Prospecting Stories: The Sting

I am not prospecting for a living but being a geoscientist I definitely enjoy getting outdoors and learning new things about rocks, mountains and valleys and also about the way that geology shapes everything that surrounds us. At the same time I learn a lot about the history and especially the mining history of the places that I visit. Of course that I do literature search and build geological models before heading out. I don't mind finding me some mineralization especially if it is something new.

In geology I work as a consultant and this summer I had to go on the field without a field assistant. I had to do assessment work on some mineral claims. Nothing new here. I've been doing that for quite a while.

I have prospected the area before and wrote a nice report where I concluded that precious metals should not be the focus of future exploration programs but something else i.e. another mineral.

The area is rugged and it is difficult to impossible to scale the cliffs and get on top of the mountain from the main access road. I learned that firsthand during my first year there so I planned accordingly and decided to take a longer route and drive the truck around the mountain until the end of the road then hike to the mineral claims that I was supposed to work on.

Actually, there used to be an old pack road that led to the top of the mountain and mules were used to carry stuff up there but the road was swallowed by impenetrable vegetation long time ago. I've tried to find it and follow it but I couldn't do much during my first year up there.

This year during my first field day I did a general reconnaissance of the area and made sure that bridges are in place and no landslides cut the roads - in some other mountainous areas that I used to work forestry roads that used to be good have not been fixed for 2-3 years in a row even when cut by landslides. I've asked the forestry department (Ministry) and they said that it should be fixed by the logging company that has a license to cut in that area but they were not active up there (back then) so bears took over the roads and used them for their bare necessities.

There was also a creek and a canyon that I could have used to get on the mineral claims but that was not possible during the freshet (summer time). I had no other option to get on top of the mountain other than by following those forestry roads for tens of kms to get somewhere north of the claims then hike south from there.

The following day I did just that and got past a small wilderness campsite and onto some old logging roads. I always try to make it as far as possible in my truck but at the same time I don't want to get stuck in a narrow/steep place where I cannot turn the large pickup truck. I go by experience and gut feeling. It is always good (especially when you are alone in the bush) to do a U-turn and leave the truck in a position that would be easy to depart from even if you are hurt (because you'd have to drive back to town to get help or to seek medical attention).

I got my equipment, vest, GPS, geo stuff, rifle and backpack and left the truck. I followed some old logging roads that were supposedly taking me in the general direction of the claims.

During my first leg of the journey the bush was pretty thick and ... full of shit. Bear shit. But this time it was a little bit too much (I had to watch my step) and that was a testament of a healthy bear population and to the fact that they are not disturbed by humans. Both grizzlies and black bears live in there.

It is always a good idea to make noise so I started singing. And looking around while chambering a round. All turned out good. The bush became thinner and the skinny overgrown road started to climb a steep gradient but towards the east so after I've gained enough elevation I left it and got into the forest. I followed the GPS and headed south.

When I got into a rugged area and onto some cliffs I knew that I have reached the claims. I started doing what I was supposed to do - the geo work, sampling etc. I knew that no other geologist had been up there in 30 years and back then they were mostly looking for something else so I was pretty excited to be the first to sample the top of the mountain area.

It was difficult to work on those cliffs. And it was not safe. The cliffs were steep and the part that was not that steep was covered in unstable small size talus that I was navigating in between sampling locations. In several occasions I started to slide towards the 30-50 m drops below me (no rope) so I decided to get rid of the extra weight and leave the backpack in a central location and go and sample in a lightweight manner.

During one of those sketchy traverses I stopped for yet another sample and picture. As I was slightly sliding off the cliffs (the talus was moving under my weight) I sat on the debris and used the hiking pole to stop my downward movement. And at the same time I was writing in my notebook. Being focused on not sliding off the cliffs and on writing the labels, bagging the sample etc I didn't pay attention to the sting. It was pretty powerful and it (slowly) went through the pants and then into my leg. At that moment I was more afraid of not sliding to a certain death than taking care of a 'bug' bite so I didn't react and when the sampling was done I simply left the area.

Next I was supposed to get on top of the cliffs that I've sampled and continue my southern traverse but suddenly I realized that I am exhausted. But I didn't come that far to have the target within my reach and quit, so I pressed forward and I've finally reached the top of the cliffs.

It was a pretty decent area to work (relatively flat and with a nice view) so I continued my geo work. But for reasons that at that moment I couldn't explain I wasn't feeling good. At all.

To cut to the chase I was stung by a scorpion but that day I did not know the type of bug that stung me. The last thing to think about when doing field work in British Columbia are snakes and other venomous critters. But in some areas (hotter, drier) there are numerous species of scorpions. We don't know much about them as nobody spent too much time in studying them. We only acknowledge that they exist.

