Alaska - Summer 2004
The 12th Year
We just tried twice to land in Kotzebue. Kotzebue is far north and is above the Arctic Circle. The runway is fairly short and has water at both ends., ice water, lots of ice. The pilots with Alaska Air are real good in my opinion. If they can land there they will, but quite often the flights to Nome, Kotzebue, and Unalakleet must be aborted because of weather or fog. The plane we are in has about half freight and half passengers. There are about 50 passengers. The pilot put out full flaps and slowed us as much as possible to try and see the runway. Both trys he got us down to where we could see the water just under the plane. The fog was too bad to see the runway and he had to abort the landing. I think we were only 200 feet or less above the water. Erskine Mathis is with me and we have been traveling about 22 hours. Sam Galegor met us in Dallas. We will be in Nome in a few minutes and should be able to land there. The three of us have much to do for the next few days. We have to get our camp gear moved out and set up. Iím buying a new ATV and we need to get my other two running. After we have our tent and everything ready to be our home we can start getting my dredge put together and hope the weather will let us find gold.
Erskine is washing dishes and drinking beer. Yesterday we made the trip to Nome moving our stuff to camp. My two Honda ATVís started right up and I picked up a new Yamaha 400 Big Bear. We set up our tent and started trying to find where everything was packed. The Weather is clear and warm. There is very little snow this year. Today we brought out more gear. We bought $146 worth of gasoline at $3.50 a gallon. We picked up about $250 worth of groceries and weíre now ready to operate. Tomorrow we will bring out the dredge parts and set up the dredge. We saw a baby seal on the beach. It was scared of us and barking as it crawled back into the sea. We had a fox come through the camp this afternoon. He will probably become a regular in our camp.
Today we put the dredge together and we fixed broken and rusted parts. We broke a clamp that holds the 6-inch hose and Sam had to make a part to fit it. Sam can fix or make anything. He was a welder before he retired. The dredge is ready to try now. If the weather permits we should go out tomorrow and look for gold. Sam and I cut a load of firewood from the driftwood on the beach. Erskine went to town to buy more beer. No trees grow in the Nome area but much driftwood comes in. Erskine took a picture of a dead seal on the beach. I cooked us some butter beans, ground beef, and macaroni and cheese. Erskine is washing dishes while Sam and I are encouraging him to get all the soap off. We donít want him taking short cuts and making us sick. Erskine has been reading us Poems by Robert Service. Robert Service wrote well about the early gold camps of Alaska. One he read today is ďTouch the Button NellĒ. It is a poem about the Tenderloin District, a prostitute, her pimp and a guy named Riley Doolevitch who fell in love with Nell.
We dredged today. The visibility is great for Alaska, about 15 feet. The air temperature is hot, about 83 degrees. The Water temp. is in the mid 40ís and will warm fast if we donít have cold weather. We had a northern wind, which gives us a calm sea and brings the mosquitoes. Any time the weather is not cold we have lots of mosquitoes. I felt good today so I dredged two tanks of fuel, about 5 hours. Sam ran 21/2 hours and Erskine 2 hours. We didnít find much gold, probably not enough to pay for the gas we burned. I was too tired to cook and Erskine didnít want to wash dishes so we went to Nome and ate a pizza. Sam and I are both about deaf so they just call us ďHuhĒ and ďWhatĒ since that is what we say when people speak to us. One of the three pumps on my dredge was giving me trouble and making a noise like it was tearing up. We got my spare pump and compressor from my container and will put it on the dredge in the morning. We have been seeing many swans this year. The Eskimo kids are swimming in the sea just wearing a bathing suit. It is 30 degrees colder in the water here than the springs of north Florida.
