Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Gone Bad.

    I sort of hate to admit it, but the true significance of Good Friday has for the most part, been lost on this feeble old soul, but it has always been a day to note, which is the important thing in my world, and I've always had fond memories of the Holiday Friday time of year. When I was a little bugger, it meant being released from the concentration camp called school, and remember long ago fishing trips to the logging camp at Port Douglas over the Spring break, and being brought around to the hot spring here as a kid. Later in life, it was a paid day off work, which is pretty good too, and often the first dirt-bike ride of the year, when I'd lead all my buddies way off in the hills and get us all stuck in some snow-bank. But for a few exceptions, Good Fridays stick out in my mind for the right reasons.
But then again, theres always the old exception to the rule.

Good Friday, 20 years ago.
    I had been away for a number of days, and keen to get back before the weekend got in full swing down at the hot spring campsite, back when it could be a little wilder and woollier than it is these days. I arrived back mid-afternoon on the Good Friday after a 6 hour drive, burnt-out, and glad as always to be home again. Wheeling down the driveway, I notice the two doors to the cabin crawl-space are flung open, which was certainly not how I left them. I got a knot in my gut making a mental note of all the gear I kept locked up under there. I pulled up and parked, taking a moment there behind the wheel, and not sure if I wanted to get out or not. At the under-cabin storage, some cretin has taken a splitting-maul, probably the one I use to have around here, and busted the locks off, which lay on the ground, still attached to their flimsy screw-on latches. The tools and wood-working equipment appear to be absent, as were several fairly new looking chainsaws.
I had a bad feeling my Good Friday was only going to get worse.
      At the base of the hand-made log steps into this lovely little home in the wilderness, I see there is a empty spot where a mineral sample from a great-grandfathers silver mine once sat, and looking up the steps it is evident the old ore sample has been fired through the window of the front door.
I approached my violated door, and standing there on the welcome mat, reached inside the broken pane, then slowly lifted the pretty flowered curtain. First thing I see is a big chunk of Coniagas Mine there on the floor, broken glass, and dirt tracked all over the predominately white lino. 
    Upon entering,  it looked like a bomb had gone off in there, or a deranged bear had got in. I traveled light in those early years, and it was just a basic one bedroom cabin then, but everything was up-turned, flung-out, tossed-aside, stood-on, looked-in, or otherwise buggered with and big dirty boot-prints all over the counters. Of course anything of value was gone. Like my old TV I played half a dozen VHS tapes over and over on all Winter, and books of all things, including that new one I hadn't finished reading yet, bastards. They even took the heavy old stuffed bear head down off the wall. The pantry had been raided of canned goods and jujubes, and the fridge and freezer had been cleaned out. The power was off, some unsavory scumbag had gone out to the shack and cut wires on the regulator and electronic controls, I assume in an attempt to disable an alarm or something, I don't know what the hell they were thinking, maybe they were trying to steal it. Out front, I see a worn-in trail across the lawn, tracks backing up to the front-deck, pillaging, then spinning their tires on leaving, explaining what happened to my pile of fire-wood, and possibly even my old BBQ that use to be there. I stood on the deck studying the crime scene for clues, and no surprise, all the tracks lead off down the field, and straight into the hot spring campsite, where smoke from several fires rises suspiciously from the trees.
    I stomped down there in record time, then strolled nonchalantly around the campsite, giving everyone the hairy eye-ball. Set-up among the normal holiday campers is a group of characters that appear to deserve another pass or two by, hairy eye-ball and all. I'd hate to profile anyone here, so lets just call them..., 'young white males, beer in hand, empties on ground, ...probably from Surrey'.
   Back in those days it wasn't easy to get a message to the outside world. I stomped back to the cabin and got my truck, driving down to the next little village where someone had a radio that could reach someone else up-valley with a connection to report the forced entry to the Tribal Police, who contact the RCMP, who would then respond. A reassuring message relayed back through the static.
"The cops are on their way", or something to that effect.
    I headed back to the grisly crime-scene, arriving here at dusk, mad as all hell, and from the end of the driveway, just like I had hoped was going to happen, I see a Suzuki 4x4 that had come down the airstrip, up to the house, and was now coming to a stop out on the lawn over-looking the river.
    I was a little beside myself already, as you can appreciate, and catching these bastards red-handed was about the last thing I needed right then. I floored the pickup, lighting-up all four tires down the gravel driveway and across the lawn in passing-gear before locking the brakes and skidding up sideways to the occupants of the Suzuki, whom have begun to get out in preparation of further pillaging I presumed.
    My beside-myself-and-I stormed out the driver's door in full-freakout mode. Scaring them half to death, I probably chased these poor guys around their vehicle one and a half times before the terrified group split up, dropping their fishing-rods and  making a run for it. Except for the leader of this mongol band of cabin-rapers, he's not about to abandon his new Suzuki and runs around it attempting to get back in, all the time trying to fend off some psycho-man with his fishing-rod, which had come apart and was getting shorter by the moment.
"Take what you want, just don't hurt us!" he pleads.
Someone's common sense prevailed, and before he actually reached the can of bear-spray located in his center consul he finally gets it across that he and his nephews were only out looking for a quiet fishing spot.
