Back To The East Branch

Posted: December 26, 2012 in Gold Prospecting, Uncategorized

It had been a year since Hillbillyjohn and I had been up on the East Branch of the Swift River in Maine. The last time we had been there together was right after hurricane Irene and we had located a nice spot with some good gold, but we were just getting on the good gold when tropical storm Lee had hit. We watched the river rise drastically right before our eyes. We were flooded out of that spot so we had to move up river about 40 yards to a calmer location. So we had a year to think about the location where we had the best luck. We had tried on a couple of other occasions during the year to make it back to the East Branch but with work, and the weather, things just didn’t pan out for us to get together. We had been anxiously anticipating this trip. It had still been kind of up in the air up until a week before our departure. We still made our preparations just like previous times in the season. I made reservations at Coos Canyon Campground wich we would arrive Saturday during the labor day week-end, the camp ground was booked and we really couldn’t get a site until Sunday. The campground was going to accommodate us by giving us a grassy spot next to the office. Durring the week prior we got all our equipment that we needed together. Hillbilly got the quads tuned up and made sure the 4″ dredge was in tip-top shape. he loaded up the truck literally with everything but the kitchen sink. We had lights, a generator, beds and even a toilet and of course all we needed to find gold. I had gotten all my gear together in one area so that I could throw it on the truck when Hillbilly came by to pick me up on saturday morning. Friday night I got home from work at 7pm and I had to go shopping for food and pack my cloths yet, by the time I got done with that it was 10 pm, our plan was to leave by 6 am. I awoke at 4:30 am got up took a shower and had breakfast and coffee then I put all the food in the cooler and Hillbilly was here before 6 and ready to hit the road. He had saved a spot for me on the truck for all of my gear, the tent, the food , the field kitchen, suitcase and so on. I kissed my wife good-bye and told her I love her and that I will see her in a week. It was almost 6:30 before we had gotten on the road. So the adventure begins. We had decided to take a different route this time to avoid the traffic we normally hit especially on this holiday week-end. This time we took the NY state thruway up to Albany and then cut over to Vermont route 91. It was a nice and scenic route through the green mountain state and there was hardly any traffic, and this was a good thing. We followed 91 up to route 2 and we cut across New Hampshire with some breathtaking views of the pristine White Mountains. Wich by the way we crossed over and traveled along rivers and stream that will be some great future gold prospects. Hurricane Irene really did a number on those water ways in Vermont, turned those river beds right over, redepositing the gold. We followed route 2 right into Mexico Maine where we picked up 17 which takes us right into Byron. We arrived at the campground around 2:30 to discover the campground was packed. Our grassy spot by the office was taken, we checked in, we ended up across the road over by wilderness the remote campsites. It was a good accommodation, we got our tent site we had reserved the following day. It was a very warm September 1st, we broke camp and set up the tent, unloaded the quads and took a ride. We decided that we wanted to explore a location that we had been desiring to check out for a while. We rode down the old rail road bed to the East Branch, we crossed the river and took the next trail to the right and followed that along the river. The trail was high above the river but we found a couple of locations that we could get down to the river. We went to investigate and upon seeing the river we had decided that this is where we want to dredge. Lots of ledge rock that the river flowed over and there was a nice vertical drop, this looked like the perfect natural gold trap. We continued to ride farther up river even though we thought we had found the spot we wanted to set up in to see if there was a reasonably easier location to get to. To my surprise we had located Carl Shillings old camp, his cabin long gone, but I recognized the terrain. We had done a few test pans just a little farther up river from Carl’s camp. Lots of overburden and not much gold, it was a spot that someone else had already dredged in. We decided to set up in the hard to get to location, the next thing was to figure out how we are going to get all of our equipment in. We could drive the quads down to the river, but we could not get the trailer down there. Once we got to the river we had to get every thing down river about 1/10 of a mile over hard terrain, boulders that were 5 feet tall. steep banks and so on. We had the night to think about it. On the way back I had noticed a trail that led up the other side of the river so of course we had to find out where it led to. We followed it to the end and we found that some one was there dredging. I had to go talk to them as I usually have to talk to everybody that is prospecting to see how they are doing. It was a couple of guys and their wives, a couple of kids and a couple of dogs out enjoying a day on the river. I went over to one of the fellas and introduced myself and he the same, his name was Nathan. He was finding gold, a lot of it covered with mercury. We spoke for a time and we departed, we had preparations to make before night fall. We stopped at Coos Canyon Rock and Gift to say hello to our friend Rosey and we each got a pizza for dinner. It hit the spot as it usually does, prospecting makes me hungry. When I am out there I eat like a horse and I still lose weight. We got back to camp, set up the lights, got the generator out and started it and made a campfire. We figured we could trailer everything up to the river, leave the trailer there on the rail road bed then from there we could pack everything on the quads and we would probably have to make several trips. We called it a night. The next morning we got up, as far as I could tell it was early, we didn’t have a clock. I made breakfast, bacon and eggs, I packed a lunch and we finished loading up all of our gear. We trailered everything down the old rail trail to the East Branch and that is where we dropped the trailer then we loaded as much as we could onto each quad. Hillbillyjohn had put the dredge frame with pontoons attached on his quad, he had strapped the motor on the front of the quad then piled what ever else would fit. I had the sluicebox for the dredge on my quad along with hoses and what ever else I could bungy or strap on there. We were packed to the hilt, we crossed the river and we rode a trail that runs up the mountain along side of the river. It was a treacherous trip. Hillbillyjohn almost rolled his quad making the decent down to the river but we made it in one piece. We unloaded the equipment and I had to make one more trip back to the trailer to get just one more load. I returned with it and then is was time to move it all down river to our site. It was no easy task getting everything down there over the boulders and all but by the afternoon we were dredging. We knocked off around 5 because we still had to move our camp site.  