Wednesday, November 16, 2016

2003 Flood Revisited.

   There has been some high water in the Lillooet River this past week, causing some flooding up in the Pemberton area you've likely heard about on the news, but for the most part it just drains out of this part of the lower valley here, well within the normal flood banks, and nothing too out of the ordinary for a Fall high water event. Certainly nothing like the one we had 13 years ago, a once in 200 year event that really raised hell with the country. On the night of October 18 2003, 650 mm. of rain had fallen in the upper Lillooet valley, causing severe flooding around the Pemberton area, flooding homes and farms, and raising havoc with the roads.
A bridge on the main highway had washed out in the middle of the night, with the subsequent loss of several lives. Despite the forecast for rain there were quite a few people drove out that Friday for a weekend of camping at the hot spring, whom as it turned out were in for a little more adventure than they had bargained on.
By morning the rains had subsided but the damage had been done. Over the hand-held radio I heard of the state of the road, which had blown-out at several creeks that had crested in the night.

A few km down the road was an issue with the Rogers Ck. bridge for starters, cutting off the route to town. This kind of thing has happened over the years and was no great hardship to me,  I'm high and dry and actually I kind of enjoy the isolation myself, but it can sure bugger the plans of folks camped-out down at the hot spring, and this looked like it was going to be a bit bigger deal than in the past.
At the Rogers bridge a couple loggers I know from the camp down at the head of Harrison Lake pulled up, Don the superintendent, and Louie, an equipment operator. They had driven up-valley inspecting the road damage along the way and were curious if the bridge at Rogers had held. 
There was a pretty good turn out at the hot spring that weekend, probably about 30 people. Several had tried to head out early but were turned back by the bridge out at Rogers, so people had lots of questions when Don and Louie and I wheeled into the hot spring campsite that morning with the news. 
   We rounded everyone up and explained the situation, the bridge out at Rogers being the least of it. There were further problems down the road, a section along Lillooet Lake was under several feet of driftwood choked water, and even if you could get out, the main highway was closed.
A hush fell over the group, "How long could we be stuck here?" someone asked.
"Hard to say," said Don, "hope for a few days at least, but figure on a week at worst."
The campers remained quiet, thinking of their weekday responsibilities at home, work, and school, and calculating the amount of food they brought along.

Waters rising.
The river along the hot spring campsite was right up to the brim, with more rain forecast, and water from the flooding up-valley to come down in the next few days. Anyone camped-out along the river packed-up and re-located to the campsites on the upper bench.
Just in time.

Within hours the Lillooet had come over it's bank and began to flow freely through the lower level of the campsite.
   According to the loggers, the rugged road out the south down the west-side of Harrison Lake was still open as far as they knew, other than a nasty spot before camp where the water was over-flowing the road. They offered to escort anyone interested as far as their camp at Harrison, helping them across the flooded road section with the grader, then from camp on, they were on their own. Several parties determined to be back at work Monday morning and having an off-road vehicle with lots of clearance took the loggers up on the offer.  Anyone else driving cars that really needed to get out were given the option of leaving their vehicle in my yard, then squeezing in where possible and riding out with the larger vehicles. We ended up running a half dozen or so vehicles of all descriptions over to my place, which were lined-up in the front yard here like some back-woods car lot. Led by the loggers, waving out the windows and loaded to the gills, the convoy headed off the south route to what logger Louie guaranteed would be an 'interesting drive'.
"But we better get the hell to it" he had said, "The goddamn day was wastin!"
Those that chose to take their chances at the campsite hunkered down under a large tarp at a community fire-pit, and spent the remainder of their considerable spare time soaking in the hot tubs.
   Down the road quite a ways the group of adventurers led by the loggers arrived at a section of the forest service road that led off into lake of deep, swift-running muddy water of undetermined depth.
Louie, I'm sure having the time of his life, towed the vehicles across using the great huge grader, with water seeping in around the doors, and flooding engine compartments. It was reported several of the vehicles were never the same again since. The soggy expedition arrived in the logging camp at the head of Harrison Lake, and were put up for the night to continue the rough west Harrison road in the next days light.
   Back at the hot spring campsite, I think some of the novelty had worn off by day two of being marooned, especially by the smokers in the group, and that afternoon one of the many helicopters that had been flying over hovered-in and landed. A young RCMP member and several volunteer search/rescue guys had been sent out to see who was probably stranded at the hot spring.
The officer took down every one's name, and inquired about any emergencies or medical issues.
There was one person running low on badly needed medication, and a few other requests.
"No liquor, no cigs." says the cop.
   The next day another machine hovered in and landed, bringing the medication, bottled water, and leaving behind a box or two of groceries, followed by another machine a couple days later to check on everyone.
   It turned out our estimation of a week to open the road to town was pretty close, and heavy equipment had been at work clearing the Lake Road of logs and driftwood, and repairing several water damaged areas. The loggers got the go ahead for a quick patch on the Rogers Creek bridge, bringing in a large excavator to temporally fill-in the washed-out end of the bridge enough to get traffic moving. The hot spring maroonies, after being stranded, although somewhat comfortably at a hot spring, were lined-up at Rogers Creek as Louie put the finishing touches on the repair, and headed for town as soon as it was deemed safe to cross. Travelling in convoy, they reached the section along Lillooet Lake. The waters had receded exposing the road, Sharlotte was at the head of the line, following a bull-dozer pushing aside the last of the debris left behind, and they all got home in time for another weekend.