Yesterday was even hotter than Sunday. We were at a record high in the mid 80ís. In our tent it was about 90 degrees. Sam replaced the engine on one of the pumps. Iím mailing the bad one home to see if the internal bearings can be fixed. If Kenny Barber was coming up this year, he could probably fix it here. His wife Dorothy is feeling poorly so they are not coming this year. They have come every year since George Massie started bringing prospectors to the Nome area. I donít know what year the GPAA first came, but it must be about 30 years now. Yesterday the sea was flat and I should have dredged after the dredge was fixed. I got into my fleece undersuit but I never put on the 7 mm suit because I was too hot. Today the seas are up and we canít dredge. I knew the relic gods would punish me for not dredging when we could. I learned long ago not to mess with the relic gods. They will let you find good relics or gold or find your way out of the woods or the water, but donít mess with them. You must always respect their temperament. They have quite a sense of humor, but will look out for old fools like me if you give them a chance. Many times during the last 30 plus years I have dreamed of a particular relic then found that relic the next day. Lots of relic hunters believe in dowsing. Iíve watched them many times over the years but I donít believe in dowsing. I think these people are just crazy. Iím not crazy. I just believe in relic gods. I also like a little Wild Turkey in my coffee. We are about out of whiskey and Erskine is down to less than a case of beer. I guess a run to town must be made soon. We took a short ride over the tundra today and saw a moose with a very small calf. The momma has a large hump of hair on her back and looks like a camel. She could be an extremely rare, almost unknown Alaskan Bering Sea camel. Of course I donít know for sure. I donít know a lot about everything, but I do know a little about a lot and a lot about a little. That reminds me of the words of President Reagan who died two days ago. He was having to deal with another group of experts. He said he had never seen so many people who knew so much about so little. I feel President Reagan was the best president in my lifetime and we owe him a huge debt for putting the bomb shelter sales people out of business.
Today the wind continued from the Southwest, so no dredging. The high was 47 degrees today. We went to Nome and then to Anvil Mountain. Their was a herd of musk ox with about 14 cows and calves. We saw a single bull musk ox by himself about a mile away. The bulls are much bigger than the cows and are usually seen alone. We bought more beer and whiskey. Erskine and I have been playing gin in the tent for several days. I have won 18 games while he has only won 3. He is my lawyer. God help me.
Today we went up to the Sinuk River. That is about 50 miles round trip from our camp. The water is low in the river, so we were able to cross easily. Bear tracks were plentiful, but we saw no bears. Geese, ducks, and sea gulls were all along the way. At a lake near the Sinuk we saw over 200 white swans and 4 big Sand Hill Cranes. Iíve never seen a crane before or this many total swans over the last 12 years. The swan convention must be up here this year. It is raining now. I continue to beat Erskine at cards while he drinks beer and eats Oreo cookies.
Sam and I dredged 7 hours Friday and found no gold to speak of. Saturday I dredged 3 hours and moved the dredge to many spots trying to find some gold with no luck. The sea was choppy and Sam was sitting on the dredge to help me in moving the dredge and to watch out for me getting run over and going in a circle. If you let the dredge go in a circle with no one on it to watch the line from shore the mufflers will burn the line into. This causes a real problem for the dredger on bottom. Sam cut us another load of firewood, changed the oil in one engine and moved it on the dredge, and shoveled out the outhouse while Erskine and I went to town and ate at Fat Freddieís. Sam is 69 years old and a damn good partner. Today Erskine and I went out on the dredge so Erskine could get wet. The seas were building and Erskine got seasick and threw up. We decided not to dredge and came in even though I was sort of enjoying watching Erskine. I have paid my seasick dues many times in the past 40 years of diving.
Yesterday we went on a 25 mile ride. We first went over the tundra 4 miles which took about 1 1/2 hours to get to Teller Road. The tundra is dryer than normal this year or we would have been stuck more. We then went to Arctic creek and back through the trail on GPAA land. I saw 3 musk ox and 2 moose. The weather is good and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery on the ride. There is a spot on the mountain above the Cripple River Camp that I always like to see. It overlooks Cripple River and the sea in the distance. The moss of the tundra is soft like a feather bed and has 20 or 30 different wild flowers growing in this area. Alaska has wildflowers growing all over the state but I like this flower patch. Our ride took about 7 or 8 hours. Back at our camp I cooked us some big T-bone steaks, potatoes, and corn. We ate too much. We sacked out around 11:00 pm. Sam woke us up near midnight to tell us a big grizzly bear was outside our tent. Erskine has been wanting to see a bear so he got to see one up close. The bear was between our tent and Lonnieís hootch. The bear probably weighed about 600 pounds or more. Erskine said he thought it weighed about 2,500, but I think his eyes were bigger than normal. The bear was just roaming around our camp and was not very concerned with us. Iím not sure he saw us for a while. Bears donít see well but they can smell really well. The hair on the bearís back was blonde. We did have our 44ís in our hands but we did not have to shoot. Bears are hungry early in the summer as it is now. The salmon have not come into the rivers yet and bears have to roam for something to eat. They try to catch a moose calf if they can. This was a big solitary bear and no trouble. Usually the ones that are dangerous are the mother bears that have cubs. The cubs are curious and will come up to people which causes the mother to attack.
