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By Dave McCracken

“A Preliminary Evaluation”

Dave Mack

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

Local Mining Activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

Dive-miners on a floating platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confirmation

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

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

  

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PumpsPumping systems used to support local high-banking operations.

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

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

Dave McCracken
Underwater Mining Specialist

 
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By Dave McCracken

Gold is extremely valuable and probably the most sought after of all the valuable metals found on earth.

Dave Mack

 


All things of the physical universe which can be sensed by man are made up of one or more chemical elements. An “element” is a basic simple substance which cannot be further broken down by chemical means. Elements are the basic building blocks of the material universe in which we live. Scientists have discovered over 100 basic elements, and have laid them out in order according to their atomic structures on the “periodic table of elements”.

Gold is one of the 92 naturally occurring elements found on earth. There is no known natural substance that can destroy gold. It can be dissolved by chemical means, but even then it remains as gold-only in a more widely dispersed state.

For eons, man has dwelled upon where gold might originally have come from-that is, its native source. Scientists have recently discovered that gold can be artificially produced by the atomic bombardment of lead, which is another basic element. However, the process is very expensive, more so than the monetary value of the resulting gold. So gold is not artificially produced on a commercial scale. However, this discovery has brought on the theory that the gold being found on our earth might originally have been manufactured in the nuclear furnaces of stars which have long since vanished, our planet being part of the remaining debris.

The scientific symbol for gold is Au. It is number 79 on the periodic table of elements. Gold is not magnetic, but it is an excellent conductor of electricity. Its melting point is 1945° F. Gold is not corroded or tarnished by moisture, or oxidized (rust) by the effects of oxygen and water, or affected by ordinary acids, as most other metals are. Deposits of gold that have lain inside a mountain or under a streambed or even on the ocean’s bottom will remain there and be rather unaffected until moved by the natural forces of the earth-or taken by man.

Gold is a very soft metal, being 2. 3 on a hardness scale of 10, which is one of the factors giving gold its tremendous malleability-meaning that it can be pounded, twisted, rolled and/or squeezed into all kinds of different shapes without breaking apart. In fact, the yellow metal can be pounded so thin that it is translucent, and yet still remain intact as a solid sheet of gold. It has been said that such sheets of gold can be produced so thin that it would take a quarter of a million of them stacked one on top of the other to make a pile just one inch tall! Thin sheets of gold such as these have the distinctive quality of allowing sunlight to pass through, yet they will reflect off a large portion of the sun’s infrared rays (heat). For this reason, thin layers of gold are now being used in the window glass found in many of today’s modern skyscrapers to help save on the tremendous costs of energy necessary to keep the interior of such buildings cool during the hot summer months. Similar films of gold have also been used in the face shields of helmets used by astronauts to reflect off much of the increased bombardment of infrared rays which occurs out in space.

Watch what happens to gold when it is pounded by a hammer in the following video sequence. This is the reason why most gold found at the bottom of a waterway is pounded flat and smooth:

Gold is extremely ductile-meaning that it can be drawn out into wire or threadlike forms without becoming brittle and breaking. It is said that gold can be drawn out so thin that a single ounce could be made to stretch a continuous length of 35 miles. That would make the thread very thin indeed, but that is exactly what is needed in today’s electronics industry, where entire circuits are being placed in chips the size of a pinhead. Because of its high electrical conductivity, its extraordinary resistance to deterioration and its ductile qualities, gold is in great demand by the electronics industry. So it is not uncommon to find gold being used in the circuits of many of today’s common everyday electronic devices-like TV’s and calculators, not to mention in some of the more sophisticated electronics of today’s world.

Gold is also commonly used by dentists and is widely used to make jewelry.

Gold’s use in the making of coins has greatly increased within the past few years.

Gold has another distinctive quality, which is perhaps most important to the prospector (other than its value) and that is its weight. Gold is extremely dense, one of the heaviest of all metals. The specific gravity of gold is 19.6, meaning that it weighs 19.6 times more than an equal volume or mass of pure water. Iridium (one of the platinum group metals) is one of few metals that have a higher specific gravity than gold, being 22.6. Gold is around 8 times heavier than the quartz rock which it is commonly associated with when gold is found in hardrock form. A single cubic foot of gold will weigh approximately 1187 pounds. It is this quality of gold, having a superior weight factor over the other materials usually found along with it, that is used in most gold recovery methods. For example, watch in the following video segment how fast gold penetrates down through the lighter materials which commonly make up a streambed:

Gold is not the most valuable metal, but it is extremely valuable and probably the most sought after of all the valuable metals found on earth. At today’s market exchange value, that same cubic foot of pure gold would be worth in the neighborhood of 10 million dollars. A cubic inch of pure gold would be worth about 7 thousand dollars. So gold is valuable, very valuable indeed; and it does not take very much of it to accumulate a considerable amount of wealth.

There is one other distinctive quality of gold worthy of mention. In its natural form, gold is a very rich and beautiful substance to look at. In fact, this is so true that there is a saying among experienced miners, and those individuals who handle a great deal of the yellow metal, that it is not a good idea to look at any substantial amount of raw gold for very long at any given period of time. This is because it has a tendency to bring on a condition referred to as “gold fever.” This is true!

“Gold Fever” affects different people in different ways. While it might make one person want to buy the gold at almost any price, it could just as easily make another want to steal it-at any price. However, the “fever” tends to always make a person want to have the gold for him or herself, and more of it if possible, with the means of getting it depending upon the character of the individual. This condition, (gold fever) is something to take note of for anyone who is planning to get involved with mining or dealing with gold. This is nothing to laugh off, for it has been the cause of a great many deaths, failures, wars, enslavements, and loss of friendships. It has altered the course of a significant amount of history- much of it being worse for the others involved. It is true that for many, gold is the thing that dreams are made of. Therefore, gold has a tendency to strike below the social behavior in a person and bring out some of the stronger passions which lie underneath. It is well to keep this strongly in mind during the stage in which you are considering whom to take on as a partner (or as employees) in a gold mining venture of any size.

One common characteristic of a person who has been touched just mildly with a case of gold fever is that he or she tends to throw good business sense to the wind and dive in head over heels, much as a young child might do if he found a tub full of his favorite candy or ice cream. It is this very same factor that the con-man stirs up and plays off of. And if you think that there aren’t a few experienced ones in the gold mining field-think again. The majority of failures in gold mining ventures are the result of this same loss of good judgment which sometimes occurs when dealing with the valuable metal.

Perhaps the most successful precaution against being struck to any harmful degree with the “fever” is in honestly taking on the viewpoint that “anything worthwhile is worth lots of time and effort.” It is the persons who intend to get rich quickly without much energy output on their part who most often fail in the business of gold mining. If, upon examining your own intentions, you discover that you are interested in getting rich quickly, without having to work for it, it is almost a certainty that you have caught at least a touch of the fever. On the other hand, if you are interested in going out into God’s country to see if you can find some of the yellow metal as an adventure, and/or perhaps to see if it can be done as a viable business enterprise, you are probably on the right track and you are more likely to succeed. And who knows, maybe you will strike a big one; it happens! Just remember that the finding and recovering of gold is similar to any other business venture. It takes a fair amount of time and work to get consistently good at it. Take it on as such and you will have less trouble-and fewer losses.

SOURCE OF GOLD

When considering the source of gold on this planet alone, it is necessary to study the earth and take a look at some of its more recent geological history.

Scientists believe that the earth is an extremely solid mass, which grows more and more dense towards its center. It is believed that the gold which is found on the earth’s surface and in its outer crust was once deep down inside the earth’s molten mass and was carried up to the surface by the effects of volcanic activity.

In hardrock form, gold is generally found associated with quartz in the form of veins which protrude through the general mountainous rock–referred to as “country rock” by geologists. In the early days of gold mining, it was generally believed that these quartz/gold veins were once pushed up out of the lower bowels of the earth as volcanic magma. Upon this principal, it was thought that a vein should become richer as it was followed deeper into the earth. However, this was not always the case.

More recently, it has been discovered that most quartz veins were not formed during the same time period as the country rock that surrounds them, but later. The cooling of the earth’s outer crust (country rock) apparently caused many cracks and fissures from which the gasses and superheated steam could escape out of the earth’s molten interior. These water vapors also carried minerals with them through these avenues of escape, with one of the predominant minerals being silica–which forms quartz. The water vapors carried other minerals upward too, of which gold, silver, iron and platinum are just a few. Silica has distinctive characteristics of its own, one of which is that it tends to trap heavier elements when they are passed over and through it in a dissolved form. So while the water vapors pushed the heavier minerals upward towards the earth’s surface through cracks and fissures, they often combined with silica and formed vein-like structures.

Formation of mineral lodes.

Generally, gold is associated with quartz. However, quartz is not always associated with gold, because there are countless quartz veins that have no gold-or at least not enough gold in evidence to make the mining of the vein profitable. Veins which contain valuable minerals are referred to as “lodes.”

“Ore” has been defined as any deposit of rock from which a valuable metal or mineral can be profitably extracted.

When a valuable lode is found, in order to mine it, the ore is usually blasted out of the vein and is crushed down into a very fine powder from which the gold, silver and/or other valuable minerals can be extracted by any number of chemical or mechanical procedures. This entire process is called “lode mining” or “hardrock mining”.

Millions of years passed after the rich mineral lodes were formed, during which time a large amount of weathering was caused by heat and cold, animals and vegetation, rain and wind, snow and ice, glaciers and their resulting runoffs, earthquakes, and ocean tidal changes as great as 800 feet in elevation for each tide. That was due to the moon revolving closer to the earth during an earlier period. So, after the rich veins were formed, a tremendous amount of disturbance and erosion took place which washed many of the exposed rich mineral lodes out of the mountainous rock and into the stream and river systems which flowed during that time period.

The steady heavy flow of water over a streambed creates a continuous movement of the streambed materials, causing a natural sorting of the various minerals by their different sizes, shapes and weights. Gold, being extremely heavy in comparison to most of the other materials that end up in a streambed, tends to be deposited in common locations where heavier materials can become trapped because of their greater weight. Deposits of gold and other valuable minerals which have been washed away from their original lodes and redeposited by water in streambeds are called
“placer deposits” (pronounced like “plaster”–without the t).

Finding and recovering placer gold deposits requires an understanding of where heavy sediments will collect while being transported by the forces of water during large flood events.

Gold directly from a lode is crystalline in structure, and is usually referred to as “rough gold” because of the coarseness of its surface. Once washed from its original lode and swept away by the forces of nature, gold tends to become pounded flat and rubbed smooth.

