Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Steve Herschbach

Steve's 2013 Alaska Gold Adventure

26 posts in this topic

I spent a couple months in Alaska prospecting for gold in the summer of 2014. That adventure was chronicled as it happened here on the forum at Steve's 2014 Alaska Gold Adventure. It was a great trip and a great adventure, but when I told it I relayed the fact that it was actually part two of the story. Part one happened in 2013 and for reasons you will now discover I kept quiet about it until now.

Those interested in the logistics of making the trip to Alaska and details on where I stayed, etc. will find all that covered in the 2014 story so I will not repeat that stuff here.

2013 was a momentous year for me. My business partner and I had sold the business we started together in 1976 to our employees in 2010. My partner immediately retired but I stayed on a few years to oversee the transition. Things seemed to be going well enough that I announced my retirement to take place in the spring of 2013. My wife and I had purchased a new home in Reno, Nevada and so plans were made to sell our home in Alaska and move south.

At the same time, some partners and I had acquired some mining claims on Jack Wade Creek in the Fortymile country near Chicken. Alaska. My plan was to move my wife south then spend the summer gold dredging with my brother. The disaster struck. I screwed up the paperwork and the claims were lost. That mess was described online at Making Lemonade Out of Lemons and I even wrote an article for the ICMJ about it. I was not to be deterred however and made plans instead to go metal detecting for the summer. Unfortunately, my brother also had a change of plans and so was unable to make the trip with me. Just as well as I ended up having my hands full.

The house sale was in progress and time running out so I boxed and palleted everything we wanted to keep and shipped it south. Then I loaded my wife and dogs up in the car and drove them to Reno. Next I flew back to Alaska and had a last big garage sale. I sold everything I could by the afternoon and out a FREE sign on what was left. Worked great - the house was empty, I cleaned it up, and pretty much left it to the realtors at that point. Finally, on June 16th I jumped in my fully loaded truck and headed for the Fortymile!

On the way up just past the town of Palmer on the way to the town of Glenallen you pass Sheep Mountain in the Talkeetna Mountains. It is a very colorful, mineralized peak and it was a beautiful sunny day so I stopped and took this photo.

sheep-mountain-alaska.jpg

Sheep Mountain, Alaska

From the USGS ARDF file at http://mrdata.usgs.gov/ardf/show-ardf.php?ardf_num=AN080

Early Jurassic greenstone and minor interbedded sandstone and shale is intruded by numerous mafic dikes and at least one body of unmineralized Jurassic granite. Greenstone has been hydrothermally altered and contains at least 6 separate gypsiferous deposits in altered zones along joints and shear zones. Deposits composed of pods and stringers of gypsum, quartz, alunite, kaolin minerals, pyrite and serpentine minerals (Eckhart, 1953). The gypsum-bearing material averages 25 to 30 percent gypsum, with a maximum of 50 percent.

In addition also reported from same general area are: (1) small irregular quartz-calcite-epidote veins in greenstone containing chalcopyrite, malachite, azurite and possibly bornite and chalcocite (Berg and Cobb, 1967); (2) disseminated chalcopyrite in greenstone over 5 ft thick zone subparallel to bedding (Martin and Mertie, 1914); (3) trace gold in samples of pyritic greenstone (Berg and Cobb, 1967); and (4) minor anomalous concentrations of copper and gold associated with some of the alteration zones and nearby veins (MacKevett and Holloway, 1977).

Large area of south flank of Sheep Mountain is stained dark red from oxidation of pyrite in greenstone (Berg and Cobb, 1967). Oxidation of Cu minerals.

The gypsiferous material averages 25 to 30 percent gypsum, with a maximum of 50 percent. The six deposits indicated and inferred reserves contain about 659,000 short tons of gypsum material, of which about 50 tons of this material had been mined (Eckhart, 1953). In addition, about 55 tons of clay was mined for the manufacture of fire brick and boiler lining. Samples of pyritic greenstone assayed trace gold (Berg and Cobb, 1967), and nearby veins in alteration zones show concentrations of copper and gold (MacKevett and Holloway, 1977).