Today we went to town and washed our clothes and checked out and assembled our 5-inch dredge. We may use this dredge in the creek when Lonnie gets here. Sam has built us a water heater for that dredge as well, so that we will not freeze in the creek. The water in the creeks is colder than the water the sea. It is midnight now and we just saw a whale spouting out in the sea behind our tent.
Yesterday Sam and I dredged 5 hours and found very little gold. We were pretty far out and punched many holes but could not find any color. Erskine went home last night. His two weeks are up and he has to go back to lawyering. Sam and I didnít plan on dredging today but this afternoon the sea was so calm we couldnít resist. We went out about 3:00 pm and will dredge about 5 hours. Sam is still in the water. We took my inflatable boat out and used a weight on a rope to find a few spots that were at the right depth and had rocks instead of sand. We put out floats on the spots we are going to work. The first spot we tried is showing good color so we will get some gold today. Iíve been soaking butter beans today so we will have a late supper of beans and pork chops.
Friday Sam and I dredged in good gold for about 5 hours. We didnít have to go through much cobble to find the clay layer that the gold is on. Saturday we only had enough fuel for 3 hours dredging, so I dredged and found real good gold for such a short run. This afternoon we took my trailer in and bought fuel, food, and replenished drinking water. We found gas on sale for $ 3 a gallon. The other places are charging $3.50. Today the seas are rolling a bit so no dredging. We saw a flight of swans fly just above our tent. There were 14 in the group and it would have been a good picture but I had no camera. Sam and I tried to replace the brakes and wheel bearings in my oldest Honda ATV, but we were not successful. We will carry it to Nome and see if the dealer can fix it. I am watching a fox in our camp. He gets our leftovers and has become accustomed to us.
Itís been 9 days since I wrote in my log. For 7 days the seas were up and mostly South winds so we couldnít dredge in the sea. Sam and I just read books and napped a lot. Nothing happened. We have been able to dredge the last 3 days. Sunday there was no vis at all and I dredged 3 hours. The silt layer was about 2 feet thick on the bottom so I couldnít even see the suction hose let alone the bottom. We found very little gold. I couldnít tell if the area I was dredging had been worked before and I had to work on feel alone. It reminded me of the old days when I would take a date to the drive-in movie. Yesterday the vis was still bad but I could see the hose but still not the bottom. Sam and I each dredged 2 hours. We found pretty good gold and the weather is flat and warm with flat seas. Today I dredged 3 hours and Sam is dredging now. We have vis and should find good gold today. Alaska is beautiful right now and the temperature is about 80 degrees. The bear has been back to our camp. We didnít see the bear this time, but tracks were all around. There is a dead Beluga Whale washed up on the beach about a mile from our tent. These whales are very small and solid white. This one is only about 8 feet long and looks like a big porpoise. The bear will probably start eating on the whale if more salmon donít come into the rivers soon. Perry, Sandie, and Georgia Massie arrived last night. We are going to eat King Crab tonight at our camp. The crab season is open now and we buy live crabs in Nome. Perry and I will be able to reminisce about our arrest in Alabama last October by the dominating, find nothing, preserve nothing Professional Archeologist scumbags. Actually we will more likely talk about our next trip to Truk Lagoon in Micronesia. March of 2005 will be my 5th dive trip to Truk and Perryís 4th. Most of the divers who have been with me to Truk go each time we return. We go every two years. If you know your way around Truk Lagoon it is the best dive trip in the world.