The hot spring survivors, 2003.
Those brave souls that stayed behind, at the hot tubs.
A helicopter had just lifted-off, and a quick group shot was organized. There was talk of an annual reunion camp-out, but I don't know if it ever happened or not. But for sure, none of them will ever forget the time they got marooned at the hot spring for a week.
Sometimes you got to watch what you wish for.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Behind The Scenes At Yukon Gold.

   An email arrived at the Hotspringlodge offices one day last spring. 'Hello from Stowe Creek Yukon!!!' the header read, one of those emails that you had hoped might come someday.
It was from Nika Guilbault, whom with her partner Chris St. Jean mine a group of our old claims out there and are featured on the popular series Yukon Gold, a program shown pretty much around the world, which once more I've taken an opportunity to brag about on here.
   I have posted about my adventures prospecting in the area, and it was Nika's mom Sabine who ran across my site one night on a whim, looking up the origin of the name Stowe Ck. To her surprise, there was some character out there that had written about his experiences 35 years before on Chris and Nika's claims, and appeared to be the self-proclaimed 'keeper of the crypt' for everything Stowe.
In some state of disbelief, she sent the link to Nika at the remote Stowe Ck. mine.
"I was shocked..." Nika's long letter began.
   They might of heard bar-room talk about a couple of yahoos with a helicopter and a track-mounted drill pioneering that neck of the woods back in the last century, but I'm sure  would have passed it off as old mining lore. She mentioned how much she enjoyed the stories and my old pictures, then casually suggested I should come back sometime. Which was about all the encouragement I needed.
   She offered a room in camp, but added there was a catch, that being filming of the television series,
 "...which you will most likely be asked to be part of." she warned me, and asked if it was alright if the folks at Paperny Entertainment, the producers of Yukon Gold, sent me an email too.
I've never been one to seek-out the lime-light, but for some reason, once in awhile I get caught like a deer in the head-lights. With no small amount of trepidation, I said that would probably be alright, ...I guess.

A few months later....
    I stopped on the Eureka summit for a picture of the Montana Creek valley below, it was great to see the old stomping grounds again after all these years and a hundred memories unfolded. In the distance I can see Stowe Ck., Chris and Nika were expecting me tonight maybe, or tomorrow for sure, and I started off down our switch-backy old road in the rental Jeep to the valley below.
   I was thinking that within the hour, I would be meeting Chris and Nika for the first time, and meeting their crew will be cool and..., then, a sense of dread set-in when I reminded myself there was a film-crew down there, possibly in ambush, awaiting my arrival. I held onto the false hope they would be finished for the day, having dinner, or better yet charging their dead batteries, and I would roll into camp, meet everyone and get comfortable for a day or so with the operation, then  given a few hours of acting lessons I figured I was in bad need of before being turned loose in front of any camera.

   I crossed the Montana bridge, and continued across the flats to the other side of the valley, where fame or fate awaited me, driving slower and slower all the time, as if to put off the inevitable.

The inevitable met me head-on.
   About when I thought I might be successful in my attempt to sneak into camp I met a vehicle, then made the mistake of stopping to say howdy.
"Great day to be in the Yukon!" I stated through the window.
"Sure is..., and say, whats your name, and where you going?" the driver asked, probably mistaking me for a lost tourist, claim-jumper, or vacuum-cleaner salesman gone badly astray.
"Robin, and I'm headed to Stowe Creek." I told the nosey bugger behind the wheel.
Well just my luck, it was Darren from the Yukon Gold film-crew!
He told me they had just been out taking some cast portrait shots, and he needed to round-up his crew again, then get Chris and Nika mic'd up for my grand entrance.
"We like to film things as they happen, first time around." he said.
"Yes, of course," I observed, like a seasoned actor.
"You stay here." he tells me, much to my apprehension, then tears off to round up the rest of his crew.

