Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Kintla Explorations

A number of years ago I was employed for the summer by a small mineral exploration company to prospect the south-western most region of British Columbia. While growing up I had head of a short lived gold rush which had taken place in the 1930’s and felt that the Kintla water shed would be a good area to check out.

While scrambling around some of the peaks in the area, my father and I spotted an interesting formation across the valley, high up on the north side of Starvation Peak. Bushwhacking down an up the Starvation valley, I eventually reached an open talus slope about a thousand feet above the valley floow. As I followed some malachite staining on the rocks, I was led higher and higher up the cliff side. After several hundred feet of scrambling I saw a beautiful sample across a large gully, out on an exposed face. I carefully edged my way toward the sample, crossing a small, loose scree slope perched above a thousand foot high cliff.

I could see some nice staining and other mineralogical signs in one of the cliff beds. Unfortunately, getting out onto this face required some serious climbing. Luckily, I found a small ledge that went near my desired sample, before it petering out. After all the hard work I had done getting up the mountain, and with my father watching with binoculars from across the valley, I decided a little bit of exposure wasn’t going to stop me from getting my sample. I moved out onto the face along a series of small, loose footholds. I kicked the moss and loose rock off a couple of indentations to make a stable, albeit, exposed stance. I removed my rock hammer and attempted to pry loose a few pieces of rock to get a clean sample. Unfortunately the location of the sample was the one spot on the cliff where the rock wouldn’t just come apart in your hands. I began to lightly tap on a protuberance to try and fracture it. It broke off rather nicely, but fell before I could catch it. I watched it bounce a few thousand feet down the cliff to the meadow far below. I tried again.

This time I removed my left hand from its hold and placed it under the section I was going to sample. With my left hand ready to catch the rock, and my right hand holding the hammer, I began to very gently tap the rock. However, I’d already knocked off the more friable rock, and quickly realized that I would need to put more force into the blows. I grasped the nubbin I was planning on breaking off, raised my rock hammer over my head and swung. The next things I knew, my feet had lost contact with the rock and I was dropping down a short, steep talus slope. As I hit I started skidding down a steep gully, coming to rest some ten or fifteen feet above one of the main vertical sections of the thousand foot face. Most of the loose shale that had slowed me down continued to bound down to the valley floor below, taking several minutes to come to rest.

Collecting myself, I scrambled back up the scree to the face from which I had just fallen. After traversing across the face again, I spent a few minutes brushing away loose rock to improve my footing. Once again I tried a few rather tentative swings to no avail. I very carefully repositioned myself and prepared for a harder strike. Still being on a bit of an adrenaline rush, I was surprised when I realized I was again sliding down the same gully to the large drop off below. This time I had somehow twisted in the air, and was sliding down the slope face first. I desperately dug my hands and heels into the scree, but the slope had been swept clean by my first fall. Luckily the stays on my old wooden framed Trapper Nelson must have dug into the dirt because I stopped about five feet before the cliff face. By now adrenaline was really rushing though my system. I had to sit on the edge of the cliff for a few minutes before my legs would stop quivering.

With an ominous glance back down the cliff below, I slowly, and carefully worked my way back up the gully. At the cliff face, I stopped, and looked over at my reticent sample. Again I took a few minutes to collect myself. This time I very, very carefully worked my way across the cliff into the same position I had previously been in. I positioned myself as solidly as I could and raised my rock hammer. With the hammer in the air, ready for another blow, a semblance of wisdom finally glimmered within. I thought “three strikes and you’re out.” I lowered my hammer, looked down at the exposure below, and worked my way back onto more stable ground. From there I carefully descended down the mountain into alpine fields of glacier lilies and burrowing grizzilies.

David Goble


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