Gold directly out of a lode is crystalline in structure. Gold tends to
get pounded smooth as it is being washed further from its original lode.

An experienced prospector can sometimes get a pretty good idea of how far a piece of gold has traveled from its lode by the degree of roughness on its outer surface.

PURITY OF NATIVE GOLD

In its native state out of a lode, gold is almost never 100-percent pure, but has a percentage of other metals along with it. These other metals contained with gold, whether of value or not, are called “impurities.” The impurities with gold most often consist of silver, copper and a little bit of iron, platinum and cadmium in differing amounts. The proportions of these other minerals change from lode to lode, which gives the gold coming from one location different colors, qualities and value from the gold extracted from another location.

When someone finds gold, either in placer or lode form, it is not uncommon to have the gold tested (“assayed”) to find out what percentage of impurities are present and exactly what they are. The actual gold content in native gold just out of a lode or placer deposit changes from location to location. But a reasonably safe average (at least in California) would be to say that 80% is gold and 15% is silver and/or copper.

Gold which contains 20% or more of silver is called “electrum.”

Pieces of placer gold, and those pieces which have eroded from a lode, are found in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, ranging from large pieces (“nuggets”) as great as 200 pounds in weight (very rare) to “flakes,” and smaller “grains,” and even smaller “dust,” down to pieces so microscopic in size that it would take perhaps 8 million particles combined in order to accumulate enough gold to value one dollar.

The following video segment demonstrates different types and sizes of natural gold which either originated from different lodes, or traveled greater distances from the same lode down along a waterway:

The system commonly used to classify the size-differences of gold is normally accomplished with the use of mesh screen. “Mesh” signifies the number of openings contained along a lineal inch of screen or wire cloth. For example, a screen labeled “10-mesh” would contain 10 openings per lineal inch, or 100 openings per square inch. “Twenty-mesh” would have 20 openings per lineal inch, or 400 openings per square inch, and so on.

Those pieces of gold which will pass through 10-mesh (1/16″ sized openings), yet will not pass through 20-mesh (1/32″ sized openings), are classified as “10-20 mesh.” Gold passing through 20-mesh which will not pass through 40-mesh (1/64″ sized openings) is classified as “20-40 mesh,” and so on.

Gold is often classified and labeled according to its size.

Various sized pieces of gold are labeled as to their different mesh sizes. “Coarse gold” or “nuggets” are agreed to be any pieces of gold which will not pass through a 10-mesh screen. Medium-sized pieces of gold, flakes and so forth, are of the 10-20 mesh range, of which it would take an average of 2,200 separate pieces (“colors”) to make up a troy ounce. “Fine gold” is of the 20-40 mesh size, of which it would take an average of 12,000 separate colors to make a troy ounce. “Flour gold” or “dust” includes all pieces which are smaller than 40-mesh, including the microscopic-sized particles.

Because gold is so malleable, as it is pounded, rubbed, and pushed along by the forces of nature, the gold will tend to hold together, while some impurities will be pounded out and washed free. So generally, pieces of gold become more pure as they are pounded and worked by the different forces of nature-especially in a streambed where it can be heavily pounded by rocks, boulders and such, along with the steady flow of water to help wash away the impurities. This pounding also has the effect of breaking the gold down into smaller pieces, from which more impurities can be washed free. And so it is generally found that smaller pieces of gold are of richer gold content than the larger pieces originating from the same source. For example, the fine and flour gold recovered out of many gold-bearing streams in the Western U.S. will be found to have a gold content greater than 90%.

Nuggets recovered out of the very same deposits can be found to have a gold content of less than 80%. At first glance, this might seem to indicate that fine gold has a greater value than the coarse gold, and this is true as far as the actual gold value is concerned. However, larger pieces of gold have “jewelry specimen value,” due to their own unique and natural characteristics. So they can bring in a greater monetary return than their actual gold value. Fine gold is usually sold to a refiner, who then melts it down and refines it into pure bullion form, to eventually be sold on the world gold market.

INDICATION OF GOLD CONTENT

There are two ways of labeling the gold content of raw and unprocessed gold which are commonly being used in the field today. The “fineness” or “percentage system” is used most often among miners and refiners. This system breaks down the purity into thousandths in order to label the “fineness” (purity) of the gold sample. For example, a specimen that contains 90% gold and 10% impurities would be labeled .900 fine; 88% gold content would be labeled .880 fine; 75% gold content would be indicated as .750 fine, and so on. In this system, “.999 fine” is used to indicate pure gold. The fineness system is often used among assayers to indicate the gold content in the samples which they test.

The other system sometimes used to indicate the gold content in your samples or specimens is the “carat system.” This method is most commonly used within the jewelry business, and is based upon a 24-point system with 100% gold content being 24 carats, 50% gold being 12 carats, 75% gold being 18 carats, and so on.

MEASURING GOLD BY WEIGHT

There are also two separate measuring systems commonly being used to weigh gold. The most commonly used is the “troy system” which is as follows:

24 grains = 1 pennyweight

20 pennyweight = 1 troy ounce

12 troy ounces = 1 troy pound

Scales having these measuring increments are usually available wherever gold mining equipment is sold. This troy system is most-commonly used by miners in the field and when gold is sold on the open market.

A troy pound is equal to .3732 kilograms, whereas a standard pound (avoirdupois) is equal to .4536 kilograms. So you see that they are not the same, a standard pound weighing considerably more than a troy pound. Also, please take note that there are only 12 troy ounces to a troy pound, as opposed to the 16 ounces it takes to make up an avoirdupois pound. The result is that a troy ounce weighs slightly more than a standard ounce.

The other system of measuring gold is by grams. Most triple beam balance scales measure in terms of grams instead of troy increments. So it is not uncommon to find a gram scale being used to measure gold. In this case the conversion scale is as follows:

TROY–GRAM CONVERSION TABLE

1 troy pound = 373.248 grams

1 troy ounce = 31.104 grams

1 pennyweight = 1.555 grams

1 grain = 65 milligrams

FOOL’S GOLD

It is not unusual for a beginner to wonder about the difference between gold and the other materials found inside of a streambed or lode deposit. Sometimes a beginner will puzzle over shiny rocks; and quite often, iron pyrites (fool’s gold) or mica are mistaken for the real thing. In fact, this is so much the case that there is a story of an entire shipload of iron pyrites having been shipped over to England from America during the 1500’s, the yellow stuff having been mistaken for gold. So you can understand where it gets the term “fools gold.”

One of the best ways to get beyond your own uncertainty of what natural gold looks and feels like is to get your hands on some of the real thing. Once you have experienced real gold, you are much less likely to make mistakes. Here is a link where you can buy a sample of natural gold.

Gold is a brassy yellow metal. Once you have seen a bit of it in its natural form a few times, you will no longer have much difficulty in distinguishing the real thing from the other materials that are commonly associated along with it. Gold seldom looks anything like rock. It usually looks like metal; gold metal. The following important video segment demonstrates what placer gold looks like in its natural form:

If you are just starting and have not yet had the opportunity to see much gold in its natural form, there are three easy tests which will validate your discoveries one way or the other:

Glitter Test: Gold does not glitter. It shines. Sometimes it is bright; sometimes it is dull; but very seldom does it glitter. The thing about fool’s gold (pyrites or mica), is that because of its crystalline structure, it tends to mostly be of glittery appearance. Take the sample and turn it in your hand in the sunlight. If it is gold, the metal will continue to shine regularly as the specimen is turned. A piece of fool’s gold will usually glitter as the different sides of its crystal-like structure reflect light differently.

Hardness Test: Gold is soft metal, like lead, and will dent or bend when a small amount of force is applied to it. Pyrites, mica and shiny rocks are generally hard and brittle. Just a little amount of pounding will shatter them. Gold almost never shatters! The following important video segment demonstrates this very important point:

Old-timers used to put specimens in their mouths and bite down to test if they were gold. This is another way of testing the larger-sized specimens. However, keep in mind that a larger-sized piece of gold is worth a great deal and the resulting tooth marks could lessen its value. If you find a true piece of gold big enough for you to bite on, I can assure you that you will have very little doubt that it is the real thing, simply because of its rich nature and its weight. But if you are still uncertain of your find, you might try using the sharp edge if a knife and gently press in on the specimen in a place which is less visible. If it is gold, an indentation can easily be made into the metal with the blade of your knife. You will not dent its surface if it is a rock or iron pyrites.

Acid Test: Nitric acid will not affect gold (other than to clean it); whereas, it will dissolve many of the other metals found within a streambed. Nitric acid can be purchased from some drug stores or prescription counters, and can sometimes be found where gold mining equipment is sold. If you question whether your specimen is some metal other than gold, you could try immersing it in a solution of nitric acid. If your specimen is gold, it will remain rather unaffected. If it is most any other kind of metal, it will dissolve in the acid. Nitric acid will not affect iron pyrites or mica (fool’s gold), but they are brittle and neither will pass the hardness test.

CAUTION: Nitric acid can be dangerous to work with, and certain precautions must be taken to prevent harm to yourself and/or your equipment when working with it. These, and mixing instructions, are covered in Chapter 7 of Gold Mining in the 21st Century.

The following video segment shows the negative affect that nitric acid has upon gold. But watch what the acid will do to nearly any base metal like lead:

PLATINUM

Platinum is an industrial metal, one of a family of six separate metals: platinum, palladium, iridium, osmium, rhodium, and ruthenium. These metals are frequently naturally alloyed among each other so that they are seldom found separately. Platinum is a valuable metal, its value ranging in the same neighborhood (or higher) as that of gold. It also has a high specific gravity, sometimes even heavier than gold, depending upon how much iridium is present.

Sometimes, platinum will be present in placer gold deposits, and so will become trapped in the same recovery systems which are used to recover gold. Sometimes platinum will be present in enough quantity that it can be worth a great deal of money for you to know what it looks like, so you do not discard it along with the waste materials.

Platinum is usually a dull silvery-colored metal, much like steel-only different, in that it is non-magnetic and is not affected by nitric acid like steel is. Platinum does not rust. Platinum usually comes in the form of large and small flakes, just like gold, and sometimes in the form of nuggets.

To help you understand what platinum looks like, the following video segment demonstrates some of the platinum that I have recovered in my own suction dredge operations:

Platinum does not have as great an affinity for mercury (quick-silver) as do some other shiny metals. However, it can be made to have affinity for mercury by the use of certain involved chemical processes, or by putting a negative electrical charge into the mercury.