   So I hung-out there back-stage on Montana Creek as directed, and getting more nervous by the minute. Soon the guys come charging back, and the other two members of the Yukon Gold crew piled out of the vehicle.
"What's the proper spelling of your name?" says Tom, the field producer, scribbling in his ever present note-book, "And how does it feel to be back." he asks.
"Like deja-vu all over" I heard myself say.
    "Here, let me get this mic on you." demands Nate the sound-man, tugging at my clothing and drops a small, cold transmitter down the front of my shirt.
"Put that in your pocket." he says, "Make sure you can't see the wire, and the mic sticks to the backside of your top button."
"Yes, ...of course." I stammered, undoing my belt.
   As I'm holding my pants up and trying to get my shirt tucked back in without the goddamn cord showing, Darren, cameraman, and lead-hand, takes command of the shoot,
"Chris is in the lower cut working on the dozer, we'll go on ahead and get his mic back on him, he always likes that, and Nika is up at camp putting on her transmitter, so just toodle-on in when we call on the radio, and remember, "Just be yourself, and don't look at the camera."
With that nine-worded acting lesson, they piled back into the Yukon Goldmobile, slammed the doors and drove off.
At this point being myself was what I was afraid was going to happen.

And if I wasn't before, I was really freaked-out now.

 Game on.
   Seeing this on the radio they left with me, which was about to go off any moment, and standing around with a live mic on didn't help my state of back-stage jitters one bit. But I finally convinced myself all I needed to do was toodle-on in as Darren had said and meet some fellow gold-miners that share a common bond, who are no doubt just itching to pick an old-timer's brain.
   I was parked there near the mouth of my Stowe Creek prospect of long ago, in the Yukon Fall sunshine, with my arm out the window of the rental, feeling very much a celebrity, at the same time thinking what a hell of a deal I got myself into this time, when suddenly the radio crackled, and I heard my final call,
"Hey Robin, anytime your ready, drive on in."
Ready or not, I was about to enter into the world of docu/reality television, and for reasons known only to myself at the time, but could best be attributed to a shaking right foot, pushed down hard on the gas of the Jeep...

Yukon Gold, Chris and Nika crew.
Nate, Darren, and Tom, embedded at Stowe Creek.
There were 4 crews filming at different operations I was told, working a 10 week filming season.

The one-eyed monster.

This is were it all goes.
I picked it up once when no one was looking, and was surprised at the weight.

   Being wired for sound took some getting use to, I never quite got to that point.
The tiny mic has a two-sided sticky deal on it for attaching it to the victim, I was putting on my rig one day, trying to save the outfit money, and attempted to use the sticky deal from the last time I'm pretty sure. Not too far into the day's activities, like within minutes, Nate wanders over and takes off his head-phones,
"Mind if I check your mic" he asks, "Your not sounding very good today."
Well dang if the mic hadn't come off the top button of my shirt and fallen down and attached itself to my belly-button area instead. I reached down and got hold of the cord and gave it a tug, bringing it up with a good patch of fur attached. We got a new sticky on there, the mic back on the proper location, and he gave me the thumbs-up.

   Darren started in the business as a TV newscaster, in a suit and tie in front of the camera, before moving behind and documenting events through the lens.
Tom used to rappel out of helicopters as part of a smoke-jumping outfit.
Nate was a musician skate-board dude who parleyed his interest in recording into a cool gig outdoors.
   Nika's cat Digger, an unofficial member of the team, would often jump in the truck and ride happily over to Big Al's, which is quite a drive for a cat. There he would wander around, visit and supervise, then hitch a ride back to Stowe later on with the guys.
   Like the miners they follow, the crew put in long days during the short mining season. They are up early, gear-on, and ready to go when the day starts.
"You never know what might happen." Nate remarked, "We don't want to miss anything".
   There were the usual legal matters that needed to be taken care of for head office.
One was a form to sign and witness for the use of your face, anywhere in the universe.
Another form was for the use of any other possible images, anywhere in the universe.
I got them to fill-out the form to avoid having the Hotspring Lodge logo on my hat pixilated-out, I hope, anywhere in the universe.
There was one form signed and witnessed, understandably enough, to curtail my literary endeavors in certain areas here on Hotspring lodge until sometime next season.
   They film events as they unfold, but at times Darren might ask for something specific like,
"Drive in and the three of you get out and walk for a little ways".
I was standing around blabbing once about something and needed to do a few re-takes for mentioning brand names,
"Can we do that again Rob, this time don't mention Snap-On."
Then, I had to remember what the hell it was I had said.
   During the one-on-one, from behind the One Eyed Monster, Darren will present a question, which you answer back to Tom who stands next to him, smirking back at me and often it was all I could do not to crack-up. The natural tendency is to speak to everyone present, Tom ideally, then theres the Natester dangling his fuzzy-covered microphone on a stick, and especially the guy with the camera who asked the question, and you got to think hard not to look around.
   You need to answer in such a way, they explained to me more than once, 'that the unheard question is obvious in your response.' Or something like that, I'm not so sure I ever did quite get a handle on it, I was having a hard time lining-up all my planets right then, and at one point joked to the guys about wasting their film.
"Don't worry about it," said Darren, "...we don't use film anymore."
If nothing else, there's enough material for a blooper marathon someday.