We did a talk radio show for many, many years at our company. The latest of several "radio personalities" to work with us on the show was Kurt Haider. He had expressed an interest in metal detecting so I invited him up to look for gold. I met him along the way just before we got to Glenallen and headed on to Tok for a bite to eat at Fast Eddie's. Then on to Chicken and finally Walker Fork Campground by evening. This is a very nice, well maintained BLM campground at the mouth of Jack Wade Creek where it dumps into the Walker Fork of the Fortymile River. The campground hosts this summer were a very nice couple named Pat and Sandy.

walker-fork-campground-alaska.jpg

Walker Fork Campground

walker-fork-capground-alaska-steves-tent.jpg

Steve's Camp at Walker Fork Campground

The next morning Kurt and I ran up the creek to find Bernie and Chris Pendergast. They were spending the summer camped along Jack Wade Creek prospecting and I was anxious to see how they had been doing. Not bad, they already had over an ounce of gold found before we arrived, and that got Kurt and I all fired up to go look for gold. I had told Kurt, a total newbie, that I had a sure thing. We were going to hit a bedrock area I had detected the previous summer and where I had found a lot of nice fat little nuggets. There was rubble and little piles of dirt, and I thought all it would take is moving the rubble and dirt aside and we were sure to find gold I had missed. We got started after lunch on a steep slope where it was easy to just rake material off and then check with a detector.

kurt-haider-looking-for-gold-whites-mxt.jpg

Kurt Looking For Gold With White's MXT Pro

The location turned out to not be very good, but Kurt did manage to find one little nugget, his first ever. He was real happy about that! We did not work at it all that long though with the late start, and Chris and Bernie had invited us over for moose stew. Chris is a fantastic cook so we enjoyed both the stew and a DVD packed full of Ganes Creek photos from the couples adventures there. Finally we called it a night and headed back to our camp.

Now time to get serious! Kurt and I grabbed the picks and rakes and spent the whole day tearing into some berms left behind by the miners bulldozers on the bedrock bench area. I just knew we were going to find gold for sure. We would both do hard labor for awhile, then I would put Kurt on the ground with my Gold Bug 2.

kurt-haider-looking-for-gold-fisher-gold-bug-2.jpg

Working Bedrock With the Gold Bug 2

We worked a couple hours. Nothing. No big deal, just need to move a little more. Nothing. More digging and scraping. Nothing! I would have bet $100 we were not only going to find gold there but do pretty well. The spot had produced quite a few nuggets before and I had refused to believe we couple possibly had cleaned it out. But by the end of the day it was a total bust. We finally just wandered around a bit detecting and I lucked into a little 3 grain nugget. What a letdown. No big deal for me but I was really wanting Kurt to do well and this was not working out anything like I had thought it would.

The next and last day for Kurt we decided to hook up with Bernie and just give it a go like we normally do. And that means hitting the bushes and tailing piles wandering around looking for gold. Kurt had his MXT Pro and Bernie and I our GPX 5000 detectors, so we had a horsepower advantage for sure. Still, I was hopeful as we put Kurt on the best spot that Bernie knew of from his extra time before us.

bernie-pendergast-gpx-5000.jpg

Bernie Pendergast and His Trusty Minelab GPX 5000

Very first beep, Bernie digs up a 3 pennyweight nugget! Yeehaw, we are going to find gold!! We all hunt away, with Bernie and I checking in with Kurt periodically. Kurt, it seems, just was not destined to have any beginners luck at all; Bernie and I each found a couple 1-2 gram nuggets by the end of the day but Kurt came up dry.

I was feeling kind of bummed out but Kurt insisted he was having a huge adventure, and come to find out he rarely ever got out of town at all, so this really was a big adventure for him. I just wish he could have found more gold, but he was up early and headed back to town the next morning. I was on my own now, so I rigged my GPX 5000 up with my Nugget Finder 16" mono coil and hit the tailing piles. All day. For no gold. However, just by myself that is really no big deal at all. It happens all the time and I do not think anything of it. If anything, the pressure was off trying to help a friend find gold, so it was a relaxing day wandering around.

