This goes with the other 2, let me know what you guys think. I am publishing them on www.gorpstew.com
, there you guys can get a peek at the 4th one comming up soon, and please leave comments.
Winter was at last releasing her long frigid grasp and the familiar hints of spring had begun. Days passed while back in town with increasing drudgery, I longed to be back in the vast expanses of the mother lode country where I felt alive and free. Back where life though simple, made alot more sense. I longed to hear the rushing waters and feel the ache in my legs and back from a long day of stacking rock, to see the beauty of the stars that looked so close you could reach out and touch them, so clear were the night skies.
When I could stand it no longer, I started going back out to lower Otter Creek on Friday afternoons, making the long drive out after work and spending the weekends at my old stomping ground, glad to be free of the city and her trappings. I would get a late start after work, arriving long after dark, I would park my vehicle and make the three mile hike by the light of the full moon to my camp site. There was just enough light to set an eerie glow to things, this was my favorite time to make the journey . The forest took on a surreal look and I could hear the passing of other forest dwellers on the far side of the canyon, every sound intrusive in the stillness of the night. I had never felt more alive, every inch of me straining with anticipation.
On the Fridays that the full moon was not there to light the way, I would sleep restlessly in my truck awaiting the sun and the long hike to my camp. I had set up a permanent camp down in the diggings of the old timers. The area that they had washed away and stacked up perfect rock walls in the hillside had formed a cul-de-sac, creating a perfect place. Carefully, I walked across the areas that had been used for drainage. I had my tent and other comfort items there, I had built a nice stone barbeque and had packed in an air mattress and quite a bit of extra food, just in case, which I kept stored in 5 gallon buckets with sealed lids to keep the critters out.
My idea was to go back to the place where I had found over eleven ounces of chunky gold previously and work that area again. Each weekend I would just bring in my sniping tools along with more supplies and try my luck again. I found the same crack just as I had left it, and the gravel pile at the bottom that had me so intrigued, and started working up and down the creek, throughly enjoying being there, almost always finding nuggets. There were alot of rich areas that I had bypassed previously. In one area where the creek had a bend, the bedrock was curled, the rushing water had left a bunch of potato sized quartz pieces just laying there sunning themselves. At the place where the bedrock was folded over I took a sledge hammer and pinch bar and knocked out the slabs to get at the bounty of nuggets that had been trapped there. Quite a few Mondays I would arrive at work with a heavy handfull of the buttery beauties to display to my co-workers, who often wondered what I did in my spare time. Sometimes all that would come from the creek was my supper of trout, but that was enough. I was happy. I was once again living the life from the journal that I had read some time ago, and had been keeping a journal of my own. Even if it was only on the weekends for now, I was in my element once again.
During my previous excursion to Otter Creek one of the barriers to my further sniping had been some boulders which were at the end of the diggings. I had brought a cable gripper and block and tackle one time, which for those of you who don't know about them, can be a prospectors best friend when it comes to moving large, otherwise immovable rocks. Much better than a come-along, it takes a bite of cable pulling it straight through instead of rolling it up on a reel. Bringing some cable another time, I made a sling out of some cable and cable clamps. Each time I would bring more equipment to move those rocks, in the hope of getting under them. Any time that I had attempted to dive under and snipe ,with my little flash light, the current would wedge me up under the rocks. Fighting the current and the rock at the same time would bring about a sense of panic and I had a few close calls under there. Those rocks had to go.
At the same time I had been acquiring the things that I needed to build the mother of all dredges. I had no intention of ever taking it back out of that canyon, I'm pretty sure that it's still there to this day. During all of the time that I had been sniping here, I had this in the back of my mind, now it was time to put my plan into action.
Bringing all of the components for this dredge to the camp was no easy task, first, I didn't want this one to be washed away like the last one, so I made it tough enough to stand up to any punishment that God dealt, which meant heavy duty parts. I built a type of travois out of one inch black iron pipe which I bolted directly to a piece of aluminum plate, this was also used as the mount for the motor and pump. In this way I was able to drag down the hefty things such as the cast iron Berkley pump and the ten h.p. Honda motor.
During my weekend forrays I had been cutting a trail of sorts, this came in handy now when I needed to bring all of this stuff down to the camp. The sheet metal guys at work were happy to build my box for me, it measured eight inches by five foot. Inside of it I had Hungarian riffles, half inch high -raised expanded metal and miners moss. On top of the Hungarian riffles I had welded one-eighth inch steel rods that ran the entire length of the box. This would help the larger rocks roll out of the box and help keep things a movin and not hanging up in the riffles. For the top I had taken a six foot piece of eight-inch ABS pipe and cut five feet of it length wise in half creating a half moon top for the box, which I riveted directly to it. To the remaining foot, which was still round I attached an eight by six inch rubber reducer called a Coulder coupling. To this I attached five foot of six inch dredge hose. This acted as a short piece so that the material could settle out. My venturi was attached to this, then twenty feet of six inch dredge hose. I had fifty feet of pressure hose to work with so I could travel quite a ways with it. The box itself set right down into the creek, that way I needed less h.p. to push my material. All of this, my own design I might add, cost less than five-hundred dollars to build. It was a thing of beauty, truly.