Russia has been the world’s number one producer of the platinum metals for the last hundred years or so.

If at first you have difficulty in telling the difference between platinum and lead, remember that platinum usually takes on a dull shiny color, whereas lead does not shine at all-unless it is polished or covered with a coat of mercury. Lead (and mercury) are also easily dissolved by nitric acid, whereas platinum remains unaffected. Most other shiny, silvery-colored metals which will be found in the recovery system will be magnetic. Platinum is not.

SILVER

Most silver mining is done by the hardrock method of extracting ore from a lode and processing out the silver by chemical and mechanical procedures. The silver recovered out of most placer deposits is still alloyed with the gold and the black sands being taken out of the deposit.

Native silver has a specific gravity of about 10 or 11, so it is heavy. It will be trapped in most gold recovery systems if present as itself in a placer deposit-which is uncommon. Generally, silver in its native form does not look like shiny silver-like in silverware. It looks more like a silver-colored rock which is uncommonly heavy. Sometimes, native silver is so tarnished that it cannot be distinguished by color at all.

 

 
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By Dave McCracken

There can be a lot of gold deposited under and around the boulders located within a pay-streak!

Dave Mack

 

It takes an incredible force of water to move boulders in a river. Once they are moving in a flood storm, they can deposit in low-velocity areas, just like gold does. But, since boulders do not have a higher specific gravity, mass for mass, than most of the other streambed materials, they can be washed downstream just about anywhere in the river during a major storm. So you should not only use the presence of boulders to guide you in sampling. You would be much better advised to focus your attention on the boulders that have been deposited along the common path of gold’s travel.

In shallow streambed material, you can sometimes detect where important bedrock changes are located by noting where the boulders have deposited within the waterway. For a boulder, or a group of boulders, to be found in a specific location along the river’s path, there may be a sudden bedrock drop-off, a large crevice, or some other kind of lower-velocity condition in that area which caused the boulder(s) to be deposited there. Everything in the waterway happens for a reason, even if you cannot always see what it is!

If the boulder(s) is located somewhere along the common gold path, that would be a prime spot to do some sampling. In this situation, I suggest that you do not limit your sampling to the area just behind (downstream) of the boulder, though. Go around to the upstream side of it, as well. Look for any bedrock change which may have caused the boulder to stop there. If gold has moved through that area, that same bedrock change could also have caused gold to concentrate there. Finding the bedrock change that stopped the boulder, and following the bedrock change across the waterway, is a great way to locate the common gold path.

You do not always find boulders with every rich pay-streak deposit. But, it is not uncommon to find many boulders keeping company with a good pay-streak. When you do find them, most of them will probably have to be moved out of your way as you work forward through the deposit.

MOVING BOULDERS BY HAND

There can be a lot of gold deposited under and around the boulders located within a pay-streak. To get most of the gold out from under a boulder and into your suction nozzle, usually the boulder has to be moved at least a little bit.

One of the most useful tools that can help a dredger move boulders is a 5-foot (or longer) steel pry bar. If a boulder is too large to be moved to the rear of the dredge hole by hand, it can sometimes be rotated around to one side so that you can dredge out from under part of it. Then, it can be rotated around the other way to access the remaining gold and material beneath. A long pry bar can be a big help to you in moving boulders around in this way.

The key concern while working around boulders is safety! Loose boulders in and around a dredge hole are the gold dredger’s greatest danger, especially when working alone. Boulders resting up in the streambed material are usually more dangerous than those resting on the bedrock. But, those on the bedrock can cause trouble, too, if they are loose and able to roll – particularly, if the bedrock has any slant to it.

As they are uncovered in a dredge hole, loose boulders should be moved and safely secured as a top priority. They should be placed at the rear of the hole, if possible. But, wherever they are placed, they should be positioned so they no longer pose any threat of rolling into the hole and on top of someone working there. You can place smaller rocks and cobbles under the boulders as necessary, to make certain they will not roll or slide.

If you start to uncover a boulder that is resting up in the streambed material, do not forget about it. Until it has been moved and secured safely, a loose boulder should be foremost in your mind. If it is not yet ready to be moved, and you still need to dredge around it to free it up some more, it can be useful to place an arm or a shoulder against the boulder. This way, you can feel if it starts to loosen up in the material. Do not place your arm, head, or shoulder near the underside of the boulder, however. Because, sometimes a boulder will loosen up and crash down very quickly, without much warning. Physical contact with the boulder is helpful when you cannot keep your eyes on it at every moment. The face mask limits your visual perception underwater – especially when you need to watch what is going up the suction nozzle.

The main concern here is to take all necessary precautions to keep yourself from becoming pinned or crushed beneath a boulder in your dredge hole. If a boulder pins any part of your body to the bottom, it may be difficult or impossible for you to get the necessary leverage to move the boulder enough to get out from under it. And, if you are working by yourself …? I know of two dredgers who ended their careers in just this way.

Also beware of fractured bedrock walls that tower over you. They can fall apart and drop in your dredge hole as you remove the streambed material that holds them in place. I got pinned once by a slab of bedrock that broke free of a wall as I dredged away the material that was holding it there. Luckily for me, it landed on my steel-tipped boot, and that I was dredging with another guy on that day!

The second greatest danger to a dredger usually comes from a cobble falling off the side of the dredge hole and hitting the dredger in some way — like on top of the head. This can finish off a dredger just as surely as a boulder. Or, it may cause some serious pain/injury. Fingers and other body parts can get smashed if you are not careful!

Most trouble with cobbles and boulders can be prevented simply by taking your hole apart with safety in mind. The proper method of taking a dredge hole apart has already been fully covered in my Gold Dredger’s Handbook, so I will not repeat it again here. But, as a point of emphasis, the fastest way to take apart a streambed also happens to be the safest way.

Production dredging goes very smoothly and quickly when you have some area of exposed (dredged) bedrock between the non-dredged material in front of you and the cobbles, boulders and tailings behind you. When you start uncovering a boulder in the material, you should immediately begin planning where you are going to move it, once it is ready.

If you run across an occasional boulder that you cannot move by hand, sometimes you can dredge the material (and gold) out from around and under it without having to move it out of the dredge hole. You accomplish this by moving other, smaller rocks out of the hole to make room for the boulder. In this way, if there are not too many boulders, you can keep moving forward on the pay-streak without the few boulders slowing you down very much.

But, if there are a lot of large boulders down along the bedrock, you will likely discover that at least some of them will need to be completely removed from your excavation if you expect to uncover very much bedrock with your suction nozzle. Some boulders will need to be removed to make room for other boulders as you move forward on the pay-streak. If you cannot remove the boulders from your dredge hole by hand, then you will need some mechanical assistance.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF WINCHES

COME-ALONG: A “come-along” is a portable, hand-operated winching device that can be of considerable help to a small-sized digging program. It can be used to move those boulders that are not huge, but which are too large to be moved by hand. Come-alongs range in size. I recommend a larger version of the better quality, rather than the really cheap, imported models. Come-alongs have a great accessibility factor, because you can carry one just about anywhere. Their operation is somewhat slow. But, they will give you that extra edge when you need to move just a few boulders, and you do not own or want to set up a power winch.

GRIP-PULLER: Several companies make a hand-winching device that rides along on a steel cable. There is a handle that you crank back and forth, similar to a come-along. Each time the handle is cranked in each direction, the device moves an inch or two along the cable. These units also come in different sizes. In my opinion, grip-pullers are a substantial step up from a come-along, both in pulling-power and dependability. I have used these units underwater, but find that the water resistance adds substantial work to the cranking action. Still, when you are working alone, having this device in the hole with you allows you to see what the boulder is doing while you are winching it

Where you can buy winching supplies

USING YOUR TRUCK AS A WINCH: If your vehicle can be driven to a nearby position, you can stretch a cable from the vehicle to the boulder. The proper direction of pull can be rigged up by running the cable through snatch blocks (heavy-duty pulleys) which can be anchored to trees, boulders or whatever is available. Then you can use the pulling-power of your truck to help move the boulders out of the way. Four-wheel drive vehicles work better for this, especially when they are carrying a load to increase tire traction. Suggestion: It is better to connect the cable to something on the vehicle’s frame, rather than just the bumper!

When conditions are right for it, using a vehicle to pull smaller boulders can be much faster than using a come-along. One person operates the vehicle, while a diver is in the water, slinging the boulders. Safety becomes a greater concern when more than one person is involved in the pulling and the slinging of rocks. Communication and coordination between the “puller” and the “slinger” are very important to prevent serious accidents. Suggestion: If you turn the truck around and pull in reverse, you can better-see signals from your partner, and sometimes you get better traction, especially on a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Another suggestion: It is better to keep your vehicle a respectable distance from any drop-offs (like into the waterway), just in case the boulder gets momentum in the wrong direction. I know of guy who got pulled over the side of an embankment by a boulder gone wild!

Larger-sized trucks, tractors, bulldozers, and other heavy equipment can sometimes be used to move bigger rocks with even better results.

AUXILIARY TRUCK WINCHES: Auxiliary automotive winches are also able to move small to mid-sized boulders for a dredging operation with excellent results. Some of those little winching units have a wondrous amount of power. A typical 8,000 or 10,000-pound electric winch will move a surprisingly-large boulder!

If you are going to be using an electric winch, you may want to consider installing dual batteries in your vehicle. It also helps to keep the engine running while you are winching, so the batteries can quickly regain their charge between pulls.

When using a truck-mounted auxiliary winch to pull boulders, it is a good idea to block all four wheels. This precaution helps to keep the vehicle from moving, rather than the rock you are trying to pull. The front tires should be blocked especially well. If there is an embankment to worry about, it is also a good idea to run a safety chain or cable from the vehicle to some additional anchor behind, like a tree or another truck. This will protect against losing your vehicle over the embankment if the boulder happens to roll the wrong way. Sometimes this added measure is necessary just to keep the vehicle from sliding during the pull.

Probably the best kind of auxiliary vehicle winch for dredging purposes is one that can be attached mechanically to the “power take-off unit” on your vehicle’s transfer case, if it has one. With this kind of winch, you can use the full power of your truck’s engine to pull rocks. Not only will this provide you with more pulling power, but you will not have to worry about your batteries running down.

There is also a lot of good to be said for the portable electric and hydraulic winches on today’s market. I know of many smaller-scale and commercial dredgers who use them. They are quite powerful! Portable electric winches can be framed up to (1) attach to a vehicle, (2) be taken out to the dredging site, or (3) even be floated on a platform, where there is deeper water. All that is needed is an automotive battery and a means of keeping it charged up. The portable hydraulic winches can be similarly effective. The winch controls can be extended out on a longer cable and even modified to work underwater, which can be very helpful!

