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Prospecting High Benches

Prospecting High Benches By Lanny in AB

I'm a shameless poster of prospecting stories. Here's one I posted in Australia earlier today:

Sorry in advance to those of you into illegal substances, or those of you hardy enough to have actually smoked gold, or ground gravel finely enough to inject, or snort it--this tale does not deal with banned chemicals or hallucinogenic substances, but it's effects are nonetheless mind-altering, and worthy of deep reflection.

About three summers ago, when the snows had melted, and the rivers had receded, and the roads were finally passable, I headed up North to the gold fields

Up north means a sixteen hour drive from my home. Why drive sixteen hours when there are other gold fields closer? Far less people is why. In fact, the local population where the pay dirt resides is less than thirty souls.

It's the truth, as well, that some of the local boys have pits in their front yards that they run little sluices in because the ground their cabins are built upon is gold bearing.

But, I digress again. I'm pretty good at digressing, but before you start distressing, I'll get to my story. Anyway, there are far less people up north, and tens of millions of bugs: Very healthy population in fact: Nasty, awful, ferocious blood-sucking and miserable beasts they are. The bears are a mild concern by comparison, but because of their huge size, and overcranky nature, they deserve a healthy respect as well.

The cougars, well they're quite shy unless they're actively stalking you, and then you'd better have a fast quad to put some healthy distance between you and the cat--because you won't outsmart one, and they seem to like man-flesh (no Lord of The Rings allusions here!!).

But, to continue, the setting consists of low mountains, lots of streams, thick northern boreal forests, swamps and all kinds of glacial till. Some of the ancient glaciers were miles thick, and in some placer pits there are seven or eight different stream deposits, all intersecting and overlaying one another at different levels.

The glaciers really made a mess of the water courses and dramatically, and regularly changed the watersheds. Which brings me to my story of enlightenment.

I was sitting at the wash plant one day, fixing a broken six inch pump, when I looked up the mountain side opposite the placer operation. I noticed a line that proceeded along the side of the mountain. It was perched atop the bedrock about sixty feet above the present stream channel.

In places the deposit had sloughed off. I took out my binoculars and scanned the hill side. It was an old channel, on top of the bedrock, but resting under about another eighty feet of boulder clay--topped by forest.

My pea-sized brain, seized upon by a giant, yet golden, brainwave was not to be denied. I was going up the mountain side to sample that channel--no argument.

I grabbed my 20 liter plastic pail, my shovel, a digging bar and small sledge that fit in the bucket, and I shouldered my way into my prospecting back pack. I keep all my essentials in there, it weighs just a tad less than a fully-loaded B-52 bomber, but obviously I should also pack a back-up brain, or some other fail safe device, as you'll soon see.

My first obstacle was to ford the river. Now, in Canada, even in mid-summer, which is what time of year it was, the rivers that far north just NEVER get warm. I had the clever idea that I'd pick my way across the stream in my rubber boots, hopping from rock to rock. That worked quite fine thank you until I put all my weight on a nice slippery rock, and then prospector, pail and pack took a spectacular dunk in the river.

Now that I was wet and cold I didn't mind the rest of the crossing nearly as much. In fact, it was quite refreshing, in a somewhat masochistic way--as it felt quite wonderful when I finally drug myself out of the water. It's also amazing how much easier it is to walk after you've dumped eighty pounds of ice water from each boot as well.

However, feeling fresh and sassy, and smelling quite a bit better, I was now ready to tackle the slope. Remember the boulder clay I mentioned earlier? Well, it has a nasty way of sloughing down the hillside when it's wet. It solidifies to the consistency of the LA-X runway.

It's dandy stuff to try to get a foothold on. But I was prepared--I had my shovel. I began to cut steps into the stern stuff. I worked my way up about a third of the slope this way, and then there proceeded to be a bit of a wash, handily supplied with many smaller boulders and broken tree limbs. I managed to fight my way, with the exceptional non-traction of those still squishy rubber boots, up the slope amongst them.

At last I arrived at the high placer diggin's. It's quite the trick to perch one rubber boot on a three inch ledge of protruding bedrock, and carve off three feet of the face of the boulder clay slough, with the other one powering the shovel. Anyway, I did it.

I exposed a nice patch of bedrock right on the bottom of that channel. I got out my sniping tools from my backpack and cleaned out all the crevices and took some nice looking material and placed it in my bucket. Since it was quite a haul back down to the river, and since I had no relish for a return trip, I figured I'd load up as much as I could.