After I calmed down a bit, his story did kind of check out.
"Is he going to murder us?" one nephew stammered when Uncle called them back.
I told the apprehensive Good Friday fishermen I was taking them prisoner, just until the cops arrived. I said they would want to question them about this heinous crime.
"Uhm, how long is this all going to take?" asked the Uncle.
"I just called them," I said, "they should be here any hour now."
"Do you mind if we give them a little call ourselves?" he asks hopefully.
"I'm sorry," I told him, "I don't have a phone."
The older nephew says, "Did you call them, or are they looking for you?"
I told my captives I couldn't have them running back down to the campsite and blabbing about our encounter, which they would have for certain, and word getting out down there in the wrong places.
I told them they may as well fish while they were being detained.
    The cops were sure taking a long time, I was getting hungry and had to take a leak, the guys didn't seem to be enjoying the forced-fishing in the dark, and I knew if I wasn't standing there staring at them, they were just going to take the opportunity to clamber into the Suzuki and escape, and anyways, there were other things I could be doing with my time, so I made my captives an offer they couldn't refuse.
"You may as well go be prisoners at your camp, and don't tell anyone, ... I know where you sleep."
The relieved group wasted no time making tracks, without so much as a simple goodbye.
    Meanwhile, an RCMP cruiser was responding to the remote call, I like to think with lights and siren, and when they were about halfway here, someone stopped into the small Pemberton detachment, making a statement he had been at the hot spring and had chatted with some character saying he had food and items from a cabin he had opened up, the 'skin-head' boasted to have had a number of weapons stashed in his camp. This new information was relayed to the responding members out on the rough Lake Rd, and it was decided to investigate the call in the next days light.
I eventually got tired of waiting, and spent all night down at the campsite, slinking around in the shadows, studying every move the mongol horde made, and planning the dawn raid.
    About mid morning the next day, a pair of Mounties pull into the yard, and began taking notes.
"The rotten bastards are still down there!" I exclaimed, bringing them up to date on my own investigation and giving them the plate number of the vehicle who's tires matched those across my lawn. The tag was called in and came back as reported stolen,...from Surrey.
They asked about missing items, of which I had a ready list.
"Took the bear head?" asked the senior officer, like he didn't quite hear me right.
"Alright" he says, "We'll go talk to them."
"One more thing," I told the Mounties, "If you guys have to do any shooting down there, be careful you don't hit my TV."
"We'll be careful." he stated, closing up his notebook.
"I better ride down with you." I offered.
They locked me in the back of the cruiser and we headed down to bust the bastards.
    We squeezed by a Suzuki 4x4 near the campsite entrance, the fishermen I had terrorized and taken hostage the night before. They were packed up and getting out of there, and took particular interest in the occupants of the police cruiser, specifically the back-seat area,  and were obviously relieved to see the cops had that nut-bar from the cabin back in custody.
My partners and I drove on, towards the mongol camp.
    "That's them sonsofbitches right there, front and center, that blue Dodge Dakota!" I exclaimed from the back seat, tapping the Plexiglas partition and pointing to the far end of the campsite, hoping to charge in there with lights and siren blazing.
"Tell you what Rambo," says the senior officer stopping the vehicle, "For the safety of everyone involved, we better let you out right here."
The Mounties splashed on alone through the campsite puddles, the low-slung cruiser comes to a stop. The band of mongols freeze where they are, looking rather surprised I was told.
"Who belongs to this vehicle," the officer demanded, pointing to the blue Dakota.
Everyone immediately fingered a young man in their midst sporting a shaved head, who just smiled and shrugged. By the time the cop's backup arrived on scene, out of breath from the run and leaping puddles from the other end of the campsite where they had unceremoniously dumped me out, they had the suspect cuffed and in the back of the police cruiser. I recognized him as a Kyle fellow I had seen around, a harmless type I thought, but one to be wary of, always showing up late at night, and always driving a different vehicle. In case I never had the chance again, I took the opportunity to call him a few bad names.
    Little was recovered, my stuff had all been traded-off for beer and cash, or disposed of somehow. We did recover the old mounted bear head, which I could have cared less about and was stuffed into the cab of the stolen Dakota. It turned out his camp-mates are actually quite nice guys and had no idea of his clandestine activities. Kyle and his skanky girlfriend had shown up and joined their group uninvited. They were starting to wonder though, as he would disappear for a bit then come back with firewood for all, or drive off and return later with frozen pork-chops or something for all, and blankets when he got cold. He told them he had another 'camp' someplace else.
    They hauled that knot-head Kyle off in the cruiser, a young Constable drove the stolen pickup back to town, and he went before a judge a few days later, and was sent away, once again it seems, for a few months stay at a comfortable BC jail. I got word back about a year later that Kyle had been released, and ended up back east, up to his old tricks stealing vehicles and opening up cabins in the lake country of northern Ontario, caught, and sent away for some hard time.
    I went home that day, repaired the wiring and got the lights working, swept the glass up and screwed a piece of plywood over the window, got a fire going in the stove with wood dropped off by some thoughtful Good Friday campers, and went to work cleaning and scrubbing my ransacked little home in the wilderness, and wondering about some people's children.



