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.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

North To Yukon Gold.

   Jack London once wrote that he left the Yukon with nothing but scurvy and stories to tell. I left the Yukon a few days back with some great memories, several hundred pictures, and made some good friends while I was there. But in my case with the restaurants along the way, and that great camp-food out at the gold-mine, scurvy was the least of my worries. 
All grand adventures begin someplace, and mine felt like it had truly begun when the Boeing 737 began it's take-off roll and felt myself pushed back into the seat. A late flight, it would travel 2000 km. over the rugged mountainous terrain of northern BC and the south Yukon.
   Sitting in the departure lounge before boarding, and remembering the words of Jack London, I had studied my fellow passengers, trying to decide which one I was going to eat if we happen to go down in the mountains. It was a toss-up whether to go quality or quantity, and that big fellow up in seat 17c will never know the fate spared him when flight 555CD arrived safely in Whitehorse at 1am.
   The next morning after a few hours of sleep I rounded up my rental and hit the Klondike Highway for Dawson. Leaving just after 10, I figured if I didn't bugger around too much I could do the 600+ km. and get to Chris and Nika's mine on Stowe Creek about dinner time. 

The weather wasn't exactly the greatest out of Whitehorse, but I had the satellite radio dialed to the 60's station, pedal to the metal, and nothing was going to dampen my parade.

Once beyond Carmacks it cleared off and turned into a most pleasant day.

Pelly Crossing

Stewart Crossing

Gravel Lake is always stunning this time of year.

I completely by-passed Dawson City on the way in, my interest was out in the gold-fields, once up on the Hunker Summit you take your pick, the Sulphur Ck. Road would take me down past Granville and over to the south Indian River country.

Old stomping grounds.
At the summit overlooking the Montana Ck.valley, Haystack Mtn. center and my destination Stowe Ck. over at far right.

   In the olden days our switch-backy road down the mountain into the valley ended here at the formidable Montana Ck. crossing. This would be a first for me, being able to drive a vehicle across Montana Ck. and right into Stowe not too long later, none the worse for wear.
There I met Chris and Nika for the first time, all the kids, her parents, Sabine and Bernie, #1 man Riley from New Zealand, his wife and camp 'child wrangler' Charlotte, and the Cat operator David.

Stowe Ck. Hilton.
If you have watched the program Yukon Gold, you will recognize Chris and Nika's camp. All the comforts of home, and then some. Certainly a big improvement over the roughing-it out here we did so many decades ago.

Chris, Nika, Sabine and Zyla, chilling in the main-room.

The camp cat Digger is a character unto himself. Nika picked him up off the streets of Dawson City, and he pretty much runs the place. He enjoys riding around in vehicles with the crew, and puts up with no end of rough-housing from the kids.

The next day broke clear with a good frost, and I was eager to get out on our old creek once more.

The notorious Dodge Twins, Sierra and Hunter.
They gained national attention last year coming into this world in the front seat of Chris and Nika's pick-up truck en-route to the hospital. One of their favorite spots is up on the back of the couch where they can keep an eye on the comings and goings of the crew.

Chris took me for a tour down at the mouth of Stowe to the Montana bench they have been working the past few seasons with some degree of success.
Riley exposing the pay deep in the bench, mouth of Stowe.

He jumped down off the machine that morning and took several pans out of the cut, coming up with some good results.

David working the D9.

Upper Stowe.
We drove past the camp upstream a few claims, to the extent of their workings, where they had been stripping and preparing ground in their spare time with a monitor and excavator. The valley has not been mined from here up, the virgin ground upstream is the area I drill-tested back in 1981, so we had lots to talk about. I think he enjoyed showing me around as much as I did.

Nika taking the twins for a spin down the driveway, along with dogs Bo and Duke, and cat Digger.

End of season whoop-up.
Nika's Dad whipped up a couple tables that afternoon, the neighbors from over at Eureka Ck. were invited for dinner, and the spirits and mining stories flowed freely. 

Northern lights, Stowe Ck. style.
 The guys had dug out a great huge fire-pit and hauled in no small amount of dry wood for a bon-fire later that you couldn't stand any closer than 20 feet to. A spectacular wrap-up for the season, fire-works were set off down in the cut, lighting up the remote Montana Ck. valley.

    I hung around out there at camp all week trying to stay out of the way and just taking it all in until it was time to make my way south once more. It was a huge event in my little life, to go back out there one last time after 35 years and see what Chris and Nika have done at our old creek with today's gold-price. The weather was perfect, the people were wonderful, and the trip couldn't have gone better. I've got plenty more experiences from the trip to share in the next while, and sometimes the most interesting story is the one you can't tell.