Adventures in Atlassing 2012 . . . Schaft Creek 1

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July 30, 2012 by Rokman61

(Initially presented as email on July 30, 2012, reposted here in Oct)
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This project is now in its fifth and final year of gathering data on bird species that nest within the Province.  This season there was a push to obtain information from the more remote areas, many of which are un-surveyed.  To this end, and through Bird Studies Canada, George was able to arrange access for us into two sites in northern BC.  SInce our hosts provided very expensive support to the project, our team was limited to just George Clulow and myself.
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The Google Map below shows where we went, and how we got there.  The drive from the Vancouver area to the Yukon border is about 2000 kms, and  took us more than two days each way.
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Our first session was a visit to the Schaft Creek Exploration Camp, which exists to explore one of the several very large but low-grade metal deposits known to occur in the region.  It was discovered in 1957, and has been intermittently examined, probed, and evaluated by a series of owners ever since.  Despite the seemingly low metal content (only about 1/3 of 1% metal content, mostly copper) it would be in production if it were located close to road access and electrical power.   At the time of our visit, there was considerable activity directed at proving up and extending the resource.
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Schaft Creek follows a deep glaciated valley, which flows north to join the Stikine River.  To the east lies terrain of the Intermontane Plateau of northern BC, covered here by Tertiary lava flows.  On the west side are the rugged peaks of the Cassiar Mountains, a major belt of ranges in northernmost BC, lying between the Coast Mountains and the Rockies .
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This first instalment of my journal is all about Schaft Creek Camp and getting there; it describes the setting and provides some insight into the nature of a modern mining exploration camp.  Later journals will be more about what we saw.
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The Schaft Creek property is owned by Copper Fox Minerals, who absorbed the full cost of our visit to the camp.  We could not have asked for better treatment, as we were given room and board, plus full access to vehicles – even rides in a helicopter!  All employees on site were on contract to Copper Fox, and all took care of us as though we were royal visitors.  Of course we did take a bit of good-natured ribbing about our birdy pursuits, but that just added more fun to the adventure.  I cannot say enough to adequately express our appreciation for the assistance of Copper Fox and all the on-site workers we interacted with.
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Access to Schaft Creek is solely by air – every kilogram of cargo and litre of fuel must be flown in – including us.  The aircraft below was our ride to and from Dease Lake.  This neat little 5-seater is a ‘BN-2 Islander’, built in the 1960’s by a British company on the Isle of Wight (hence the name).  This particular ‘bird’ was the only ‘Lifer’ for me on the whole trip.
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Our flight path out of Dease Lake took us west across relatively flat terrain, part of the Intermontane Plateau of central BC, then south along the valley of Schaft Creek to the camp.  Shortly after takeoff, we crossed over the famous Grand Canyon of the Stikine River – recognized as one of the world’s toughest and most spectacular kayak rides.
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Next we passed over some very young lava flows from the northern part of Mount Edziza, a large and very young volcano.  In the distance to the west are mountains of the Cassiar Ranges.
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This markedly symmetrical cinder cone named ‘Eve’, appears to be located right over the source of the lava flow.
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After passing over the Edziza Plateau, the aircraft turned south, following the valley of Schaft Creek.  This view is looking back along the valley in the opposite direction that we flew along it.  The high peaks comprise the eastern margin of the Cassiar Mountains.
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Here is a view looking south.  The location of the camp we are headed for is at the left edge of where the outwash plain narrows, and a tributary joins the valley from the left. 
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This Google Earth view shows the setting nicely.  The bare ridge in centre is Mount La Casse, with the mining camp at bottom, and the ore deposit is in the area above the camp, laced with exploration roads. 
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We had little idea of what we would find when we landed.  From my experience back-in-the-day, I expected maybe tents with wooden floors, gas lanterns, pit toilets, and showers from a barrel warmed by the sun.  As the aircraft approached the camp, it quickly became apparent that things were not quite that way. 
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 Maybe we wouldn’t be roughing it after all!  Here is a closer view of the camp, taken from the chopper the next day. 
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Schaft Creek Camp turned out to be like a small village – full-time electricity, plumbing, TV, two airstrips – you name it.  There were about 50 workers on site whilst we were there.  Here is a ground-level view of some of the major camp buildings.  From left to right: work shed; cook-shack and dining room with its grove of satellite receivers; small office; twin bunkhouses for drill crews (two shifts per day, with separate sleeping); and The Palace, where most of the workers in camp were accommodated. 
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Looking down the hallway in The Palace, complete with heat, light, plumbing, and WiFi.  George and I each had our own room, but had to walk across the hall for a hot shower.  Of interest, we were not given keys to our rooms, which is standard procedure.  If one locks oneself out, there is a big rigamarole to go through to get let back in.  So different from what we are used to in our more ‘civilized’ world. 
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The kitchen and head cook. 
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TV, and all the juices and junk fluids one could ask for.  The camp has its own source of clean mountain water, filtered and tested, yet they provide bottled water for those who want it. 
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The fridge too is stocked with most everything you can think of – within reason.  The camp is scrupulously ‘dry’ – we had to leave our 6-pack of beer with the pilot who held it at Dease Lake until our return. 
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And the desserts!  Remarkable variety, and available to all . . . 24/7. 
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Between meals, there was work to be done.  Getting around the property proved not to be a problem.  There was a fleet (visible in one of the previous photos) of these little vehicles, which on first sight looked to me much like golf carts.  Not so!  They are Kubota RTV’s (rough terrain vehicles), and they are truly amazing.  All-wheel drive, turbo-diesel engines, and ruggedly built.  The engine is coupled to the automatic transmission in such a way that when one takes the foot off the accelerator pedal, the vehicle stops on a dime.  Even when going down a very steep grade these machines will not coast.  We were assigned #22, with the flame pattern on the hood, much to the envy of the soil-sampling crew.  Some creative soul spent a lot of time carefully applying the flames with electrical tape.  Note the air-horn duct-taped to the frame just right of the steering wheel – intended as a bear-scare device.  (More on this in my next instalment of my journal). 
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The camp also had a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter on site, which flew 14 hours a day, ferrying workers and equipment around the property.  We were able to catch rides up to the top of Mt La Casse on two occasions – much like calling for a taxi.  We had 2-way radios to keep in contact with the base.  One day when we were on the backside of the mountain and out of radio reception, they sent the chopper up to make radio contact and check on us. 
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Every camp should have a guardian mascot to oversee the operation, boost morale, and keep everything running smoothly.  This is ‘Rudy’, apparently named for the brother of the camp manager. 
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Next instalment features some of what we saw.
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Carlo
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