A solo prospecting trip


This time I had a hectic week (nothing new) so I did not have time to get any rest before this prospecting trip.

I left the city pretty late and drove the whole day. At mid-night I got close to the mountain of my dreams so I could finally afford some rest -in the truck which was parked in a gas station. Or so I thought. Rowdy teenagers made enough noise to convince me to move out of the town on a forestry road where I was able to get a few hours of sleep.

Next morning I opened my eyes and looked out on the window and knew in an instant that I am going to have a good day as the sun was shining. From there on it was driving on forestry roads up the mountain. Most of the time I do not know if the road is still good and open or cut by landslides or avalanche debris, bridges are missing, or the narrow road is blocked by one too many fallen trees. This time it was clear and led me to where I was planning to get out of the truck and start the ascent.

Checked out the area and there were no bear sightings (there were a few in there a previous year) and the weather was fine so I was enjoying the thought of an incident free climb on the 7,500 feet ridge. As usual the first half an hour to an hour is the most challenging when going thru bush trying to get up on the mountain. It is then that you realize that your backpack is too heavy (and you didn't even get any rocks/samples into it), the big bear rifle is also too heavy for this kind of sport (that's why they have invented light mountain rifles, stupid!), the geo vest stuffed with everything imaginable (that could help you in mapping and sampling anything that comes your way) is not comfortable, the mosqs or flies start to bite, the glasses are fallin' off your nose or get tangled in thick bush, and you are sweating. A lot. And swearing. Then it's like in trying times when you start questioning your faith. The same question pops up in my head something along the 'what the heck' line? What am I doing here in the first place? Who else is doing solo prospecting and bushwhacking? Right now they're in the big city wearing clean suits, chatting and 'mining for beer'. Beer! Shit, I'm thirsty. The day turned out hot.

I was hiking up on the side of an unnamed mountain that was supposed to lead me to the 7,500 ft ridge. Looked OK on Google Earth but hey that's blurred - I could see some cliffs (on the screen) but there was no other way up on that side of the mountain. To go up directly towards the ridge wasn't possible as it was too abrupt and would have meant scaling some cliffs. The downside was that as I was gaining elevation (checking the GPS too often is disheartening i.e. when you see how little progress you've made) thru the forest I really didn't know when am I going to get onto those cliffs. Am I going to be able to go up safe or would I have to turn back after that much effort? The good part was that no bears were expected to show up on the steep slope. Most likely.

Usually it takes me one or two days to start hearing the sounds of the forest. Because in the city we're surrounded and bombarded by a myriad of hi and low frequency sounds our hearing is somehow muffled. Not having to talk to anyone is a blessing and helps the speedy recovery of my hearing. You start hearing everything - your heart pumping, birds, little mammals, you can tell if it's the wind making that sound or a larger animal closing onto you. Being in the bush with limited vision is when hearing becomes very important.

I am also looking up to see if small birds sound the alarm. Or if hawks or other local birds of prey start circling above me because that would give away my location and larger prey animals would be interested to check on the commotion hoping to get an easy meal. The bad sight would be them circling above some dead animal carcass as that would increase the chances in coming over an aggressive bear that would guard his food. Nothing like that this time.

I was stealthy gaining in elevation when I came across the first cliffs. Not bad. I was in worse places. Still looking down while getting some rest on a suspended cornice I was laughing realizing that they would have a hard time finding me if I were to fall off the cliffs. But it is in these places that you realize how small you are and how wonderful it is everything around you - yeah, this is the main reason for being here today on this mountain (screw their beer). For these unspoiled vistas. For this blue sky and the peace and quiet. I was alone on the mountain and feeling good about that. There is something primordial about that feeling. That's why I do not take sat phones or Spot locators/messengers ('Take nothing for the journey' - Luke 9:3). Old timers' style is better.

The steep hike continued thru forest but before hitting the second set of rocky cliffs I heard the little birds of prey crying out loud. Checked them out carefully as if they are with chicks they might become territorial and attack you - remember the crows that are dive bombing you in the city if you pass under their nest? Well, if you are vulnerable and engaged in a sketchy crossing/scrambling on a rocky face (and carry a heavy backpack) you better be sure that nothing is going to mess with you (birds, wasps) or you have good chances in ending down at the base of the cliffs. Nope. They were having fun hunting marmots/rodents and didn't care about me.

All good but it was getting hotter. When hot the cliffs reverberate heat and you feel like sitting in an oven. I started to heat up. Drank some water (carried 3 liters) and swiftly moved up towards the ridge which was visible now.

I was hunting for a 'lost mine'. It was mentioned as being in that specific area close to the clouds but the problem was that nobody was able to find it anymore (the last trustworthy report was many decades old).

I didn't climb the mountain to check on the geology - well, that as well as the maps were wrong (the issue with geo maps should be another topic). I talked to old hunters that crossed those valleys and ridges in their quest for trophy animals. They did not see it. I checked climbers forums. Nothing again. But that didn't discourage me. I know how difficult it is to spot one if you don't know what are you looking for.