Sam went home July 2nd and Lonnie Fausett came up July 1st. Perry lent Sam and I a high banker to help clean up our concentrate from dredging. We have found about 6 1/2 oz. of gold so far. Sam and I split up the gold. I will miss Sam but Lonnie is here now so Iím not alone. There are no other people with in 5 miles of our camp. Lonnie and I dredged about 3 hours yesterday on my dredge to get Lonnie accustomed to dredging again. We did pretty good for a short run. Lonnie is rebuilding his dredge this year an changing from and 8-inch to a 6-inch dredge. As always Lonnie has many projects to work on and try this year. He also sent up an underwater sluice box to see if it will work. I watched a fox this morning chase a couple of Ptarmigan here in camp. The birds would stay just out of the foxes reach and distract it from their young. Ptarmigan are common throughout Alaska and a good food source for the foxes. Iíve shot and eaten many Ptarmigan over the years. The adults are tough so we usually eat the young birds that are about the size of a quail. Ralph Rogers, who is crewmember at the GPAA camp, had an appendicitis attack and had to fly to Anchorage for treatment. The hospital in Nome does not do surgery. He looked very bad when I saw him at the airport. He was in much pain. I hope he is okay now. I will be flying to Anchorage in two days to meet my wife and two of my granddaughters. We are renting a motor home for a week and will see different parts of the state. The skies all over Alaska are smoky due to many huge fires burning throughout Alaska. The largest fire is near Fairbanks and has burned almost 300,000 acres so far. We will probably drive south from Anchorage to try and avoid the smoke if we can.
Well Iím back in Nome now after a week in a motor home out of Anchorage. My wife Susan and my two oldest granddaughters Heather and Kayla went with me on a 2,000 mile drive. We went to the Kenai peninsula for a few days and then drove up to Chicken, AK. We saw many glaciers and big mountains. We drove the through 2 1/2 mile tunnel near Whittier. This is the longest tunnel in North America. Above Tok, on the way to Chicken, we drove through 70 miles of forest fire. The forest fires in Alaska are now 3 million acres and will burn until rain comes. The town of Chicken got its name because the miners there wanted to name it Ptarmigan, but they couldnít agree on the spelling and just settled for Chicken. At Chicken we panned for gold a couple hours so the girls could see how to do it. We found only a few grains in weight. The main thing I saw on the trip was motor homes, fifth wheels, and travel trailers with tourists. Most of the huge motor homes are towing a gray car. Even the Windows are solid gray. I suspect that these cars have a different color paint under the 1/16 inch of gray dirt that covers them. My wife and granddaughters are not outdoor type girls. The biggest concern for them the whole trip was if there was enough water in the motor for them to wash their hair and shower each day. We had to plan everything around getting more water and finding a dump station. Sam, Lonnie, and I would have easily lasted a week with the water the girls used each day. The girls had trouble on their flight home. It was about a 17 hour trip but due to Northwest Airline the trip took 40 hours. Itís not fun to fly on commercial flights anymore. The security is way too much now and not too effective. Itís mostly just rules and not much sense. The airlines themselves are terrible. Little or no food and what they give you is bad. The weight limit is just so they can get more money out of everyone. Seating is too close with no knee room and all planes are overbooked. I want to get some of the security done away with and give the pilots handguns. Also I like having armed marshals on the flights. Three fourths of all the employees of TSA should be eliminated. I donít mean we should kill them just do away with their meaningless jobs. Our government is too damn big and arrogant. When I got back to Nome Lonnie put me back in the water dredging. I dredged 3 Ĺ hours Wednesday and 5 Ĺ hours Thursday. We are finding more gold now and I will be going back out in a few minutes. The weather is great and the sea is flat. The water is the warmest I have ever seen it up here. It is about 60 degrees. The visibility is over 20 feet, so this is the rare perfect dredge time. Well Iím out of the water now and I had a hard time trying to dredge today. My anchor did not hold, so the dredge just dragged me around on the hose. Every time I would start a hole and see some gold I couldnít hold the dredge. I will work on my anchoring system before I go again. Lonnie and I are going to the GPAA camp tonight and eat with them. There are over 200 people in their camp now. For at least 2 days I have been getting muscle cramps in my hands, arms, and legs. I started eating bananas yesterday to get more potassium and I didnít get cramps today.
Lonnie and I ate with the Cripple River camp last night, but we decided not to hang around late because many of them had the crud. Colds. We donít want Sickness in our camp. We each dredged 4 hours today. I didnít get any more cramps, but we did get exhausted. Four hours dredging may sound easy but it is not. Two hours on the bottom dredging is really a good days work. Before dredging we spent a couple hours fixing things and getting ready. After dredging we spent at least 2 hours clearing out the sluice box and getting out of our suits. After we get the concentrate out of our box, we store them until we have bad weather and then we spend a full day separating and panning the gold. Getting gold is hard work. My heater in the dredge is working good. The temperature inside my wetsuit was 85 degrees according to my Sunto watch dive computer. I was too warm I needed lots to drink when I got out.
