By Naomi Gaede Penner and Mark Gaede
My brother, Mark, and his buddy have gold claims near Hope, Alaska. They’ve had them since the 1970s. In case you want to know where they actually are, so you can get-rich-quick, let me clue you in, the two miners worked day-jobs for many years, and only recently have kinda stopped subsidizing and broken even; meaning, they make enough to pay for gas driving to/from the claims.
The end of March, they started up operations. The snow (measuring) post at Summit Lake was showing just over 3 feet of snow and temperatures had been near 40 degrees the past week. When they pulled into their road, it was cloudy with light drizzle. They figured the snow would be nasty. It was. Of course, they planned to wear snowshoes. Any of you who snowshoe, know what those temps and conditions mean: sticky, heavy, show clinging to the bottoms, and barely-catch-your-breath hard work.
The two miners, age-60-something, planned to haul in two dredge motors and 20 feet of new 5-inch hose. They secured this on a sled for a load of about 150 pounds. In addition to the sled, Mark’s pack carried air hoses, diving masks, hand tools, and heavy rubber gloves, for a weight of around 30 pounds.
As anticipated, the going was rough. Their snowshoes sank about 10-12-inches into the wet, soggy snow. Occasionally, they would break through the next crusty layer and be up to their knees. Now they had to lift their snowshoes even higher: up out of the snow and then on top of the snow for another step. Happily, for the most part, the sled pulled along just fine since the trek was down hill.
Don’t go sneaking around Mark’s Mining operation.
Before going completely down to the creek, they stopped at the Tiny House to lite the propane furnace and to leave articles not needed at the creek.
Then their trudge continued. At one point, they thought it judicious to leave the trail for a more direct shot to the dredge site. Given it was extremely steep, Mark’s buddy stayed up top with a 50-foot long tag line to keep the sled from running away. Mark remained with the sled and guided it down the slope. All at once, Mark’s lead snowshoe fell through a pocket in the snow and hung up on an alder about 2 to 3 feet down. Mark did a face plant. If that wasn’t enough abuse, another alder slipped under his pack strap. This promptly pinned him in place. Furthermore, the sled slid up on his trailing snowshoe. There is wisdom in the buddy system. However, in this case, Mark’s buddy had also lost a snowshoe and was flailing around trying to keep the sled from completely running over Mark.
After getting a grip on his unexpected position, Mark wormed his way out of his pack and swam out from under the sled. Taking this all in stride, he reported, “It took a couple minutes to regroup and then we finished the trek to the creek.” All in a day’s work. On a more serious note, he added, “It just underscored how hazardous winter ops are and why it is not a solo event.”
Mark’s buddy resting at base camp.
Getting equipment in and out each season is always a lot of work. Nonetheless, they are undaunted. Decades of trial and error, along with modern advances, such as Gortex socks and everything else Gortex, has made a difference. So have hamburgers at Summit Lake Lodge and doughnuts at the Moose is Loose Bakery in Soldotna.
And so, the two miners, who have known each other since they were babies in the Bethany Baptist Church nursery in Anchorage, Alaska, are off and going for another season.