Using Teamwork to Find High-grade Gold!…with Dave McCracken

This project included 14 persons, myself, and three additional supervisors who were helping me to manage the program – for a total of 18 people. We were using a 3-inch dredge to get beginners started, two 4-inch dredges and three 5-inch dredges. Each dredge was set up for two divers, so half our crew could be underwater at any given time.

We chose a location to prospect where others using 4 and 5-inch dredges had already located high-grade dredging deposits in the recent past. There is a large area there where we were able to camp just off the road, and also some slow-water areas where we could help beginners.

Our first morning was devoted to theory basics on dredge sampling and underwater safety. While putting the dredges into the water that afternoon, we took the opportunity to swim around the claim with mask and snorkel to get a preliminary look at the river bottom. It looked good!

Each of the following days started in camp with discusion and planning about hat we were actively doing on the river during those days. I find that the discussion is more meaningful to participants when they have to accomplish the very same things we are talking about just minutes or hours later.

The second day was mostly devoted to getting the first four dredges busy sampling for high-grade gold deposits. The prospectors who had done well there before had told us the high-grade gold had been recovered from a contact zone between grey and brown layers of streambed about 3 feet into the material. So that’s what we were looking for. Each of the dredges was finding those layers (we thought), and we were turning up some gold in each sample. But it was not the high-grade that I was hoping for.

Dave always takes special care to help beginners get started with the important basics.

I was able to help each of 5 beginners through the beginning stages of underwater mining, and everybody was helping sample underwater by the end of the second day. This was good.

The third day was basically a continuation of the sampling process. By now, I had identified the participants who were ready for deeper and faster-water sampling, and we got those samples started further out into the river. The less-experienced participants were also building confidence in the water. We located a pretty good gold deposit in deeper, faster water; but it still was not the high-grade that I was hoping to find. Although it was good enough to plan a production-run during the fourth day to see how much gold we could recover from the deposit in production. We also located another pretty good deposit of fine gold on the opposite side of the river in shallow, slower water. A production-run was planned there for the following day, too. By now, most or all of the participants were comfortable working further out into the river in slightly faster water.

“I was looking for something rich and exciting!”

The most significant event on the third day was that the team working furthest upriver on a 5-inch dredge touched down on high-grade gold (very rich) right towards the end of the day. Their gold from the little time they spent in the pay-streak added up to lots more than all the accumulated gold we had recovered on the project so far. Everyone was starting to get pretty excited.

On the morning of the fourth day, the first thing we all did was go down and have a direct look at where the high-grade gold was coming from. In doing that, we discovered that the brown layer we were looking for was entirely different from the brown layer we were finding further downstream. The pay-streak was actually coming off the top of a slightly brown layer of old cemented gravel. This bottom layer was very hard. It was something we had not seen in any of our earlier samples in this area.

After seeing the high-grade gold in the uppermost sample hole, we started another 4-inch dredge sample directly in line about 30 feet down river. It only took about an hour for that team to come up and declare that they were already seeing gold along that hard layer. That prompted us to immediately put the second 4-inch dredge alongside them to help expand the hole. We were then into high-grade gold on three dredges before mid-afternoon. The excitement level was rising!

Two of our teams were also busy doing production runs on the lower-grade pay-streaks we had found the day before, so we left them alone to see how their production would compare to what was being recovered in the high-grade deposit further upstream. We compared towards the end of the day, and decided it was better to focus all of the fifth day’s effort on the

high-grade deposit. By now, we were starting to accumulate an encouraging amount of gold in our concentrates.

By the way, we do not separate the gold from our concentrates every day on these group mining projects. The process takes too long. We save all the concentrates until the final day, and run them all at once. But we do compare what we are finding in each sample hole, and in each production run, to get an idea what is working the best during the project.

“Now we knew what we were looking for!”

The fifth day of the project found all of us very serious about working the high-grade gold deposit. Another 5-inch dredge was brought on line to sample a little further downstream from the two 4-inch dredges. Two divers were operating each of the 4 dredges all day long, shifting off between participants, only stopping long enough to fuel the motors every once in a while and look at all the gold in the sluice boxes. For the most part, we had evolved into a production dredging operation. Everyone was putting time in dredging. We did not have any beginners anymore. Each person was a partner in the race to recover as much gold as we could in the time remaining.

The second 5-inch dredge was not able to locate the cemented gravel and high-grade gold further back, because it looked like someone may have dredged there in the distant past. But the first 5-inch dredge and the two 4-inchers were producing in high-grade all day long. Everyone was talking about all the gold that we were seeing in the contact zone. Nice nuggets were being passed up to the rest of us by the divers as they were being discovered at the bottom of the river, one right after the next. At the end of the day, we had around three ounces of gold to show for our effort just from the fifth day. The excitement level was almost overwhelming!

The sixth day was devoted entirely to production using two 5-inch and two 4-inch dredges. By now, we were dialed in as a well-oiled machine. Each person knew everything that needed to be done – and did it without hesitation. When packing my lunch that morning, I made sure to fill my thermos with coffee, knowing there was not going to be much for me to do. The participants no longer needed a supervisor. They had already graduated from all that. This was another proud day for me, as I stood back and watched everyone go through all the steps we had established together earlier in the week, as if they had been doing them their whole lives. It was a great feeling watching them driven so passionately by the common goal to recover as much gold as they could get out of the high-grade deposit. I was also saddened that the project was nearly over, and the team would soon dissolve.

We recovered between 3 and 4 ounces of gold on the sixth day, including a lot of nice nuggets. It is a fantastic feeling to be in the middle of so much excitement and enthusiasm, and I can tell you that I was counting my blessings for the type of work that I do. Supervising these group mining projects is something on the order of combining team sports with treasure hunting. There is probably nothing else that could really compare. It is a very interesting and rewarding process.

We spent the final day pulling most of the gear out of the river and performing the final clean-up steps on all the concentrates we had accumulated for the week. There was so much gold, that we completely overwhelmed the Gold Extractor (concentrator) with gold once, and almost fully loaded it with gold on a second pass through the concentrates!

In the end, we had 23 pennyweight (1 ounce equals 20 pennyweight) of nuggets, allowing each participant to receive 2 nice nuggets. The largest gold nugget weighed 1.54 pennyweight. We also split off 140 pennyweight (7 ounces) of fine and flake gold. In all, each participant ended up with about ½-ounce of gold as an individual share.

Several of the participants explained to me after receiving their share that they greatly valued the wonderful experience of pulling together as a team to locate and recover a piece of mother nature’s hidden treasure, and the excitement of finding something truly valuable. Everyone finished knowing much better what they ought to be looking for when prospecting for gold on their own.

Several of the group participants remained there after our organized project, continuing to work together to recover the remaining gold out of that particular high-grade deposit. They also invited other prospectors to help them out.