LOG SKIDDERS: Most gold-dredging country is also logging country. So there are quite a few log skidders around that can be leased or hired to pull boulders for you. Log skidders are usually equipped with powerful winches. They can really do a job in pulling the larger boulders! Also, you can drive them into some pretty difficult areas. Hopefully, you can work out a deal that will be ideally suited to your operation; a deal perhaps, where you pay by the hour and have the skidder arrive at a certain time each day, or whenever you are in need of it’s services.

PORTABLE POWER WINCHES: Gasoline-powered, mechanical and hydraulic winches are available in all sizes. Generally, the larger they are, the more winching-power that they produce. But, the added size and weight also makes them more difficult to pack into some of the less accessible areas.

If you find a widespread, rich pay-streak with plenty of large boulders that need to be moved, you should set up on your dredging site the most powerful winch that you are able to haul in there. The more pulling-power you have available, the smoother and faster winching will go.

I never recommend that a dredger buy a portable power winch just because he or she will be dredging. It is probably better to wait until you know exactly what your needs are. I have worked many pay-streaks where no winching was needed at all. And, in many of the pay-streaks that did require winching, a number of the boulders were so large that the small, portable store-bought type of winch would not have been adequate for the job.

You can find some pretty heavy-duty used winches for sale at about the same cost as a lighter-weight, new portable unit. I advise waiting to see what you will need before putting your money into a winch.

Having said that, here is something to consider: Mechanical winches seldom have a control mechanism which can allow the operator to stand away from the machine where all the wrestling is going on (and in the line of fire if a cable breaks). While I have used some wonderful mechanical winches, there was never a time that we were pulling a big rock that I was not worried about something going wrong with all those tons of energy happening right next to me. There is a lot to be said about electric or hydraulic units that will allow you to step away from the danger with the controls in your hand.

WINCHING COBBLES IN DEEP MATERIAL OR SHALLOW WATER

As I have stressed in other articles about dredging, the main limiting factor to progress is in how quickly oversized material (rocks that are too large to be sucked up the nozzle) can be moved out of the ongoing excavation. In deeper streambed material, there can be so many cobbles that there is no longer any room directly behind the dredge hole to throw them. You can run into a similar problem in shallow water, where the cobbles must be lifted out of the water (where they become a lot heavier) to get them behind the dredge hole. In these types of situations, it is common to fill cargo nets with your cobbles and winch them out of your dredge hole in bulk. The following video sequence was taken in an operation where we were removing big lots of cobbles from a deep excavation in just this way:

SETTING UP A HOLE FOR WINCHING

Before you start winching boulders, it is a good idea to first make sure that you have located the lower (downstream) end of the pay-streak. You do not want to winch boulders onto any part of the pay-streak that you will be working at a later time. While the winter storms could possibly move some of the cobbles and dredge tailings which were placed on a pay-streak in error, it takes much more than a winter storm to move boulders from where you winch them. Believe me; it is much better to plan ahead, so you only need to move boulders one time!

BUILDING A RAMP

It takes a tremendous amount of winching-power to pull a boulder up and over another boulder from a dredge hole. The direction of pull is all wrong, and the second boulder will act like a barrier. The winching is much easier, smoother, and far less dangerous, if a ramp is built so the boulders will have an inclined runway to be pulled along. Cobbles can be used to make an effective boulder ramp. Therefore, an important part of setting up your dredge hole for winching is to construct a ramp/runway that can be used to easily remove the boulders, without them encountering difficult obstructions.

It can be really tough to pull a boulder out of a hole without a ramp.

Cobbles can be used to make an effective ramp for winching boulders out of a dredge hole.

One approach to setting up your hole is to dredge around a number of boulders as much as possible to free them up for winching. This way, more boulders can be pulled out of the hole once winching is begun. Then you can come back later to clean up the bedrock with your dredge.

To perform winching effectively, you will need plenty of air line attached to your hookah system. This is because it is necessary for the diver to sling each boulder and follow it to its final destination where he will disconnect it. Then, the sling and cable must be pulled back and attached to the next boulder. Since this process requires a lot of movement, depending upon the distance involved, you may need to attach an extension onto your air line to accomplish this smoothly.

FEASIBILITY OF MOVING BOULDERS

A dredging operation that requires a lot of boulders to be winched is going to move slower than if little or no winching is required. A winching operation almost always requires the involvement of at least one other person, sometimes even two or more. Those “extra hands” will usually expect to get something for their active participation in your dredging project. So you will find that when you need to use a winch, you will be moving slower through the pay-streak, and it will usually cost more to run the operation. Therefore, a pay-streak that has lots of boulders usually needs to pay pretty well to make the additional effort worthwhile.

The following video segment will give you a look at an organized winching program where multiple persons were involved:

Sometimes, you may discover an excellent pay-streak, but find that it lies beneath many boulders that have to be moved. Even though there may be plenty of gold under the boulders, after figuring the time and expense involved in winching, you may conclude that the gold recovery, though excellent, is still not sufficient to make the project economically feasible. Big boulders are not easy to move. Moving them takes time and money; more, sometimes, than the gold is worth. So, to avoid getting bogged down in an unworthy project, keep track of your daily expenses and your daily gold recovery. Then you will have some basis for calculating whether it is financially worthwhile to continue dredging in that specific location.

If your winching helpers are not full-timers on your dredging operation, and if the location is not too remote, you might arrange to have them arrive at a certain time each day to help pull boulders. That way, you can spend the morning setting up the hole to winch as many boulders as possible. Then, when your help arrives, the boulders can all be winched out of the hole at one time. After winching is completed for the day, you can let your winch helpers go, while you go back down and clean up the hole with your dredge. This way, you are not paying helpers to stand around with nothing to do while you are dredging. It can make a difference.

SETTING UP A WINCH FOR OPERATION

When you are using a portable power winch to move boulders in a dredging operation, the winch must be set up on a solid and stable foundation. It takes a tremendous amount of force to move a boulder. Sometimes, the boulder will move quickly. Or, sometimes, the sling will slip off the boulder, causing the cable to suddenly go slack. Maybe the boulder will loosen up and roll the wrong way, causing a sudden, heavy stress on the cable. When these things happen, and they do happen, you do not want your winch bouncing around or sliding off the platform. That could be extremely dangerous! The winch must be stable!

The winch also should be anchored to a solid object behind it which will hold its position much more securely than the boulders that are to be moved. A fair-sized tree, or a large boulder, directly behind the winch platform can work well for this purpose.

Also, the cable or chain being used to anchor the winch must be considerably stronger than the winch’s capability to pull. The last thing you need is your anchor chain or cable breaking while you are pulling a large boulder! This could cause the winch, and the winch operator, to be yanked off the platform, resulting in a serious accident. Undamaged, heavy-duty truck tow chains with the adjustable end-hooks are excellent for anchoring a winch. Make sure you get chains that are strong enough.

Your winch should also be anchored to a point which is lower than it is. If the winch is anchored from a low point, when boulders are being pulled, the winch will be held down more solidly onto the platform. If the winch is anchored to a higher point, during pulling the winch can be lifted off its platform. This can also be dangerous.

Sometimes, you will not be able to find a good location for your winch along the streambank. You prefer a location where the winch can be set up to directly face the boulders to be pulled, and which provides a level, solid foundation with a properly-located, fixed object from which to anchor the winch. But if that is not available, you can almost always find an acceptable foundation somewhere between two large objects along the bank. The platform may require a little concrete work to get it right. The winch can be anchored to one of the objects, while the other object can be used to attach a snatch block (heavy-duty pulley). The cable can then be run from the winch, through the snatch block, to the boulders that need to be moved. One advantage to this rigging setup is that if the cable does happen to break under a great strain, it will be less likely to fly directly at the winch and its operators.

Positioning the winch between two anchors on the bank,
because there is no easier way to get a straight pull with the winch.

When you set up a winch, it is usually best to position it so the boulders will be pulled as much as possible in the desired direction. The boulders will also need to be pulled far enough away from the dredge hole that they will not have to be moved again at a later time. Often, you will not be able to set up the winch in a position where you can directly pull the boulders in the desired direction. For example, you may want to pull them downriver, rather than toward the stream bank. This situation is most commonly corrected by using directional-change snatch blocks. A snatch block (pulley) can be anchored at a point from the exact direction that you want to pull boulders. The cable then runs from the winch, through the snatch block, to the boulder. In this way, you can usually move the boulders in any direction that you desire from a stable winching position along the bank.

Setting up the proper direction of pull by anchoring a snatch block directly downstream in the river.

Directional-change blocks for winching should be very heavy-duty. They need to be stronger than the cable being used, or the capability of the winch to pull. The best pulley is one that can be quick-released from the cable. This way, you do not have to feed all the cable through the block to get rigged for winching. Good winching pulleys are generally available at industrial equipment supply stores and at marine equipment shops. Directional-change blocks can be attached to trees or boulders with the use of additional cable, chokers or heavy-duty chain. You will find that a few extra tow chains (long ones) and chokers will come in very handy when setting up a winching operation. Chains which have the end-hooks on them are best, so you can adjust their length to meet your needs.

To minimize damage to the environment, you can place pieces of wood between the cable or chain and the trunk of any tree that you use as an anchor. When you anchor a directional-change block to a tree or boulder, you are almost always better off anchoring to a low point. This will reduce the chances of rolling the boulder over or pulling down a tree.

When you use a cable to anchor a winch or directional-change block to a boulder, set it up so that the pull will not cause the cable to become pinched (between two boulders or between a boulder and the bedrock) or be pulled into the material underneath the boulder. Otherwise, after the winching, you may have trouble retrieving your cable without having to move the anchoring boulder as well.

At times, you may need to set up a directional-change block, to pull boulders in a desired direction, but cannot find a downstream boulder that is large enough to use as an anchor. In this case, you can run an additional cable out from a fixed object further downstream on the opposite side of the waterway, and attach your directional-change block to the cable. Then, by increasing or decreasing the length of the cable, you can position the block right where you want it.

Setting up a directional-change block by extending it out on a cable from the other side of the waterway.

