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» Back to Borneo

By Dave McCracken

“Finding gold, and a little too much adventure, in the deep jungle…”

Dave Mack

 

This story is dedicated to one of the best and most loyal friends I have ever had, Eric Bosch. Eric and I started our dredging careers at about the same time. We formed a close, working partnership early on, which we pursued for many years together, from California, Canada and Alaska to the deep jungles of Borneo. Our fantastic adventures together were many and will always be cherished. I’m glad we survived them! Eric played an important roll in helping to start The New 49’ers, and he managed our commercial underwater mining projects and training programs for a number of years. He is the best and strongest gold dredger I have ever had the honor to work with. The best and richest pay-streaks I ever helped recover were always with Eric at my side, often while he was operating the suction nozzle when the gold was first discovered. Eric and his family are the most kind-hearted and dependable people I have ever known. There is no bottom to the amount of enthusiasm they will invest into any program they get involved with. It has truly been one of he greatest honors of my lifetime to share adventures with them.

I had a premonition that something was going to go wrong on this hunting trip. I had hunted wild boar with the Dyak natives before; but they had always killed the boar before I caught up. These Dyaks are extremely fast in the jungle with their bare feet. I could keep up with them for awhile. But when they started chasing their hunting dogs at a full run, almost straight up and down the sides of steep mountains, I was worried about having an accident and hurting myself. I did not want to take the risk of suffering the embarrassment of having the natives carry me four hours out of the jungle, rather than the meat that we came for. Now I was resting at the bottom of a narrow creek bed. All of the natives had run off.

The sound of the dogs was getting louder; they were herding the pack of wild boars directly down into my location!

It all started several years ago when a mining company hired one of my teammates and I to do a preliminary dredge sampling evaluation on some mining concessions they own in East Kalimantan (Borneo). We spent 30 days on that project and everything went perfect. During our time on the concessions, we found rich gold deposits and encouraged the company to follow up with another more extensive sampling project. The company which owns the concessions was more interested in lode mine development, so the dredging potential sat idle for several years. Finally, the company decided to allow a second party to come in as a partner to fund the dredging exploration and development. This was how we got back to Borneo.

  

Eric Bosch and the leader of a Dyak sampling team working on a sampling dredge.

The sampling project was going fine. However, since the Dyak natives have a standing policy to not work on Sundays, and there was nothing else productive to do with our project, I asked if they would take me with them on today’s hunting expedition. Of course, they agreed. The problem was in keeping up with them. They grew up in this hot, humid, thick jungle, steep-terrain environment. Keeping up took all my determination. I had expended a great deal of effort to create a mutually respectful relationship with these natives. I wasn’t going to lose it now by making them slow down or turn back.

We had hiked three and a half hours up a narrow creek bed without any sign of deer, bear or wild boar. The dogs work the side hills. If they locate a deer, they run it down and hamstring it. If they find a bear, they chase it down, surround it, and hold it there until the Dyaks catch up. The natives then assault the bear and kill it with spears. If the dogs get onto the scent of wild boar, they herd the pigs down to the creek bed and drive them at the hunters. As the pigs attack the hunters, the hunters dispatch the pigs either with spears or machetes.

“Never run away,” one of the hunters told me, “When the pigs come down on you, your only chance, your only chance, is to kill the pig. It is not difficult if you maintain a focused determinism. Never throw the spear; never even let it out of your hands. Never turn and run. Wait until the last moment when the pig is in range. Aim carefully for the vital spot just behind the front shoulder. You only have one chance. Otherwise, the pig will hurt you–sometimes very badly,”

I found myself remembering the hunter’s words as the frenzied sounds of the dogs grew progressively louder. They were coming my way fast. I could hear them running down the sides of the hills just above me. I had not planned on this. I held the spear a little more firmly in my hands, pointed in the direction in which they were coming. And I kept wondering, “What do I do if there is more than one pig coming at me?

