Alaska - Summer 2010
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 2010 - Year 18
(hold your mouse over the picture for a brief description)
Iím back in my red cabin in Nome, Alaska. This is my l8th summer to be up here looking for yellow gold. With me in my cabin are John Trott, Sam Galegor, and Donald Thrash. John came up about a week before the rest of us and he hauled out all my stuff from my containers in town. He wired the cabin so we plug into a generator and have lights and can recharge our phones and batteries. We mounted my new flat screen DVD player on the wall so we can watch movies now. Itís quite fancy here now, not like it used to be in the tent. Yesterday we started servicing all the pumps and motors and putting together my 2 dredges. We will be building another 6 inch dredge this year. Lonnie, Ryan, Curtis, and Rex are in their cabins and have been dredging for several days. Lonnie and John cleaned up and repaired the damage caused by the bears that broke into our cabins. Two windows had to be replaced and the stove was torn up. We are putting up a hot wire fence charger on my cabin to knock the hell out of future bears. I use a solar unit like this on my farm at home and it works fine for cows. Rob Heinlin brought us about l5 king crabs last night that he caught in crab traps. Seven of us ate all we could, but about 4 or 5 were left over so I will clean the meat out of these and make crab salad for sandwiches.
We have our 2 dredges put together now and went out today. It is cold & windy, but since the weather is supposed to worsen, we wanted to do a shake down effort. Always many things donít work especially on the first few tries. Sam and I went down while John & Donald stayed on the dredges. The water temp. is about 32 degrees and gave me an ice cream headache. That goes away in a few minutes if the hot water is coming in the wet suit at the right temp. and volume. We only stayed down a little over l hour and each dredge was having problems with the pumps and the waves and wind were building. Sam, John, and Donald fixed the small problems on the dredges. I napped. Tonight I cooked steak, mac & cheese, peas, and a salad.
The waves continue to stop dredging and we donít expect good weather for several days. The barge came into Nome with Curtisís container. We hauled out yesterday and John, Lonnie, Curtis, and Donald are hauling trailer loads to camp today. If the rain is gone this afternoon, we will start building the new dredges for me, Lonnie, Curtis, & Rex. Yesterday I went to town and washed the dirty clothes that I had left over from last year. I bought some spareribs and plan to BBQ them tonight. Last night I cooked a chocolate cake.
The weather stayed raining & windy so we have not started building the dredge until today. I had the ribs marinated and wanted to cook them, but there was too much rain and wind outside. I decided that the only place that I could cook them was in the outhouse. I closed the lid & set up my grill on top of the seat. The guys took a few pictures and the ribs were good. People like outdoor flavor and smokehouse flavor so it only makes sense that outhouse flavor would be good. Outhouse ribs may become a favorite up here. John has been up here a couple of weeks now and he is already getting lonely. He has called his lady friend in Birmingham, and she is flying up to Anchorage this weekend. John will fly down to see her for a couple of days. Iíve given him a new name, we call him Horndog. He calls me the Shithouse Chef. Today we will start building my 3rd dredge.
Donald, Sam and John with leftover crabs
Steve cooking outhouse ribs
Today we were able to go dredge. The vis was awful, could see less than l foot. I dredged l l/2 hours and found l/3 oz. gold. Donald dredged for the first time and found l/4 oz. He is a quick learner and works hard so Iím sure he will be a good miner. He is also young and has lots of diving experience in black water with strong currents. The 3rd dredge is almost built, but we will probably wait till we canít dredge to finish it.
The weather has been beautiful for several days with flat seas. My 2 dredges have been putting in about 8 hours each day. John, Sam, & Donald have spent some time each day working on the 3rd dredge and it is just about ready to go in the water. Donald is now dredging 6 hours each day and starting to produce good gold. Iím dredging 2 or 3 hours when I go out and should increase to 4 or 5 hours as I get stronger during the summer.
Building The Dredge
Waves are up so no dredging today. Ryan, Lonnieís son, goes home tomorrow. He has been dredging hard and has 67 hours underwater in the last two weeks. He will return later in the summer. Iím having trouble with my Polaris Ranger 6 wheeler. It is running bad and only runs about half speed. I want to get it fixed, but the dealer here is slow to work on things and never has the parts needed. I guess Iíll give it to them next week.