Saturday, March 5, 2016

Old Timers On Stowe Creek, 1901-1981.

    The History Channel here in Canada, and National Geographic in the states has been airing the new Yukon Gold series this past month, and my site gets hit-on pretty regular by arm-chair gold-diggers out there searching the series on the Internet. As I have posted about before, decades ago, my partner and I had Stowe and many other tributaries in the area staked-up, and watching Chris and Nika mining the old claims after all these years just cracks me up, and like I did so many years back, they probably wonder about them old-timers that were out there before them.

Discovered 1901.
   A handful of brave men ventured out of the Klondike into the Montana Ck. country south of the Indian River, into land that at the time was marked on maps as 'un-explored'.
A discovery claim was staked in the Spring of 1901, and the creek was named by prospector A.F Stowe. In August that year Danial Steers staked claim #6 above discovery on Stowe, and a few hours later staked another on Conglomerate Ck., a tributary on upper Stowe. Mining regulations at the time stipulated a miner could hold only one claim on a 'main' creek. Carl Lund prospected the creek that November, when the flow of water had changed I imagine, and noticing Mr. Steers possible transgression, re-staked his claim on Conglomerate.

Things get litigious...
   A heated creek-side argument spilled over into in a Dawson City courthouse the next year, twice.
Steers vs. Lund, as reported in a 1902 edition of The Yukon Sun. Other claim-holders on the creek, prospectors Stowe, Donahue, Ackesson, McConnell and Walker served as witnesses, and a mining consultant was brought in to make a recommendation.
An original decision was reversed and it was agreed Conglomerate was the main creek, as at the time it was deemed to have the greater flow of water, and Stowe being the tributary, or in miners lingo, the 'pup', and the claim was awarded to Mr. Lund.
The creek was re-named Conglomerate but sometime over the years reverted back to Stowe. I never considered Conglomerate anything more than a 'pup', so I suppose just like these days, it might pay to have the better lawyer.
   A.F. Stowe disappeared from the Dawson City registry after 1902, about time news of the big discoveries north of Fairbanks reached Dawson. His name appears here and there in the Fairbanks News for the next decade on the hotel guest-lists while in town on business, or articles regarding his involvement in various mining properties in the Tanana region of Alaska.
In the Winter of 1913-1914 he made a significant discovery on Redmond Creek.
A bit of a writer old Stowe it seems,  and as late as 1921 was known to send long, humorous letters to the editor of the Fairbanks newspaper. He retired to a cabin in the Broad Pass region of Alaska, regarded as a true 'old-timer' by the gold mining community.

