The list, in chronological order of visit, was: Yukon Zinc/Wolverine Mine,Capstone Mining/Minto copper-gold mine, Silver Range Resources/Silver Range project, Alexco Resources/Bellekeno silver mine, Anthill Resources/Einarson project,Victoria Gold/Eagle project, Ryan Gold/Ida Oro project, Golden Predator/Brewery Creek project, Ethos Gold/Betty project and Prophecy Platinum/Wellgreen project.
But let's abandon the list. In part one of this Yukon series, we'll look at the early-stage exploration projects. This is by and large greenfield stuff. New gold ounces and other metals being born. And then, in a second part to come next week, we'll look at the miners and mine developers in the Yukon and their issues. Why? It's easier to write that way and there is even some logic in doing so as both classes of juniors face somewhat different challenges, one in finding and defining a deposit, the other, in clearing a path to development and, where the case may be, keeping mines humming in a fairly remote jurisdiction.
Our guides on this trip were Judy Shannon, a mineral development officer for the Yukon government, Patrick Sack, a territorial geologist, and helicopter pilot Grant Shannon. Yes, two Shannons in one chopper and no coincidence. A formerly married couple. In the same confined space. For almost a whole week.
"We're on good terms," reassured Judy Shannon before our first flight. I hoped so.
The first exploration property we visited was Silver Range Resources' creatively named Silver Range project. Unfortunately this double naming leads to silver laden sentences such as "Silver Range makes silver discovery at the Silver Range project." Which as it turns out was the case late December of last year when Silver Range tripped over a series of high grade silver veins, at surface, now called the Hammer zone, about 10 kilometers east as the crow flies from the old Faro lead-zinc mine (which apparently was at one time Canada's biggest such open pit operation).
Doug Eaton, Silver Range's president and CEO and a veteran on the Yukon exploration scene, met us onsite at a drillcore storage area along with Silver Range's investor relations man, Richard Drechsler.
Among a handful of targets on an expansive concession in the area, Silver Range has its sights on a bulk-tonnage tonnage silver prospect called Keg, where it has drilled numerous 100-metre-plus long intercepts with silver grading between 15 g/t Ag and 50 g/t Ag. But the excitement the day of our visit was all over the Hammer zone and the high grade silver. The first drilling results came out that morning.
"I've never seen anything like it in my time exploring the Yukon," Eaton boasted. Though prospectors and company leaders alike tend toward superlatives in describing their finds, indeed the core and grades were impressive. In drilling Silver Range cut three parallel veins, all narrow, with grades often over 1,000 g/t. Some notables: 1.6 meters @ 1,509 g/t Ag; 1.3 meters @ 1,052 g/t Ag; and 1 metre @ 1,010 g/t Ag.
The intercepts also stood out from a strike perspective. While the high grades come in clusters with some near duds in between, Silver Range has quickly racked up some remarkable strike length, at relatively shallow depths, with 1,000 g/t Ag intercepts throughout. So far drilled strike length is 600 meters.
The style of mineralization also made for attractive mineralized core. The veins appear to conform to the low-sulphidation epithermal model, which, as such, would have formed near surface. Eaton likened them to Mexican silver veins. And indeed Eaton showed off some of those hallmarks. There were beautiful colloform textures in core as well as the presence of Rhodocrocite, a pink mineral, according to Eaton.
Whatever comes of the discovery, Silver Range is pretty lucky to have made it. As Eaton put it, "How it was missed by the old timers, I have no idea." The surprise in part comes from the fact Hammer is not that remote. An enterprising prospector might have hiked to it from the Faro mine in a day.
Perhaps they were not on the lookout for high-grade epithermal mineralization. Nor are the veins blatantly obvious at surface, until of course they're pointed out to you. We flew over the Hammer zone and the veins - recessive, or prone to weathering more than the host rock around them - stood out as three oblong depressions on the hill side. They still held snow whereas the gentle mountains surrounding us were generally bare.
We also flew over the Snap area, where Silver Range is drilling an extensive silver anomaly, and then headed to Silver Range's main camp to talk about Keg, the most advanced of Silver Range's targets. Eaton has his eye on the big prize, in the form of an expansive bulk tonnage silver deposit.
"Not saying we have another Potosi here (big Bolivian silver mine), but it is a good thing to shoot for," Eaton said.
Still one geo in camp admitted Hammer is nonetheless his favourite of Silver Range's targets. High grade has that appeal even if bulk tonnage is the big score.
Most of the Yukon is, from mild to extreme, a crenulated surface. From a bird's eye view, it never bores. A couple day's after our visit to Silver Range's camp we descended into Ryan Gold's. The Ryan Gold geos and drillers know about the extreme side of the Yukon's fabric. They drill from some vertiginous drillpads, wooden decks somehow secured to steep slopes that contain gold anomalies.
These are Shawn Ryan anomalies. Ryan is a tireless Yukon prospector and soil sampler extraordinaire who perhaps more than any single individual gets the most credit for igniting a new Yukon gold rush in the past few years. He was largely behind Underworld Resource's White Gold project, which he outlined via soil sampling, among a number of others (including Ethos Gold, more on that later.)
