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High Altitude Ground Sluicing

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Recently I spent a week on a WSPA claim in Sierra County near the 7000' level. Like much of the surrounding terrain, it is a maze of old workings dating back initially to the 1880s and 1890s, but complicated by Depression Era re-workings of the same soils and littered with many thousands of square nails and other metallic debris. Mostly the landscape is overgrown with trees, some of which are quite old -- but the majority are maybe 40 to 60 years old. Long lines of cobble and boulder piles are scratched across the surfaces as if clawed out by some Godzilla-sized creature. These are the piles that were created during ground sluicing operations. Big nuggets came out of these soils -- some weighing in the tens of Troy pounds. Little ones, too -- many of which still remain. Understanding how these piles came about is key to narrowing the search for nuggets and flakes.

High altitude ground sluicing could not be accomplished at most sites due to an inadequate water supply and lack of sufficient pressure, there being no higher ground within practical distance. It also needed to be done during a very brief snow melt window -- perhaps as little as 2 or 3 months of the year. But the oldtimers managed to get it done. How were they able to move the huge rocks and wash away acre upon acre of fines while capturing the gold and still turning a profit?

It occurs to me that many of the oldtimers understood how cargo booms, gin poles, hoses and capstans could be improvised out of readily available materials, especially since some of them were experienced tall ship sailors while others of them had been teamsters and Civil War artillery veterans -- all accustomed to moving large, heavy loads with only hand or animal powered equipment. Thus, it is not surprising that many piles of medium [basketball sized rocks] are commingled with leviathans weighing a ton or more. Sailmakers understood how to fashion heavy canvas into long hoses to carry water to the workings. Blacksmiths knew how to hammer and rivet sheet metal into low pressure pipes. Large, square rigged sails could be used to cover some of the ground and hold auriferous dirt when water was released so as to catch the heavies which later could be processed in long toms that were square-nailed together.

Practicality and difficult terrain meant that some ground had to be by-passed by the ground sluicers. Such ground is essentially virgin and conceals within it gratifying surprises for the diligent prospector. There is probably as much or more experience and skill involved in locating virgin ground amongst these old working as there is in ascertaining a true virgin amongst members of our own species. During my week I managed to discover many places were "it" wasn't way before I stumbled across places where it was. Undoubtedly, it will take several future trips before I hone my skills to the cutting edge required for consistently succeeding in these challenging mazes. But, hey, isn't figuring stuff like that out part of the fun being a twenty-first century prospector?

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That was a very cool snapshot of the area. I never can get over how these old timers were able to

accomplish what they did. The only correction I would make to your topic is that there were rocks

that were easily in the multi-ton range. It must have been one heck of a job getting these babies hoisted

onto the sides of those ravines. It was an interesting area that is for sure. Hope to see you up there again.


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