It is not a good idea to winch boulders with rope, even the smaller boulders being pulled by your truck or a come-along. When you use rope for winching, the rope stretches even if it is doubled-back multiple times for extra strength. And, it stretches. And, it stretches. Then, it breaks. Such breaks can be dangerous when working around boulders. Also, it can quickly exhaust your supply of rope. Rope is just not strong enough for the job. Steel cable is best. You might get a deal on good, used steel cable from the scrap metal yards. Call around to find out who has it when you need it. Scrap yards usually sell it at scrap prices, by the pound, even if it is in good condition.

The cable you use on your winch should always be considerably stronger than your winch’s pulling capacity. The last thing anyone wants to see is a bunch of out-of-control steel cable flying wildly back in his direction. Faulty or worn cable should be replaced immediately and never used thereafter for winching.

Winching boulders involves an incredible amount of force. So does hauling logs by cable. Similar cables are used in logging operations to pull trees to the loading area. I have heard stories of logging cables snapping, flying back, and cutting a man in two. You are dealing with a similar amount of force when winching the larger boulders in a dredging operation.

WINCHING SIGNALS

During a winching operation, it will be necessary to have a diver in the water to set the sling on the boulders. The diver will also need to remove the sling from each boulder after it has been moved, and then return the sling and cable back to the dredge hole for use in moving the next boulder. This process will continue until all the boulders for that stage of the dredging operation have been moved.

Unless the diver is slinging boulders and operating the winch (a very slow way to go, unless the controls to the winch are in the water with the diver), another person must operate the winch, truck or other device that will be doing the pulling. Once you have more than one person involved in the operation, communication becomes a critical part of the process.

If the winch is a smaller one, or if a truck is being used to pull boulders, and the pulling position is in sight of the target boulders, the job might be accomplished with only one winch operator. On the other hand, in a normal two-man operation, if the winch operator is unable to maintain constant eye contact on the area where the winching is taking place, perhaps a third person will be needed to help with the communication. Each situation will be different. Since this need for immediate and accurate communication is a safety matter which requires on-site judgment, you will have to decide how many people are needed to winch safely.

Sometimes a truck can be turned around to pull backwards, and the driver can directly see and simultaneously carry out the diver’s signals. The controls on an electric winch will often allow a second person to be positioned well enough to see what is happening where the rocks are being moved.

While a boulder is being moved, the diver can watch its progress and signal the winch operator to stop pulling and/or give slack on the line so the boulder sling can be adjusted, if necessary, to successfully complete the movement as planned. The main point is that the diver must be able to communicate to the winch operator quickly and without error. The greater the pulling-power and/or speed of the winch, the more important it is that these signals be accurately received and acted upon quickly. Imagine that you are using a powerful winch to pull a large rock with a heavy steel cable and solid anchoring objects. If your boulder gets jammed against something else in the dredge hole so that it will not move, and you continue pulling with great force, something is eventually going to give. And, it might not be the boulder! This uncertainty is what you want to avoid.

If you are using a winch that does not automatically feed the cable evenly onto the drum, the operator will sometimes need to manually guide the cable. Otherwise, on hard pulls, if the cable starts crossing itself and is allowed to pinch itself on the drum, it may become damaged and thereafter be dangerous for further winching. For this reason, the winch operator may need to focus some attention on the winch, rather than on the diver. In this type of situation, it is wise to include an additional person to help relay communication. Someone needs to be watching for the diver’s signals at all times.

Gasoline-powered winches make noise. So does a gasoline-powered hookah-air system supplying air to the diver. The diver also usually has a regulator in his mouth. With all of this noise present, and the diver having his mouth full, verbal signals are usually not very dependable – especially, if there is a substantial distance between the diver and the winch operator. For these reasons, I have often found visual signals to be more trustworthy, particularly when there is a person positioned at the winch to relay the diver’s signals to the winch operator.

In shallow water, hand signals can usually work pretty well. You really only need three of them: “PULL” , “STOP” and “GIVE SLACK ON THE CABLE”. I highly suggest you take a look at the standard set of signals that my partners and I use in our own dredging operation. These can be found in a special video segment included with an article I wrote about teamwork. Otherwise, create your own signals so that they can be quickly and clearly understood, and one signal cannot be confused with another. There is also a section on winching and signals in my video, Advanced Gold Dredging & Sampling Techniques.” You might want to check it out to get some ideas.

At times, you may be faced with the need to winch boulders out of a dredge hole located in deeper water. In this case, the diver will be heavily weighted down to stay on the river-bottom. He may also be some distance from the streambank. In this setting, it may be nearly impossible for the diver to surface to give timely signals to the winch operator. The process of getting up to the surface can simply take too long! When this is your situation, and if the water is not moving too fast, you may consider using a buoy, tied to a rope that is anchored near the dredge hole, to relay your signals. I personally have found the best and safest signals to be: (1) buoy underwater means, “PULL” (2) buoy floating at the surface means, “STOP PULLING” and (3) buoy bobbing up and down in the water means, “GIVE SLACK”.

This method of buoy-signals is relatively safe. If the buoy is anchored a short distance from the boulder, in order to pull the buoy underwater and hold it there, the diver would have to be away from the boulder on the “PULL” signal. If the buoy is floating, the diver can be anywhere, which is why it is the best choice for the “STOP” signal. You need to make certain, however, that nothing is allowed to snag the buoy’s rope (like the pull cable or an air line) which could pull the buoy underwater and cause a false “PULL” signal!

One other safety note:All divers must always watch their own hookah air lines during winching, to make sure an air line (or the signal rope to the buoy) is not snagged up in the cable or rolled over by the boulder as it is moved.

BOULDER SLINGS

When slinging boulders, try to make sure the pull cable will not rub too heavily or get crushed against other boulders. It is always best to protect the pull cable and let the boulder sling take the pounding. The boulder sling is going to be pounded anyway. Because of this rough duty, boulder slings should be replaced or repaired periodically.

One type of boulder sling often used out in the field is a long, heavy-duty tow chain with end-hooks which allow the chain to be quickly and easily adjusted to any length. This system gives you a fast set up. Just wrap the chain around the boulder in the proper place, connect the end-hook to give you the right fit, and she’s ready to go.

Tow chain boulder sling with end hook.

However, some boulders are smoother and rounder, which makes it more difficult to get a good “bite” with a sling made out of chain. Every time you start to pull, the boulder might move just a little and then the chain slips off. You can waste a lot of time working on a single boulder in this way; it can get quite frustrating.

Logging cable-chokers are also useful for making a cable sling that will tighten up on the boulder as you pull. This may improve the situation, but still not work problem-free on smooth, round rocks.

For round and smooth boulders, I have found the best remedy to be an auxiliary “boulder harness.” This homemade boulder harness consists of heavy cable, chain, steel pipe and cable clamps. It is very easy to construct. The sections of steel pipe slide onto the cable to protect it and to keep the cross-chains properly positioned. The harness is set up like a lasso. It pulls tighter around the boulder as stress increases on the line. And, it generally works well in pulling even the most difficult boulders.

How to put together an excellent boulder harness for winching.

PULLING BOULDERS

Some boulders come easy and some do not. A lot of the problem is in breaking the boulder’s initial suction/compaction in the streambed. If your winch does not have the power to pull a boulder the way you have slung it, sometimes you can break the boulder free by using a rolling hitch A “rolling hitch” is rigged by slinging the boulder backwards, then running the chain or cable over top of the boulder. This places the winch’s pulling-power along the most-leveraged position on the boulder. This will sometimes free a stubborn boulder by rolling it.

How to sling a rolling hitch.

When pulling boulders up and out of a dredge hole, you should pull them some distance away from the hole. Otherwise, if there are more boulders to be moved, they may begin backing up along your ramp and block the passage of any more boulders. This could require you to move them all again, which is a time-waster that you can avoid with proper planning in the first place. For example, take a look at the image at the beginning of this article. That is a top view of a winching operation we did on one of our Group Mining Projects a short while ago. See how we were pulling the boulders back well out of our ongoing excavation?

If you are dealing with relatively deep streambed material and a lot of boulders, you may want to set up an adjustable, directional-change block behind the hole. This way, the boulders can be winched out of the hole in several different directions. This will prevent them from backing up so quickly.

Setting up an adjustable directional-change block to pull boulders in several different directions.

Once the dredge hole has been opened enough, some of the boulders can be winched or rolled to the backside of the hole, rather than taking them up the ramp. Winching will start to go faster when you get to this stage. Depending upon the situation, it may be necessary to winch some of the boulders up the ramp and out of the hole to prevent too much jamming. Be sure to keep access to the ramp free and clear. Otherwise, you may get closed in with too many boulders in the rear of your hole. The more boulders that are jammed up, the more difficult it can be to clear them out of the hole.

Sometimes, when you have winched your boulder to its destination, it will end up on top and pin your sling underneath. If you are using a tow chain as your sling, you can usually just unhook it and have the winch pull it out from underneath the boulder. But, if you are using a sling made of cable, you may not be able to pull it out from under the rock without damaging the harness. For this reason, it is a good idea to have a second sling on hand to help move the boulder off the other harness when this happens.

DIVER’S SAFETY

A diver will be safest by staying well away from the area where a boulder is being winched, and the path it will be taking as it is being pulled. The forces involved in winching are more than enough to cause a very serious accident. Since the diver is underwater, the winch operator sometimes cannot see what is happening where the bolder is located.

What can happen down there, though, is when the diver sees the boulder getting hung up on things as it is being pulled along, he wants to move in and help it along with his pry bar. The less power that your winch provides, the more the diver will naturally feel the need to help the boulder along in this way. Never forget that your safety margin is considerably reduced when you get near a boulder while it is being pulled! A safer course of action would be to stop the pulling and reset the harness, or reset the direction of pull, or improve the boulder ramp, or find a stronger winch for the job. Or, you can increase the pulling power of your existing winch by double blocking…

DOUBLE BLOCKING

“Double blocking” is accomplished by attaching a snatch block to the boulder sling, running the pull cable through that block, and then back to the last directional-change anchor. This type of rigging will nearly double the amount of pulling force that can be exerted against the boulder by the winch and pull cable.

Double blocking back to the last directional-change anchor
will nearly double the winch’s pulling power against the boulder.

If even more power is needed, another block can be set up on the line to run the pull cable back to the boulder sling. The pulling force of any winching device can be increased by continuing to double block in this way. There is a disadvantage to all this rigging, however. It takes much more cable to pull boulders any significant distance. Also, it is equally more difficult for the diver to pull the boulder sling and cable back to the dredge hole after each boulder has been moved. With all that cable going back and forth, it can get pretty complicated – especially if you are dealing with a limited amount of visibility. Quick-release snatch blocks are a must when double blocking. This way, you can detach the pulleys from the cable without having to feed it all the way through.

