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Click to enlargeArctic Creek Gold - GPAA Alaska trip 2004



Excerpt below from: GPAA Cripple River Chronicle By: Arctic Annie

6th Edition 16 August 2004


Greetings from Cripple River Gold Camp!!! We are all waiting for our hot, sun-shiny weather to return. It has been cool and rainy off and on for a few days. Yesterday the wind blew so hard, the Bering Sea, normally a beautiful blue, was the color of hot chocolate with whipped cream-colored breakers (but the water temperature was only 52 degrees). The sky on the horizon was olive green merging into gray, and combined with the chocolate and white sea, the color combination was startling. For a few seconds it felt like I was in a different world! I ran to get my camera, as I knew that unless you have been to Alaska, you would not believe some of the unusual beauty here. The wind blew so hard that people had to go back into their hooches and re-dress themselves. The wind kept blowing their underwear and socks inside out without their clothes even leaving their bodies. People in camp, in good spirits even with the less than perfect weather, went about their business of prospecting. One person made a rain suit out of plastic baggies and duct tape for his metal detector. Several impromptu card games started, letters and post cards were written to send home messages of love, good wishes and missing-you. There were people garnet picking, and concentrates were slowly panned out. Smiles appeared on prospector faces as the black sands were removed leaving the golden goodies behind. Beach gold may be very fine, and tricky to work, but it is sooo beautiful. Each little golden grain, when gathered with their golden friends, adds up.

Henry Henry from Santa Rosa CA, along with his niece Lindsey Burgess from Concord CA, escorted a group of thirty ATVers on the Sinuk River Trip---as Perry Massie was unavailable this week. Henry Henry proved he hadn’t lost his fishing skills as he brought along three large Silver Salmon fillets from fish he caught at the main camp. The fillets were cooked, along with other fish caught fresh at the mouth of the Sinuk River, by the other fishermen and women on the trip. Hot dogs were served for the non-fish eating people. While lunch was being prepared many people were beach combing, finding seashells, beach treasures and interesting rocks. One person picked up a small bag of tumbler size quartz. This was very good quality quartz in a variety of colors, including several pieces of milky quartz with crystal clear banding, and several pieces of quartz almost red in color. For good tumbler quartz you don’t want fracture lines as the quartz may break up during tumbling. A variety of sizes is also necessary, and of course, you need a piece of quartz pretty enough to use in jewelry making when you’re finished. There is an abundance of this material between the Cripple River and the Sinuk. The ATV group enjoyed the fresh salt air and beautiful scenery, but were mildly disappointed when no large animals were sighted, (except Henry Henry who is really a dear). Everyone on this adventure had a great time.

One of our new people in camp this week is Carly Royse, from Temecula CA, on her first trip to Cripple River. Carly is learning to ride an ATV. When she went fishing for the first time, she caught a nice size salmon. Except for jet lag(?) which caused her to sleep very late the first day, she has been bouncing all over camp and having a ball. Miss Royse is very happy to be here, and said that the camp and everyone in it are fantastic. She especially enjoyed Friday night’s entertainment and floorshow. She will be here for two weeks.

Sue Charnes from Napa Valley CA, came up to Cripple River this year as crew. Her son David Charnes from Irons MI, has always dreamed of coming to Alaska, so this year, as a gift, Sue treated him to two weeks at our camp. David thinks Alaska is heaven, and is fishing, touring the outer camps, prospecting, riding an ATV, and taking pictures of everything. Sue and David took a trip, on their own, to the Sinuk River to go fishing, catch and release. As they took a break from fishing a herd of about 30 reindeer started down the beach towards them. Sue and David hid behind their ATV’s so as not to scare the reindeer away. When the reindeer saw the ATV’s they came to a complete stop. The reindeer stood and watched these ATV’s for about ten minutes unaware that Sue and David were hiding behind the vehicles watching them at the same time. When a camera, left on the ATV was reached for, the reindeer saw the movement and turned and walked away. Later on this trip a large herd of musk ox was also seen as well as several moose. David plans to return to Cripple River next year with his son.

