The Champion Project: A tale of awe and ore

February 16, 2024

by Dr Kris Butera, Managing Director of Plutonic Limited

I sit perched in the northeastern corner of the Simpson Desert in the Australian Northern Territory, overlooking a landscape carved by extreme elements.

The fiery hell of scorched desert winds has carved out a terrain that is as unforgiving as it is beautiful. Sand dunes, like waves frozen in time, partially obscure a likely continental margin, hinting at mysteries hidden beneath. A place some have come, and few have lasted.

These desert dunes have captured minds – and sometimes lives – in the quest for the hidden treasures beneath the surface. This story is etched into the grains of the Simpson Desert, a narrative woven with missed opportunities, flies, and gold. We leap into the realm of folklore and venture into the unknown with the Champion Project.

For years this land was untouched with its secrets buried deep. Many explorers have been drawn by the lure of untold riches only to leave empty-handed. Perhaps they couldn’t see what is hidden in plain sight. Had they had Ploutōn (Pluto), the ancient god of the hidden underground treasures on their side, perhaps those who walked this dusty patch of earth before me would’ve understood the secrets that lie beneath the rocks.

Plutonic Limited, the current explorers of the Champion Project, are guided by Pluto’s hand thanks to our remarkable team enabling us to see what’s deep below. Maybe it’s fate or mere coincidence that the company shares a name with the deity. Whatever the reason, we have been able to see what others missed.

Working on the Champion Project is an adventure unlike any other. Every day is a journey into the heart of the earth. Every rock kicked is a reminder of the geological puzzle that begs to be solved. The landscape is a testament to ancient geological forces – a flat expanse interrupted by massive outcropping epithermal veins and lithocaps. Silicic alteration zones stretch as far as the eye can see, a testament to the volatile history of this ancient land. The geology is complex; breccias within brecciated breccias tell a story of a protracted storm of pulsating fluids, gases, explosions, and metals.

The Champion Project is a geological maelstrom, frozen in time, waiting for its secrets to be unraveled. Around the campfire at night, the air fills with the musings of tired but excited explorers. ‘What the hell is going on here?’, is a common refrain, a mix of bewilderment and awe at the complexity of the geological formations we come across during the day.

A compelling history

The Champion Project is more than just a geological puzzle. It’s a journey into the past, a connection to the ancient stories and myths that have been passed down through generations. The land speaks of a time when the earth was younger, when the forces of nature were unbridled and untamed.

As I delve deeper into the project, I carry the lessons of those who’ve come before me. The wanderers and explorers who have braved this harsh landscape in search of fortune, the indigenous people who have lived in harmony with the land for thousands of years, and even to Pluto himself. Every rock, every grain of sand, every vein tells a story. As we piece together these stories, it becomes clearer that the Champion Project is more than just a quest for mineral wealth. We chase the pursuit of the unknown.

One of the most famous fables of the area is the story of Lasseter’s Reef.

Heading south toward our Asgard Dome prospect through thick bulldust-laden tracks of one of the cattle stations the project rests on, we suddenly come to a junction in the spinifex-covered desert country. ‘Lasseters’ the very old crumply tin sign reads as it points to the southeast.

We were aware of Bill DeCarli’s decades-long quest to demonstrate that Lasseter’s Reef occurred somewhere in the area. We’d met with him and studied his story, his evidence and his conviction. We didn’t doubt it but weren’t firm believers either. Yet, meander along the track a little further, and you’ll begin to see huge quartz veins poking up along the horizon. Lots of them. And when I say large, I mean quartz veins many kilometers long and many tens of meters wide in some cases.

Perhaps like the folklore, many of these reefs were partially (and I suspect many fully), obscured by the deep orange sands that Lasseter described. So, does Lasseter’s Reef exist? It doesn’t matter to us. Because there are hundreds of large reefs out there, and it’s a much bigger story than a simple reef with some visible gold. But we’ve honored the fabled history surrounding the reef by naming it Lasseter’s View; a soaring behemoth of a quartz vein, the top of which has a spectacular view of veins in all directions for miles and miles.

