Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Gold Prospecting in Southwest B.C.

Prospecting for gold and minerals is a pursuit which is relatively new to me, and somewhat suprising now that I look back upon things. Although I have always spent a large part of my time outdoors, having grown up in Jasper National Park in the Rockies, and have always considered time spent in the bush as vital to my existence as the blood in my veins, it seems that circumstances lately have provided the opportunity to discover another dimension to the outdoors, I'd not yet thought of.

Not long ago my family and I relocated to Pemberton, B.C., just North of Whistler in the Coast Mountain Range, which is a great little town of some 2500 residents, surrounded by mountains and ranchland. An interesting community with flavors of old logging, farming and ranching, blended with the new influx of very active and young families, and common to most it seems a love of the outdoors and related pursuits so close at hand.

A couple of things pointed the way towards the start of the gold path for me. First was the network of forestry roads leading in all directions from town due the history of logging in the past. Gravel mains and secondaries, provide relatively easy access to some amazing country, and years of exploring await one so inclined. A 4X4, in this country, if not in the family fleet, is a boon for those who want to expand there horizons and really get out there. The second being the fact that Pemberton sits pretty close to some fairly rich gold history. From the days of the gold rush to more recent times, although the town itself wasn't the location of gold discoveries likened to any of the famous motherlodes, geographically and geologically speaking the area is definitely in the ballpark. An hours drive East brings one to significant discoveries in the Cayoosh Creek drainage, mined heavily and with great success during the gold rush of the late 1800's, and the confluence with the Fraser River at Lilooet a bit further downstream was a rich placer discovery as well. It was through here that the road from Vancouver pushed through to the gold fields of the Caribou and Barkerville in those times.

In more recent times, 40 km to the North lie the Pioneer and Bralorne goldmines, two of the biggest producers in North America for a period of decades. An incredibly rich gold vein was discovered and worked until for a variety of reasons they ceased active production, however are held still, and maintained by skeleton staff, with prospect of resuming again, and using new technology for future mining. 90 minutes drive South, one passes the abandoned Brittania Bay Mine, now a mining museum and tourist attraction, and huge producer of the past of the two precious metals.

Near Bralorne, a number of small cottages are nestled on Gunn Lake, one of the clearest lakes in North America, and a hard and bumpy 2 hour drive from Pemberton. The volcanic lake sits at 3000' above sea level, is gorgeous and besides offering everything from horseback trips, and hunting,to fishing and waterskiing, the area just has the smell of gold. Being in close proximity to one of the richest veins in history, the remains of old shafts and workings abide, and gold pans tend to ride with folks in the pickups and 4 wheelers, and talk of gold is never that far away.

Maybe through association with a friend from Gun Lake, maybe it was passing the abandoned mine at Brittania quite often, I'm not sure but I started reading books about gold and prospecting here and there, and searching the internet for information. The fact that there were still people searching for gold and minerals out there in great numbers and on all scales really started to interest me, and the next thing I knew a gold pan was accompanying us on our camping trips, and a neat little foldable sluice box was on it's way from Black Cat Mining in Oregon. As my family and I love the bush so much anyway, I've found this to be the perfect thing for me especially which fit's into my interests and lifestyle completely. There's nothing I like to do more than be way out of town in a remote area, away from the crowds, with a comfortable camp set up, just enjoying the outdoors. Walking new rivers and creeks with the rods, rainbow in the pan for breakfast, and the freedom of the bush.

What I've found through prospecting is a whole new interest, a passion all on it's own or mixed in along with ones time in the bush. And of course besides the enjoyment of just being out, and in new country for the purpose of prospecting comes the added lure of the hunt. We all love the thought of finding treasure, there's not one of us I think who could say honestly they don't. And it's out there. Where it's been found before it can be found again. There are people doing well at it even. Some stumbling upon finds of great measure, others in pursuit for years of the elusive and shiny element forever leading them down the path. Some mine small scale, with pan and concentrators, collecting fine gold in the black sands of the ocean shore. Others are working with dredges and power sluices right in the guts of major river systems in the middle of big cities. Some work the proven creeks, panning small but payable placer gold. Some make a living at it, and some cover expenses. Some make fortunes, having the right combination of luck, skill, and perserverance searching the rock outcrops for sign of gold and copper veins. Gold has struck a strong cord in millions across the globe over the centuries.

