By Jack Caldwell - Mining Engineer - Robertson GeoConsultants
Two lonely docks along the infinite coast of Alaska; two points of departure & arrival on the still sea; one a beach of black stone, the other a lattice work of metal atop piles driven into the soft muds; these are the links in a long route to the mine. The journey starts in a friendly bus rattling along a thin highway between the ocean and the mountains. The journey continues on the boat between the two lonely docks. Then into another bus and a precarious ride up into the snow-covered landscape, the hills towering in pristine white and ready at any moment to disgorge snow in killing avalanche.
Thus we travelled from Juneau to the Kensington Mine in Southeast Alaska. Here is a pictorial record of that journey. Here are pictures of the docks, of the boat, of the snow above the mine, and of the mine itself.
I thank Coeur Alaska for taking us to the mine, for letting us see all their operations, and for taking these pictures.Their staff were courteous, attentive, and open.
We asked and got answers to questions about the details. For miners cannot tell tales; miners perforce tell the facts and face reality everyday. You cannot survive deep in a mine if you limit your mind to fantasy, fiction, and fabrication. Only a hard look at the rocks, a sturdy bolt, shotcrete, and constant vigilance protect you.
You cannot survive on the surface in this snow-covered landscape if you are not vigilant, active, and protective of each other. I stepped out from below a roof and was quickly pulled back lest the snow falls from the roof and covers me. In winter, teams are constantly at work controlling snow build-up and constantly working to mitigate potential avalanche conditions.
The lab folk sample and test through the day and night; they generate the numbers by which the mine must live; grade control is paramount. Are the geologists pointing drilling in the right direction? Are the miners bringing out gold-rich ore? Is the plant crushing and grinding fine enough? Are the flotation cells and the thickeners separating waste from gold? Numbers are the only truth. Facts are paramount. This focus of what is, rather than what could or should be, permeates the miners.
There is no sentiment here for wild lands, wilderness, and untouched nature. These are people, as many men as women, who are focused on the lure of gold. They know and respect nature, for they go deep into nature to wrest the gold from the hard rock. They are people who have chosen a lonely life on a lonely slope covered by deep snow ready to wipe them out if their attention wonders. And they recognize the transience of their existence; the mine will be gone in a short number of years; thus the footprint of their activities must be small; the area ready to be returned to the ocean, mountains, and avalanches.
On the deck of the boat between harbours, we joked that probably the mine site when closed will become a hunting lodge, a fishing cabin, a place for the rich to spend time in nature.
For people will always want to go into nature and come to and enjoy the beauty that is Southeast Alaska. May we thus see more mines, attentive to the environment, and the creation of a lifestyle that make protection of the environment possible.