In mid-July, 1897, two steamships arrived in San Francisco and Seattle, carrying passengers from Alaska and the Yukon. Among them were 80 men and women who were returning from the Klondike, carrying an astonishing three tons of raw gold in their baggage. Newspapers around the world quickly published sensational stories about the miners. And by the end of the year about 100,000 amateur gold seekers had joined the stampede to the Klondike. The gold rush was over by 1900, and for most participants it had brought nothing but misery and failure. But in 1987 the Klondike produced 106,000 ounces—more than in any single year since 1917. And last year two companies, Vancouver’s Hughes-Lang Group and Torontobased United Keno Hill Mines Ltd., discovered the underground sources
of the Klondike’s gold.
The location of the Klondike mother lode had been a mystery because geologists could not penetrate the deep soil covering the gold-bearing rock. From the days of the initial discoveries, miners in the Klondike used the so-called placer method, removing gold from gravel after it was washed through dredges and sluices. Placer companies worked the banks of nearly a dozen creeks that flow into the Klondike and Indian rivers— until the last major operator closed in the mid-1960s. But since 1979, placer mining in the Klondike has gradually come back to life because of a combination of higher gold prices and more sophisticated equipment. Now, the gold-bearing creeks are entirely staked by placer miners.
The Hughes-Lang Group and United Keno own the vast majority
of Klondike claims. Their geologists say that the gold found in the creek beds must originate underground. Arthur Troup, Hughes-Lang’s exploration manager, has nursed that theory since 1964. After several large companies rejected his proposal on the grounds that erosion had already carried away the underground gold, Troup persuaded the Hughes-Lang Group to stake the area.
Meanwhile, individual placer miners are reaping a new bonanza in the valleys and creek beds of the Klondike. This year four hopeful operators have moved in bulldozers worth $700,000 each. Said Dennis Prince, United Keno’s Yukon exploration manager: “A lot of people sell the family farm, plunk down all their money on a yellow toy, and end up going home broke.” That is a fitting replay of the great gold rush of almost a century ago.
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