You got to catch the buggers when their not catching you.
The camera mounted drone was pretty interesting, swooping in and hovering around.
It was really difficult not to look at it.

Often just loading your truck is fodder for the one-eyed monster.

Darren putting up an auxiliary light in the main-room for the final climactic scene.
Or it might end up being the opening climactic scene, we'll all have to wait and see.
I was getting to be quite the old ham by this time.

A good one on Tom.
   It was the end of the season for Chris and Nika and the Yukon Gold crew, and it was a pretty relaxed atmosphere around camp into that last week. The TV guys were going to be away for a few days doing something else, so I had some time to kill and volunteered to take Nika's dad Bernie into Dawson to catch a plane one day, and of course heading for Dawson, I was handed a shopping list.
   Along with the usual luncheon meats and stuff for sandwiches on Nika's list, there was a request for diapers for the twins. It has been a long time since I've shopped for diapers, and ran into some difficulty making sure I got the right thing, a simple a task that may seem to some. I asked the stock-boy there but he wasn't much help, so I'm standing in the Dawson City grocery store scratching my head over this dilemma, when I bump into Tom from the film-crew. After a little chit-chat there in the aisle he told me they would be back out to camp before I left on Wednesday to shoot some footage they needed to tie things up. In the end, I accosted a woman with a small child in the store, and she cheerfully helped me select my purchase, which I signed-off on Chris and Nika's account.
   So Wednesday morning comes around a few days later back out at the Stowe Ck. camp. I had heard the film-crew arrive back late the night before, the camp dogs Bo and Duke warning us all of their arrival. My room was right adjacent to the table and kitchen in the main area so you hear just about everything going on in the morning. David, the bulldozer operator was first up, and I hear him tinkering away out there making his oatmeal and checking his email as it begins to get light out.
Chris comes in, stokes the wood-stove back to life, makes a coffee in the kitchen and sits down at the large table in the main-room, followed by Riley, and soon all the gals and kids would stampede in.
Feeling like the laziest guy in camp my last day on old Stowe Creek, I lay in bed listening to Chris laying out the last days work for the guys, and gold-mining talk I was getting a kick out of.
   Pretty soon Tom from the film-crew comes in and sits down at the table with the miners. Theres a little chit-chat going on and Tom at this point is wondering why I'm not at the table.
"Is Robin still around?, I didn't see his vehicle", I hear him ask.
I got a big chuckle out of that, I was afraid of my little rental getting side-swiped by those big trucks they all drive up here, and had parked it out of camp a little.
Chris replied sober as a judge, "Nope. We haven't seen him for 2 days."
I had to bury my face into the pillow to muffle the laugh.
"Say what?" says Tom.
"We thought it was kinda odd too." replied Chris.
It was a little quiet out there, then I hear Riley's New Zealand accent,
"The buggers off on a toot in Dawson we reckon."
"Off on a... toot?" Tom finally manages to respond, probably looking down at his notebook and wondering where that last footage was going to come from.
   This was all getting to be too much for me, almost, listening to poor Tom stress out there, but I got up and began to get dressed, ...slowly.
"You just never know with some guys." I hear Chris state,
"They go to town, get a few in them and there's no stopping 'em."
David gets in on the gag,
"Ya, and 'ee seemed so normal too!"
There was a long silence before I hear Tom again,
"I just saw him in Dawson the other day shopping for diapers."
After reflecting on the comment for a moment, Chris inquires, "Adult diapers?"
   Well poor old Tom I thought to myself, laughing into my sleeve, he didn't need this so early in the morning on his first cup of coffee, let alone the last day of shooting, and Chris was really running him through the mill. I opened the door and headed for the washroom,
"Morning miners." I said casually, slapping Tom on the back on the way by, and a moment later the whole table erupted in laughter.
He wouldn't believe he hadn't been set-up, and told me the film-crews were often the brunt of 'childish' practical jokes from the miners.