Saturday, June 22 started out sunny with a few clouds. There were some tailing piles across the creek I had been wanting to detect. I had hit them a bit the year before and just dug trash, but had not put in more than a couple hours at it. Still, they looked real good and I had been thinking about them all winter and decided it was time to give them a go. I started out with my GPX 5000 but immediately got into some old rusted metal, like decomposed and shredded can fragments. I just was not in the mood for it that morning, so went back to the truck and got out my Fisher F75. The F75 had done well for me in the past hunting trashy tailing piles and was along on the trip for that reason.

I got near the top of the pile with the F75 and on getting a signal looked down and saw a dig hole full of leaves. I try to recover all my trash and get frustrated when I find holes with junk in them. The signal though was flaky, not a distinct trash signal, so I figured I may as well see what the other person left in the hole. I gave a quick scoop with my pick, and gold pops out of the hole!

I am not sure if the person was using a VLF and the specimen gave a trash signal, so they left it after half digging it, or maybe they were using a Minelab, and the signal just sounded "too big" so they left it for trash. Too big indeed, they walked away from a 2.37 ounce gold specimen! To say I was stunned would be a vast understatement. The trip had only just begun. The best part of all was that my expectations for the trip were very low. I had been hoping that a month of camping and detecting would get me a couple ounces of gold. That would be more than enough to cover my expenses and make a few bucks. Yet here I was on the sixth day of my trip, and I had already exceeded that amount. This was just great on several different levels, not least in pretty much taking every bit of pressure off going forward.

Here is that specimen from a more detailed account of the find I told previously at Fisher F75 Strikes Gold Twice in a Row!

fisher-f75-2-oz-gold-nugget.jpg

2.37 Ounce Gold Specimen Found With Fisher F75 Metal Detector on Jack Wade Creek, Alaska

I had to take a break and go show Chris and Bernie my good fortune. Then I switched back to the GPX 5000 and got with digging everything, including all those bits of rusted cans. Funny how a nice chunk of gold changes your perspective. That, and seeing what somebody else had left behind as trash.

I finished out the day finding three more nuggets, a 2.5 gram "cornflake" nugget, a 3.4 gram piece and and fat round 6.1 gram marble. First week, 2-3/4 ounce of gold, This was shaping up to be a really great adventure! To be continued......

jack-wade-gold-steve-herschbach.jpg

Steve's Gold From Jack Wade Creek, First Week 2013

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the ride along

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Your a dang good storyteller Steve. Looking forward to more!

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yea if I cant be digging gold I might as well be dreaming about it. Thanks for posting.

 

strick

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have too many detectors Tom, so I can't afford new trucks! I bought that 1998 used with 50,000 miles on it around 2005 and drove it up until I moved to Reno. I replaced it with another used 4-Runner.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great adventure, if i never get up there myself at least i can look at your adventures steve and its almost like being there myself. Love all the great pictures of Alaska,and the beautiful gold from there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wonder if the person who left the 2+ oz'er thought it was a hot rock.  All dirty and shaped more like a rock than a nugget.  Anyway, a good lesson not to discount anything that beeps until it is thoroughly checked out.  If in doubt take it home.  I'm enjoying the story.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The weather in the Fortymile area the summer of 2013 was really hot in June and July. Hot for Alaska anyway running in the 80's and into the 90's, and with the humidity it just gets a bit sweltering out there in the tailing piles. A lot of the stuff I was working was steep and bare sided. Lots of side-hilling with sweat dripping off me.