Sometimes my brain tries to warn me beforehand of imminent danger, but I happily override and outwit it while I'm in my prospecting delirium. In any case, I packed up all my stuff, and turned around. That slope had gotten a lot steeper--now that I was looking down at it! How the heck had I even got up to where I was? Had it been an out of body experience?

That's one of the marvels of prospecting lunacy, getting into places you have no business getting into. All the laws of physics and probability just go right out the window. But not the law of gravity . . . Oh no, it has an iron, tenacious grip on reality.

Well now, I had to get back down, because I couldn't go up. You can't climb a boulder clay cliff, no matter how high on prospecting, or any other stimulant, or mind-altering substance you are. So, I took my first step down.

It actually wasn't so bad. I just leaned back into the hill and put all my weight on that boot heel. It held and I took another step. The bucket of gravel felt like it was mostly gold! Or I was just an idiot that had severely overloaded it, but no matter, this was easier than I thought. I was now in amongst the friendly boulders, the ones that had assisted me on the way up.

I took several more steps and then one of those tree branches snagged my boot. That bucket just kicked out in front of me like it was on rocket-assisted auto-pilot. Well, Newton sure was right about gravity--it grabbed me right then and there. I don't know the mathematical formula for what happened, or the principle of physics that took over, but it all occured somewhere at about the speed of light.

My brain frantically went into disaster correction mode, and I serenely, yet gracefully yanked myself back as hard as I could, bringing the bucket toward me. The problem was--my feet had already headed down the mountain, and all I did was succeed in launching them further away from my point of most-precarious equilibrium.

From a distance, I'm sure it looked like someone had shot something up on the side of the mountain: some ugly beast, a bull-moose in rut, or some other type of smelly obnoxious varmint--any of which category I easily qualify for after three glorious weeks in the bush, but nonetheless, it must have appeared that some tortured, wracked form in its death-throes was hurtling its way down the slope.

The real truth is that I was magnificently in control, supremely in command. The fact that my rubber boots were throwing off more smoke than a good smudge fire was only my clever attempt to keep the bugs at bay as I tried to find my brakes amongst the boulders. The fact that the three spare goldpans in my backpack were absorbing more shock than a crash-test-dummy doing mach V into a concrete wall was only a minor annoyance, a brief test of my prospecting mettle.

At last, much more battered, but still breathing, though hot and ragged those breaths were I can tell you, I came to a sudden stop. In fact, it just so happened that some far friendlier branches, much more amiable than the one that had originally tripped me up, had halted my avalanching, yet quite ballet-like, plunge.

For those with a sense of the divine, this was the penultimate moment--at one with the mountain--still alive, yet most remarkable of all--none of the dirt had spilled from my bucket. Yes, that is the heroism in this high placer tale--not a stone lost from the bucket, not a grain of sand.

Rearranging all my joints took considerably longer than I thought it should have, but soon, I was on my way again, with renewed confidence in my abilities. This time it was only boulder clay, quite laid out like a lava flow, but boulder clay nonetheless.

Remember, I had steps carved in it to safely guide my footsteps back down again. At some point, you'd think the brain would revolt and refuse to command the muscles in an instance like this, where the whole body has just faced imminent extinction at the hands of an idiot bent on sampling some dirt, but no, the brain can always be overridden--I know where the master switch is--I've used it many times, and still, I live to tell this tale. This is proof that life is full of mysteries, not easily solved by rational thought, or overly predictable theories.

At any rate, about a dozen steps down, the clay remembered one of its admirable qualities, the slippery-snot-like one, and off I went again. This time it was only a gentle bashing, yet thorough pummeling that lasted a mere twenty feet, and I came to a feather-like stop on the on the gravel below, the contents of the bucket still undisturbed.

After I picked a pan full of river run out of my teeth, replace an eyeball, and checked to see if that really was my neck which was still attached to my head, and that I could still nod yes and no, in case I'd lost the power of speech, it was off to the river to pan the dirt.

Three flakes in twenty liters.

I guess there's a lesson to be learned here, but far be it from me to enforce preachy dogma, or didactic doggerel on any of you. I'll let you figure it out yourselves.


Lanny in AB

Excerpted from MarciesAlaskaWeb


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