Alaska - Summer 2009

I write a dive journal each year while in Nome Alaska mining in the Bering Sea for gold. I am up there for 3 months each summer. The journal is for my granddaughter, Emily, & I call it Emilyís book. In a couple of more years, I intend to have the journals printed & try to sell copies. For now, Iím putting part of our journal on our web site.........Ö.

Steve Phillips Diving for Gold in Nome Alaska 2009 - Year 17

(hold your mouse over the picture for a brief description)


My red cabin & outhouse6-2-2009 Tuesday
Iíve been up in Nome for 3 days now. The flight in was through Kotzebue and we had a real good pilot who was able to land there with less than a 100í ceiling of fog. I was surprised that we could land. In Nome, Lonnie and his nephew met me and picked me up. I got my Ranger and trailer out and put air in the tires. The Ranger cranked up real easy. Snow and ice are not real deep on the beach but, it is deep enough to be trouble. We were delayed several times in getting out to camp. We were not stuck of course because we did not have to walk out. By using my wench and three vehicles we were able to get out each time we were delayed. We went to camp and my cabin is in great shape. Everything was intact in the cabin and outhouse with no mold or sign of water damage. Even the dishes and pots were still clean. There was very little to get set up in the cabin this year. Tim Jesse and Mike Bohannon are staying with me for a few days because they canít get out to the GPAA camp. The snow and ice is still too much on the Penny River and beyond. I like having the company since I donít much like living alone. Sunday night an Eskimo and his dog walked up to the cabin. He had crossed the Penny and got stuck. He walked 4 miles back to the cabin to get help. We went to his ATV on the other side of the Penny. I stayed on this side with the Ranger to use my wench to pull the other guys out. We pulled the ATVís up the ice pack on the side of the river. The crossing is difficult but doable barely. The Eskimoís ATV had to be towed back to our camp. He broke an oil line and caused his engine to quit. We fixed the broken line then filled with oil. We got the engine cranked but there was damage and it wonít keep running. He had to leave the ATV here and asked for a ride to Nome. I agreed to take him even though I was tired. We made it to Nome and took him to his house. I then came back alone and got stuck in the snow. I was really stuck this time and could not get out. I walked toward camp. After walking 2 miles Lonnie came & got me. He had got out of bed to go outside and relieve himself and saw I was not back so he came after me. We got home and I went to bed. I had been up for over 48 hours and I was tired. I did see an interesting sight about half way to Nome. An Eskimo had shot a young walrus and was cleaning it on the ice pack. The white ice and snow was stained bright dark red from the blood. The fat layer of the walrus was about 2 inches thick even on this young walrus.
Friday 6-5Ice flows on the Bearing Sea
John Trott and Jack Switk are here now. We have 5 of us in my cabin. I am cooking for 7. The guys werenít able to get out to the GPAA camp and have been staying with me this week. Yesterday some of them were able to cross the Penny and are now in the GPAA camp. I understand that the snow crushed the roof on the saloon out there. Most of the camp is still under snow.

Saturday 6-6
There are still lots of people staying in my cabin. Iím tired of cooking for 6 people. The sea ice is now more than we have seen before. It is getting worse instead of better. The ice is now starting to push up on the shore and has blocked the beach between my cabin and the Penny River. The GPAA people canít get to their camp and are staying in the hotel in town or out here with me. Temp. is about freezing.

My ranger & dredge







                                                                                                                                                                    Caribou in our camp







Tuesday 6-9
The guys have moved on to the GPAA camp now. Sam is here and will be for about a month. The sea ice is still around so we wonít be dredging until most of it is gone. Sam said that he was talking to his wife when he was home and told her that it was so hot that he was going skinny dipping. She said that she wanted to go too. He said that is okay but if she went they would not be able to call it skinny dipping. My dredge is set up now and ready to go when the ice leaves. Caribou and foxes are around our camp.

Caribou in our camp



 Friday 6-12
We saw a wolverine in our camp. It was trying to eat the fox cubs and probably did. Sam and I went out dredging today to see what doesnít work on the dredges. One of my pumps would not run and I had to work on it. I didnít have air to my regulator and had to beat on that awhile until it gave up and started working. While I was dredging I got cold and found that one of the heater lines had blown off. Other than those minor problems, everything worked well. I dredged 4 hours and found poor gold. The water temp is 38 degrees. One of the pontoons on the dredge Sam uses is leaking air so he had to quit after 1 hour and came in to repair the leak. I am cramping now in my hands and arms and it is hard to write. It takes a couple of weeks for my body to get used to the strains of dredging. Steve & Curtis on the Solomon River