What the heck was I doing here at this very moment? Was this stupid, or what? You know that feeling? It is complete regret of the present situation! That was the way I was feeling.

The abundant kindness and hospitality of our Dyak guides made it very easy for us to form lasting friendships.

Everything on the sampling project was going as planed. The company built huge, comfortable, fully-outfitted base camps in the jungle They even had satellite TV! Most preliminary jungle dredge evaluations I had done in the past were supported from fly camps. A fly camp usually consists of little more than a tarp suspended over a few branches constructed to keep most of the rain off us during the night–sometimes with a rough platform from freshly cut branches built off the ground. The natives don’t seem to mind the irregular sleeping surface of different sized branches. I prefer an air mattress–or the floorboards from a river boat. But this trip was luxury. We had cooks who created restaurant-quality meals. We had refrigerators and air conditioners. We had beds. There was not a mosquito alive inside that base camp! That was the problem; there wasn’t enough adventure.

Base camp had all the comforts of home!

I need a certain amount of adventure in my life to keep everything in balance. I have always been this way. While my life in California as a dredge miner for gold may hold more adventure than many people would be comfortable with, I have found that it is therapeutic for me to devote some time each winter doing mining projects outside of America. There is something all-encompassing about the jungle environment. A week or two in the jungle, and I find myself wondering if the other life in California is real–or something out of my imagination. Why is this? I think it is because the jungle environment requires all of your attention. The margin for error is very small. There is always some degree of danger. And even when there is little danger, the environment is completely different from the normal life-environment in California. This requires you (me) to focus all of your attention on the present. This releases you from all of the hundreds of other things and problems which normally occupy your attention. Most of your day-to-day normal worries are quickly forgotten in the jungle environment. This puts things back into their proper perspective. Later (as long as you survive the experience), you return home appreciative of the things that you have. For me, it is like a new lease on my normal life every time I return from one of these projects.

But there is such a thing as too much adventure. This is when dangerous conditions become so extreme that you are not sure if you are going to survive–or possibly crawl away with severe and lasting disabilities. Too much adventure brings out the feeling of terror and panic. I was feeling terror as I watched an 80-pound male pig round the bend in the creek bed just up in front of me. He was running for his life, the dogs just behind him. Just as he came into view he turned around and threw himself, snorting and squealing and biting at the dogs. Some dogs backed off, while others moved in on him from behind–as a team. The boar was no match for the pack of dogs. I found myself hoping, hoping, pleading with destiny, that the pig would be brought down by the dogs right there. But just as quickly as the boar turned on the dogs, he turned away and ran down towards me. Around 30 yards away, at a full run, he spotted me–an easy target–and he aimed himself directly at me, snarling, spitting and squealing in a killer rage.

My strongest inner voice was screaming at me to turn and run. I overrode that urge, held the spear tightly, pointed directly at the boar as he came at me…

He came fast and it was difficult to target the exact kill zone behind the shoulder. I felt like I might be better off just to make sure I hit him anywhere with the point. Then, at least, maybe I could hold him off me with the spear. As he came within range at a full run, I aimed the best I could and got him in the hindquarter. This caused him to scream bloody murder. I held him off me while he was goring at me with his tusks and snapping his jaws, trying to reach me, only inches away from my hands.

The dogs descended on the boar, biting him, snarling, in a frenzied attack; and I found myself more worried about being bitten by the dogs. Naturally, I backed off from the violence. In turn, the pig shook himself off the spear and hurled himself at me again. Only this time, in the confusion of backing off from the turmoil, I was in a retreat position and not able to hold the pig off. I was going to get it bad! I had never experienced such violent determination before. The pig was almost on me again as, backing up, I fell over a log onto my back and dropped the spear. I threw my arms over my head to keep from being bitten on the face or neck, expecting to get bit on the arm or the side. But it didn’t happen. Overcoming my fear, I looked up to see the pig only inches away, with the dogs having bitten into its hindquarters, holding the pig off of me.