Re-discovered 1979.
   Eighty years after Stowe left his Yukon gold prospect, when us characters circled around in the helicopter, chatting over the intercom, then hovered in and landed, time had taken over his old creek.  We discovered little had been done by the old-timers beyond burning down exploratory shafts, with moss covered rock-piles here and there along the narrow valley, and the odd collapsed-in remains of temporary habitation.

Old cabin.
June 1980, before I became an old-timer. There was an inscription in pencil on the inside of the door, I recall it read, 'Buck and Gertrude 1901'.  I would love to have that old door now.

Old workings.
Cousin Rod Watt at surface-cribbing from an old shaft. Signs of old-timer activity was visible from the air if you looked hard, and what first brought us down into Stowe.

Montana Creek Roadhouse.
   In 1902 the Winter trail between Whitehorse and Dawson City was completed, the Whitepass And Yukon Route ran a stage over the 330 mile route during the Winter when paddle-wheelers were unable to run the Yukon due to freeze.
   This was the remains (1980) of the road-house located on Montana Ck. where they would change horses and maybe over-night, and it would be another day or so of cold traveling to Dawson City from there. The Winter trail crossed the mouth of Stowe Creek several miles from the road-house, any prospectors spending the Winter up Stowe burning-down shafts would have come here for mail or conversation, or maybe a lift to town. 

We staked Mr. Stowe's old discovery into a 3-mile gold exploration lease in '79.
There were no roads into the country, the only way in was the hard way, unless you did your hiking with a helicopter. We preferred the latter method when possible.
 The following season we converted the exploration lease into 26 placer claims, and a half dozen more were added from the mouth up. With plans for a future small-scale mine and a proposed camp at Hidden Treasure Ck, the elevated gravels between Stowe and Bismark Ck were staked into bench claims, we thought it might make a good future air-strip for servicing the camp by fixed-wing aircraft.

Base-lines were cut, and some light-cat work and prospecting was done that first year.
The fork of Stowe (L) and Conglomerate Ck.(R)

 We flew in a small test-box to go through the old-timer's dump-piles, set-up here next to an old shaft beside our #2 post on claim 6.

At the end of the season we trucked out fuel, supplies and materials for the next season's sampling program, then flew it all into Stowe from the nearest road access.

'The Contraption', Indian River, Mar. 81
This old cable-tool drill-rig was located in the junk-pile out back of a water-well drilling outfit in southern BC, resurrected from the bone-yard once more, mounted on a track-machine and trucked to Yukon, then walked way the hell out there the next season, to prove-up (or not) our holdings.

Setting up on Stowe for the first test-hole, pretty exciting.

The 6" pipe (casing) with a 7.5" bit or 'shoe',  was driven into the ground and brought the core of frozen gravel up to the surface. The old-timers would have worked for months burning down with fire to reach bed-rock.
Some mornings where downright frosty, and it took a bit of coaxing to crank things up.

 Checking a sample off bed-rock.

The first gold to come out of Stowe Ck. in 80 years.
Smart dog.
My better half at the time Fang (Wild Fang Of The Yukon) would sit in the cab of the carrier next to the engine to stay warm.

Not all fun and games...

Lots of moving parts and high wear items, plenty of maintenance and welding skills required.
 And don't forget to grease that top pulley!

Making full use of the short Winter days.

The local wolves came around at night, interested in the activity.

The things a guy does when he's young, and has his whole life ahead of him...
Me with a toe-hold on the top pulley, Cousin Rod at the controls of the Hughes.