Dredge construction team
I took the new dredge out today for a shake down trip. I called the cabin on the VHF radio so Sam would write down all the problems. The two outboard motors are riding too low in the water. The sluice box is also too low. I added Styrofoam sheets over the 4 pontoons. This should take care of the problem of riding too low, as it should raise the deck 2 or 3 inches. The water heaters for our wet suits were putting out water that is too hot. We are replacing one of the heaters with a smaller one. The new heavy duty 6Ē 30í suction hose is too heavy so I am going to use one of my old hoses instead. The hoses on the foot valves were too long and allowed the foot valves to pick up sand from the discharge of the sluice box. We cut off half the length on them. There were several other small problems that needed fixing. Overall, not bad. Sam & John fixed all these problems. Donald dredged 5 hours in rough wave conditions and only a few inches of vis. He got into pretty good gold and found about 2 ounces. John & Donald have built me a storage shed l2í by 7í between the cabin and the outhouse. Now we can hang our wet suits there and I can use my grill out of the wind. John, Sam, and Donald have been a great crew and fixed up everything around here. We are spoiled now compared to when I had a tent to live in. We eat real good too. Iím the cook.
Today I woke up at 3:00 A.M. to a clanging noise outside my window in the sea. This big barge with a back hoe and wash plant has come out from Nome to mine where we are working. I canít say anything good about these peoplesí manners. Better gold is in closer to Nome, but each year some greedy people think we are in better gold than they are, so they come out here. We dredge out here because we live here and can see our dredges from my cabin. If it wasnít such a long ride we would dredge near Nome where the better gold is. This barge will operate 24 hours a day until they give up and go back to town. If a storm comes while they are out here, it will possibly destroy their rig. There are no harbors for a rig like that to hide in this area. Sam, John, and Donald are out dredging now, and prospecting for a new place.
One of our small dredges with the big contraption behind it
I dredged 6 hours trying to find a new spot. I found about l oz or less. Donald set a record for time anyone has dredged from our group. He was underwater l0 hours. He found good gold at my waypoint #l97. The weather is good, water temp is 52 degrees and the vis is poor.
Yesterday the weather continued good and we dredged. Donald dredged 8 hours, Sam & I dredged 6 hours each underwater. We all found pretty good gold. I am working l5í deep and they are at l0í. This morning we have big Killer Whales feeding on salmon just off the beach. They donít bother us. We are going dredging now.
John went home to Birmingham this morning. He will probably come back in a few weeks. Donald has dredged 60 hours since he got here and he will go home Wednesday. He has found l2 oz of gold.
One of my 6Ē dredges
Austin Alexander is here with us now for 2 months. Donald has gone home. I am training Austin to dredge & find gold. He is young and I hope he can do as well as Donald. Sam has dredged for 9 days in a row and should be getting a good bit of gold. We wonít know until we clean up his concentrates. I dredged 4 hours yesterday and saw good gold. Water is warm now, temp 54 degrees, vis is excellent. I am dredging at my waypoint #2l3.
Gold concentrates from my cleanup
Austin is learning quickly. He is only 23 and will be doing all the grunt work around here that I can think of. He dredged 6 hours yesterday and 6 today, but he still had time to make about l0 phone calls to his girlfriend and mother. Itís time for him to man up. We went to town for groceries, gas, & drinking water and had a pizza at Airport Pizza. Austin talked on his cell phone most of the time. Weíre back in camp now and I had him fix a flat tire and then told him to go shovel & haul round rocks to the cabin & pave the whole area so we donít get sand or mud on our feet. He is going to be doing this everyday for awhile. Iíve got to keep him busy or he will get back on that damn phone. What a massive waste of time. I think he will make lots of money finding gold the next two months, but I want to also do a little finishing school work on him becoming an adult. Heís a good young man and is lucky to have this opportunity at such a young age and has an excellent teacher - me.
