river bottom. It also helps get the boulders pulled up and over other obstacles. Consequently, there are fewer problems with the boulder being jammed up while it is being pulled.

Floating winch platforms are relatively inexpensive and easy to construct. They don’t generally need to have much more flotation and size than an average 6-inch dredge. They are not very heavy, and they are easy to float around in the river. In fact, we use the extra deck space on ours to store our extra dredging and cleanup equipment, extra gas, etc.; the things we don’t like cluttering up the decks of our dredge. We place a portable motorized electric generator on the winch platform to keep the winch battery fully charged while we are diving.

Some commercial dredgers on the Klamath River have taken this concept one step further by placing the electric or hydraulic winch on the front of their dredge platform. The dredge is directly behind the hole, anyway. This normally requires an extension of the dredge flotation platform in the front to allow for the additional necessary buoyancy. The advantage to this concept is not having to move around two separate platforms. The disadvantage is not being able to pull the boulders far enough to the rear when you are dealing with lots of boulders.

When you are winching from the front of a commercial dredge, it is also important to keep looking up to make sure you don’t pull the front of your dredge entirely underwater!

This can also potentially happen with a floating winch platform, but it is not normally a problem, because the pulling point is generally from the center of the flotation, as opposed to directly off the front of a dredge.

One local innovative dredger recently came up with the idea of mounting a winch on the front of his dredge in a backwards direction. By also mounting a snatch block under the center of his dredge, under the sluice box, then the pulling point of the winch is centered better on the dredge’s flotation platform. This helps eliminate the problem of submerging the forward part of the dredge.

One point to remember is to never tie off the rear of your dredge to a high point on the bank, or to a highline across the river, when you are planning to winch off the front of the dredge. This type of rigging will pull the back end of the dredge up into the air during rock pulling!

The biggest problem we have run into with floating winch platforms is in the electric controls. We have yet to find an underwater control box on the market which is designed for electric winches. So we have had to waterproof the standard control boxes. This is not all that difficult to do, but it is only temporary. Every few weeks, we find ourselves taking the box apart, and having to rework it.

There is also a potential safety hazard with the electric winches, in that if the controls short-out underwater, the winch can simply start winching! We have learned to create a quick disconnect on the electric cord near the control box. If we lose control of the box, we can unplug it, and the winch will shut down.

One important safety note on this: If you create a safety quick connect using extension cord plugs of some kind, make sure you put the female-side on the power cord. This way, the power cannot be shorted across once the cord has been unplugged. This lesson was learned locally the hard way when a dredger unplugged the control box and dropped the cord into his aluminum boat. He had the cord rigged with a male fitting. The male posts touched the aluminum of the boat, and he was winching!

While it is not particularly difficult to do, it is a bit involved to waterproof the control box to an electric winch—too involved to go into in this article. We use a fifty-foot #14 extension cord; we use a product called Dip-it, and we do a few other things to avoid making the modification so permanent that we cannot easily get back into it to re-do it when necessary.

The advantage to hydraulic winches is in having no problems with the control box. No electricity! This is why I believe the best future platforms will be utilizing hydraulics. For dredge platforms, it is not too difficult to mount a hydraulic pump directly to the dredge motor.

I hope this information has been of as much help to you as it has been to us dredgers up on the Klamath River.

 

By Dave McCracken

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

Dave Mack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consistent success depends on applying the right basic approach.

 

 

 
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By Dave McCracken

“Planning to Get it Right the First Time”

Dave Mack

Planning for a mining program largely involves the following elements:

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

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


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

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

Legal

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Location and Accessibility


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

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

  

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

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

Politics with Officials and Local People

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

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

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

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

 

Timing

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

Project operational considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelter and living-support

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specialized equipment

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

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

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

 

Supply of food, fuel, and other needs

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

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

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

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

Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Medical and/or emergency support

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personnel

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

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

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

 

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