What I've discovered so far during a summer and fall of amateur and thouroghly enjoyable prospecting has been this. It's great to find another passion. Prospecting gets a person out somewhere nice. It's fun, like planning a trip. You look at the backroad and topo maps and pick an area you're gonna work. You pack your gear, knowing you're on your own, out there a ways and need to be able to look after yourself. You go somewhere nice, smell the flowers, have a drink of the water in the creek. Maybe bring the rod too, it's all about enjoyment. Light up the pipe and have a smoke by the creek. Once you're there, you don't have to go far. You can spend a whole day working a short area on a creek, looking for the spots you think are right. Having fun first and enjoying sets the tone for future prospecting I think, because one can get pretty excited about results, and experience the effects of the gold bug. In the back of your mind you hope something shiny shows up in the pan. No point getting dissapointed, give it a good shot, and hey if something turns up, great. Like anything, one will getter better at it, and finds something if desired.

Another thing I've found is that there is a tremendous amount of resource out there regarding the activity of prospecting. There is information available in all form of books, and online regarding the field. One of the first books I purchasedwas Gold Trails, written by a former bushpilot, Glenn Leaver, turned small scale prospecter, and miner, which encouraged me to get out and start looking. A How to Manual, and Catalog, it includes the basics of how gold is formed, where it has been found, where to look, and from there into types of prospecting, equipment, as well as online resources, and actually staking mineral claims. In Canada, the Dept. of Mines and Resources also highly encourages small scale prospecting as they have realized that a large percentage of resource discoveries are made simply by the people that are just out there hunting around. These are the people that find things, the ones who have a passion for it, and just get at it, and hit some country. Not to say that major discoveries are not found by those who are educated in geology, and who go at it in a big way and professional and well funded manner. A degree in geology is of course worth it's weight in gold, however someone who is interested enough in the field to do some research, and then buy some inexpensive basic equipment, or even make their own can hop in the truck and hit the creeks, or outcrops and look around. One needs to remember that back in the 1800's very few individuals of the gold rush era were equipped with a degree in geology or were experts in the field. Someone was simply out there, and keeping their eyes open and covering some ground. With this in mind the mining industry knows that a tremendous amount of discovery is made by the amateur prospector and provides a wealth of accessable information online.

One particular site is which has a map interface layered with a huge amount of information to the average layman, including historical mineral discoveries, current mineral claims throughout the area etc. Geology underlayers are also available so the average Joe can see what type of rock underlays, and find the position of faults etc, and have some fun using Geology 101 and a little imagination to find a search area. Using this site a person can also "stake a claim" online and gain title to the mineral rights in the area if not already under claim, and in an allowable area on crown land. The cost is minimal, and for a couple of hundred dollars or less one can stake a claim on an area of around 1/2 square kilometer or quarter section size. After that about $500 per year is required either through work on the area related to prospecting, or a fee in lieu to keep the claim in good standing. Paying a geologist the same amount to come up with reports and assesments on the property will also fulfill this obligation, and if you have discoverd something which excites you on the property then who knows, further exploration may reveal it holds enough value to be of interest on a larger scale.

As I write this, the snow lies on the ground and I've traded the goldpan and sluicebox for skis until the snow melts again, leaving the country open once again for further prospecting. I can't wait to get at it again, and am encouraged by assayers results from rock samples I gathered from my favorite site. Very high results in Copper and Iron, along with encouraging results of Silver, and some bonus of Gold as a byproduct. One of my best buddies, a very successful geolgist, is excited with the results and the next step for me is filing a claim, and directing a couple hundred of my green stuff towards a cautious and inexpensive probe of the property. One never knows...... but I sure love this stuff, it definitly grows on you.