Wednesday 6-17
Sam and I dredged 4 hours each yesterday and I dredged 3 Ĺ today. The dredges are working well. Water temp is 37 degrees today with poor vis. Sam is catching a cold. I hope I donít catch it but I brought plenty of medicine. Iím still taking steroids that got rid of the last cold I had. It took me 5 or 6 months to get over the breathing problems that came after my last cold. We have a 4 burner gas stove with a big oven now that the GPAA gave me. They got new ones & gave me one of the old ones. I left a bunch of the gold jewelry that Iíve made with a lady at GPAA. She is going to try and sell it for me. I hope she can sell good so I donít have to go down there and sell the stuff myself. Too many people will have colds there when the big crowds of people arrive in a week of so. My fingers are numb from moving all the rocks that I have to move while dredging. Sam & I just went and helped Ryan drag out his dredge. One of the wheels broke off when he was trying to pull it out.

NOT a dredging daySaturday 6-20
Yesterday Sam & I went to town to wash clothes & buy food & gas. Gas is $5 a gallon here. That is about double what it is at home. Today we dredged only 2 hours before the waves came up. We try to quit when the waves start to whitecap. It can get rough fast and we can have lots of trouble getting the hose and anchor up when the dredge is rolling. Also, itís tough getting the dredge out on shore when wind and waves are up. Sam is over his cold now and lucky for me I didnít catch it. I donít want a cold. Sam and I installed a gutter on one side of the cabin so we can catch rainwater to use in out shower.

Monday 6-22
Yesterday I dredged 4 hours. Water temp 40 degrees-calm seas with rain and strong current. Sam and Ryan had trouble all day with the current and things breaking so neither one of them were able to get any production. I didnít find much gold, only about 1 ounce. Brandon Johnson came by to visit for several hours last night. Brandon is Tom Massieís stepson and he is the boss of all operations of the Gold Prospectors Association and LDMA properties. We were talking about his plans for growing the GPAA and the Alaska trip. Iíve known Brandon since he was about 13 when Tom brought him up to me and my boys dredging on Arctic Creek. Tom asked me to teach Brandon how to dredge which I did. Brandon actually found his first nugget that day. Now Brandon is 26 and in charge of the whole show. I am very much impressed with him and his approach to running the business. He is very smart and I think he will be good for the GPAA and do well. Today Sam and I dredged 4 hours each. I found fair gold, more than 1oz. but less than 2. Water is warmer now, 50 degrees. It warmed up 10 degrees since yesterday. During my break between dredge runs I was sitting on the dredge with my feet in the sluice box and a baby seal came right up to me. It was only about 2 feet away and gave me a good looking over. It was light grey with spots.

John Trott, Jim Boatman, Steve Phillips & Lonnie Faucett at Big Four


Tuesday 6-23
I went to the GPAA camp today and found out that my friend Howard Casner had an accident. He was on my dredge crew when I ran the 8 inch dredge for the GPAA. Howard is in his early 70ís. He was going up the river to his hooch on Arctic Creek. The snow banks are still high up there and you canít see the trail. He was alone and up on the snow. His ATV turned over and pinned him underneath. They tumbled a bit mashing his leg and groin. The ATV landed on top. Howard is a big man and he tried to get the ATV off but could not. Other riders passed within 50 feet of him but did not see or hear him. He tried his best but couldnít get the ATV off. Finally he was able to dig under his body through the snow and work his way out with no help. He had been laying there all beat up under the ATV for 7 hours. Once he was able to stand he used his ratchet straps to help lift the ATV and was able to flip it over. He got it cranked and made it back to camp at 3:00 AM. They carried him to the hospital in Nome for x rays and found no broken bones. I guess the snow cushioned the fall. He is hobbling around the camp now and will probably need several weeks to quit hurting and recover. He is a tough old dude.

Saturday 6-27
Sam is sick again and coughing. Iíve dredged a total of 30 hours now but Iím too lazy to go out this morning. Ryan has about twice as many hours in as I do and more than twice as much gold, but he is young and strong and goes home this week. Iíve lost about 8 lbs. so far & weigh 192. The water temp was 50 degrees last time I was in. Jack Swit from GPAA came out yesterday and built me a rack on my cabin to hold a 40 gallon drum that will catch rainwater for my shower. Sam & I cut up driftwood on the beach for firewood.

