My favorite trip of 2006
I don't want to count how many trips I made to mining properties in 2006. It got to the point where I was telling myself, "If this is Brussels, it must be Tuesday." A couple of weeks ago I visited my "funny money" drawer and found myself with 13 different currencies. I'm quite sure some of them will be worth something some day. So I determined I should write about my favorite trip of the year because it was so unusual.
I did a report in early August about a trip I made to Alaska in mid-summer on behalf of Full Metal Minerals. It's a brilliant company and their drill results proved everything I tried to point out in my piece but that's another story all by itself. Full Metal has a whole herd of properties in Alaska, one of which is fairly minor given the scale of the other properties but unique. It's called Moore Creek. Moore Creek is unusual because you can actually mine there. I don't mean they mine there, I mean YOU can mine there.
First of all, I should mention the boring technical crap. Moore Creek is located about 275 miles NW of Anchorage in west-central Alaska, half way between Gaines Creek and Donlin Creek owned by NovaGold. Geologists believe it's possible that Moore Creek may be a faulted-off extension of Donlin Creek. Last year, Full Metal Minerals entered into a joint venture with the owners of Moore Creek. Basically, Full Metal is looking for the hard rock source of some enormous gold nuggets found at Moore Creek.
Gold was first discovered on a tributary of Moore Creek in 1910 and Moore Creek itself was staked in 1911. The creek was mined using hand methods for the first 20 years before draglines and bulldozers were introduced in the early 1930s. From 1911 until 1986, about 54,000 ounces of gold was produced by the owners of Moore Creek.
The property became available in 2003 and was snapped up by a group headed by one of the foremost experts on placer mining in Alaska, Steve Herschbach. Steve is one of those guys you love to hate. He's in his mid-50s and looks 40. His dad is even worse, he's in his mid-70s and looks 50-ish. I hate people like that. Steve and a partner own Alaska Mining and Diving Supply in Anchorage, which is THE place for small scale placer mining in the state.
Steve and his partner began AMDS while he was still in high school as a lark. It's grown into the largest Keene distributor in the world as well as one of the largest Ski-Doo dealers. Steve and AMDS rode the wave higher with the mining boom that took place in Alaska placer mining in 1979 and 1980 but by 1985 the industry began to die. By the year 2000, where once there were thousands of small scale placer miners in Alaska, now there was but a handful.
But it's a whole new era and AMDS survived and thrived by adding to their product line. I went to Moore Creek for a few days in July of 2006 and this is my story.
After finishing my tour of Full Metals Lucky Shot property (home of the 1.7 meter 82.6 gram intercept) I drove back to Anchorage for my hour long flight to McGrath where it's colder than a well digger's butt right now. The rest of the dozen troopers who were paying $1,995 to mine for a week at Moore Creek were on the plane with me and we soon became friends. Or at least acquaintances... trading lies about gold mining. All of the miners were men and most were 50s to 60s which surprised me.
At McGrath we got in a tiny Cessna 207 and flew our way west for an hour to Moore Creek. Steve Herschbach has done a brilliant job of documenting his mining operation at Moore Creek, here and everyone interested should read it. You can cover hours of information on the web there and elsewhere.
I have been interested in the use of a metal detector for nugget shooting for years so I bought a top of the line MineLab 3000 and took it with me. It didn't pay its way entirely but did manage to find a .9 ounce nugget in a tailing pile.
We arrived at the camp late in the afternoon and began to settle in. Tents were provided and the prospective miners partnered off. Since we had an odd number of people, I managed to luck out and I didn't have to share a tent with anyone except a single black fly.
The briefing information for the camp said mosquitoes could be "thick beyond belief, especially in the evening." They underestimated. So the first order of business at the camp was to douse up with DEET, gloves and head netting on. Actually though there were times and places where the mosquitoes were a real issue, much of the time the sun was out and the breeze high enough that you could do without the head netting.
The entire purpose of the camp is to mine placer gold. AMDS sells a variety of sluices and high bankers and metal detectors. I have to say I have never quite met anyone like Steve Herschbach. He not only knows every product he sells, inside and out, he has the most incredible nose for gold I have ever seen. He isn't at Moore Creek every week during the summer, he has a business to run. But when he is at Moore Creek, he is finding hot areas loaded with gold for anyone interested.