Don Sublett came up a week ago to dredge with me. He will be here one more week. I have been teaching him how to dredge and he caught on quick as I knew he would. Don has been on most of our Cooper River trips and is familiar with low visibility and currents. We went on a couple of good rides this week. We went with Perry and the GPAA people to the Sinuk River to catch Salmon. Perry cleans and cooks the fish on the beach for all to eat. Another day Lonnie, Don, and I went out Teller Road to Artic Creek to look around. We did about a 10 mile ride off the road. The dry conditions this year make it possible to go on some trips that I try to avoid most years. We saw a herd of musk ox that had 19 members. We also saw a Bald Eagle near my old hootch on Artic Creek. Don and I have dredged several days but have had problems with the anchors not holding in the currents and some mechanical problems. We have found fair gold. Lonnie has been doing really good this week and found lots of gold. He hit a hot spot and is working it out. Don and I need to find a hot spot. I have been trying to get Spence and Forrest to come up for a couple of weeks, but they wonít come. I am going to try and extend my trip for a week longer and leave when Lonnie does. Don and I made some changes to the sluice box on the dredge and mounted my out board motor to the dredge. We will not be using the small boat now. Today the waves came up and we were surprised how far underwater the outboard could be and still be running. After we dragged the dredge out we serviced the motor and made some more changes about the placement of the motor. We may be able to try again tomorrow.
This was my 25th day in the water dredging this summer. We had some trouble with the dredge being sideways to the waves. The sluice box acts like a rocker box and the gold works it way to the back and out. We are working with 3 anchors now and trying to stay pointed into the waves but that is not so easy when the current is going the other way. We had a poor run and only found Ĺ oz. in my 4 hour run. Yesterday we found over 2 oz. Lonnie is doing much better. A couple days ago we bought an 8.7 lb. crab in town. That is the biggest crab I have ever seen and I had a hard time getting it in the pot to boil. The crab fed three hungry miners all we could eat. The crab cost $46.
The waves and weather have been bad for five days so we could not dredge until today. Ryan Fausett came to Nome yesterday to spend a week with his Dad Lonnie. We took a ride out Glacier Creek yesterday about 23 miles to Grouse Creek where Tom Subloski is prospecting. Tom wanted to go to Last Chance Creek. There is no road or trail and the creek was blocked by beaver dams so there is no way to get to Last Chance Creek. We went anyway and made our own trail which is easier said than done. It was much easier to come out than to get in. Today we dredged about 4 hours but the visibility was bad due to the waves from the last few days. We could only see about 1 foot and could not find the place we wanted to dredge. We did not find much gold. My water heater filter filled up with small gravel and made the water turn to steam. I felt the heat coming and disconnected my water hose before I was burned. The waves came up this afternoon and ran us out of the water. Don went home two days ago. We took down my tent and I moved in with Lonnie.
Two days ago we were able to dredge. I had trouble with the water heater and one engine. After repairs I dredged 3 hours and got 1 oz. gold. I am through dredging now and have taken apart my dredge and all I have left to do is haul a couple trailer loads of equipment to my container in Nome. The weather is stormy now and it looks like I will be working in the rain. Lonnie and I have been playing cards since we arenít able to do anything else. Ralph Rogers came to Lonnieís hootch about 1:30 am because he was stranded. He couldnít cross the Penny River since the water is up from the rain. It is getting dark at night now and he could not see good enough to get back inland so he stayed by our fire until daylight. I am going home the 10th. I have dredged 27 days this summer and my dredge found 22 oz of gold. Lonnie and I are making plans for a new dredge for me next year and we have bought a Ĺ interest in a 19 foot boat motor and trailer. We will use it next year to go to more remote locations to prospect. I plan on sending up a small high pressure air compressor to fill scuba tanks. I will send up scuba gear next year to use prospecting. Scuba should be okay for prospecting but we will continue to use hooka to actually work producing gold with our dredge.