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Reno Chris

Last Summer in Alaska

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So far, there aren't very many contributions on the topic of "Last Summer in Alaska". :)

 

I have written extensively about my Last Summer in Alaska. I hope there were many others out there that had similar - even greater experiences than I had!

 

Here's a short story:

 

When I flew to Nome a few years ago, the Alaska Airlines flight was diverted to Kotzebue because of weather. We were expecting a short delay, so they left everyone on board for an hour or so parked at Kotz. All of the passengers - most of whom had not even taken notice of each-other during the flight - suddenly became "aquainted".  Immediately after landing - we were all standing around talking about "GOLD". Talking about Gold mining! The plane was loaded with gold miners!

 

- Geowizard

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With Geo's encouragement I guess this is a good time to reminise back to the days of last summer's mining.  So here's how my typical day would play out.

   The sun would be up long before I got out of bed, but I did have breakfast cooking by 7:30.  I'd feed the gray jay family as well and then load up the 4 wheeler with whatever needed to be hauled down to the diggings...pack, tools, gas, diesel, chain saw, scrap wood...whatever could be strapped on or pulled behind.  If I took the longer, but faster route I had a half mile of gravel road which took me to the Elliot Hwy., then a mile on blacktop to our trailhead.  There I would usually pick up my wife who had preceeded me in our car.  The trail was originally a service road down to the historic Davidson Ditch, a 90 mile engineering wonder that supplied much needed water to many creeks [including mine] and mining operations in the Fairbanks region.  After crossing the now dry ditch we bounced along through the forest on a trail of our own construction for about a mile to our prospect. 

   Tool and equipment bins covered with tarps had to be uncovered, gas tanks filled, and protective gear put on...rain coat and pants, heavy insulated boots, rubber gloves, ear protectors and hard hat.  The tarp and wood cover over the shaft was removed, generator started and all was set for me to descend the ladder down to the bottom of the shaft.  During the night thawed muck would fall from the surface and some would land on the rungs of the ladder, so as I made my way down, I'd have to kick and scrape the globs off.  After so many trips down and up that ladder I had lost any anxiety I might have had.  Heck, it was just 30...50...60' to the bottom!  I don't want to say that I got careless on the ladder; I always had at least one hand firmly grasping a rung before I moved my feet.  Once on the bottom I was typically faced with several inches of water that had accumulated from seepage and thawing overnight.  It amounted to about 10 gallons which had to be hoisted to the surface in a 5 gallon bucket.  That taken care of I could get to the main job of jack hammering and hoisting ice.  My proceedure was to break up half of the shaft floor, roughly 9 cu. feet, muck it out, then take another 9 cu. ft.  That gave me a face to work from on the other half of the shaft. 

   In a shaft that measures approximately 3' x 6' there's not a lot of room to manuver when you have a ladder, a 2' x 16" bucket, a D handle shovel and a medium size jackhammer crowding the space.  The equipment shuffle was constant.  Watch the bucket descend, keep the guide rope and dump rope separate and untangled.  When the bucket is positioned on the ice unplug the hoist power cord and connect the jackhammer.  Move the ladder [it hangs loose] to the center of the shaft and secure it on the hoist cable out of the way of the ice breaking.  Make some ice cubes and shovel them into the bucket through the rungs of the ladder.  Shift the ladder behind my back, reach over and flip the switch to begin raising the bucket.  I watch it pass in front of my nose, duck underneath and grab the ropes so if the bucket gets hung up I can jerk it loose.  Now I get to relax for a couple of minutes as the bucket rides the aluminum ladder rails to the surface.  By now I know exactly when to shut the winch off by observing the position of the bucket with respect to the dump ramp.  I also know that as the load is resting on the edge of the ramp it needs to be lowered slightly so it will tip in the direction of the ramp.  I jog the switch and the bucket disappears from sight.  I reach up high to grab the dump rope, coil it around my hand and pull down hard while also pulling the retracting rope [keeps the bucket from swinging] with the other hand, a nifty operation when it goes smoothly.  However, quite often something doesn't go quite right and a cascade of ice will come raining down.  To avoid being pelted I have a piece of plywood resting on 4 large spikes driven into the frozen muck above my head and it's just large enough to duck under.  The spikes also serve to hold up coils of rope and various electrical cords.  From the underside of the plywood is suspended the converter that changes 115v power to 12v which is needed to operate the winch up top.  When I feel the bucket is emptied of its contents I throw the switch to the lowering position and begin the process all over again.  In this manner I can pretty much run the whole operation alone.  When my wife is on site she watches for the bucket and assists with the dumping operation which includes periodically shoveling the ramp clear of ice.  If she is not there to help out I must climb the ladder about every eight or ten trips to clear the ramp.  I also take that opportunity to put in a call to my partner to let him know that everything is fine and I'm not in trouble at the bottom of the shaft.

    At days end, often around 8 pm, I close close up the shaft, secure the equipment topside, fire up the 4 wheeler and head home for dinner and a much needed rest.  So goes a day in the life of a shaft sinker.

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Flint, :)

 

What an excellent description!

 

You left out so many details that would be interesting to learn about. What do prospectors eat? What do you cook for breakfast? and what cooking secrets do you have that you might share?

 

Thanks!

 

- Geowizard

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