   When things went as planned, which managed to happen now and again, we could figure on banging down a hole in the permafrost to bedrock a day. We'd pound holes in a line across the valley bottom as we went, rim to rim, bagging and recording the samples of frozen gravel. But with all those moving parts and variables of the project itself, some days were good for a swear or two alright.
   The 'thousand dollar pry-bar' comes to mind, the day I raised the drill-stem and my helper accidentally dropped my favorite metal pry-bar down a drill-hole at about mid-point Stowe. The metal bar slipped from his hand and dropped 27 feet, landing cock-eyed at the bottom of a frozen 6" hole that we had just pounded down with no little amount of determination and expense. I tried everything I could think of to fish it out, then lowered the tools back into the hole in an attempt to drive the bit through. I had to abandon the hole several feet short of bed-rock, where the most valuable sample would be, hopefully, and ended up needing to move the whole operation a few feet and start all over.

Home on the range. 

The local bears came around when they felt like it, interested in the activity.

Stowe in style.

'The Stowe Creek Gentleman's Club.'
We were getting pretty civilized when we skidded out the new accommodation.

    A rough road had been bulldozed down from the Eureka Dome as far as the other side of Montana Ck., just across the creek from the old road-house. We parked the 4x4 there and back-packed our groceries and parts into Stowe from there. The tote-road saved a whole bundle on helicopter fuel for sure, but hoofing it in from there was a little low on the old fun-meter. It didn't take me long to get a motorcycle shipped up and flown out. What the old-timers would have done for one of these!
We negotiated the various creeks en-route using makeshift log crossings, and it was challenging going everywhere in between, not like there was a beaten trail or anything, especially with supplies or heavy parts, or fuel for the generator along.

I don't know what the hell I was thinking, one evening I decided to forego the narrow log-crossing, and attempted to blast across Bismark Ck.

Well that was smart, and cold.
After a bit of a cold swim I hauled the bike out and stood it upside down resting on the handlebars, removed the spark-plug and pumped the water out of the engine, fired it up and carried on to Stowe Ck., hopefully a little smarter from the experience you would think.

Apparently not.
Another bad day on Bismark.
And I got wet and cold all over again.
And yes it was a bit of a job to get it out of there.

Movin' on.
 We finished up the Stowe project a little later on in the season than we had figured on, bear-proofed the Stowe Ck. Gentleman's Club, piled the camping gear on top of the D6, and with drill in-tow, moved onto testing other areas.

 The drill unit was later removed from the Bombardier carrier and mounted on a skid with a powerful winch to move it around for a fly-in job over in the Rosebute country. I went out early the next year on the snow with the D6 cat and hauled it out of there overland back to the mouth of Stowe Ck.

 The cantankerous old drill-rig, or The Contraption as I liked to call it on good days, served us pretty well I have to admit, and was sold off when we were done with it. I forget to whom, but I have often wondered what became of it in the last 35 years.

Klondike legend?   
Well wouldn't you know it, last week I'm sitting at my laptop watching an episode of the Gold Rush series, and my jaw dropped when what do I see on the screen but none other than the Old Contraption itself. Turns out that Beets character ended up with it, using it to test ground in his early day up there, and I'm sure he had plenty of swear days of his own.
    At this point, I wouldn't be too surprised to see my rusty old thousand-dollar pry-bar appear in a future episode of Yukon Gold, some old-timer's junk being sluiced out of the Stowe Ck gravels, and no doubt jamming up Chris and Nika's equipment. 

   We never did develop our Stowe Creek mine, the price of gold took a dive and I spent the next season back mining at Eureka. Eventually the claims lapsed and it wasn't until years later someone began scratching around a bit down on the Montana Ck benches near the mouth of Stowe, and sluicing sections of our proposed old air-strip.

   Ten years ago, a quarter century after all that fun us young-pups had out there, I took about the only real holiday I've had in my life and flew back to Yukon, rented a camper in Whitehorse, and headed straight for familiar surroundings, driving down our old road off the Dome and setting up camp for a few nights not far from where the old Montana Ck Roadhouse use to be, and did that hike into Stowe Ck., for what will probably be, for this old-timer, one last look back.


Helicopter drill move