Ganes Creek Nugget Adventure
Copyright © 2002 by
Used by permission;
no use of photos or text without written permission
There is a prelude to this story. In mid-May my wife and I
flew down to Reno for our youngest daughter's college graduation. Her
older sister was also there, and the last night of our visit we went out
for dinner. The place had Asian food, and we all got fortune cookies. My
''You will have gold pieces by the bushel.''
I put it in my wallet.
Jeff Reed, Brian Berkhahn and I made a spur of the moment trip to Ganes
Creek near McGrath, Alaska to metal detect for gold over the three day
Memorial Day weekend. We made a similar trip last year in July, and had
good luck finding gold nuggets, including the largest I've ever found, a
4.95 ounce nugget. As you may imagine, we have been anxious to make a
It was spring at Ganes Creek, but the weather had been hot in Alaska, and
so the only ice was left on some ponds and along the creek. Daytime temps
were hitting the 70's and 80's, but it was into the 40's at night. There
were many fires in Alaska due to our abnormally hot, dry spring making for
hazy air, and at times you could smell the smoke. The mosquitoes were not
yet out in force, and headnets were not needed. Unfortunately, this is not
normally the case later in the summer.
Jeff went up Friday morning, and Brian and I met him Saturday morning.
Brian was feeling a bit competitive and worried Jeff would get a big jump
on him, but my hopes were to see a lot of gold on our arrival.
I was a bit worried that perhaps our visit last year was a fluke, and that
gold might be harder to find than we thought. So I was not happy when Jeff
reported only one nugget for a long days hunt just upstream from where I
had found the 4.95 ounce nugget last year. And only a pennyweight nugget
at that. Not very promising!
I had my heart set on hunting some old dragline piles next
to the airstrip. We had hit them a bit last year, with no results but some
trash. But I felt there had to be gold there. We had found several nuggets
in the airstrip itself, including a 3.5 ounce nugget my father found. The
airstrip was topped with material from this tailing pile, and so we
figured the gold had come from there. So we loaded up our detectors and
headed off to give it a try.
I walked up onto the pile and in ten minutes had a 1.11 ounce nugget! Jeff
was amazed. He had spent a long day before looking for gold, and I score a
big nugget right off the bat.
That set the tone for the last three days. I had numerous areas I wanted
to try, pinpointed from my aerial photos. At most we hit I had the first
nugget, in about ten minutes. Sometimes the other guys found gold,
sometimes not. But basically, I was unusually lucky this trip. I just kept
putting my coil over the gold.
Still, Jeff found his largest nugget ever this trip, a one ounce nugget
not 50 feet from my first in the ''Airstrip Pile''. Brian also found his
largest nugget ever, a 1.33 ounce nugget from a pile within a couple
hundred feet of the camp, christened the ''Cabins Pile''. I found a 1.89
ounce nugget in this same pile.
The third day I was off my game, but caught up at the very end of the day
with a 2.45 ounce nugget off the ''Airstrip Pile'' down in the brush. I
like hitting oddball spots, and my willingness to work in the brush paid
off big time.
The last day, Memorial Day, I went clear off the scales. We went over a
mile upstream above the camp, and I found a .97 ounce nugget. Another tall
tailing pile by the runway with the windsock stuck in it, the ''Windsock
Pile'', gave me 9 nuggets, 5 a 1/4 ounce or better. Everywhere we went I
I wanted to try the old bucketline tailings way downstream, and within ten
minutes found the largest nugget of the trip, a 3.22 ounce gold/quartz
cobble. Finally, trying above the cabins upstream on the tributary, Potosi
Creek, got three more nuggets; 4.2 dwt., 6.0 dwt, and 11.3 dwt.
The bottom line is I could do no wrong with a detector this on this trip.
Brian got 2.5 ounces, Jeff 2.8 ounces, and I ended up with an incredible
14.4 ounces! The last day alone I found 8.14 ounces of nuggets. Grand
total for three people in three LONG days - 19.72 ounces.
So is it all gone? Did we get it all? No way. We did not scratch the
surface. Ganes Creek is vastly larger in area than you can imagine. The
tailing runs for miles. There are a couple areas we have given pretty good
attention, but none I would not hunt again. All hunting was with Fisher
Gold Bug 2's or White's GMT's with 14'' coils, which full rejection of any
iron targets. Only solid good signals were dug, and all scanning was
''speed scanning''. All the areas that produced gold should produce more
with careful work. All I can say now is there is plenty of gold to be
found, and after everyone gets through hammering the creek this summer I
will go up again this fall, and find more gold to prove it.
But really, what do I think of the odds for finding gold at Ganes Creek
now? Brian is relatively inexperienced compared to Jeff and I, and was
learning a new detector. I'd say his finds were about on par with what I
expected of him. Jeff was way off... a real cold streak. He should have
found twice as much. And I was hot as could be. I found about twice what I
would expect. All this is based on bare gut feelings, but I'm thinking 1
ounce a day is a sort of average. But any number of nuggets will blow that
away... and bad luck could shoot anyone down.
The big thing here is the ''nugget factor''. You can find nothing all day,
then end up with a couple ounces in one nugget. I was just plain lucky in
that regard. I simply happened to place my coil over more large nuggets.
They add up fast, and so really get you ahead fast.
So the biggest advice I have is never quit, never give up, never slow
down. We put in about 15 hour days, and used them well. But if you are
easily discouraged, you'll have a tough time at Ganes Creek. Persistence
is the name of the game. And a good fortune cookie might help.
The newer dragline/bulldozer tailings are vast in extent, and seem to have
more nuggets, but more trash, than the old bucketline tailings. But I
can't help but feel that really big nugget is in the bucketline tailings.
They are relatively trash free, and so require real patience. You can hunt
for a couple hours with hardly a signal, and those are usually large
steel. It's easy to get the feeling there is not much gold in the cobble
piles. But in all those cobbles I just have to believe there is a
fist-sized cobble of gold/quartz lurking. Just like my 3.22 ounce piece...
But if you do not mind more trash targets, the dragline/bulldozer piles
seem to have more nuggets in general, and would be worth the most
attention for most people.
So about that $2500 a week fee to visit Ganes Creek? I've known Doug for
many years, and so we have an arrangement where I split the gold 50-50
with him. At a paltry $300 an ounce the over 7 ounce share I owe Doug is
worth about $2100 for three days. But we all know this kind of stuff is
worth more. At a more realistic $700 and ounce I'll be paying $4900 for my
three day visit! Jeff & Brian were at the other end of the scale, but
even at the rate they were going would finish out a week with about 6
ounces of gold each. So I think $2500 a week is a bargain. I'd rather have
paid that for my three day visit, and kept all the gold. I'd be money
So if you are balancing this all in terms of gold and money paid, you'll
have to use your own set of scales. There is no way to guarantee you'll
find enough gold to pay for the trip. People with little nugget hunting
experience will be doing good to just find gold. Experience does count! I
just hope everyone is going for the adventure and the CHANCE at a big one.
If so, there will be no losers at Ganes Creek.
Ganes Creek is being opened to the public for the first time this year,
with one week stays at the mine running $2500 per person, room and board
provided. You keep all the gold you find. The largest nugget found at
Ganes Creek weighed 122 ounces. For more information and photos see the
Ganes Creek website at http://www.akmining.com/ganes.htm
Steve Herschbach is co-owner of
Alaska Mining and Diving Supply, author,
gold dredger, and expert metal detectorist.