Sunday night we had about 35 musk oxen in our camp. The trucks bringing out the new trip participants for the Gold Prospectors Club were coming by our camp and we stopped them so they could see the musk oxen. We panned out Samís gold for last month and he had about l0 oz. I cleaned up mine also, and had about the same. Iíve only dredged about 40 hours underwater. Austin is dredging hard now, and learning how to follow the gold. I carried about 6 oz. of gold to Norm Stiles in Nome as down payment for dredging on his mineral lease. Next year we may be able to not pay Norm since the state is finally changing some of the leases up here. The weather has been beautiful for several weeks and I hope it continues this way. The summer passes fast for me up here and I will be leaving too soon. I still have 2 more months, but that will pass fast.
Musk Ox in our camp
The weather is changing to bad. Waves are building and we expect winds up to 40 miles per hour. We have hauled all our dredges up to the cabin area, so they wonít be damaged. I am going to town to pick up some freight I ordered from Keene. I have an appointment with Morganís to get them to try and fix my Ranger. It is running rough. I donít expect much from Morganís since they donít stock many, if any, parts for repairs. I was in the repair business all my life and always stocked many spare parts, but up here things are different, and they can get away with shoddy service and high prices. Itís 8:00 AM now and Iíve been up since 4:00 AM. Austin is still in the bed as is his custom.
Harve at Morganís did a good job figuring out what is wrong with my Ranger. The fuel pump works, but is weak on pressure. They ordered a new one and it should be in next week. The waves are about 5 ft. high and strong south winds. I guess it will be several days at least before we can dredge again. Thereís nothing much to do now so Austin sleeps till noon. I get up about 4:30 AM. Austin has gone to town now to buy beer. I made him go on the Yamaha and wouldnít let him use the Ranger. He will get a cold and wet ride and it should be a lesson for him to either quit drinking or buy more beer when he goes in.
Sam and I went to eat with Georgia, Sandy, and Perry Massie at the GPAA camp. Austin has cabin fever from the high waves and weather stopping our dredging since last Thursday. When Sam and I came back to camp last night Austin decided to go out dredging about 10:00 PM. The waves were down for a short while, and he had good GPS numbers so he wasnít worried about poor vis. He dredged two hours, but had a hot water problem. He had put a kink in his water line going under his weight belt. He was cold and didnít understand the bigger problem that this would cause. Luckily, his hot water line melted and blew out instead of putting pure steam on his body. The steam can come fast and severely burn you before you can disconnect. This problem could have burned up our heater or worse could have burned a hole in a pontoon and sunk the dredge. Remember, we work alone and have no tender to watch for problems. Austin was lucky. Iíll need to talk to him so he better understands what could have happened.
Blown out hot water line
Austin went home yesterday. He was offered a job diving on oil rigs in the Gulf off Louisiana. He could make more money here, but he needs a permanent job. He is too young to be a self starter up here, and has to grow out of some of his bad habits. He only dived about 27 hours up here and found 5 oz. of gold. The weather is finally getting better and the sea is calm now so Sam and I should be able to dredge a good bit this week. I pulled a muscle in my back a few days ago, but I think Iíll be okay to dive today.
Iíve gone out twice this week dredging. My back is better now. Iím up to about 70 hours underwater so far. Most everybody is leaving within a few days. I will be alone until Lonnieís son Ryan comes back and Lonnie will be back in about l0 days. The weather is beautiful and I love Alaska. This week Iíve done routine repairs on my dredge. The pressure hose broke yesterday and I was able to repair it without coming to shore. We replaced the nozzle flaps on two of my dredges. I put on heavy duty rubber flaps that are much stronger than the flimsy flaps that Keene sends on the nozzles. You would think that they would use heavy duty materials for their products, but most dredgers are light dredgers in the rivers. We are much harder on the equipment, and salt water takes a toll also. I talked to Pat Keene today since he is here, and told him about weak points on some of the dredge parts. We will see if he starts making stronger parts. I also told him again how bad his shipping dept. is. They seem to try to find the most expensive way to ship anything up here and usually get the order wrong. I needed new riffles in one of my sluice boxes, and they made me buy a complete sluice box just to get riffles that had rusted out. The box weighed less than l00 lbs and the freight was $400.00. This year I bought two outboard motors from Cabelaís and they only charged $50 each to ship them. I went to the Gold Prospectors camp today to try and sell some of my jewelry. I only sold one ring for 520.00. I would have done better dredging. Sarah Palin came to the GPAA camp today to film some sort of gold mining show about Alaska. She is prettier in person than on TV. I like her a lot and hope she continues her efforts to cut back on government. Her young daughter was with her, and I gave her a gold and silver heart shaped pendant that I made.