In camp we met with Ryan Gold's field crew including chief geologist Andy Randell. As he put it, Shawn Ryan, who is president of Ryan Gold, is "a great soil scientist - just like he's a good mushroom picker." Ryan diligently looked over forgotten ground and over the past decade picked up swaths of claims in the Yukon when others were disinterested in Yukon gold.
Ida Oro is a tricky beast geologically. No doubt it has strong gold values. As much as 25 meters @ 2.58 g/t in recent drilling. But in speaking with project geos, it's clear much effort is being spent on figuring out the geology of the project. Randell said so: "We're focusing on the structure and geology rather than an orebody."
The hope is that a better understanding of geology steers Ryan Gold to a big enough gold deposit to warrant developing Ida Oro in the Yukon about 25 kilometers away from roads and other infrastructure (which is not so far, really, for a Yukon mineral exploration project). Gold-mineralized zones at Ida Oro are heavily faulted, complicating the picture but also speaking to a rich geological history that propelled gold mineralization in the first.
They are essentially on the hunt for another Eagle Gold deposit. This is Victoria Gold's advanced-stage, multimillion ounce gold project, part of the Dublin Gulch property, about 200 kilometers to the east of Ida Oro. In fact, we had just come from there. In fact, so had Randell. He had worked for Victoria as a geologist before coming to Ryan Gold. Handy experience.
The Eagle Gold deposit is what is known as a reduced intrusive related gold deposit. In Victoria's case the intrusives are part of the Tombstone suite of granites. To form these granites, imagine great globs of magma rising up in the crust during mountain building events as when tectonic plates smash against each other. Then the magma cools, forming intrusive bodies in pre-existing rock, in this case sedimentary material that was long ago deposited at the bottom of a long forgotten ocean. In cooling, the granites, which are typically of a certain kind, reduced geochemically speaking and also of the "I-type", become brittle around the edges and especially at their crowns. Fluids flow. Gold mineralization, often associated with arsenic but low amounts of sulphides overall, is deposited in fissures and veins.
Because it's low in sulphides these deposits can sometimes be heap leached. That's Victoria's plan (more on that in Part II). But why know about this gold mineralization model? The deposits can be big and include, as a prime example, Kinross' Fort Knox gold deposit in Alaska. Yukon is very prospective for this deposit type.
Ida Oro has shades of a reduced intrusive related gold environment. It's in the Tombstone suite with sedimentary rock and and the right kind of granite. But so far, based on Ryan Gold exploration, the host for mineralization is turning out to be the opposite of Victoria's Eagle. At Eagle the gold mineralization is hosted in the granite. At Ida Oro it runs in the sedimentary rock, especially as veinlets in cherts. Randell recounted that when he first saw drillcore and data from Ida Oro after leaving Victoria he said: "Holy shit, this is not Dublin Gulch."
Beyond Ida Oro, Ryan Gold has a lot of targets to go after. It boasts concessions that equal the area of Trinidad and Tobago, Randell said. It also has the cash to explore such an expanse. Ryan Gold is one of the more cashed up juniors out there with some C$40-odd million in the bank.
Another major frontier in Yukon exploration, beyond gold in reduced intrusives, is the search for Carlin-type deposits. Over the past few years it has become apparent, primarily through the work of Atac Resources at its Rackla project in the Nadaleen trend, the Yukon holds gold mineralization that looks a lot like the famed gold deposits in Nevada's Carlin trend. The Carlin-type. That means, in a rough way: disseminated gold, not visible to the naked eye, in a limestone unit that is typically related to a deep-seated fault. They are often associated with splashy minerals such as realgar and orpiment, which pop out as bright yellows and reds.
Atac is the best known name in the Yukon as far as Carlin-type exploration goes, because, well, it has sown up much of the prospective ground for it, and has been on a drilling rampage over the past couple years with intervals as nice as 115 meters @ 3.15 g/t gold. Atac's resource estimate, yet to come out, is one of the more highly anticipated in the territory. The hope is that this Carlin-type mineralization in the Yukon yields enough gold juice to warrant development of long roads and extension and expansion of power infrastructure.
Not all the prospective ground, however, is in Atac's hands. Among others, Anthill Resources has put together a sizeable property (2,000-sq.-km) just to the east of Atac in the Nadaleen trend, which runs for several hundred kilometers east-west and is demarcated by a couple large-scale faults. Anthill calls their ground the Einarson project and its management is of the mind that the Nadaleen trend - prospective ground - crosses onto its concessions.
Anthill is a private company headed up by Ming An Fu, a Chinese-Canadian based out of Vancouver. What Anthill's plans are in terms of whether it will stay private is not quite clear. After my trip to the Yukon an Anthill spokesperson told me by email that on the issue of whether it would go public "we have not considered this in detail yet." Investors interested in the emerging Carlin type story will be watching to see what happens.
They have some intriguing results to show off. The Anthill camp is in the crook of a fairly steep valley on the edge of a small lake. Anthill's chief geologist is John Li, who speaks very functional if highly accented English, has worked on Carlin-type deposits in China. Carl Schulze, a geologist and contractor, is project manager.