Enough of this! My fear turned to anger and determined action. What was this lowly animal trying to take my life? I remember thinking, “Quit being a sissy, dude!” In an instant, I jumped to my feet, grabbed the spear, took aim to make sure I did not hurt any of the dogs; and with all my might, slammed the point of the spear down into the target kill zone of the pig. One last convulsive bite at the spear and the pig died. I remember thinking how easy it was to kill the pig when I finally just decided to do it.

Eric was back at camp separating the gold from our final sample results from the little remaining iron particles, so we could weigh and log accurate results and relate those back to the volume of streambed processed in each sample.

I stood there for awhile in a shocked daze, looking at the dead pig, a few of the dogs still biting at it. I had not noticed at first that the rest of the dogs had run off barking at something else. I found myself thinking how it would be to tell this story to my mining partner. Eric was at the base camp overseeing the final gold clean-ups for the previous week’s sampling results. Eric would appreciate the adventure and be sorry he didn’t take part. He likes to hunt even more than I do!

Eric and I had sampled several different concessions during this trip. The first area was a very remote location, requiring helicopter support of our operation. We decided that while the high-grade gold deposits were present, the cost of providing logistical support made it difficult to mount expanded sampling and production dredging operations.

Our Dyak helpers were always ready to jump in and try to do all the work.

  

Consequently, we found ourselves sampling a new group of concessions which were more easily and economically accessible by river boat. This new area was huge and showed excellent long-term potential. Fine gold seemed to be evenly dispersed throughout the gravels, hard-packed streambed strata and loose gravel alike. The fine-sized flakes of gold were present in every sample we took, from bank to bank in the river. We were looking hard at what kind of recovery system we would need to devise to recover this gold on a production-scale using suction dredges.

The company had six diesel-powered 8-inch production dredges located on this concession, along with all of the necessary support gear. They also had two unused 10-yard per hour placer test plants which utilized mechanical classification and jigs for fine gold recovery. Eric and I were feeling quite good about the promising results we were getting. The company could utilize the production dredges and placer plants for an expanded sampling venture and preliminary small-scale production operation. They could do exceptionally well in the areas we had already tested. Eric was doing the finishing work while I was helping our jungle guides put meat on the dinner table.

As I came out of my stupor in the creek bed, I realized that I was just standing there in a daze while the dogs were already herding another wild animal down at me. Could I do this again? Barks, squeals and the stampeding sounds of animals racing down the hillside were getting louder by the moment. It was another wild boar, a small one this time. But he came at me just the same as the first, in a mad rage, wanting the taste of my blood. This time, at a distance from any emotion, I stood my ground, took aim at the kill zone and nailed the pig on the first try. It was really just a baby compared to the first one; no great kill. But he was after me, just the same. And I got him. What a relief!

Returning to base camp in a long boat with the meat from my kill and the hunting dogs

Just that fast, the dogs were gone again, and I could hear the natives yelling and whistling just up the hillside. Then the familiar barking again. Was this ever going to end? Another crazed pig rounded the bend. This one was a female (no tusks). The dogs and the Dyaks were right behind it, yelling and whistling. But the pig never turned. It ran right down on me. I could see the fear and apprehension on the faces of my Dyak friends. They figured that pig was going to eat me alive! But, I had already been through the gauntlet twice. My emotions returned. I stood my ground. In my own killer rage, at the exact right moment, I raged back at the pig, driving the spear into its heart. The pig died quickly. The Dyaks stopped, seeing the look in my eye, the other two dead pigs, the blood on my hands; and that immediately changed their assessment of who I was. Almost immediately, they were laughing and shouting and dancing all around me and the pigs. This was a momentous occasion for all of us.

Ah, California–what a great place. I might not even need to go anywhere this winter, even though I am presently writing proposals for a preliminary evaluation in West Sumatra.

Since returning home with stories of this hunting adventure, my friends and family keep asking if I plan to hunt with the natives during my next trip. My answer is that I may help them hunt for pigs, but definitely not for bears!

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