Working Low-Water Bedrock (Part 2)

(A recently recovered nugget from California low-water bedrock.)

With the mining claim and access thing out of the way, it's time to get down to the nitty gritty as it relates to working low-water bedrock. So let's get to it (and while doing so let's pay particular attention to the text passages in bold type).


At face value, the principles for working bedrock under extreme low-water conditions are essentially the same as those applied when working bedrock under "normal" conditions. That said, let me tell you up front that I've worked bedrock under both sorts of conditions numerous times at various parts of my mining career and the main difference between the two is 1) the amount of gold that can be had and 2) the relative ease of getting at that gold. Notice here that I didn't say "The relative ease of getting that gold." Gold never comes easy in the long run, accessibility factors notwithstanding.

One thing that's liable to happen when you stumble upon your first low-water bedrock environment is sensory overload. There will be so many likely looking gold deposition spots that you'll experience a momentary bewilderment because of all the choices and decisions facing you. This can also be true when you're trying to get a "read" on bedrock in a stream under typical water levels, but many of your choices will be hidden from sight in the latter context, thereby simplifying the task somewhat. 

Here's my advice in this regard. Prioritize. If there are 25 or 50 or even 100 likely looking spots to sample for gold on that low-water bedrock, you're going to have to put your past knowledge and experience to work and decide which spot is Number 1, which is Number 10, and so on. I know many of you rebel at this sort of mathematical or "diagrammed" approach to prospecting and mining but running around mindlessly doing the Chicken Little or "helter-skelter" thing isn't the best approach either. Be systematic in your efforts.

Under low-water conditions there are essentially three main types of bedrock you can work:

1. Above water or "dry."

2. In very shallow water.

3. Under deeper water.

Yes I know there will be many sub-levels to these three, but sometimes it's better to point out the obvious than it is to obfuscate matters by throwing in everything, including the kitchen sink.

Concerning 1. You'll notice that in category number one I placed dry in parentheses. I did this to point out the fact that unless that low-water bedrock has been exposed to the sun and air for some time, the term dry is a relative one. Even if the material you're removing from that bedrock is dry a few inches down it doesn't mean that it'll be dry once you dig down a few more inches.

Gold may not be easier to spot in dry bedrock conditions but in general it sure as hell is easier to remove by hand when dry. When you're removing wet material from bedrock it's very easy for gold to slip or drop away once the spot you're working begins back filling with water. Not just fine stuff, but flakes and "chunkers" as well. I don't care how careful you are, you'll lose gold working wet material by hand and that's a proven fact. This is especially true in those deeper cracks and crevices where coarser gold and nuggets like to hide.

One way around this problem is to employ some sort of suction device along with those hand tools you're using. These can range from larger hand-held, plunger type devices to smaller, battery powered or motorized units. Or, you can rig up something simply using materials like flex or surgical tubing combined with a squeeze bulb (a "jury rigged" turkey baster set up). Finally, you can purchase reasonably priced products custom made for this sort of gold recovery task. My Aussie mate Adrian makes one called the CreVac. I myself own one of his units, by the way.

 (All that's missing from this CreVac is the 5-gallon bucket.)

This whole tool and gear deal is something we'll talk about a greater length throughout this series of posts, so don't despair. Having the right tools for the job is a truism we're all familiar with and it applies here as well. Fortunately for us all, the cost to acquire or make these items is not steep at all which means our outlay costs for working low-water bedrock are even more cost effective.

Hang tough and we'll talk more soon.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2014

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