It’s no surprise that gold prospecting can be a draw. What is intriguing is how far some people will travel to give it a try.
Right now, three guys from different parts of the world are searching for gold in the Cariboo.
Hagay Bar is from Tel Aviv, Israel. Steve Eggimann and Fuehrer Renato are from Bienne, Switzerland, the home of Rolex watches.
For just over a week, the three have been camping on a mining claim, north of Williams Lake, near Blue Lake.
They got in touch with the claim’s owner Eric Brigden, aka Grey Wolf, because of his website, Gold Prospectors Forum.
The Swiss men contacted him by e-mail because they were already travelling in Canada.
Mid morning one Saturday, the sun is shining through the woods, and Brigden’s arrived to see how the prospectors are doing.
“We were doing some fishing. Now we want to try this,” Eggimann says.
Both he and Renato were in the hotel and restaurant business back home and have never tried prospecting.
“I have read lots about this, and I was in Africa for diamonds. They also dig gold and I’d seen many things about gold panning there,” Renato says.
Bar, however, showed up in Williams Lake a week before and called Brigden on the phone out of the blue.
“He called me up, said he was a tourist, that he wanted to go gold mining and he wanted me to help him,” Brigden says of Bar.
It’s Bar’s first time in Canada and so far he’s impressed.
“This is great. We don’t do such things in Israel. Usually you just have an ordinary job in the city, sit and talk and have coffee, maybe you don’t work so hard. Here it’s hard work, but it’s the nature that we don’t have. We don’t have so much green and it’s peaceful. And we can see animals that we only see there in zoos,” Bar says.
He’s still waiting for the bears to show up, Brigden chimes in, noting he’s given him a can of bear spray and a bear banger in case they do.
“I’m not really waiting to meet a bear, but eventually it will happen,” Bar says.
Brigden’s arranged to bring a camper in for Bar and has already set him up with some of his gold panning equipment, including one of the highbankers he built.
“I’m building highbankers for them too,” Brigden says.
“I’ve been building them for three or four years and have actually sold some to customers in Minnesota, Ontario, Quebec and have an order in for one in Nome, Alaska.”
Pausing to give a rudimentary explanation of how the highbanker works, he points to where the gravel is placed at the front.
“You shovel material in here and you have the pump hooked up and it’s washing as the gravel goes across the grizzly down through the ripples. Generally I like to shovel a yard of material though, not a third of a yard,” he comments as he looks down at the pile Bar has shovelled.
To which Bar sighs and suggests even a third of a yard is a lot of hard work.
The material moves along Hungarian ripples and some expanded metal.
“Some people want expanded metal, I prefer Hungarian ripples because they actually capture fine gold better. The carpet provides a seal between the bottom of the sluice box and the ripples.”
As Brigden and Bar walk through the woods toward an area where Bar has spent several hours digging a hole about five feet deep, he tells Brigden it was a lot of work.
“I need some help with the highbanker too. It takes an hour just to adjust everything,” Bar says.
Brigden shakes his head and tells him it should only take a moment.
As he looks at the hole Bar’s dug, Brigden tells him he needs to be digging across, not down.
“Move that topsoil off and go straight into the bank. You’ll hit the same level of gravel. That will work better for you.”
Pointing to the highbanker, Brigden notices it’s set too steep.
Readjusting it to be more level, he instructs Bar that it will give him more recovery that way.
A few more metres into the bush, Brigden has built a shaft. It’s six by six feet across and about 10 feet deep.
He’s done it all by hand, digging out big rocks with a windless.
Timbered all the way down for safety because it’s gravel and could collapse easily, he notes he would not dig any deeper than four feet without timbering.
“If it sloughs in and you’re by yourself, you’re trapped and you’re dead,” he sighs.
He is contemplating taking it down to 20 feet to see what’s down there.
When asked why he doesn’t drill instead, he explains it’s hard to see what’s there.
“All you get is a slurry, but it doesn’t tell you what the layers are. You want to see where the layers are so you know where the best ground is.”
Brigden’s had this particular claim for more than a year.
He started prospecting for gold when he was 18 years old.
“We were a logging family,” Brigden recalls.
One time he was working near a creek and felt inspired to start panning for gold.
He went after this particular claim, after he and a friend found a creek, did a pan, and found 20 colours, small pieces of gold.
It was bizarre, he says, explaining you can’t get 20 colours panning on the Fraser River.
“This has colours,” he says.
He has other claims, out of Cariboo River and Cariboo Lake, and is looking into going out into the Chilcotin later this year.
When asked if he’s having fun, he says he keeps himself pleasantly entertained.
“I still haven’t found the mother lode,” he says. Pausing, he adds, “Maybe some day.”