Following a full 3 seasons of prospecting with not enough gold to gild an eyelid, I enroll in the "Introduction to Prospecting" course held at the chamber of mines in Nelson, BC.

I'm pretty stoked, undoubtedly they'll be passing around easy-to-read maps with "X" marks the spot clearly marked and lots of pirate skulls and temporary tattoos, this, this will be the cure for my inability to pan an ounce a day.

It's Monday to Friday, 7:00-10:00 PM at the Chamber of Mines, if you've never been I'd suggest a trip, full of rocks, not the finished rocks you see in the Banff shops, but the original minerals, rocks, ores, crystals, fossils, much of which was gathered in the Nelson area, dusty shelves filled with old government reports on prospecting activities, books, maps, geological and geographical surveys, it's a treasure in itself. I'd been there a few times before, to look at the rocks and try and ready myself for my big strike. Saturday is for review, Sunday is the field trip, and I'm excited and curious to apply the buckets of knowledge I'll doubtless have gained....

Day 1 - Monday, April 20 - Minerals.

Meet the Class, 29 students, 4 of whom are women, the youngest is perhaps 35, the rest are in their fifties. The other 25 students, men, ranging in age from 16 to early 70's, average age perhaps 50, a mixed bag of outliers, misfits, rock-hounds every one. I've finally found my peers. The first day of class everyone introduces themselves, only one of the entire class - the 16 year old - is from Nelson, the rest, from the Slocan Valley, Castlegar, Trail, Slocan, Kaslo, Balfour, Salmo, Ymir, from as far away as Quebec, and by far the most interesting members of the class, 3 prospectors up from Nevada, Washington and Idaho. And I thought I was travelling, coming all the way from Calgary...

I find the presence of the Americans strangely reassuring, they've not had the luck they were hoping for either, their ages, perhaps late 50's, early 60's, they've the hard weathered faces of people who've lived rough and outdoors. If you were to make a show about gold prospectors (and I know they have, I've seen a couple, made me wonder why they bothered...), these would be the three men you'd choose, you couldn't do better. Idaho, with his thinning blonde hair, mutton chops, unshaven, worn and skeptical creased face, a checked plaid shirt and brown coveralls; Nevada, walrus mustache, shaven head, gold rimmed glasses, smiling eyes in a kindly face, and Washington, checked shirt and blue jeans, a 2 inch growth of beard that comes to within an inch of his eyes, characters every one, I've never seen a western or an old photo that did a better job of conveying the old-time lust for gold like these three men...

Monday is Minerals, we're given a few sample kits of various minerals, as part of our course we received a textbook, streak plate, magnifying loupe, some hydrosulphuric acid to test the carbonate minerals, a needle to check hardness (we're advised to use a quality penknife), as well there's a few other treats, a "I support AJAX" bumper sticker, a field notebook, an AMEbc calendar, a KGHM tote bag, keychain, water bottle and breath mint, a magnet-pen to test for magnetic minerals. It's a bit like a loot bag at a birthday party.

This is an evening, reviewing & learning to identify the minerals, lecture from a geologist. I know much of this, but it's practical, hands on, and there's a value in this that my pure research online has not given me, I'm impatient for more, but it's only the first day...

Day 2 - Tuesday, April 21 - Rocks

In which we cover the various types of rocks, identification, sedimentary, metamorphic, igneous, pyroclastic, as well as things like skarns, hornfels, plutons, ore deposits, and places of geological interest.

Day 3 - Wednesday, April 22 -  Industrial Minerals & Mineral Economics, Gemstones

3 speakers this evening, the first on Industrial Minerals & Mineral Economics, he's passionate, countless slides on Gravel and Cement Quarries, the importance of proximity and transportation to major urban centers, he can talk and it's clear this is a topic that's dear to him, and after 2 and a half hours he's pressed to stop by the other speakers, impatient to finish up. This is the dry, pragmatic side of prospecting, not why I'm here, and while I appreciate the importance of being open to whatever you might find I have a surreal mental image of me walking into the Nelson Whorehouse and throwing down my little poke filled with gravel or cement dust, this fantasy doesn't carry too far, I know how it ends up...