Jack Wade was dredged with a bucket line on the lower portion, but it was remined later with bulldozers. The upper valley was mined with bulldozers and draglines. There are just all sorts of different tailing piles up and down the creek. In narrow portions of the valley tailings are stacked and pushed high up against the valley wall. Here is a shot looking down from on top of one, with the creek below. The creek is running very low due to hot, dry weather.

post-1-0-40240100-1422667321_thumb.jpg

Working the piles can be a lot of work, with the steep sides and loose rubble. Here is Bernie working a pile with a Minelab X-Terra 705. The ground is not all that mineralized really and there is a lot of trash, so a good VLF can actually be pretty effective on Jack Wade.

post-1-0-26550500-1422667579_thumb.jpg

The piles in the wider portions of the valley are piled up but can also be pushed into huge relatively flat areas. Here is one long pile I worked pretty hard a couple times. I got a number of nice half to couple gram pieces out of it. These piles are large and it can take a couple days just to work something like this halfway well.

post-1-0-57895500-1422667731_thumb.jpg

Since I was in this for the long run my days varied a lot. There is pretty much more daylight than a person can stand, so some days I might work in the morning, take a break for lunch, work the afternoon, break for a quick meal, then work a few more hours in the evening. Other days it was just so hot I might take a break mid-day and pick up again later when it cooled down. Or just quit early. Afternoon thunderstorms were common. This second week was lots of hours and not a lot of gold showing up. I try to average a couple grams a days and I was just barely doing that. Here is my journal entry from June 27, a particularly hot, muggy day:

"Hunted Bernie's Pile for four hours with Minelab, dug tons of targets, sweat pouring. Muggy and a fire someplace making smoke in the air. Shot the BS with Bernie at lunch, it rained a bit. Then hunted two hours on Steve's Hill with 18" mono. Got a few deep nails and a can so felt good about that, but no gold. Lots of interference in the afternoon, no gold. Quit early and took a dip on the creek. Brrrr!! ice cold but felt good! Ray from California came over when I got back to camp, had me sign a copy of ICMJ article I did for his buddy Ron"

We end up naming various tailing piles, often after the first person to find gold on them, or some location based name. It helps as you talk about stuff "oh, yeah, I was hunting Dead Caribou pile and found a nugget" is a typical comment. Steve's Pile was one I had found gold on with a smaller Minelab coil and rehunted with the larger coil. My comment about feeling good about finding nails and a can is not sarcasm. I was happy it was coming up with targets missed previously. Any one could have been a nugget. You do not like digging junk, this is not the game to be in.

Ray was a guy up from California I met in the campground. He was there by himself, then met up with some buddies who drove up, and then alone again after they left. Nice guy, hard working, mostly shovel work though. He was getting decent but not great gold considering how hard he was working, but I think he was having a good time just being in Alaska.

Here is an example of a more typical flatter type tailing area seen in wider portions of the creek.

post-1-0-32249200-1422668850_thumb.jpg

Here I am below in my typical get up, though this summer saw a lot of days with me in a t-shirt. Note the lack of head net. The hot dry conditions meant minimal bugs, a real treat in Alaska. I am packing a little snub nosed .44 here but ditched it for most of the trip when it became apparent bears were few and far between in the area. There was a lot of caribou kill around from hunters the previous fall and I would get nervous stumbling on the carcass but everything was long since picked over. Never did see a bear there all summer though they were there. Some scat here and a track there made that evident.

I was running a Minelab GPX 5000 with a Nugget Finder 14" x 7" mono that JP gave me when I was in Australia. Just loved that little coil, great for working in the bushes and rubble. Then I would use another JP gift, the Nugget Finder 18" mono now and then if I thought an area worth the effort of digging deep junk. The pick is a Walco pick that I put a hickory sledge hammer handle on, very handy as a walking stick on those steep hillsides.

post-1-0-67826000-1422669198_thumb.jpg

Here are a couple typical nugget finds from week 2. The little round slug is a classic Jack Wade nugget, gold from ancient high river deposits already well rounded before Jack Wade cut the old channels and rolled them around some more. Who knows where the source is, probably long since eroded away.

post-1-0-29075000-1422669518_thumb.jpg

post-1-0-34331000-1422669529_thumb.jpg

The whole time I was prospecting my house was for sale in Anchorage. I had my satellite phone and would call my wife every day in case the realtor had called her. We had one deal early on that fell through, and now I found out a second deal had come apart. The market in Anchorage was hot and our realtor was certain no problem selling the place but it was still kind of hanging over me the whole time. The second week wrapped up with only smaller nuggets found, but total was now up to 3.37 ounces in two weeks. I was still basking in the glow of the big nugget found the previous week and really just enjoying myself at this point. Here is a different bit of Alaska gold to finish up the second installment of this tale.