When the heat of the day ebbs, the air stills and the star-lit black night sky illuminates the camp you’re reminded you might be in one of the most remote and desolate places in the country. A sudden wind whips up the sand, a startled mob of cattle or the baying of dingos in the distance are frequent visitors after dark. It keeps us on our toes and gives us something to talk about around the morning campfire as we are gearing up for the day.

For us, the Champion Project is a reminder of why the Plutonic team is passionate about discovery.

Figure 1
Figure 2 - Peggy Bundy Multiphase epithermal breccia
Figure 2 – Peggy Bundy Multiphase epithermal breccia

Geology & exploration

The project delivers more than just sensational geology and picturesque landscapes. It reminds us of the adventure, the romance, the trials and tribulations of remote mineral exploration. And as we lament these escapades and memories, we become aware of what secrets the ground holds.

What was once an area thought of as hosting perhaps a few orogenic quartz veins or a deeply buried iron oxide copper-gold deposit, appears to be a new district-scale epithermal and porphyry belt.

The Champion Project, I hope, will be Plutonic’s legacy, a story that will be passed down to future generations of explorers. It is a reminder that the world is full of hidden treasures, waiting to be discovered by those who dare to think differently and look beyond what can be seen on the surface.

After a few sun- and wind-burnt field seasons; often seeing us chased out by violent storms which rapidly emerge from bright blue skies – we now know there’s a near endless arena of low sulphidation epithermal veins, porphyry geochemical and alteration footprints, advanced argillic alteration forming topography to guide us to the interesting systems, breccia fields, geyserites, silica caps, lithocaps, skarns. Perhaps they are connected to the major mineralizing events of the Tasmanides to the east.

A rodeo of metals, an incursion of flies, plus a team of misfits, eccentrics, autists and with a vision of something big. A romance of science, spirit and the quest for glory – the Thrill of Discovery. I’m sure this all sounds all romantic and endearing, but there’s still the hardcore science and layers of strategy at the core of the unveiling of the potential hidden riches.

Our primary approach has been raw boots on the ground – a massive feat given the approximate 5000 km2 (1931 mi2) for us to explore. We’ve only covered a small portion so far and have already amassed many targets. We’ve combined good old-fashioned geology with advanced algorithm-driven structure detection, novel 3D magnetic inversion modeling, structural and alteration mapping and analysis, detailed rock chip sampling and subsequent innovative modeling of that data to generate porphyry and epithermal footprints.

Figure 3 - McLovin Prospect Geology
Figure 3 – McLovin Prospect Geology

A jewel box of large-scale targets

The net outcome of the previously mentioned work is a multitude of multi-kilometer scale targets across the project. Some of these prospects have weird names, like ‘McLovin’, ‘I’m Not a Vampire’, ‘Apotheosis’ and ‘Asgard Dome’. We think the names add character to the targets, but don’t be fooled – the science is what underpins their prospectivity.

McLovin is a 6 by 2 km (3.73 by 1.24 mi) corridor of large epithermal veins. The surface expressions of which are dominated by quartz replacement blade textures – signs that the low sulphidation epithermal gold-silver target, if it exists, is fully preserved below the surface.

With outcrops up to 15 m (49.2 ft) wide, it’s a good sign that should the system be well mineralized at depth, it would likely have a strong economic scale to it. Coupled with up to 0.3% bismuth, scatterings of elevated gold, silver and tellurium, the geochemical and geological framework gives an enhanced opportunity for a major gold discovery at depth.

The next phase in the discovery process is to screen and map out the prospect with induced polarization (IP) to map out potential large feeder zones at depth, and the key ‘boiling zone’ for which the economic metals are expected to be deposited.