Next is a geologist on the importance of coal, coke and graphite. And he does well too, explaining how coke is used to forge steel, and there's at best a 40 year supply left, and how it's value fluctuates with the price of steel, the economy, and then graphite, higher qualities of which reach up to $12,000 per tonne, graphite being used in the hydro-electric fuel cells suddenly fashionable, and it takes only a little math to realize that at $12K per tonne it's more precious than gold, why, gold is considered a "bonanza" if it reaches grades of 1 oz per tonne of ore, that's only $1300, give or take, whereas graphite, well, it's relatively "pure" right out of the mine...

Thinking...thinking. And that's good, because now I'm entertaining possibilities I'd never even considered...

Finally, the speaker I'd been waiting for all night, Gemstones, pretty pictures and a discussion on the potential for gems in the Omenica belt, the Slocan Valley, local emeralds, sapphires, garnets, and this runs late but still has to be cut short, too short for my liking, I have questions and I'm looking to place a few "X"'s on my map...

Day 4 - Thursday, April 23 - Geochemical & Geophysical Surveys, Placer Mining

The first part of class devoted to the countless ways we can prospect, not just with a pan, but with soil and vegitation samples to detect hardrock deposits buried beneath overburden, various techniques, the instructor calls it when he tells us he's trying to condense 2 semesters of geology into under 2 hours of lecture. But interesting information, undoubtably useful, assays and smelters, costs, practical prospecting, the values and penalties of different ores, for example you'll need higher quantities of gold in arseneo-pyrite as the smelter will penalize you to remove the arsenic, we're all adults here, take the information provided and use that as your springboard to find the information you need....

And then there's placer mining...

Another outlier, not your standard geologist lecturer but a proper prospector, local eccentric, with his many pans and techniques, he's a successful placer miner with claims on the Salmo and the Pend D'Oreille, managing with only a pan to get out upwards of an ounce a day...

And again, his time is cut short, passing around nuggets (really, visible pieces of gold) in glass vials, a 4 oz pill bottle filled with ultrafine platinum dust, for people who've taken this course he's got a 1 day field trip to his placer claim, May 3, longer than I can stay, I didn't plan for this, it's not on the course syllabus, cursing my finances and deadlines....

But there's a save, if interest is apparent he'll offer a 4 day placer course end of May, 2 days classroom, 2 days field trip, and my head is spinning as I puzzle out how I can make this happen...

Time & Money, it's always one or the other, at the moment it's both...

Day 5 - Friday - April 24 - Prospecting Procedures, Mineral Titles, Structural Geology

In which we're taught how to use the MTO website, stake claims, etc, a father and son prospecting duo who have made their living doing this, and I think of my son, good luck, he want's a little more proof of it's feasibility before he commits...

It's the last "official" day of classes, Saturday is review, we all get "diplomas", or certificates of sorts, and there's a raffle held, the winner, a woman, receives a $100.00 assay gift certificate.

Day 7 - The Field Trip

Roadside geology, proof of knowledge squired, an examination of various rocks, the junction of continental plates, visit to an old copper mine...

And for the next couple of days I prospect the neighborhood, collect garnets in schist in the Slocan Valley, go North to Poplar creek where I pan a few flakes of gold, and then, the course done and my money and time both well and entirely spent, return to Calgary...

Overall, the course was a 5 star affair, well put together with a view to give the aspiring prospector an understanding of what he/she should be looking for, how to go about it, and direct them to the appropriate useful resources. Excellent. Now to find a way to apply that from here... 

For those interested, the course is offered each year at the Chamber of Mines in Nelson, BC, dates will vary. Find information here: http://www.ekcm.org/chamber/, here: https://www.facebook.com/ChamberOfMinesNelsonBc or here: http://cmebc.com/.