post-1-0-51057000-1422669974_thumb.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Similar Content

    • By Steve Herschbach

      I was really heavy into very late fall and very early spring dredging in the late 90's time frame. This photo is from 1996 and was taken by my friend Rich Lampright. I worked a lot at Crow Creek Mine, which is glacial fed. It runs very high and fast in the summer when the glacier is melting. The best time to dredge is in the winter months when freezing temps bring the water levels down by over 50% and the water starts running crystal clear. It also made for some very cold dredging at times, but properly outfitted with a good drysuit you can stay surprisingly comfortable. Usually.

      Funny how some days I really was cozy and others it was just plain cold. I could operate well down to about 15 degrees. Below that, and the water literally froze in the sluice box while it was running. I resorted to subsurface dredges for the coldest spells as the box being underwater did not freeze up. But even then you see weird stuff. Ice crystals floating in the water build like snow drifts of slush behind rocks on the bottom, and giant balls of slush form on the pump intakes, eventually plugging them. Why suffer this you ask? I was seeing multi-ounce days working by myself. I took a lot of gold out of Crow Creek; even after paying a percentage to the owners it was good. In fact the best dredging I ever did. My best day in there working a 6" by myself was over 8 ounces of gold.

      This was my favorite dredge, my old Keene 6" with twin Honda 6HP pumps. This model was made with a molded marlex powerjet in two pieces - the jet and the flare. The jet and flare assembled was about six feet long but I could just toss it over my shoulder and carry it in one piece it was so light. The dredge had a stout frame with a lever handle leveling system, far superior to the later slide the box back and forth nonsense. The box was a well built single run sluice that I preferred over later double-decker designs. I never should have sold it. I did however, to Brian Berkhahn, and he also got a lot of gold with it. And I know he now also regrets selling it. It was the best Keene dredge I ever owned.

      Mark Keene told me they stopped making the marlex jets due to a high failure rate with the process but they should have either fixed the process or just charged more to make up for the failures. It was an incredible advance in the technology, and amazingly after all the years of use the inside of that jet never showed more than light scuffing. I think it was actually more durable than steel jets.
      This photo is first thing in the morning, breaking away all the ice that has formed around the dredge overnight.
    • By klunker
        I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to go do a little detecting between storms so I pushed the Jeep out of the shed, aired up the leaky tire, topped off the brake fluid and rolled it down the driveway and got it started. I tossed in the GPZ and off I went. Then came back for my pick. Our rainfall here is now about 250% above normal and I came to a mud hole where there has never been one before. I eased the Jeep in, not knowing how deep it might be, and the  left side sunk in past the floor board. I would have been ok but I hadn't yet turned my hubs in. I crawled out over the hood and turned the right hub in but since the jeep was listing about 35 degrees to starboard the down hill side was a different story. Needless to say I slid off of the hood head first into the mud pit. As I traveled on around the North side of the mountain I started encountering snow drifts and I finally came to one that slightly detained me but after about an hours worth of digging with my pick I was on my way. And then went back and got my pick. I arrived at where I normally park and started wading through the snow to the gulch that I wanted to detect in. This gulch is quite deep with vertical sides and normally runs very little water. Not this year. It looked like a major contributor to the problems at the Oroville dam. I figured that if I was careful I could stay on top of the boulders and work my way down the gulch and detect the freshly scoured bedrock between the snow drifts. That worked for about two steps. I wound up wading in snow melt water up past my knees. The sun and the temperature were both going down fast but I started finding little nuggets one after another. My fingers, toes and brain were becoming numb so I knew it was time to quit but I did find 7 nuggets for just over 3dwt.
        I got to thinking about all my friends at Detector Prospector. All you wimps that go to Arizona, Florida and southern California deserts for the winter. And the ones that are at home watching TV and sitting at their computers and those that are south of the equator that have no challenges whatsoever when nugget hunting. YOU ARE ALL CRAZY!
       In fact,as soon as this storm is over I going right back!       to get my pick.
      Foot Note: Chris Ralph has posted a photo of a pretty nugget he found between the storms. He may exempt himself from my harsh judgement.
    • By Steve Herschbach