Actually, one double block is not that hard to manage as long as you have enough cable. It is when you double block a second time that it starts getting difficult to keep track of which cable is going to where? But, this alternative is available to you if you need the extra pulling power to move a particularly large boulder.

Directional-change blocks, by themselves, do not give you an increase in pulling power. For a power increase, the cable must be doubled back so that the boulder is moved only half the distance that the winch is pulling on the cable.

 

 
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This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine May/Jun, 1993 on Page 45. This issue is still available! Click here.

By Dave McCracken

Classification is necessary to increase the amount of smaller particles of gold that you will trap in your recovery system.

Dave Mack

 

It takes more water velocity to move larger-sized material than it does to move the smaller-sized material through a sluice box. Yet, to the degree that the water velocity over a sluice box is increased, there may be a loss of fine gold recovery. Or, to the degree the water velocity over a sluice box is slowed down, there is likely to be an increase in fine gold recovery–as long as there is still enough flow over the box to keep the riffles concentrating.

When larger rocks are pushed through a sluice box by water force, they also create greater turbulence behind the riffles as they pass over, which may cause an additional loss of fine gold.

To improve gold recovery, it is common practice to run material through a screen to classify out the larger rocks before running the material through the recovery-portion of a sluice box. In this way, less water velocity is needed through the box, which allows for a more orderly flow, and an increase in fine gold recovery. The action of screening materials is called “classification.” Materials which have been passed through a classification screen are called “classified materials.” The following video segment demonstrates this very important point:

The size and depth of riffles within a sluice box play an important part of this. A slower water flow might not keep a deeper riffle concentrating. A greater water flow can sometimes “boil-out” a lower-profile riffle. So as water flow is slowed down to catch finer-sized gold, it is generally necessary to use shorter riffles.

Half-inch mesh screen is commonly used for primary classification in small and medium-sized sluicing operations, because the screen is large enough to allow classification to take place quickly, yet no materials greater than half-inch in size will get into the sluice. Therefore a slower-velocity of water can be directed through the box, and fine gold recovery will be improved.

Classification for a sluicing operation can be done in any number of ways. One is to place a piece of strong half-inch mesh screen over a bucket, and shovel or pour through the screen into the bucket while sweeping the larger material off to the side. Once the bucket is filled with classified material, it can be poured into the sluice box at a uniform rate. It is better to not dump the whole bucket into the sluice all at once! This is because too much material is likely to overload the riffles and cause a loss of gold recovery.

In a situation where it is necessary to haul material a short distance to the sluice box, sometimes it is easiest to classify the material directly into a wheelbarrow and transfer only the classified material to the sluice.

Perhaps one of the best screening methods is to build a classification device that you can shovel into, and which will stand directly over the top of, and drop the classified materials into, the head of your sluice box.

The device should be built with the screen set at an angle. This way, larger material is helped to roll off of the screen as the pay-dirt is shoveled onto it. Smaller materials should fall through the screen and be directed into the head of your sluice box. This is actually a miniature model of the big classifiers used by large-scale heavy equipment bench-mining operations. A classification device such as this is rather easy and economical to build and will speed up a production-sluicing operation while screening is being done to improve gold recovery.

Any recovery system will only recover gold effectively down to a certain size-range. Most gold particles smaller in size than that will be lost with the tailings. Classification is one effective way of increasing the amount of gold that will be recovered out of the material that will be processed. As demonstrated in this following video segment, this is especially true of suction dredges; because dredges are able to increase the volume of production over other types of hand-mining activity.

Here is a substantial explanation of the system which we have developed to effectively recover more fine gold on our conventional suction dredges. It combines two classification screens to more-effectively separate material-feed into three size-fractions, each which is directed into a different recovery system. The smallest gold particles (which are most difficult to recover) are directed into low-profile riffles along the bottom of the sluice box which have long been proven to be very effective at trapping fine gold.

 

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

By Dave McCracken

“Having the Gold Mining Adventure of a Lifetime!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5″ Pro-Mack Sampling Dredge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow ups:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
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By Dave McCracken

“The Gold Pan as a Production Tool”

Dave Mack

The main thing to remember about the use of a gold pan is that while it is very effective as a gold-catching device, it can only process a limited volume of streambed material. For this reason, the gold pan is normally not used as a production tool in commercial use, other than in the most remote locations where it would be very difficult to haul large pieces of equipment, and where there is only a small amount of streambed material present — which is paying well enough to make the panning worthwhile.

The gold pan is most commonly used to locate a richer paying area by sampling, so that larger production equipment can be brought into that location to work the ground to recover more gold.

There are stories in the old mining records about the ground being so rich during the 1849 gold rush that as much as 96 ounces of gold were recovered from a single pan. That is $100,000+ at today’s rate of exchange, and must have been some very rich ground indeed!

Stories like that are rare and pay-dirt like that is not run across very often. However, it is not too uncommon to hear of prospectors today who are able to consistently produce better than an ounce of gold per week with a gold pan in the high country, and have the gold to show for it. Some do better, but these prospectors have usually been at it for awhile and have located hot spots. I personally know of two guys who support themselves with a gold pan, and one of them lives pretty well. As mentioned earlier, the gold pan gives you unlimited accessibility, and these prospectors look around to find the pockets in the exposed bedrock along the edges of the creek-beds in their areas, picking up a few pieces here, a few there, and a little pocket of gold once in awhile. It adds up, and to them it is better than punching a time clock.

There is still plenty of rich ground to be found in gold country if you are willing to do the work involved in finding it.

Gold Panning Procedure

Panning gold is basically simple, once you realize that you are doing the same thing that the river does when it causes gold to concentrate and deposit during flood storms.

The process basically consists of placing the material that you want to process into your pan and shaking it in a left to right motion underwater to cause the gold, which is heavy, to work its way down toward the bottom of your pan. At the same time, the lighter materials, which are worthless, are worked up to the surface of the gold pan where they can be swept away. The process of shaking and sweeping is repeated until only the heaviest of materials are left-namely the gold and heaviest black sand.

Once you are out in the field, you will notice that no two people pan gold exactly alike. After you have been at it awhile, you will develop your own little twists and shakes to accomplish the proper result.

Here follows a basic gold panning procedure to start off with which works well and is easy to learn:

STEP 1: Once you have located some gravel that you want to sample, place it in your gold pan-filling it about 3/4 of the way to the top. After you have been at it awhile, you can fill your pan to the top without losing any gold. While placing material in your pan, pick out the larger-sized rocks, so that you can get more of the smaller material and gold into the pan.

STEP 2: Choose a spot to do your panning. It is best to pick a location where the water is at least six inches deep and preferably flowing just enough to sweep away any silty water that may be washed from your pan. This way, you can see what you are doing better. You do not want the water moving so swiftly that it will upset your panning actions. A mild current will do, if available.

It is always best to find a spot where there’s a rock or log or stream-bank or something that you can sit down upon while panning. You can pan effectively while squatting, kneeling or bending over, but it does get tiresome. If you are planning to process more than just one or two pans, sitting down will make the activity much more pleasant.

STEP 3: Carry the pan over to your determined spot and submerge it underwater.

STEP 4: Use your fingers to knead the contents of the pan to break it up fully and cause all of the material to become saturated with water. This is the time to work apart all the clay, dirt, roots, moss and such with your fingers to ensure that all the materials are fully broken up and in a liquid state of suspension whithin the pan.

The pan should be underwater while doing this. Mud and silt will float up and out. Do not concern yourself about losing any gold when this happens. Remember: gold is heavy and will sink deeper in your pan while these lighter materials are floating out and away.

STEP 5: After the entire contents of the pan have been thoroughly broken up, take the pan in your hands (with cheater riffles on the far side of the pan) and shake it, using a vigorous left and right motion just under the surface of the water. This action will help to break up the contents of the pan even more and will also start to work the heavier materials downwards in the pan while the lighter materials will start to surface.

Be careful not to get so vigorous in your left and right shaking that you slosh material out of the pan during this step. Depending upon the consistency of the material that you are working, it may be necessary to alternate doing steps four and five over again a few times to get all of the pan’s contents into a liquid state of suspension. It is this same liquid state of suspension that allows the heavier materials to sink in the pan while the lighter materials emerge to the surface.

STEP 6: As the shaking action causes rocks to rise up to the surface, sweep them out of the pan using your fingers or the side of your hand. Just sweep off the top layer of rocks which have worked their way up to the pan’s surface.

Don’t worry about losing gold while doing this, because the same action which has brought the lighter rocks to the surface will have worked the gold deeper down toward the bottom of the pan.

When picking the larger rocks out of the pan, make sure that they are clean of clay and other particles before you toss them out. Clay sometimes contains pieces of gold and also has a tendency to grab onto the gold in your pan.

Note: Working the raw material through a classification screen into the gold pan during Step 1 or Step 3 will eliminate the need to sweep out larger rocks in Step 6. This will also allow you to pan a larger sample of the finer-sized material(which contains all the gold you will find in a pan sample).

STEP 7: Continue to do steps five and six, shaking the pan and sweeping out the rocks and pebbles(if present), until most of the medium-sized material is out of your pan.

STEP 8: Tilt the forward edge of your pan downward slightly to bring the forward-bottom edge of the pan to a lower position. With the pan tilted forward, shake it back and forth using the same left and right motion. Be careful not to tilt the pan forward so much that any material is spilled over the forward-edge while shaking.

This tilted shaking action causes the gold to start working its way down to the pan’s forward-bottom edge, and continues to work the lighter materials to the surface where they will be more easily swept off.

STEP 9: Carefully, by using a forward and backward movement, or a slight circular motion just below the surface of the water, allow the water to sweep the top layer of worthless, lighter materials out of the pan. Only allow the water to sweep out a little at a time, while watching closely for the heavier materials to be uncovered as the lighter materials are swept out. It takes some judgment in this step to determine just how much material to sweep off before having to shake again so that no gold is lost. It will just take a little practice in panning gold before you will begin to see the difference between the lighter materials and the heavier materials in your pan. You will develop a feel for knowing how much material can be safely swept out before re-shaking is necessary. When you are first starting, it is best to re-shake as often as you feel that it is needed to prevent losing any gold. When in doubt, shake! There are a few factors which can be pointed out to help you with this. Heavier materials are usually

darker in color than the lighter materials. You will notice while shaking the pan that it is the lighter-colored materials that are vibrating on the surface. You will also notice that as the lighter materials are swept out of the pan, the darker-colored materials are uncovered.