The ranger pulling in one of the dredges
Sam and I went out dredging today. I was in poor gold. The weather is hot and pretty. The water temp. is 57 degrees and I didnít use my heater very much. On the surface I was very hot and uncomfortable. I hurried to get back underwater to cool off. When I went out this morning I weighed l80 and when I came in I weighed 176. I weighed l93 when I came up this year.
Sam went home last night. He had l03 hours underwater and found about l7 oz. of gold. He gets half, Norm Stiles gets 20% because he has the offshore mineral leases, and I get 30% for furnishing the camp, dredges, and paying all expenses. I need to keep all three of my dredges operating to do very well up here. I cleaned up my concentrate from the last month, today, and I am averaging ľ oz per hour. This is not as good as I would like, but is good. An Eskimo named Johnny brought me six King Crabs today. He was the guy I carried in to Nome last year after he broke down at Penny River when the snow was still here. It was nice of him to remember me and bring the crabs. Curtis is the only other person in our camp now and he leaves tomorrow. Lonnie will be back in about l0 days.
I dredged 4 hours today and found fair gold, about l oz. The air compressor was not giving enough air, but, I was able to make do with what it gave. I worked on it tonight. A fitting had worn a gap on a quick release so I did away with the quick release that I donít need anyway. I also tightened up the belt on the compressor. Iíve been having trouble with the new Honda generator for a few days. This puzzled me since these generators rarely give any trouble. I noticed the spark plug looked wet. I tried cleaning the plug, then put gas in the plug hole and pulled the cord to wash out the cylinder. Brown stuff came out. A light came on in my head, Austin! Austin is a real good diver, but he doesnít know anything about the slightest bit of mechanical equipment. Iíll continue to repair all damage as I become aware of such. Iím all alone in our camp now. All three cabins are empty for a few days. When I go out at night now I will carry my Smith & Wesson 50 caliber revolver because bears come around when camps are empty. The pistol is 3 or 4 times as powerful as a 44 magnum. My gun makes Dirty Harryís look like a pimp pistol. The size of my pistol should equalize the size difference between me and the bear. Sandy Massie brought me a big garbage bag full of birch bark that she picked up today near the Senic River. This bark is great to use starting a fire in my wood stove.
There was another ATV accident involving a Gold Prospector camp participant. This is a lady about 40 years old. She had rented an ATV and had little or no experience. She did something wrong with the controls and took a bad spill. Her lung collapsed and she has l2 fractures of breaks in ribs and a damaged liver. A helicopter picked her up and took her to Nome for basic treatment. She has been flown to an Anchorage hospital. Perry & Georgia Massie came by to visit for a while. This afternoon I went to Nome for fuel and food. I ate dinner with Jano at the pizza place. Jano is the best dredger anywhere and we usually get together and eat at least once each summer. He has been in the U.S. since l979 when he defected from the Czechoslovakian soccer team. He served two years in the Russian Army when he was young. Jano is the only Alaskan that I know who refuses to accept the annual dividend check that all Alaskans get from oil drilling revenue. He wants no government aid of any kind. He loves freedom and fears the growth of socialism in our country. I agree.
Today I dredged at my waypoint #215. I moved to the east about 400 yards from where we have mostly been working with my dredges. I am now real near where Curtis and Ryan have been finding lots of gold for 2 or 3 years. Where Iíve been working is much poorer ground and I need to find a better area for Spence to work in when he comes. I found good gold working in shallow sand before the exposed rocks. I dredged 5 hours but only got good gold about 2 hours. I think I got about 2oz. today.
The goldís at the end of the rainbow
I was in Alaska for another month this summer and wrote my journal, but I'm not putting it on the web page, because American Digger magazine is doing an article. It wouldn't be right for me to put everything on the web page when they are going to publish it in their magazine. There were other interesting things that happened including the BBC came and stayed for 5 days to film a show on the Arctic. We also made a trip to my outer camp on the Casadepaga River and my son Spencer came up for the last month.
You can read all about this stuff when you buy my book in a couple of years.
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