I have found many old mines (some >100 years old) that were nothing but a small linear depression in the ground (collapsed long time ago) covered by shrubs and trees. Almost invisible even if you walked over it. I found old mines entrances sloughed in and almost nothing to tell that they were there if it weren't for a small pile of mineralized rocks covered in moss and shrubs and tree roots. Some other times I've found old mines by using some antiquated VLF-EM handheld device. One time I looked for 20 minutes (glassed) at a steep mountain face trying to identify the mineralized zone from which the mineralized fragments found down in the valley originated but with no success so I decided to give it a try and climb it. I scrambled up slope - had to use all my four (but it was not rock climbing). I started to see more mineralized fragments of rock (floats) but still couldn't tell where are they coming from. Finally when I was about 20 yards from the old mine (unmapped) I was able to see its entrance. It was located at the base of some cliffs below a permanent patch of snow but it was facing north and the small black hole (the entrance) was always in the shade so practically invisible to our eyes. I assessed the rock and it looked healthy so I entered the old mining works even though I wasn't wearing a hardhat. It was worth as the old adit stopped when intersecting a good looking precious metals vein which I sampled.

Years ago, back in Europe my mining/underground exploration works broke into many old mines (spanning two millennia) so I know first hand what to look for and I understood what they were looking for and the type of mining employed.There are many things that a specialist could learn from an old mine even if it is inaccessible/caved in. But this should be the topic of another discussion/blog as well.

Getting back to my trip. I got on the 7,500 ft ridge and indeed I was able to see some small old mining works. Surface work, small, mostly testing the mineralization. I was getting closer but this is not what I was looking for. The mine that I was looking for was underground. So I've tried to press on. I sampled, took notes, pictures, compass measurements. The whole nine yards.

Unfortunately I wasn't feeling well. I was hot but wasn't sweating, I had nausea and I was a little bit confused, disoriented. You don't need more than that to realize that this was a heat related condition - possible heat stroke. I tried to rest and drank the rest of the water but I didn't get better as the weather was way too hot. I was alone on top of a difficult to climb mountain ridge and the weather forecast called for rain and (electric) storms for tomorrow. One thing to remember is that weather changes quick at higher elevations. And the forecasters are famous for getting it wrong. So the initial plan of maybe sleeping on the ridge and hopefully weather would turn bad tomorrow afternoon only wasn't good. As painfully as this decision was I have decided to get off the ridge and get back to my truck.

That was the last attempt to find the lost mine (for the year) but better alive and able to come back next year than risk an overnighter up there. I hated the route that I took that morning so I looked for alternate routes. One or two looked good but from what I remembered (by glassing the mountain before climbing) they should be leading to high cliffs. I sometimes watch Bear Grylls shows. Most if not all the people that got in trouble took shortcuts thru unfamiliar territory. I wisely decided to backtrack my steps down the mountain. I was stumbling under the relentless heat. Every crossing of a rockslide was painful (jumping and climbing on unstable boulders some the size of a car), the backpack and rifle seemed heavier than ever but I pressed forward.

I needed water and luckily I've found some in the form of an underground stream that ran one foot under the soil down on a steep slope (I could see it thru small openings). I dug it out and bathed in the cold water then lied down on the moist soil to soak up and lower my body temperature. I have spent almost an hour there then getting better I continued my descent. Once I have reached the truck I knew that I needed some serious hydration and nothing cures a heat related suffering better than cold beer. And good food - i.e. something grilled. I needed these to get back on my feet and be able to continue my climbing and prospecting expedition for a few more days.

The plan for the next day was a climb in a suspended/hanging glacial valley below the peak - if only it wouldn't rain too much in the morning. So I jumped on the truck and drove back to the small city.

Technology, what it is good for? I did a 'liquor store' google map search and found my next prospecting target in the blink of an eye. Small city but on summer time there are tourists in the area.

Started by scanning the beers and heard the sales lady talking to a town folk that I was probably from Alberta. LOL. I was indeed redneck looking with soiled boots and jeans, sweaty shirt. Got my beer and went to the lady to pay.

She was chatty and pulled a few things from me so I started discussing history and ... wars/massacres/destruction/human rights etc (they had air conditioning so it was OK to hang in there a little bit longer).

She found me too knowledgeable so she said ' You're a teacher'.

That made me vehemently negate that I would have anything in common with those (well)paid (by the government) people who go on strike every few years (for the sake of our children, lol). while geologists (better education) are unemployed or doing survival jobs. 'I am a geologist. I told you! I am looking for gold up in the mountains' I said.

'No' she replied. 'You are a TEACHER!'. I was flabbergasted but I finally understood. 'Teacher' like a religious spiritual leader. And she continued: 'YOU came here to teach us all the good things! To show us the way'. And she started to bow.

Wow! I was speechless. This was a small town liquor store and this is what I get: Recognition :) This morning I was a poor soul bushwhacking and sweating and almost getting killed on a mountain ridge and now a few hours later I am a God-like figure.

Something like in the 'Blast from the past' when the engineer gets out of their atomic bunker in a show of lights and a desolate soul asks him 'who are you' and he says' I am the father' (he was the father of Brendan Fraser) but the homeless understands differently and says' You are the FATHER'!!!

Remembering this my few seconds of fame and feeling good transformed into uneasiness so I started looking around to see if I have more followers in that liquor store (I knew that there were many potheads in town) but fortunately she was the only one bowing to me and asking me to show them the way. Well, I grasped my cold beer and pretty fast I found my way out of the store. I googled some more and found a good place that served grilled meat. Then at the hotel for the night and watched TV while enjoying my beer(s).

The following days I kept prospecting the high country but I have never set foot again in that local liquor store. This was the end of my prophet days but not the end of my search for the many lost mines and mineralization that could sometimes be found in the bush.

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