I went gold panning with T this past weekend. We went to a different claim than usual this time. It's still early in the year, and the water would've been too high at the other claim. The water was lower at this one, ranging from ankle to waist deep. This claim featured a mine, although I didn't go see it. It also allegedly featured a lot of gold.
It was a bit of a scramble down the hill to get to the creek. My knees did OK, but I couldn't have done it a few weeks ago. Once we got to the creek, we had to walk upstream about 40 yards. This was partly in and partly out of the water. Even though it was still early, the rocks were already slippery with algae. At the other claim, the water is a lot higher and moves faster, so it doesn't get slippery until midsummer. I did OK, but my balance isn't back to normal yet. My legs were shaky by the end of each day. Although I didn't injure myself or tweak anything, my knees were both sore or the first part of the week.
No skinny dipping for me this time. Due to the possibility of bears or of me getting injured, I stayed closer to where everyone else was working
Gold panning has a lot of amusing terms. I creviced, which means I scraped dirt/rocks/moss/etc out of likely looking crevices, put them in the pan, and then washed/sifted it to lose all the plant matter and lighter rocks. At the end, you're left with a mix of gold, black sand, and possibly a little orange sand, not necessarily in that order. The gold is then sucked up into a snuffer bottle, which looks like a between a hair dye bottle and a lab squirt bottle. It's all about density. The gold flakes sink because they're so much denser than everything else.
To get stuff out of the crevices, there are an assortment of crevice tools. heh heh. I've only been doing this for four years and i still snicker when i say crevice tool. They range from tweezers, a turkey baster, a brush, a little garden trowel, a crow bar, pick axe,and some scraping tools. The idea is to find crevices in the bedrock where (hopefully) gold has sunk into as the river washes over it. Tree roots by the rivers edge are also considered good, although I don't like to work the roots to much because of spiders and snakes. Some crevices are best left alone. I just got gold flakes this time.
T and his buddy Ray have a dredge, so they got in their wet suits, fired up the dredge and fed it rocks/sand from the areas that they thought looked promising. However, it took them most of a day to figure out what was wrong with the dredge. At the end they panned out what was left in the dredge. It wasn't much, this weekend. In terms of hobbies, it's not the most lucrative way to spend one's time.
When we got back to the campsite on Sunday afternoon, a bear had bitten a hole in a full 5 gallon gas can. It also chewed on the kerosene can but didn't manage to bite through. Meanwhile, a few feet away there was a grocery bag full of garbage that it totally ignored. Definitely not smarter than your average bear, but, as my friend Margarete put it, Yosemite is grad school for bears and this one obviously hadn't been there yet for advanced bear training. Nonetheless, I'm glad we didn't have an encounter with it.
I may go up to the main claim later in the summer. It's fun on an occasional basis, but I have yet to get gold fever and go crazy. It's mostly an excuse to go play in the water.