We got back and broke the tent down gathered all of our gear and we moved our site. We had found that right next to us was another prospector, Keith, that we had met several years earlier down on the Swift River. We got our camp set up, I made dinner while Hillbillyjohn got the desert fox set up so that we could clean our concentrates. We ate dinner, we then ran our concentrates through the desert fox while Keith eagerly watched on. We got gold, not much, we had several small specks, but we got gold. We had dredged overburden so we didn’t expect very much but it was a good sign. The next day we got back to work moving more material, cobbles and boulders. that evening we got back to camp classified our material down to 1/8th inch mesh and ran it through the desert fox. We had a little more gold than the previous day and it was getting bigger. We continued to work our hole down the following day, we finally reached bedrock, as I opened the hole up I noticed a crack, I got the blaster nozzle out and hosed the crack out good right into the suction nozzle. The bed rock dropped down deeper so I will have to open the hole up even more to proceed downward. We knocked off did our clean out and back to camp we went to see what we got. Hillbillyjohn was classifying the material when I heard him let out a holar, we got gold. What??? I exclaimed. He said ” it’s to big to fit through the screen. He told me to grab my tweezers and pick it out of there so I did. We finished our clean out and we had more small stuff. We were just getting on the good gold now. We turned in for the night, later that night I awoke to the sound of pouring rain, I went back to sleep hoping that it was just a passing storm. No such luck  I was later awoken to water dripping on my forehead and still pouring rain, my sleeping bag was getting wet and I was laying in a puddle. Still dark I tried to move to a spot that was a little more dry, now I just dozed, I was wet and uncomfortable. Day light finally broke and I went out side to try to divert some of the water away from the tent. The rain was slowing down to a drizzle, I was digging a trench around the tent when Hillbillyjohn had gotten up. We had a couple of gold pans on the picnic table and they were filled right to the brim with water, we must have gotten three inches of rain in the night, we could hear the river down below us raging. I took a walk to go and investigate, sure enough the river had risen a couple of feet. We were a little worried about the dredge and equipment, we were even more worried about could we cross the river or not. we ate breakfast and then we got on the quads and we rode out to the river where we cross over. It was ragging and to deep to take the machines through. Now what we asked each other. Hillbillyjohn mentioned the trail that we took the first day we got there, but I told him that it ends not to far from where we had parked. Well he said lets see how far it will take us;I agreed. We followed the trail to its end and we hiked from there. It was no easy hike the terrain was steep and thick with brush besides being wet. Each bend we came to we wondered if this was it, no, so we pressed on. One good thing I thought was that we didn’t see any of our gear along the way. We finally reached our site and the dredge was still there. Our gas can had floated down stream just a little way and it got hung up on a log, I retrieved it and it was fine, no water got in and more importantly no gas had gotten out. mostly everything was there. We didn’t see our suction hose, we had left that in the river the previous day. The water was so muddy we couldn’t see it. With out that we weren’t dredging so I donned my wet suit and I went in after it. The river was raging, muddy and there was only so far I could go safely. I had HillbillyJohn throw me a rope in case I lost my footing, That is why it is important to have a prospecting partner that you can trust, I trust him with my life he always has my back and I have his. In time of trouble I know I can count on him. I put on my mask and took a look under water, I could only see at the most 6 inches from my mask. Needless to say I couldn’t see the hose. I told Hillbillyjohn to throw me the rake so I could see if I could at least feel around for the hose. I tried and no luck. I thought I would try another approach. I decided to go around this large boulder that was farther out in the river and I probed on the other side of that and lo and behold the hose was there. I managed to get a hold of it and we were able to pull it in. Later we found that all we had lost was a pair of elbow pads. We decided that conditions were not good for dredging that day so we went back to the camp. We made use of this time by panning the concentrates that we had already ran through the dessert fox to make sure we were getting all the gold, we did about 10 to 15 pans and no gold, so we figured that the desert fox was doing its job properly. We later took a ride to explore more of the area for future prospects, we checked out some of the feeder streams and found some good possibilities. We returned to camp had dinner and rested by the fire and then called it a night. The next day we got back into our hole, some of it had caved in from the storm so we had to clean it out and I started working towards the bedrock and found that it dips down under the gravel even deeper so I had to open the hole even more. As it turns out we ran out of time, this adventure drew to a close. We had to get all of our gear back to camp and that took about 5 hours. The last morning we had gotten everything packed up and loaded and we checked out of the campground before 11 am and we were on the road back home. We did find the biggest and best gold on the bedrock, it was a lot of work moving all that overburden but it sure was a great time and a most excellent adventure.


Our work site

Our work site

Hillbillyjohn tends the dredge.

Hillbillyjohn tends the dredge.

Our hole gets deeper.

Our hole gets deeper.

Hillbillyjohn takes a breather.

Hillbillyjohn gets into his suit.

The biggest piece we found.

The biggest piece we found.

  1. sandsifter says:

    Nice write up. Even though the weather is a bit unpredictable, seems like you guys have a good trip. It sounds like you were close to a spot I’m looking to dig this summer. Have you ever parked at the bridge on Buckfield Hill Rd and gone downstream? I ask because where I want to go is pretty much half way between the old RR bed and Buckfield Hill Rd. Wondering which way is easier.

    • Well if you are walking then the bridge on Buckfield Hill rd would probably be the shortest and easiest way. The other way has got to be over a mile may be closer to 2 miles, but with a quad its no problem.

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