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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Panning for Gold in Alaska - by Judy Ann Davis


On one of our many trips to Alaska to visit family, my husband and I had the opportunity to take the train to Fairbanks, learn about the Klondike Gold Rush, and try our hand at panning for gold.

Gold flakes left from panning
The Klondike Gold Rush was a migration of an estimated 100,000 prospectors to the Klondike region of the Yukon in northwestern Canada between 1896 and 1899. Gold was discovered on August 16, 1896. When the news reached Seattle and San Francisco the following year, it triggered a stampede of prospectors.

In order to prevent starvation, Canadian authorities required each prospector to have a year’s supply of food along with their panning equipment before they started through the ports of Dyea and Skagway in Southeast Alaska. They could then follow either the Chilkoot or White Pass Trails to the Yukon River and sail down to the Klondike. Since all their equipment weighted close to a ton, it had to be carried in stages. Often, because of the mountainous terrain and cold climate, those who persisted didn’t arrive until summer 1898.

Gold panning is supposedly a simple process. Once a suitable placer deposit is located, alluvial deposits are scooped into a flat pan, where they are then gently agitated forcing the gold flakes to sink to the bottom of the pan. The gold pan is now most commonly used to locate a richer paying area by sampling, so that larger production equipment can be brought into the locations to work the ground to recover the gold. Almost all gold mining today is performed with modern heavy equipment.

However, panning is not as simple as you might think. Once you have the silty material in your pan with the water included, you must get the heavy gold particles to settle to the bottom of the pan by vigorously shaking the sediment-water mixture, then reducing the residue in the pan by gently washing off the top layers of material.

Heading up the Chilkoot Pass
Paige, my daughter-in-law, and I found that there is much more to this process than meets the eye. The process of settling the gold to the bottom, holding the pan at the correct angle, and washing away the sedimentary top materials is not as easy as it looks. Luckily for me, a young man who was a tour guide at the dig, showed us how to do it. Actually, he took the pan from my inept hands and helped me get to the gold.

Collectively, my husband, my son, Paige and I panned about $35.00, but decided to put all the flakes into a pendant which we gave to Paige. Yes, we had to buy the pendant. See how easily tourists are easily hoodwinked into parting with their hard-earned cash?

Now, every time I read a novel about early settlers panning for gold, I think to myself—good luck with that!
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1 comment:

  1. Judy, sorry to be late commenting. Your post reminded me of Maggie Osbourne's book, I DO, I DO, I DO. I'm envious that you were able to go to Alaska. For years, my husband and I have wanted to go.

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