The camp had high bankers and dredges set up and there was enough equipment that it didn't matter what you wanted to use, there was someone around to partner with and lots and lots of gold. Food and accommodations are provided by the camp staff and they have true experts who set up every miner with a good area to mine.
Since I did nothing but go from one mining project to another all summer, I only had three days to play. i have used suction dredges before in both Alaska and North Carolina. I did shovel a lot of dirt and gravel into a high banker for a day and came up with a fair bit of gold. But I wanted to see if the metal detectors were what they are said to be.
Steve and I headed south a mile or so to find a virgin spot to use the detectors. I must admit the trip was tiring enough that I was about done in by the time we got there. But 45 minute or so of running around with a giant coil produced a fair sized nugget. The metal detectors do work and in any good area, could pay for themselves in short order. Everyone found gold and if you were determined to work hard enough to pay for the trip, I think you could. I'm not willing or able to work that hard. But the guys coming up with big nuggets were the ones using the detectors.
Finding gold with a good metal detector with a big head was simply an issue of how much time and ground you are willing to cover. Moore Creek was brilliant for big nuggets. I suspect all of the area of giant tailings piles around Dawson would be highly productive. In any case there are a couple of miles of cobbles piled up in neat lines at Moore Creek and anytime they dry up, all Steve has to do is move a pile around a little and there will be lots more.
Most of the miners paying for the week of mining at Moore Creek were pretty serious miners. Several were true experts just trying to see what Moore Creek offered. I was surprised at the age, I'd have guessed most would be in their 20s and 30s, after all, you are far more fit at that age. But I think we have raised a generation or two who have no idea of the value of gold.
My few days passed quickly. There were two young ladies helping run the camp. The camp was run by John Pulling, one of the four owners, and his granddaughter Melody joins him for a few weeks every year. I'm thrilled that someone is wise enough to encourage young people. I did my first gold panning at Knot's Berry Farm when it really was a farm, back in the early 1950s and I can remember it to this day. The placer industry in both Alaska and the Yukon is going through a bit of a crisis, the old-timers are that exactly, old and they want to or have to retire. And there just aren't the young people capable or willing to replace them. In the next five years, there will be a lot of properties come on the market.
Actually mining on a placer deposit is one of the most valuable experiences anyone in the mining business can try. If I had my way, every young geologist would be required to do a week at Moore Creek, it would be the first and only time most of them would be exposed to actual mining.
Of all the people I have met in the gold business, the only person I know who actually understands the relationship between placer gold and hard rock or lode gold would be Bill Harris, CEO of Northern Freegold. He grew up in a Yukon placer gold mining family and he understands that all placer gold came from somewhere. I did a story about them a few months ago about NFR and I believe his valuable placer experience will lead him to the hard rock source of that gold.
Someday, those in the mining business in Alaska and the Yukon will realize the enormous contribution Steve Herschbach has made to mining in general and placer mining in particular. His Moore Creek operation is simply brilliant and I would highly encourage anyone who really wants to understand gold mining to consider going up for a week. It's the best investment you could make to your knowledge pool.
Steve knows his equipment inside and out and he and his people were wonderful and patient in training his visitors in how to use the equipment and where to find the gold. I got chewed on by mosquitoes, a really nasty black fly snuck into my tent and took chunks out of my arm with an axe. I was dog tired but every minute was an adventure. I really want to thank Steve Herschbach and one of his partners, John Pulling for coming up with such an exciting adventure. And I should mention Steve's cousin Bob Herschbach who cooked some great chow for us while teaching us the tricks of running a gold wheel for cleanup.
I was especially lucky to spend some time with two charming young ladies, John Pulling's grand daugher and Bob Herschbach's grand daughter. We had a lot of fun shoveling for gold and I hope they have the same fond memories of panning for gold 55 years from now as I do.
It was a great trip.
Please note that on Jan 14th I am going on a long trip for 6 weeks, and those left behind, who have to cope with my ridiculous email overload when I'm in the boondocks would REALLY appreciate it if you didn't write until 3rd week of February.