      This one sure brings back nice memories! My old Keene 5" dredge parked on lower Stetson Creek on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska in 1979. The first of many years dredging on this creek and on Cooper Creek, which Stetson feeds into. This was one of my more pleasant summers of dredging. The weather was nice, the water was low, the gold was good. This location was giving up about an ounce a day, better than the average on Stetson Creek. Mainly because of plentiful shallow bedrock. The gold is almost all on bedrock in Stetson Creek with little or nothing in the overburden. The more overburden you process, the less gold you get overall as a rule. This is because Stetson Creek is a classic gulch deposit, a very steep creek with waterfall after waterfall. Mother nature's giant sluice box, and the gold has been well settled and concentrated. The paystreaks were small and very well defined, move over just a foot and it was like crossing a line, you were in the gold and now you are out. There were large stretches of creek with smooth bedrock and so little gold you would think there was none in the creek if you got into one of those sections.
      The gold was nice - lots of jewelry gold buy nothing really big. The two pennyweight nugget in the photo was about as large as I ever found in years of mining, though the records report a three ounce nugget having been found on the creek. Must of been a fluke from what I saw, if it even happened at all.

    • By Steve Herschbach

      I visited Ganes Creek, Alaska many times over the years. This was always to metal detect for gold in my case. However, there were others who wanted to suction dredge while at Ganes Creek. My friend Brian Berkhahn was one of them. Brian just loves dredging. Detecting he is good at but has less patience for. So in 2002 while we were at Ganes on a nugget hunt Brian talked Doug into letting him use a 5" Keene dredge they had at the mine. There was a drainage ditch upstream where several large nuggets had been found in the pile of material dug out of the ditch. I was a bit skeptical as the nuggets in the tailings are few and far between, but Brian wanted to give it a go. As I recall he did not find much here, but he does have the distinction of being one of the few guys who have done some dredging at Ganes Creek. He is on the forum so maybe he will chime in with his recollections on this photo.
    • By TintedSnow
      Is there a way to search land records/claims by owner's name? I have a friend who is looking for where his grandfather's claim was many years ago. I know it's somewhere on the Kenai Peninsula, but that's about all we know. Thanks!
    • By Steve Herschbach


      My first gold dredge! After seeing a guy running a suction dredge at Crow Creek Mine south of Anchorage, Alaska I ordered my first dredge in early 1973. I had never seen a dredge before, and this guy was wearing a wetsuit running a 4" dredge about chest deep in the water. He saw my interest and shut the dredge down, pointed at the first riffle, and there was more chunky gold than I had ever found. I was hooked!
      I got the dredge direct from Keene, only way I could get one back then. Knowing nothing about dredges I saw no reason why I should spend extra money to get floats. I figured 2.5" was too small and 4" too big so a 3" must be just right.

      I learned a lot with that dredge. The first thing I learned is when you put it on bank with powerjet way above water it is nearly impossible to prime. And that when you finally get it primed, the entire hose will fill with gravel, then everything stops. Once I took the 15 feet of hose off to shake all the gravel out, and did this maybe three times in a row, I realized the dredge cannot be operated more than a couple feet above water. In fact, keep the place where hose and jet meet at or below water level for best results.

      Which made finding a place to use it quite a challenge. You need something like in this photo - a nice rock or pile of rocks or sawhorses next to water. This basically eliminated almost all the places I wanted to use the dredge, so this photo was the last time I ever dredged without floats, way back in 1973. You pretty much have to have them as a suction dredge that does not float is very limited.

      I did not find a lot of gold here but found my biggest nugget to that date. I think it was only like a pennyweight but it seemed huge at the time.

      Photo taken in Wrangell Mountains, Alaska on Skookum Gulch.