What were my symptoms? Accelerated heart rate, blurry vision, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing among them. And I was exhausted. These symptoms constitute a medical emergency. Untreated venomous scorpion bites could sometime result in heart or respiratory failure.

But remember that I was alone on top of a mountain that was not frequented by other people. And I was off the beaten path. Of course that I had no means to communicate with the outside world so I had to try to get out of there on my own.

The first aid (before getting medical treatment) consists of keeping the injury area still and below heart level. Well, I was not able to rest but I was moving, climbing cliffs, navigating a difficult terrain and doing geo work. But each and any of my heart beats helped spread the venom further within my body.

I managed to do 80%-90% of the geological work that I was supposed to do but in the end my symptoms aggravated so I had to stop and try to find my way back to truck.

I was slightly confused and I could tell that by not being able to follow the GPS direction. The heart beat accelerated so much that every 20 m I had to stop climbing. I was also having breathing difficulties but I had to press on. Instead of focusing on far away targets (tree, rocks) I was only looking down and simply trying to advance some.

After a grueling trip I reached the old logging road that brought me into the area. It was down slope form there so it was somewhat easier. But the sun was hot and I wasn't feeling good. Then I got into the thicker area. The area that was intensively used by bears.

I decided to try singing again but I was having breathing and swallowing problems and the throat was hurting so I wasn't able to make too much noise. Suddenly by looking forward through the vegetation that clogged the road I saw a brown spot. My vision was blurred but I stopped and said to myself that I hope it is a deer so I tried squinting. Now that I could see better it was a brown bear. And it was small. A grizzly cub eating something in the middle of the overgrown road not even 20 m away from me.

The first thing to cross my mind was 'The sow should be somewhere around him. Close to him. I'm done!"

In cases like this (when startled or even worse when protecting a cub) the sow is unstoppable and the attack is ferocious. Remember The Revenant scene?

I don't know if you've ever had a grizzly charging you. It is huge. It looks like a creature the size of a VW Beetle that comes at you crushing everything in front of him. Literally it goes through bush and small trees like knife through butter. You could hear everything snapping in front of the bear. And then the growling.

Because of the scorpion sting I was 10%-15% of what I used to be and slowly making my way back to the truck. I was using the rifle and the hiking pole as crutches and was in no way able to defend myself. Or so I thought.

The following thoughts went at high speed through my mind. First. 'Well, it looks like this is where your journey ends Dan' and I must have smirked at the thought that at least I know how it is going to end.

The next one was 'C'mon I cannot go without a fight. Or how about climbing a tree?' I looked around and the trees were not that big but I was definitely not able to climb a tree. So I had to fight at ground level.

Then, 'Where the f_ is my big knife because I am going to need it' for close combat. But my hand was holding tight the rifle that I was using as crutches and I was exhausted and feeling so bad that I couldn't even convince myself to try to find it.

I suddenly realized that I was leeward from them bears and I've stopped making noises a while ago so chances are that they have not noticed my presence. Yet.

Ready to fight I decided to run back 10 m - 15 m and to chamber a round while running. I tried to 'run'. Let's say that I walked faster as I couldn't run but I managed to chamber one. Then I stopped and turned back to see if the sow is charging me. She did not, so I decided to 'run' again another 20 m but this time uphill in the forest and prepare for a last stand. I simply didn't think that I am going to make it.

No bear yet so I put the backpack down and prepared the rifle. Taking off the backpack is something that you should not do in a similar situation as if the bear starts mauling you the backpack would protect your back. In my case the backpack was so heavy (rocks, hammer etc) and I so weak that I decided to accept the risks but improve my marksmanship.

I drank the last of my water. It was very hard to swallow. Ten minutes later I wasn't getting better but the bear didn't come this way so I decided to move through the forest and parallel with the logging road. I traveled as stealthy as possible and stopped to look around but all was good. In another 10-15 minutes I joined the logging road and increased my pace.

I got to the truck and drove back to my camp. I (still) didn't know what was wrong with me as I was not familiar with scorpion sting symptoms. If I were to take off my pants I would have seen the big round circle around the sting. I couldn't drink more than two sips of whiskey but ate a little. Something was telling me that there was also an allergic reaction involved as well (sore throat and labored breathing) so I took some anti allergy pills which helped me a lot. Still, I had the chills and all in all it was a bad night for me.

But all is good if it has a happy ending. Not to mention that my assays were pretty good so in the end I was proud of the work that I have done on that mountain.

Thank you for reading.


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