I’m Not a Vampire has recently expanded to the now Greater I’m Not a Vampire prospect as we have seen a major upscale in the size of the system. It’s grown from a 1.5 km (0.93 mi) colossal vein sticking up through the sand dunes hosting beautiful hydrothermal breccias and gold-silver and adularia-bearing colloform quartz bands, to now a field of mineralized vein systems, ancient fossil geysers and potentially even sniffs of a porphyry spanning over 15 by 5 km (9.3 by 3.1 mi) with the edges yet to be defined.

At Apotheosis, we find a strongly advanced argillic alteration in hyperspectral data (pyrophyllite-dickite-kaolinite) and residual quartz indicative of being above a porphyry, where the target itself is a high sulphidation epithermal gold-copper-silver system.

Geochemically, even the very limited number or rock chip samples have generated a large porphyry system at depth, with the prospect sitting over the very large Icarus porphyry target defined by interpreted phyllic and propylitic alteration in hand samples and hyperspectral data.

Asgard Dome is a large-scale anticlinal dome – 28 by 18 km (17 by 11 mi) hosting the most abundant and massive veins I’ve ever seen in my life.

From the previously mentioned Lasseter’s View reef to a plethora of other giant epithermal veins, the opportunities at the Champion Project are endless. The presence of specular hematite and phyllic alteration in some areas indicates that there is a potential porphyry overprint. So having the opportunity to discover both large epithermal and porphyry deposits presents another amazing opportunity to generate real value.

The many additional targets provide just as much excitement, if not more, across the project – there’s simply too much to mention. But none of that, the targets or prospective geology, is useful without having a strategy suited to the project. While many might go out and start drilling any of the large colloform-crustiform metal bearing low sulphidation veins to get some numbers on the board, we’ve opted for an approach consistent with the fundamental mechanics of mineral exploration success.

Figure 4 - Mineralized sample of epithermal vein at the I’m Not a Vampire prospect
Figure 4 – Mineralized sample of epithermal vein at the I’m Not a Vampire prospect
Figure 5 – (a) Porphyry and (b) Epithermal Gold favourability maps covering the Apotheosis and Icarus prospect and surrounding areas (the field of view is the same in both images). Prospectivity models were constructed by combining several different ‘layers’ of HyMap data, with each model input being carefully selected to represent a critical component of the mineral system. The resulting maps are a useful first-pass indicator of relative prospectivity and a powerful targeting tool.

The Champion Project – Mineral exploration and discovery musings

Mineral discovery is simply a game of chance, and the more times you roll the dice the better the chances of making a big discovery, which is what we’re after. We didn’t come to this pocket of the desert for the ordinary. We’re only interested in giant and supergiant deposits.

Of course, anything smaller that we cross paths with. But to maximize our chances of finding a true Tier-1 system – or ideally a new mineral belt full of them – we seek to fully understand the scale of the mineralizing system first. To do that, we need to map out and generate a plethora of world-class targets, and then to drill them all to bring home a simple message – there are still plenty of globally significant deposits yet to discover.

Mineral exploration can be a sustained endeavor of value accretion beyond putting the first deposit discovered into production. Too often the first find for a company is rushed into production before really knowing where you should and shouldn’t put the tailings dam. Many tailings facilities and infrastructure have been built over economic orebodies that should have been found before development.

For now, Champion is like a playground. It’s full of fun, adventure, imagination formed around the things we see and full of opportunity. The literal blood, sweat and tears of the team has yielded, perhaps, a once in a generation new mineral belt ready for multiple discoveries. I am proud of them.

The Champion Project, I hope, will be Plutonic’s legacy. A story that will pass down to future generations of explorers. A reminder that the world is full of hidden treasures, waiting to be discovered by those who dare to think differently and to look beyond what can be seen the surface.

The Champion Project is a gateway to a world of adventure, awe, and ore, a world whose secrets are being eroded away like the glacial till that my camp stool rests. As I look up to the darkening firmament, I see a thousand twinkling stars smiling down on us and feel a warmth that not even the frosty desert wind can dull.

As I write these final words while gazing into the flickering flames of the mulga-fuelled campfire, I know that this is still just the beginning of something bigger and bolder than what we thought possible.

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