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Small Mining Operations

Good Research and Bad Luck

It all started in early 2009, when my old mining buddy called to see if I would be home. He said it was really important and he sounded extremely excited. Upon his arrival he related a 20-year-old story:

Both his life-long friend and his brother worked in construction. They had heard about dredging for gold and it sounded like fun to them. Their dad had told them a little about how and where to find it. After purchasing the required equipment they set about digging and sampling the spot their father had suggested. After the initial sampling trip it seemed the spot justified a dredge, so one was purchased and off they went. They didn’t have an air supply so they had to “long-arm” it. They also learned that dredging was hard work and their day jobs actually paid more for the time spent.

So home they went and that was that. End of story! Or was it?

You all know how it is with miners and big gold stories—they usually require more investigation and research before just jumping and running.

I ask my buddy if he had seen any of the gold they found on that trip 20 years ago, and he replied that he had pictures of some of it taken that same day. I just about cried when he showed me. There were about 10 or 12 nuggets with a dime in the center to compare size to. Almost all the nuggets were at least as large as the dime or larger. That lit a fire under this old man, and I could not wait for dredging season.

After spending months of research on the area I concluded that they had set up right in the middle of a major contact zone. There were three different host rock formations in a 20-acre area and the contact area for all three met in the middle of the river.

Just about the time that I could no longer stand it, the season opened and I set off for the site. Upon arrival I found the water high, cloudy and dangerously fast.

With a 4”x5” hose combo setup for my super triple box built for the Klamath River in northern California and years of experience diving that river, I was not overly concerned. After an hour and a half I had the dredge ready to go. Launching the dredge was easy—just 12 feet from the edge of the water and fairly flat.

To say I was excited really does not begin to cover it. You dredgers know that feeling well.

As expected, it was cold, fast and dark. Dredging by braille is not an ideal condition; a whole new approach is required. You must create a mental picture of every slope and rock so when you start moving cobbles and boulders you don’t start breaking fingers or have a boulder fall in the hole and trap you. You must always know where the nozzle and pry bar are in case you have to pry or dredge your way out before running out of air. I have a lot of experience dredging blind so I am pretty comfortable doing it. Although it can be done, I do not recommend it!

The first few hours of dredging did not show very good results; there were some fines, but they were not abundant. After lunch and a cleanup I moved the dredge to the gut of the river. Water there was about 6 to 15 feet deep, and I had to add another 40 pounds of lead to keep me down. I had a little trouble getting the boulders and cobbles moved far enough rearward to get the hole started. I hit hardpack within 3 feet of overburden and the front wall made it easier to stay stable while running the nozzle.

After eight hours or so I called it a day. I tied off the dredge, washed up, ate supper and hit the rack.

Morning arrived with clear skies and sun, one of those beautiful mornings when you really know why you do what you do. I had a good feeling about the day. Being a little chilly, I started by pulling in the dredge to gas up and check the oil. As I was gassing up I glanced into the sluice and saw that little glimmer of yellow everyone wants to see. It turned out to be a little picker, so I thought a cleanup might be in order before changing spots. After getting my cleanup tub in place I started the dredge and lifted the riffles, dumping all the contents into the tub.

It was still a little chilly so I decided to pan out all the concentrates while it warmed up a bit. The first pan looked really promising so I kept at it. The gold increased with each pan all the way through the last pan, which was loaded with gold. There were a few large pickers and a lot of fines.

After panning, I used a set of screens to separate and remove much of the black sand. After final cleaning I had 3/4 to 1-ounce of fines and jewelry grade pickers—not too shabby for Day 1.

Day 2 started by pulling back into the hole and sucking out the sand that had washed in during the night.

After getting the sand out I found I had just skimmed off the hard-pan layer, hence the pickers. I spent about three hours opening the hole a little more to expose more of the bedrock and started dredging for real. Another 6 hours of hard work was followed by a cleanup of nice gold. I had netted another 1.5 to 2 ounces of nice one-quarter-inch or bigger nuggets, All night I dreamt of gold, hoping not to wake up.

On Day 3, I woke well before sunrise. After breakfast, I checked the dredge over to make sure everything was perfect—I did not want anything slowing me down. By this time I had settled into a daily routine just like every other day in years of dredging, although I found myself coming up to check the box more often.

With every look at the box I was pulling out a few pickers and a nugget or two. The smile I had the previous night just got bigger and bigger throughout the day. That evening, as I sat around the fire, I reflected on how I came to have one of the best seasons I have had in the last 8 years. I realized that although I could not take credit for finding this spot, I was experienced enough to take the time and do the research necessary to make sure the twenty-year-old story was at least possible.

I had 14 days of good weather, and the water cleared so I could see a lot of the gold before I sucked it up, which always makes me think of how the real 49’ers felt each time they panned a really good pan of gold. The final take for the two weeks was a healthy 12+ ounces of beautiful nuggets, pickers and fines.

I really wish my old friend could have been there like we planned, to see how this story panned out. I’m sorry to say he passed away—he will be forever missed but will be with me on all my mining trips.

This story should end right here, but the story’s title is only half finished. The second half is a lesson to all miners—professionals and beginners alike.

That little glory hole, after searching the BLM database, was not claimed and didn’t appear to have been under claim for twenty years. I decide I would wait out the winter and combine my second trip with the filing of papers and then go on up and continue the cleanout.

I travelled to Salem to file the claim papers and discovered that someone had filed a claim on that area in early 2010. So, I guess I will just wait it out and hope he lets it go without ever mining it and never realizing what he has.

That spot gave up almost 14 ounces in total. I can’t divulge where my secret spot is until I can no longer dredge, then it will be passed on to someone who loves dredging as much as I do. Until then, I wait.

This year I’m heading up to Quartzville Creek to clean up a gravel bar I left 15 years ago as long as no one else has found that spot. With my 4/5 combo it should be really interesting. So, remember; if you find a good spot, file a claim on it even if involves a trip in bad weather or some other hardship to get it done. I know I wish I had!
© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.
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