The black hills - 1998
This is just a small chapter of a much larger adventure that started with borrowing a $1000 on my word from someone I didn't want to disappoint.
Little did I realize at the time that it would turn into a 1000 miles and an opportunity to work at a placer mine in the Black Hills of the Yukon.
I had spent a lot of time in the back country. Direction and time by the sun and moon was as natural as a watch and compass. Even the stars would guide my way on a moonless night.
That bucket a minute timing had to be perfect. Too much, too fast or too little, to slow could cause the water pressure to blow the gold right out of the sluice box. This was a large operation of 60yrds per minute. Steady flows of water and material was important.
The first day was good. I learned the controls and fed the wash plant a bucket per minute.
The placer deposits in this region are like a chicken and the egg argument. The "muck" as it is called is rich top soil. When exposed to thaw, there are plant spores that will sprout and grow. they are not native to the flora and fauna of today.
I was desperate to be back to work as soon as I could. I had finally found a break to make some real money on a few weeks left in the season. Getting ill threatened that. So I took the piece of Charcoal pine wood I had out of my bush pack and started chewing on it.
It has no taste and it worked. Within a few days I was feeling well enough to go back to work. It took about a week to fully recover. I also fed the largest nugget of the season through that plant. I had the opportunity to buy it and regret not doing so.
However, I had never been in a situation before where the sun circled the sky in continuous sunlight. Time just didn't seem to exist anymore. It took me weeks to get some sense of bearings. Every day was a new experience.
I was in the Yukon for months before I finally got a break to work in one of the placer mines.
I had never run an excavator before but I was interested.
"smooth on the controls and a bucket per minute" Don instructed me
The next day, I was incredibly ill. I had got a dose of Beaver Fever from the water. The water table is low in September and I wasn't used to drinking the water in this area.
Flash Back about five years before this, a friend who lived in the mountains had taught me about water poisoning and how to treat it in the field.
"A piece of charred wood can save your life. Keep a piece from a burned out fire in your bush pack. If you ever get sick..." he laughed "you will know cause it will be coming out both ends. Eat the charcoal. It will absorb and help pass the giardia through you.
I made the money I needed to make and sent the money order.
I celebrated that success at Diamond tooth Gerties for the last show of the season. I could only afford a cup of coffee but I still had a good time.
The place was pretty lively as the guys were chanting "bring on the girls". I joined in with a low wolf howl which brought more attention than I expected when Gertie looked right at me and said "Calm down honey!"
I stayed the winter near Dawson City. The thousand dollars became one of those things that has gotten passed around for a few decades now but that is another story.
Leighton Woolsey (AKA) Mitch Mortensen