Schulze prefers the term Carlinesque to Carlin-type. It does have a ring to it. It could just as easily describe a school of art. It also, perhaps, better encapsulates the Carlin-type story beyond the Carlin trend in places like the Yukon where the deposits are not totally faithful to the Carlin-type model. To Li the differences stem in part from the host rock, different limestones outside Nevada that cause variation in mineralization and alteration in host rock.
To the main point. Anthill thinks it's well onto Carlinesque mineralization. A well-known Nevada geologist, Harry Cook, rendered an opinion that Einarson is prospective for Carlin-like targets to the company before it started digging up a lot of ground. Then on site we see hand samples with some compelling evidence: bright realgar and orpiment and samples that graded fairly high for gold, as much as 82.7 g/t Au.
How good the targets turn out to be will soon be known, at least to Anthill if not the rest of the world. Anthill was to start drilling the D2 target within days after we left camp. Li didn't think that Anthill, as a private company, would release the results for some time, if at all. Though, if it really hits, you would have to think we'll eventually hear about it as good marketing private or no.
By the time our last early-stage exploration project came around on this tour of the Yukon - after days spent in a small helicopter cabin (if roomy by chopper standards) - everyone was still on speaking terms. The Shannons included. This was even after a late night at Gertie's, a famed bar, casino, and Can-Can dance factory in Dawson City.
We met Peter Tallman, Ethos chief operating officer, at the Dawson airport. He joined us for the fly-in to Ethos' camp near the Betty gold project. Tallman has a knack for big picture and small details. He also has a dash of showman in him. Mid-flight he told a story, the quandary of Yukon gold.
The Yukon has produced millions of ounces gold over the past century through placer mining, the processing of sediment and gravel in river beds where gold can concentrate. Yukon still produces about 50,000 ounces gold a year this way, and used to produce much more.
But gold mines? The Yukon does not have a single operating pure gold mine. It has had a few smaller scale operations over the years. But not big ones. And in comparison to nearby Alaska, or BC for that matter, there's a dearth of mega-gold deposits. Yet the Yukon shares much of the same geology and gold potential as Alaska, which has huge gold deposits such as Donlin and mega gold mines such as Pogo or Fort Knox.
Sure, there's some decent sized ones in the Yukon - Western Copper's Casino copper-gold deposit (8 million or so ounces gold and lots of copper) and Victoria Gold's Eagle gold project (6 million or so ounces). But by all rights there should be some even bigger ones given how much gold the rivers bear and how alike the prospective geological terranes are in both the Yukon and Alaska.
It's as good a sales pitch on Yukon gold exploration I've ever heard. Tallman punctuated his tale with a demonstration. He pushed his hand into his jean pockets and pulled out a small bag. From it he revealed a small gold nugget, or more accurately, a piece of highly altered wallrock to which a thumb-sized glob of gold is stuck. He bought it from a shop in Dawson. He bought it because it came from a creek right near Kinross Gold's White Gold project.
Tallman pointed out, however, that when he asked Kinross' geos if they ever find visible gold, they said barely any. About a dozen flakes, according to Tallman. Yet here was proof that there should be more of it. "Here's the rock that proves there's high grade gold in your deposit," Tallman said, speaking as if the Kinross geos were in the chopper with us. Explorers, Tallman's point was, aren't doing a good job at finding what obviously must be there. Lots of gold and high grade stuff.
And if this was a little showmanship, no matter. It's always nice to look at a gold nugget, especially when you're flying more or less right over the hills from whence it came.
Of the areas we visit, Ethos is in one of the more crowded by juniors. Kaminak Gold is its western neighbor; Western Copper is same to the south. To the northwest is Kinross and its White Gold project and again to the northwest of that is Comstock Metals and its QV project. This is prime gold hunting territory that ignited gold fever in the Yukon a few years back. The land is by and large former Shawn Ryan ground or, as in Ethos' case, on option from him still. The success of Underworld Resources, which drilled a million-plus ounce gold deposit at White Gold based on a Shawn Ryan soil-anomaly, ignited gold fever in the Yukon back in 2008. Kinross came in for the takeover thereafter.
Ethos is aiming to repeat Underworld or more particularly, Kaminak. It has so far had some RC drilling success with grades as high as 7.1 g/t Au and 209 g/t Ag over 14 meters at its Mascot Creek anomaly. It doesn't appear to have hit the smoking gun yet, or at least the one that Tallman truly desires.
Tallman is frank about what his threshold for success is: he said he wants to find a three million ounce gold deposit that grades around 3 g/t gold. That might be a worthy figure for anyone to keep in mind when judging remote gold projects. He isn't interested in anything a half-million ounce in size. And he won't plug away for years drilling for one. It's the Pogo's in Alaska Tallman wants to find, deposits that he and other explorers believe the Yukon has yet to reveal.
So far Ethos has drilled south of the Coffee fault, which plays an important roll in Kaminak's gold project. But Tallman now has his eyes trained on sizeable targets, soil anomalies, to north of the fault. Could they hold the next big one?
Next we look at developing and operating mines in the Yukon in part II of this article.