During this time as well, I was inch by inching those huge boulders out of the creek and onto some previously cleaned bedrock. There was quite a few of them and it would take three or four hours to wench just one of those monsters out of the way. I would get a good rhythm going, though not hard work, I had to do a lot of ratcheting. Each was about the size of the hood of a car. I stabilized each knowing that I was one step closer to my goal, having access to the gravel at the bottom of the crack where I had done so well before, without taking a chance of getting sucked under again. Although this was a lot of work seemingly, I had come up with a number of unsuccessful stratigies to circumvent this eventuality. First, I tried lengthing my snorkel tube by attaching a seven-eights garden hose to it, it seemed a good idea at the time. I cut about a four foot length, figuring this would give me alot more depth. The other end I stuck through the top of a styrofoam cooler lid so it would float. Great idea? I tried it, letting out my first breath, I tried to take another through the highly inventive device. I sucked, gasped, heaved... no air would come through. Guess I'm not that much of a sucker after all. There were other imaginings that also went horribly awry, I won't go into them except to say they didn't work.
Back in town, I had nearly finished work on the job that I had been plumbing. This was the perfect time for me to give notice to my boss that I would not be starting another project for him. He was more than understanding, having helped me to acquire quite a few of the parts for my dredge, including the pump, pipe and all of the fittings. I'm sure he thought that I was crazy, I could see it in his eyes. All he said was,"See ya when you get back." One of my last ties to town severed, I was free to devote all of my time to the most important things, the dredge and the gravel pile that was now free of the enormous life threatening rocks.
At last ready to begin my move out to the campsite I packed up all of my belongings and put what I wouldn't need in storage. I got a P.O. box in Georgetown, shut off the utilities. My faithful companion Dumpster had become quite attached to living in town with carpeting and a real bed to sleep in. She had been staying in town during the weekends while I had been out at Otter Creek working. It was time to move her out to the camp too, toughen her up again. She was always very good about staying close to camp but I would still worry about some critter getting her. Fortunately, she settled right in again. As always she was a great camp mate. As the sun began to settle in behind the mountains for the night, I got settled in too,
anxious for the next day and the test run of the mother of all dredges.
The sun was up early the next morning, though it was still dark in the canyon, I was up with it. After having breakfast I headed down to the creek and the long day of work ahead. The finishing touches to the dredge were made and I primed her up, hoping it would at least start. Any adjustments could be made later if need be, I was ready to see if my years of dredging experience would pay off in this rig. It started with no problem, I let it warm up while I hurriedly donned my wet suit, gloves and boots. So far, so good. Now it was time to get in there and give her a go.
I took only the time to check out my rock basket, which I had weighted down in the creek with a few rocks. Each day I would have to clear out the newt eggs which would miraculously appear there. Why they were so fond of that crate I will never know but each day there would be more of them, the clear clusters full of transparent eggs in which I could see the little newts wriggling. Taking care not to injure the flimsy shells I relocated them. The creek was full of newts and apparently I had their favorite nursery.
The mother of all dredges was a success, it was working with a will, devouring everything in it's path. I had to use my whole body to hold the hose down, with one arm free to sling rocks too large for the nozzle. I worked side to side over the gravel cutting a swath down to the clay layer, not waiting for the silt to resettle, I just sucked up any smoke, then got going again until I had a clear area. The clay layer and the area in general was so dirty looking, heavy impurities clouded everything tremendously. For miles down the creek the water was a haze of red. At last I saw a familiar sight, the same starburst pattern of nuggets that was there further up the crack. Incredible, absolutely incredible. Each nugget, once again, was between one and three dwt. with five nuggets per cluster. I would stop and pick them up, placing them in a film cannister that I had shoved up my wet suit sleeve. The same amazing pattern occured again and again. The wonders of mother nature at her finest.
I had been working steadily all through the morning, stopping only to empty my basket, free the occasional rock jam or to put another nugget into my container. I knew that this was going to be a great day and it was. By the end of the day I was very tired but very happy. I had cleared out about a eight by three foot area at the bottom, the two to three feet of gravel that had been there and relocated it to the back side of the dredge, leaving me in a pool about three feet deep and eight feet in diameter.
At days end I didn't do any cleanup, just took the nuggets that I had found while working and tiredly made my way back up to camp and Dumpster. When I had gone to the dredge to rake the gravel from behind it, I would also look in the trap door that was on top of the eight inch tube just behind the rubber reducer. Frequently, I would find several nice little nuggets trapped in there just waiting for me to come and free them. During cleanup I had to be particularly careful in this area so that nothing was lost.
Upon arriving back at camp Dumpster greeted me and I went and sat down to assess the days finds. Looking at the wonderous, honey colored shapes I felt what I imagined the old timers felt like after a day on the creek, living as they did and with the same fabulous results. This days dredging yielded over seven ounces of gold. The dredge was a success. All of my planning to come back to this crack had paid off in a big way and I was feeling mighty good about life in general. Completely gratified I fixed supper and made my preparations for the next days labor. The first day of sniping with the dredge had been a great success, I went to sleep wondering what the next day would bring.
The next day I set about eating away the gravel on the ledge before me, using a bar to wedge free the rocks that stood in my way. In this way, I followed the crack on up toward my camp. Today I also did a cleanup of the materials in the box. This would tell me how well the dredge was working for the fine gold, I had built it as a sniping dredge and it had alot of force behind it for that purpose. There were a few more ounces of lovely gold, the dredge didn't hold the flour gold as well as it could have, but I wasn't complaining. That tray was showing alot of fine color.
And so it went for days, the days turned to weeks. I did well for the rest of the summer and on into fall, I had washed the banks around the crack and dredged that all up. By mid autumn I had cleaned that area out pretty well. I set about packing up camp for the fall, tarping everything, draining the gasoline out of the dredge and filling the cylinder with oil, wrapped the whole engine in oil soaked rags. Another season had come and passed, I left everything, knowing it would still be there upon my return. I think Dumpster may have been a little sad to leave this place too, even for a bed, carpet and a litter box. This experience was a once in a lifetime for me, the area had yielded over twenty-two ounces of awesome beauty, I would never forget it.
Until next Spring...