In this very spot, drilling a test-hole 35 years ago, I never thought someday I'd be back standing around for a group photo.
 Nate, Tom, Darren, me and Chris, taken by Nika.

     I reluctantly drove out of camp that last day, with the camera-drone buzzing me on the way out,  and I began to appreciate what a unique experience it all was. After all these years, with a very cool bunch of people, and was most interesting to get a behind-the-scene look at how these programs are roughed-out in the field. But I'm sure the real fun starts with the editors back at the production facilities over the Winter. And I wish them luck is all I can say.
So, thanks a million ounces Chris and Nika, thanks for the invite.
You pretty much dumped-out my entire bucket-list that time around.
And thanks to the folks at Paperny Entertainment, who bring the world of placer gold-mining to TV sets around the globe, and gave me the two golden-rules within to write this post.
So, if you want to know more, along with me, ready or not, your just going to have to watch the show.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Gettin' Boned In The Yukon.

      As late as 20,000 years ago, Yukon was a much different place than it is today. Ice-sheets covered much of what is now Europe and North America, with so much water held inland in the form of glaciers, the sea-level had dropped and exposed the shallow bottom of what we now call the Bering Strait, joining Russia and North America and forming the ice free, grassy steppes land known as Beringia. Best described as a windswept Arctic desert, Beringia was a Pleistocene era refuge for the migration of mammals from Asia while they waited out the ice-age.
And what an interesting lot they were.
Woolly mammoth.

Short face bear.
The creepy Jefferson ground sloth.

Giant beaver, stood almost as tall as a human, and often stalked us for food.

A handful of peoples, no more than several thousand possibly, crossed the land bridge from Asia, adapting to the cold, dry climate while the glaciers blocking the way south slowly melted.

   Much of Eastern Beringia, or Yukon as it goes by now, and in particular the Dawson area, was spared the pulverizing and re-distribution effects of glaciation, and the high grassy steppes over thousands of years eroded down to the hills and creeks that you see now, concentrating scattered gold deposits in valley bottoms, or placer deposits. Durable material such as bones and tusks from Beringia times survived in the cold dry climate, slowly tumbling and working their way downhill to the creeks and rivers, then the valley bottoms were thickly covered in a fine organic wind-blown loess, or what miners call 'black muck', then frozen in time.
   Most anyone whom has been involved in the placer-gold industry in this region is well familiar with the array of old bones that sometimes turn up in the mining process. I sluiced for a few seasons on Eureka Ck. in the 1980's, and still remember discovering my first mammoth tusk. 
 It was as exciting for me as finding a big gold-nugget, and hung onto two I found for all these years, which now adorn the interior of the Hotspring Lodge. 
   Over the hill and in the adjacent drainage system to Eureka is the mine on Stowe Ck. operated by Chis St.Jean and Nika Guilbault of the series Yukon Gold. When my partners and I had this area staked in the early 80's, I had test-drilled the upper creek for gold, but had no idea of the other 'riches' that lay frozen below on the level above creek gravel.
Using a water monitor to strip the muck down to the gravel and following the pay deep under the muck bank, this area of the creek has produced many old bones, in fact I was a little surprised at the amount that have come out of this short section of creek-bed they have exposed. 

Sticking right out of the bank.

Chris spied this bone from something or other as we were walking by.

Chris and Nika, with whats left of a bison.

Ribs from....something or other.
Bison horn.
Mammoth leg-bone.
Somebody's leg-bone.

The Perky 1000
This is some kind of inside joke around camp, I didn't ask anyone to elaborate, but you can use your imagination.

Chris showing-off  mammoth tusks found at Stowe Creek.

I made a trip over the hill to Eureka Ck. where Troy has claims at the very spot I found my tusks 35 years ago, and he showed me some treasures he's come up with over there.
Like this antler and skull-cap from a Beringia era caribou.
Always a lucky find, this molar from a woolly mammoth.
He showed me a mammoth tusk he had been refinishing, sanding down through the oxidized layer to expose and polish the ivory beneath. Very cool.

Mammoth vertebrae.

   While walking near the cut-bank on Stowe Creek, Nika bent down and picked up this mammoth vertebrae.
"You should take this." she offered.
I didn't have a pocket big enough and didn't want to be carrying it around while taking pictures.
"Aw, that's alright Nika, thanks anyways." I said stupidly.
"No", she said, "You should have this, from us, ...a Yukon candle-holder!"

Thanks for insisting there Nika, it cleaned-up nice, I packed it home and added it to my collection of memorabilia around here at the old lodge.

 If you ever pass through Whitehorse YT,  have a stop at the Beringia-Yukon Interpretive Center.