While discoveries in the White Gold District outside of Dawson City have garnered the most attention in the last few years, ATAC Resources was quietly working away to the east, staking up an area outside of Keno City.
Now the exploration company is finally getting some well-deserved attention.
Three of its geologists – Rob Carne, Bill Wengzynowski and Doug Eaton – won the H.H. “Spud” Huestis Award for excellence in prospecting and mineral exploration at the B.C. Mineral Exploration Roundup this week.
“It’s good luck and a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people,” said Eaton from his office in Vancouver. “It’s a wonderful thing to have happen to you, but there’s a lot of supporting people whose names aren’t on the award.”
It was Eaton who in 2007 made the initial gold discoveries in the Rau trend northeast of Keno City, but it was Carne and Wengzynowski who really hit pay dirt.
In 2010 the pair discovered a Carlin gold deposit in the Nadaleen Mountains, 100 kilometres to the east of Eaton’s initial find. It was an astounding discovery.
Carlin deposits are extremely rare. In fact none – at least none of any significance – had ever been found outside of Nevada before.
They are also extremely rich deposits. The Carlin deposits in northeastern Nevada account for 10 per cent of the world’s total gold production.
“It’s the holy grail of this type of gold deposit,” said Carne.
They didn’t exactly stumble upon it by accident.
Stu Blusson, before he became rich and famous for the discovering diamonds in the Northwest Territories, was a lowly scientist working for the Geological Survey of Canada.
In the 1980s he was the first one to notice the similarities between that part of the central Yukon and northeastern Nevada.
Between 700 million and 300 million years ago, the area around Keno City was actually the shoreline of North America. Over the eons, the coral reefs turned to limestone, and along the edge of the continental margin ran a series of very long-lived, deep-seamed fault zones, which provide the pathways for the fluids that carry the gold.
“The combination of those two things is what forms this unique type of gold deposit,” said Carne.
The gold itself isn’t easy to find. In a Carlin deposit, it’s microscopic.
“You can’t prospect in it the same way that you normally do,” said Carne. “The standard sort of soil sampling and silt sampling that you do for other types of gold deposits in the Yukon don’t apply to this.
“We had to learn special techniques that we learned by attending conferences in Nevada, by going on mine tours in Nevada and learning from geologists there.”
When they discovered the deposit, it wasn’t gold that tipped them off, but realgar, a bright orange form of arsenic sulphide.
“It pretty much only occurs in Carlin type gold deposits,” said Carne.
It had been found in the area in the 1970s by prospectors searching for lead and zinc deposits, but at the time no one knew its significance.
Although the Carlin Mine in Nevada had been in production since the 1960s, the association with realgar wasn’t discovered until mining operations got deep underground in the 1980s.
The harsh Nevada climate has weathered away the mineralization on the surface.
Because no one knew what they had found, the information was lost in the annals of the mining recorder.
“We weren’t even aware that these minerals were there until we actually found them ourselves,” said Carne.
It was only after they had already made their discovery that they found the old reports at the mining recorder’s office.
They rediscovered it the hard way, by following a string of stream sediment up to the top of a creek in the Nadaleen Mountains.
“There’s a wonderful story with the discovery,” said Eaton. “Bill broke the rock open, but Rob swears that he stood on the rock when he took the silt sample right beside it, which was the reason that Bill went back to follow it up. He broke the rock that Rob didn’t.”
They’re a great team, said Eaton.
“Bill’s an exceptional prospector and Rob’s one of the best geologists I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “It’s the best of both worlds: there’s somebody who really understands what the rocks are doing and someone that can go out and find the mineralization.”
Prospecting is as much an art as a science, said Eaton.
“There are very few geologists who are good prospectors and vice versa,” he said. “The art of a geologist is you look at an area of rock and you try to find similarities so you can group them into what are called units.
“You’re trying to make some sense out of chaos. Whereas a prospector on the same hillside will look for the rocks that are different than everything else, because most mineral deposits tend to be much smaller than the formations or units that host them.”
So it’s important to have both mindsets.
“You can have all the scientific background you want, but if you don’t have a lot of energy and aren’t curious you’ll never find the showings,” said Eaton. “Similarly, a prospector can look at the rocks all day long and if you don’t have the training to recognize what you’re seeing, you can be looking right at it and not realize it’s important.”
To be a good prospector you also have to be an “incurable optimist,” said Carne.
“You’re always going over the next hill and trying again,” he said.
Both men have been working in the Yukon since the 1970s, but neither one of them has any plans to retire any time soon.
“It’s a lifestyle that gets in your blood,” said Eaton. “It’s sort of like the old Robert Service poems. It’s something that haunts you, you can’t get away from it.
“I’ve been asked by a lot of people over the years why I keep going up there when I don’t financially need to be doing what I’m doing. My line is, I still love what I do, I get to go out into some wonderful areas, and 99 days out of 100 you’re just hiking out in the hills, it doesn’t hardly seem like work.”
That’s good, because both men said it’s going to take a lot of work yet to turn their 1,600-square-kilometre Rackla Gold Project into a viable mine.
“I hope to live long enough to see it,” said Carne.
Contact Josh Kerr at