Materials tend to get darker (and heavier) as you work your way down toward the bottom of the pan, where the darkest and heaviest materials will be found, they being the purple and black sands, which are usually minerals of the iron family. The exception to this is gold, which is heaviest of all. Gold usually is of a bright and shiny metallic color and shows out well in contrast to the other heavier materials at the bottom of the gold pan.

One other factor to keep in mind is that the lighter materials sweep out of your pan more easily than do the heavier materials. As the heavier materials are uncovered, they are increasingly more resistant to being swept out of the pan, and will give you an indication of when it is time to re-shake.

As you work your way down through your pan, sometimes gold particles will show themselves as you get down to the heavier materials. When you see gold, you know it is time to re-shake your pan.

There is another popular method of sweeping the lighter materials out of the top of your pan which you might prefer to use. It is done by dipping your pan under the water and lifting it up, while allowing the water to run off the forward edge of the pan, taking the top layer of material along with it.

STEP 10: Once the top layer of lighter material is washed out of your pan, re-shake to bring more lighter materials to the top. By “lighter materials,” I mean in comparison to the other materials. If you continue to shake the lighter materials to the top and sweep them off, eventually you will be left with the heaviest material of all, which is the gold. It does not take much shaking to bring a new layer of lighter material to the surface. Maybe 5 or 6 seconds of shaking will do it, maybe less. It all depends upon the consistency of the material and how much gold is present.

Continue to pluck out the larger-sized rocks and pebbles as they show themselves during the process.

STEP 11: Every few cycles of sweeping and re-shaking, tilt your pan back to the level position and re-shake. This keeps any gold from being allowed to work its way up the forward-edge of your pan.

STEP 12:Continue the above steps of sweeping and re-shaking until you are down to the heaviest materials in your pan. These usually consist of old pieces of lead and other metal, coins, BB’s, old bullets, buckshot, nails, garnets, small purple and black iron rocks, and the heavy black sand concentrates. Black sands consist mainly or in part of the following: magnetite (magnetic black sands), hematite (non-magnetic black sands), titanium, zircon, rhodolite, monazite, tungsten materials, and sometimes pyrites (fool’s gold), plus any other items which might be present in that location which have a high specific gravity-like gold and platinum.

Once down to the heaviest black sands in your pan, you can get a quick look at the concentrates to see how much gold is present by allowing about a half-cup of water into the pan, tilting the pan forward as before, and shaking from left to right to place the concentrates in the forward-bottom section of your pan. Then, level the pan off and swirl the water around in slow circles. This action will gradually uncover the concentrates, and you can get a look at any gold that is present. The amount of gold in your pan will give you an idea how rich the raw material is that you are sampling.

A magnet can be used to help remove the magnetic black sands from the gold pan. Take care when doing this. While gold is not magnetic, sometimes particles of gold will become trapped in the magnetic net of iron particles which clump together and attach to the magnet. I prefer to drop the magnetic sands into a second plastic gold pan, swish them around, and then pick them up once again with the magnet. Depending upon how much gold this leaves behind, I might do this several times before finally discarding the magnetic sands.

Many beginners like to stop panning at this point and pick out all the pieces of gold (colors) with tweezers. This is one way of recovering the gold from your pan, but it is a pretty slow method.

Most prospectors who have been at it for awhile will pan down through the black sands as far as they feel that they can go without losing any gold. Then they check the pan for any colors by swirling it, and pick out any of the larger-sized flakes and nuggets to place them in a gold sample bottle. Then the remaining concentrates are poured into a small coffee can or bucket and allowed to accumulate there until the end of the day, or week, or whenever enough concentrates have been collected to make it worthwhile further process them. This is really the better method if you are interested in recovering more gold, because it allows you to get on with the job of panning and sampling without getting deeply involved with a pair of tweezers. Otherwise, you can end up spending 25% of your time panning and up to 75% of your time picking out small colors from the pan!

Panning Down All The Way To Gold

It is possible to pan all the way down to the gold-with no black sands, lead or other foreign materials remaining in the pan. This is often done among prospectors when cleaning up a set of concentrates which have been taken from the recovery system of a larger piece of equipment-like a sluice box or suction dredge.

Panning all the way down to gold is really not very difficult once you get the hang of it. It is just a matter of a little practice and being a bit more careful. When doing so, most prospectors prefer to use the smooth surface of the gold pan, rather than using the cheater riffles. The key is to run the concentrates through several sizes of classification screens and pan each size-fraction separately. Use of a smaller-sized pan (“finishing pan”) makes this process go easier.

When panning a set of concentrates all the way down to the gold-or nearly so, it is good to have a medium-sized funnel and a large-mouthed gold sample bottle on hand. This way, once you have finished panning, it is just a matter of pouring the gold from your pan into the sample bottle through the funnel. Pill bottles and baby food jars can make good gold sample bottles for field use, because they are usually made of thick glass and have wide mouth. Plastic bottles are even safer.

Another method is with the use of a gold snifter bottle. This is a small hand-sized flexible bottle with a small sucking tube attached to it. Squeezing the snifter bottle creates a vacuum inside. Submerged gold from the pan can consequently be sucked up through the tube.

If you do not have a snifter bottle or funnel, try wetting your finger with saliva and fingering the gold into a container, which should be filled with water. The saliva will cause the gold and concentrates to stick to your finger until it touches the water in the container. This works, but the funnel method is faster.

Practice Gold Panning

If you are not in a known gold-producing location, but want to do some practice panning to acquire some skills before going out into the field, you can practice in your own backyard. Use a washtub to pan into and some diggings from your garden (or wherever) to simulate streambed materials. I recommend that you throw in some rocks and gravel along with the dirt so that it takes on an actual streambed consistency. Take some pieces of lead, buckshot or small lead fishing weights, cut them up into various sizes ranging from pellet-size down to pinhead-size, and pound some of them flat with a hammer. This puts the pieces of lead in the same form as the majority of gold found in a streambed-flake form. They will act in much the same way as will flakes and grains of gold. Leave a few of the pieces of lead shot so that gold nuggets can also be simulated.

When panning into the tub, place some of these pieces of lead into your pan, starting off with the larger-sized pieces first. Keep track of how many pieces of lead you use each time so that you can see how well you are doing when you get down to the bottom of the pan. Practice panning in this manner can be very revealing to a beginner, especially when he or she continues to put smaller pieces of lead into the pan as progress is made.

If you can pan small pieces of lead successfully, then you will not have much difficulty panning gold (higher specific gravity) out of a riverbed. And, who knows? You may end up with gold in your pan-right out of your own backyard! It wouldn’t be the first time.

Bags of real panning material are also available from different sources within the industry. These bags usually contain some real gold along with the type of materials you would commonly encounter when panning out in the field. Practice panning with the “real thing” is the best way to get started!

 

 

 
video subscription graphic
This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine May/Jun, 1992 on Page 36.
This issue is still available! Click here.

By Dave McCracken

Experienced gold miner lays out fundamentals of running a successful surface prospecting program.

 

A “sluice box” is a trough-like gold recovering device which has a series of obstructions or baffles, called “riffles”, along its bottom edge. While a steady stream of water is directed to pass through, streambed material is shoveled into the upper-end of the box. The flow of water washes the streambed materials through the sluice and over the riffles, which trap the gold out of the material.

The reason a sluice box works is that gold is extremely heavy and will work its way quickly down to the bottom of the materials being washed through the box. The gold then drops behind the riffles and remains there, because there is not enough water force behind the riffles to sweep the gold out into the main force of water again.

A sluicing operation, when set up properly, can process the gold out of streambed material about as fast as it can be shoveled into the box. This can be many times more material than a panning operation can handle, yet with similar efficiency in gold recovery. How much material can be shoveled into a sluice box greatly depends upon the consistency and hardness of the material within the streambed itself, and how easily it can be broken away.

A sluice requires a steady flow of water through the box to operate at its best efficiency. Most often, the box is placed in a stream or creek where water is moving rather swiftly, with the sluice being placed in such a way that a stream of water is directed through the box.

In locations where water is available, but is not moving fast enough to be channeled through the box for sluicing purposes, the water can be pumped or siphoned to the box with excellent results (covered later). How much water is available, and whether or not it will need to be transported to your sluice box, is something that needs to be considered during the planning stages of a sluicing operation.

Because so much more material can be processed with a sluice, than with a gold pan, streambed materials which contain far less gold values can be mined while recovering just as much or more gold. Therefore, if the streambed material had to pay a certain amount in gold values in to be worked with a gold pan to your satisfaction, gravel containing only a fraction of as many values can be worked with the same result using a sluice box. This is an important factor to grasp; because it means the modern sluice box opens up a tremendous amount of ground that can be profitably mined by an individual.

Motorized sluicing (also often called “high-banking”) is an activity similar to sluicing, except that sluicing is almost always accomplished with the water-flow from the creek or river keeping gravel moving through and over the riffles. As demonstrated in the following video sequence, a motorized sluice (also called a “hydraulic concentrator”) is usually set up with a water pump that supplies water for the sluice box:

Motorized sluices are usually equipped with a recovery system that is set up with adjustable-length legs. This allows the box to be adjusted from side to side and front to back on uneven ground. This allows the water flow to be created for optimum gold recovery. Most motorized sluices available on today’s market also include a screening device over the top of the feed-section of the sluice box. Screening the larger-sized rocks out of material to be sluiced is one of the primary methods for improving fine (small) gold recovery. Any time you can screen larger rocks out, you can slow the water down through the sluice, which will allow even smaller particles of gold to become trapped inside the riffles.

In normal sluicing, the operators must find a location alongside of a creek or river where the water is flowing just right, at the proper depth, to set up the sluice so the proper amount of water can be directed through. Once the sluice is set up, gold-bearing material must be carried to the sluice, screened separately, and carefully fed through the sluice box.

With a motorized sluice, all you need is a supply of water within several hundred feet of where you want to dig. The screen and sluice assembly can be set up directly at the work site so that pay-dirt can be shoveled directly onto the screening section. The pump/engine assembly will pump water from the water source, through a pressure hose, to the sluice.

Another advantage to the motorized sluice is that in some areas today, it is not legal to wash silt directly from the bank into an active waterway. With a motorized sluice set up some distance from the stream or river, you have an opportunity to utilize natural contours up on the land to slow the water down enough to allow the sediments to settle before (if ever) the water re-enters the creek or river.

SAMPLING

Just like in any other type of gold mining activity, the key to doing well is in digging sample holes to first find a high-grade gold deposit.