“Bessie” the non-existent Bering Sea Sea Monster is again being sighted after a two-week hiatus. Evidently the seals and walruses who came in to shore to hunt salmon were teasing her, and as she is a very shy quiet creature she hid out for a few days. Now she is back with several people reporting current sightings, but still no photographs!!!

This week a Ken Bowers from Neebow NC, was at the fresh water clean-up boxes helping participants run their gold and black sand concentrates when he glanced across the river to the top of the hill. He saw two bear cubs playing in the distance. He watched to see if momma bear would appear, but only saw the two cubs. After calling this cute sight to his friends’ attention, soon a small group of people (9-10) stopped working in order to watch the bear cubs play on the distant tundra covered hill. The cubs ran, tumbled, played chase, and had a great time. A crewmember went to her hooch to get her binoculars for a better look-see. Just as she focused on the cubs, the little bears flew up into the air and were seen FLYING swiftly away!!! Everyone watching did a double take. The bears were really Sandhill Cranes, (Grus Canadensis) viewed from a distance. This large brown bird sometimes lives on the tundra near camp. These birds exhibit unusual behavior and may be seen “dancing” (bowing, jumping, wing flapping, even tossing sticks to each other) in play! Names of the viewers are being withheld by request!

When you first go to a new place it can take a few days to become acclimated to what is going on. This camp is no different. Even activities you can normally do with your eyes shut, can become more challenging. Take fishing for example. This week I spoke to an experienced fisherman, Carl Wright from Ventura CA This is Carl’s third trip to Cripple River, so this year he decided to spend some time fishing, and to smoke several Silver Salmon to take home with him. He buys his license, sets up his rod and reel, finds his favorite lures and takes his ATV to the Penny River for fish. Across the mouth of the river are two Eskimos fishing, a woman and her grandmother. Carl catches the first fish, and looks at it. Unsure what type of fish it is he walks to within hailing distance and asks what type of fish it is. One of the ladies reply, “A dog salmon, I think.” Disappointed it is not a Silver Salmon he asks if they want it, they say yes, he throws it to them. Soon they leave. Carl catches eight or nine more “Dog Salmon” three of which weigh over ten pounds, and releases each one. The next day he goes fishing for Silver again. He catches fish after fish; this time he is told by some people he is catching Chum. You are not allowed to keep Chum so he releases all seven of them. After a few days Carl has caught Chum, Dog Salmon, Pink salmon, Humpies (male Pink Salmon), and Dolly Varden trout. Still the elusive Silver Salmon eludes him. Time is getting short! Carl goes fishing with Henry Henry from camp. Henry Henry catches a Chum? and keeps it. Carl says, “ I thought you weren’t allowed to keep Chum!” Henry Henry replies, “This isn’t a chum, it’s a Silver!” For over a week Carl has been catching Silver Salmon and letting them go. In fact he has let thirty-five or forty go! Carl is an experienced fisherman, but not used to salmon, and there are so many varieties, it is hard to keep them all straight! Carl is now FINALLY out smoking Silver Salmon to take home!!! He may also have the camp record for the most Silver’s caught and released in one week!