Tuesday 6-30
I dredged 3 hrs yesterday & Sam dredged 4. The air temp is about 50 to 60 but the water temp is brutal. It was 34 degrees in the water because we have had overcast days with no direct sunlight. My gloves had a small hole in each one that didnít bother me when the temp was 50 degrees. The cold got to me and my hand went numb. When I came up on my break & the feeling started to come back they hurt bad. On my second dive I changed gloves & turned on all the heat I could and I wasnít too cold. Then the vis went at slack tide so I couldnít see the rocks and I cut the dive short and came in. This morning Sam & I went to the Gold Prospectors camp. They want me to come out each Tuesday and talk to the trip participants about finding gold. Brandon wants me to show them that gold is available to be found up here. On the way out there we saw a bear at the Perry River. It was about Ĺ mile from where the GPAA guys beach mine. Sam & I each dredged 4 hours this afternoon and found poor gold. I havenít found much this year so far.

Steve talking to the GPAA folks



Friday 7-17
Lonnie has gone home for a week. The waves have continued, so no dredging. Only Curtis and I are in camp now. Curtis is a retired marine and like most marines, he will and can do most anything. He is a great help here in camp. I hope Curtis comes up each year. I like people who pitch in and operate as a team player. Iím way off my expected gold for this year. Maybe this next three weeks the sea will be better and I can get some. Tom Massie came by one day and filmed Lonnie and me for an Outdoor Channel show.

Tuesday 7-21
Today I went to the GPAA camp and gave my weekly talk about gold to some of the newcomers. I volunteered to go out each week and show what can be found up here. Curtis and I went dredging and I got in 3 hours before the waves came up. I found good gold, about 2 ounces. Water temp is 54 degrees. I cooked a steak, spinach, beans, and cornbread. I baked a chocolate cake last night. Iím very sore and tired from dredging. I was dredging at waypoint #174.




Owls at Pilgrim Hot SpringsThursday 7-23
Yesterday Anna and I went to Salmon Lake and then on out to Pilgrim Hot Springs. We went 140 miles on one tank of gas in my Ranger 6X6. We saw two big owls at the Hot Springs. Anna had never eaten King crab so I bought some in town and we ate them last night. I enjoyed my time spent with Anna. I had never spent time with her before. She is a very sweet girl and loves the outdoors. Maybe she will come again to visit her old uncle. Anna left today. I washed clothes in town. The waves were down this afternoon so I went out at 6:00 P.M. and stayed until 10:00 P.M. Water temp 57 degrees, fair gold, & poor vis.

  My niece Anna












Pilgrim Hot SpringsWednesday 7-29
The waves have been up, so little dredging. This morning the waves were down with a north wind so we were able to get out. I dredged 4 Ĺ hrs before it got rough waves & wind coming from east. Water temp is 53 degrees & vis was ok. I found about 2 Ĺ or 3 oz. of gold. I wish the wind & waves would quit for a while so I could get in more dredging. The wind is blowing strong now with gusts over 40 mph. We wonít be able to dredge tomorrow so we are going inland to my claim near Salmon Lake & then go on to American Creek if we can cross the Pilgrim River. There were a couple of fingers of Glenlivet single malt scotch in my bottle that needed drinking so I did. I donít drink much but it was there so what else could I do. It makes me a little dizzy headed and will help me sleep. I laid down on my cot in my sleeping bag liner. Itís too warm to get into the sleeping bag so the liner is enough. In the early hours of morning Iíll pull an old half of an army blanket over my chest and it will feel so good. Iíve opened the window near my head and the cool, not cold, but cool wet air blows in. I can feel the air and smell a faint smell of smoke from my wood stove. Itís great for me. If you donít understand or get what Iím talking about thatís too bad. If you donít get it then you donít get it. You probably never will. Itís not for or about the groups or masses, itís about me, the individual, Iím not part of a group. For group things include me out.




9/16/09 Wed
Iíve been home a couple weeks now and I have an addendum to add to this yearís journal. Andrew Lee just sent me some pictures of our camp. The bear returned and tore into all three cabins doing major damage. We will try to get Andrew Lee and Rob to patch the holes and we will do repairs next year.

Bear tracks outside our cabin

Damage caused by the bears 











Damage caused by the bears



Damage caused by the bears











Snow-covered bear poop at our cabin














A couple of weeks laterÖÖÖÖ..

The bears are dead. Two of them that were breaking into all the cabins kept causing trouble & got closer to Nome. They kept breaking into houses near Snake River & the people that lived there killed themÖ.as they should have. The bears were trouble this year because it was an off year for salmon & there wasnít much to eat. 2008 was a banner year for salmon & they had plenty to eat. The salmon runs alternate good & bad & in the bad years, the bears develop bad habits. It cost them their lives this year.

Next year I am installing a solar-powered hot wire fence charge on my cabin to try & ward off the bears.

A True Diving Pioneer Passes - Bill Tant - "Cap'n Scuba"

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