Placer Geology

In many places, there is more gold up on the banks than you will find in the river. This can sometimes be true on the Klamath River in northern California. Actually, it is not only that there is more gold on the banks than in the river. The gold on the banks can sometimes just be easier to get at for a small operation.

What happened along the Klamath River, and in many other areas, is not difficult to understand. The old-timers started mining down in the creek or river, and moved uphill, allowing gravity to carry the water and tailings back down towards the creek or river. As the old-timers worked further up into the banks, often the gravel became deeper and more difficult to remove by conventional hand methods. In time, the old-timers developed hydraulic mining. This is where they directed large volumes of water from nearby (or sometimes distant) creeks under great pressure through monitors (huge pressure nozzles). The high-pressure water was used to wash large volumes of gravel through large sluice boxes placed on the banks of the creeks and rivers. As the sluicing operations cut further up into the banks, the sluice boxes were moved forward, which left tailings deposited on the banks.

It is estimated that as much as 50-percent of the gold washed right through the sluice boxes in hydraulic operations because of the large volume and velocity of water which such operations used. Hydraulic operations did not lose gold in the same amounts all of the time. Much of the gravel that these operations processed contained little or no gold. The concentrations of gold were found along bedrock or at the bottom of lower strata flood layers. So, valueless top-gravels were processed at volume speed, and they would try to slow down when getting into pay-dirt materials. Sometimes, however, they would cut into pay-dirt materials at volume speed–before having a chance to slow down. This is where large volumes of gold would wash directly into the tailing piles.

Since the time of large-scale hydraulic mining, there have been several occasions of extreme high water. The 1964 flood in the western United States is one example. Floods of such magnitude, all throughout gold country, re-deposited old hydraulic tailings piles into newly-formed streambeds up on the banks and within the active waterways. Places where gold was lost from hydraulic operations formed into new pay-streaks–often only inches or a few feet from the surface. This is true all up and down the banks of the Klamath River–and probably many other rivers as well–which has created a wonderful and exciting opportunity for modern small-scale gold miners.

Contrary to popular belief, many pay-streaks today are not found down along the bedrock. In fact, many of the pay-streaks surface miners are finding along the Klamath River are situated in a flood layer (1964 flood) within two feet of the surface. This flood layer is often resting directly on top of undisturbed hydraulic tailings.

We are also finding similar pay-streak deposits inside the active river with the use of suction dredges.

Finding pay-streaks with a surface digging project is usually done by setting up the sluice in several different locations, and giving each sample a large enough test hole to obtain an idea of how much gold the gravel is carrying. Sample holes should be taken to bedrock if possible. However, if the gravel goes deep, you have to avoid getting in too far “over your head.” At the point where you start digging deeper than 3 or 4 feet with a pick and shovel, any pay-streak is going to have to be exceptionally rich to make the effort worthwhile. Richer deposits are more scarce; and therefore more difficult to find. So it is important to stay within effective digging/sampling range, and not get yourself into a full-scale production operation before you have found a high-grade gold deposit.

Sometimes you can learn valuable information before you start sampling. If other miners in the immediate area are finding gold deposits along a specific flood layer, you should be sampling for gold along the same flood layer while digging around in the nearby vicinity. Gathering information such as this is one of the many benefits of belonging to an active mining club or association. Active mining organizations will include others who are actively pursuing the same type of mining activity that you are engaged in.

While sampling with a pick and shovel, it is very seldom that you will actually see gold in the gravel as it is being uncovered. Usually, you do

not see the gold until it is time to clean-upthe sluice box after the sample is complete.

If you finish a sample hole and end up with a good showing of gold, the next step is to find out exactly where the gold came from. In other words, did it come off the bedrock, or did it come from a particular layer in the streambed? You must know where the gold is coming from to evaluate the value of the pay-streak. For example, digging two feet into a paying flood layer requires much less time and effort than digging four feet and having to clean rough bedrock. If you do not know for certain where the gold is coming from, and you assume it is coming from the bedrock underneath four feet of hard-packed streambed, you might decide it is not rich enough to work and walk away from a very rich deposit located at the two-foot flood layer

At the same time, if you are able to reach bedrock, you always want to get a good sample there by thoroughly cleaning the surface and any irregularities there. Sometimes that is where the richest deposits are found.

Pinpointing the source of gold is reasonably easy once the sample hole has been opened up. It is likely that the gold will be concentrated either along the bedrock, along the bottom of a flood layer, or at both locations. Sometimes, there is more than one flood layer that carries gold. You can run small production samples of each stratum separately to see which is paying. Or, sometimes you can simply take pan-samples in the different contact zones between the layers

Some pick & shovel miners are using metal detectors in their prospecting activities. Some of the new gold metal detectors will sound out on pieces of gold as small as the head of a pin! But in gravel deposits, metal detectors can also be used quite well to locate the concentrations of magnetic black sand. Black sand tends to concentrate in pay-streaks, just like gold. Therefore, locations sounding out heavy concentrations of magnetic sand on metal detectors are excellent places to follow up with pick & shovel sampling.

One question commonly asked about sluicing procedure is the proper slope-setting for a sluice box. A sluice box generally requires about an inch drop per each linear foot of sluice. This is just a guideline. Basically, you need enough water velocity to keep the material active in the sluice behind the riffles, but not so much that you are washing most of the material out from behind the riffles. I like to get enough water flow to keep the larger material moving through and out of the box. If I see lots of rocks building up in the sluice, I know I do not have enough water velocity. An occasional rock needing to be helped along is alright in a sluice (although maybe not a dredge sluice!). In surface sluicing (non-dredging), I would rather toss out an occasional rock and have the peace of mind that I am also achieving maximum possible fine gold recovery.

A common practice in sluicing is to also to set up a second sluice behind the primary sluice. The plastic Le’Trap sluice works exceptionally well for this because it recovers fine gold so well, and for its ease in cleanup. The idea is to have a safety check on your primary recovery system to make sure it is working properly.

And if all else fails, you can always do some pan-testing in your tailings to see if your sluice might be losing any gold.

One mistake that beginners often make is in thinking that the recovery system is at fault because they are not recovering very much gold. Most often, however, it is not the recovery system. It is the lack of a good-paying pay-streak! The answer to this is to hustle around with more sampling. Ask around to see what and where it is working well for others in the area. Use their operations as a model.

Flood layer pay-streaks are often easier than bedrock pay-streaks to clean up with pick & shovel surface mining operations. There are several reasons for this. One is that a flood layer pay-streak is closer to the surface. This means less gravel to shovel to reach the gold. Another reason is that it takes more effort to clean the gold off of a bedrock surface when you are not using a dredge. You can only do so much with a shovel. After that, you must resort to a whisk broom and/or a motorized vacuum cleaner. This is why portable dry land dredges are also becoming so popular. They give you the ability to clean bedrock surfaces and cracks with minimum effort. If the gold is coming off bedrock, you must invest the extra effort to clean it off well. Otherwise, you stand the chance of leaving an important portion of the gold behind as you mine forward on the pay-streak.

Many pick & shovel miners today also are equipped with an optional suction attachment. To use it, the pressure hose from the water pump is attached to a suction nozzle that directs the water and material through a suction hose into the sluice. So after an initial hole is dug up out of the water, the hole can be filled with water and material can be sucked into the sluice box. The recovery system can be positioned so that the water discharge can run back into the hole– keeping the hole from running out of water.

So you can dig a hole up on the land, and then begin a suction mining operation outside of the active waterway. This is great!

In California, dredging permits are only required when dredges are operated inside of the active waterway. Therefore, my personal understanding is that suction miners up on the land are not required to have a dredging permit as long as they are not dredging inside the active waterway.

Some surface miners also sample for the gold-path up on the bank by pan sampling the moss. Sometimes, how well the moss is producing gold at the surface can also be an indication of how well the gravel is paying underneath.

When moss, roots, clay and other types of materials are producing good quantities of gold, it is always a good idea to break up the material as much as you can before running it through a sluice box. This is usually done by pulling it apart over the top of a classification screen, or breaking it up inside a bucket of water before running it through the sluice. This slows down production, so the additional work must be rewarded by the recovery of more gold.

Once you find a pay-streak in pick & shovel mining, you want to give some thought to how you are going to develop the deposit with a minimum of wasted effort. For example, you will have to pile the cobbles (rocks too large to pass through your recovery system) and tailings somewhere. Preferably, cobbles and tailings would not be placed upon some other section of the pay-streak. Otherwise they might need to be moved twice, or you might be forced to leave behind high-grade areas that have been further buried. So it is worth some extra sampling to get an idea of the pay-streak’s boundaries. Then you can deposit the tailings material in a location where you will not need to move them again.

Placing tailings is, and always has been, one of the most important aspects of a mining operation–of any size. Yet, it is one of the most neglected aspects of mining by a substantial portion of small-scale miners. In fact, we have a standing principle, true as it may be, along the Klamath River: “Dowsing works: just look where a successful pick & shovel miner or dredger has been throwing his or her cobbles. It is almost guaranteed there will be excellent gold underneath!”

This usually comes back to a simple case of gold fever. The miner starts getting a good showing of gold, gets excited, and never slows down to define the boundaries of the deposit. This almost guarantees an important portion of the deposit will end up underneath cobbles.

Pay-streaks up out of the water are often different from those found in the river or creek. What I mean by this is that they do not always follow the same gold path. When you find a pay-streak in the river, you can usually line it up with the next river bend and make a pretty fair guess where the next several pay-streaks are likely to be. This is because river pay-streaks usually form from gold that has washed down the river along its own gold path during major flood storms.

Pay-streaks outside of the river often were formed from gold out of tailings from old hydraulic mining operations. So you can find a small pay-streak up on the bank, follow it until it plays out, and then not find any sign of it further upstream. This is because the source of the gold deposit was not from a point further up river. Then you can find another pay-streak on another path altogether. In other words, pay-streaks up on the bank might not follow a specific single gold path, as they usually do in the river.

Pick & shovel mining is a lot of fun – when you are finding gold. A healthy portion of our miners along the Klamath River mine out of the water. The reason for this is that it gives them an opportunity to find pay-streaks without having to commit to an underwater dredging operation.

We manage Group Mining Projects just about every other weekend during the spring, summer and fall months in Happy Camp You can find this year’s schedule HERE. You have my personal invitation to come out and get some firsthand experience. We always send participants home with a sample of gold that they help recover–that is, those who go back home. Many join up with us. Watch out–the biggest challenge in gold mining is not in finding the gold; it is getting over the “fever” after you have found it!

 

 

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