I have been explaining a little about Cripple River out-camps, places away from main camp you can visit for a day, stay overnight or a longer time if there is space available. One of these camps is the dredger’s camp on lower Arctic Creek, about 8 miles from main camp. This camp is comprised of four four-man hoochs, and an overflow hooch nicknamed the “blue room” that is used when the other hooches are filled to capacity. The blue room has a blue tarp for a roof, and sleeps three people. The blue room is moved around some years when Arctic Creek floods, so in the spring we never know where it will be found. Each year it is located, cleaned and repaired, and made ready for use. It has a tarp roof because if it had a wood and metal roof the weight of the roof could cause the hooch to tumble end over end as it washes downstream, and the hooch would break up into pieces and be destroyed. (It HAS been in the same location for two years now, so maybe it’s wandering days are over.) On Arctic Creek there are several four-inch dredges that can be used by participants, either “long arming” when you do not dive under water, or more normally by diving. In addition to the small dredges there is an eight-inch dredge, run by our volunteer crew people. This is one of the two common operations that get gold for our Friday night gold draw. (The other common operation is a trommel.) The eight-inch dredge has a three-stage sluice powered by a Lombardini 40 horsepower diesel engine. It is operated by a group of hardy men (and sometimes women) who absolutely love dredging. They dive in the cold Arctic Creek, and don’t seem to mind the austere conditions of the dredge camp. This year, more than most, has been an exciting and challenging time for the crew. This crew of hard working people started the year short handed. Ralph Rogers, one of the experienced divers suffered an appendicitis attack just as camp opened. He had to fly to Anchorage for emergency surgery. Several of the crew came down with head colds that we call “The Cripple River Crud”. Add to this list of woes ear infections, pulled muscles, back strains etc. The short-handed crew was more than happy to welcome Ralph back, especially when he was able to dive on the dredge weeks five and six. The dredge crew insists that I add in this section: I have been a diver on the eight-inch dredge in past years, and this year I am a substitute or replacement diver, diving when I’m needed. So yes, women CAN and HAVE been divers on this dredge, but it is definitely not for everyone. Many people, men and women prefer to tend the dredge, not dive. This is an important job as the “dredge tender” keeps the dredge floating and running properly, and also safe guards the diver! When briefly interviewed Corey Rudolph, Dredge Leader, said, “I am very happy and proud of my dredge crew. They can be depended on to get the job done. They are a great bunch of guys. I am going to be recruiting more divers for next year so we won’t be short handed. Next year looks to be a great year for the dredge.” You all have read articles by Corey Rudolph, as he writes in the Pick and Shovel Gazette. Corey is deeply concerned about our prospecting rights being taken away from us by misinformed or non-caring politicians (and others), who propose questionable (most times stupid) legislation. Excuse my digression, now back to the dredge. As I have experience in diving on the dredge I am often asked what is required. First a wet suit, dive booties, dive gloves, hood, facemask etc. The average suit in Arctic Creek is 7 mils thick, mine is eight with my liner. You also need a low-pressure regulator called a hookah, but you don’t need to bring weights as the camp provides these. You do NOT need to be a certified SCUBA diver. Some experience dredging is nice, but if you want to apply, check with Corey Rudolph, as he has all the “skinny” (information). Dredge camp is isolated, and primitive, but is a great place to get away from it all, make new friends, and test your moxie against a challenging task. I seem to talk a lot about the beauty of Alaska, but I think the area along the trail to the dredge camp is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

It’s still raining here at main camp, but this week we had some sunshine at the dredge camp. I was diving on the eight-inch and was cleaning up the bedrock when bright sunbeams came through the water and lit up the bottom of Arctic Creek where I was dredging. I was only under water about five feet, but the water was very cold and crystal clear. As I let out a deep breath the bubbles of exhaled air floated to the surface. The mischievous sun beams caught a few of the bubbles just right and the sun light was broken down into prisms of colors, and tiny little rainbows danced around my head before floating up to the surface. The sun on the bedrock illuminated a generous sprinkling of gold in the brownish red clay I was cleaning up and the gold sparkled, twinkled, and gleamed. That gorgeous gold just plain SMILED up at me. It had been waiting for centuries to be gathered up and admired. I was the first person to see this golden bounty since it was formed, shaped and hidden by Mother Nature! I caught my breath at its’ beauty and smiling in contentment, quickly sucked it up with the dredge nozzle. This gold would be drawn Friday night by a lucky person, but I got to see it first!!! This doesn’t happen often, as usually you don’t see the gold you are getting, as it is hidden in clay or sand. When it happens it is SPECIAL! This is dredging at its’ best.

As I have just returned from dredge camp I have lots to see and do, like wash the mud bog yuckies off my ATV and my hip waders, and go find some great chow to eat. So until next time may your life and the bottom of your pan be golden.

Arctic Annie


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