From wilderness to resource—and those who ‘Make it so!’

November 7, 2019

by Liam Hardy, Operations Director at Spotlight Mining

This May (2019) a new set of faces appeared on the Golden Triangle circuit. They were keen, enthusiastic, and financially backed to take a shot at the infamous region’s riches, but, planning a hand-son intensive drilling campaign takes more than enthusiasm.

Crystal Lake Mining (TSXv: CLM) is moving quickly from obscurity into the limelight. On a recent site visit, I spoke to Cole Evans, co-founder (alongside long-time friend Dylan Hunko) of HEG Exploration Services (‘HEG’), a company that is putting in the hours on the ground with Crystal Lake Mining to develop the Newmont Lake prospect and find Canada’s next major deposit.

At 23 years old, you can easily confuse Cole with one of the junior geos on the ground. He is full of energy and bounds around the camp smiling, his chocolate Labrador Leo by his side and a set of icepicks and hammers swinging from a holster. Junior in the company he is not, but youth is definitely HEG’s advantage. Cole has brought together a conceptual camp. The kind that major companies talk about in presentations, but never really build.

Sitting around the breakfast bench picking at freshly cut melon and French toast under a brisk 05:30 sunrise, Marco Vanwermeskerken, veteran mapper of 40 years, sits laughing with Nicole, one of the team’s summer project students. Marco retells stories from his work around the Americas of bizarre geology, adventurous encounters with wildlife and, maybe, the occasional beverage along the way. The students who joined the camp in May are quickly becoming confident samplers and core loggers thanks to this collision of enthusiasm and experience.

Geologists compare digital data to field exposure (Photo: @AnatoleTuzlak)

At the back of the cutting shacks, water, filled with dust and sulphide-rich sediment, runs off the core saws. Unlike most seasonal camps, where waste is simply channeled into the river and forgotten, it runs into a settling pool, a simple hole in the ground that captures these sediments, filters the water and stops anything harmful entering the pristine glacial water system.

In a specially built tent behind the kitchen, you’ll find rows of hand-built drawers, labeled by the name of each of the company’s prospects. Pulling one out reveals three forms of megacrystic syenite, numbered and described, and four examples of a nickel sulphide in different host rocks that are in various states of weathering sitting alongside hundreds of assorted intrusion-related altered sediments. This is the rock library, a repository for the field geologists to bring their fresh samples to, to compare them, and ensure continuity in naming and classification across the district.

These are parts of an idealized dream camp of a 23-year-old coming into the aggressive world of mining and many of you may scoff and say ‘that’s not how this is done, that sounds expensive’, but this month, by renting out rooms and storage space to smaller exploration groups nearby, the camp actually turned an overall profit of around CAD 17 000.

‘What is he doing in charge?’, will be the next cry from some readers. Well… Despite ignoring science in high school, Cole destroyed pretty much every competitive geology award available in Canada while studying at UBC Okanagan. After graduating he joined the Colorado Resources team and was part of the KSP and North Rok discoveries. He saw a niche for a new type of exploration services group, one that could apply modern data management tools live in the field and one that cared about its employees and surroundings.

This is all tip-top so far, but how does this idealized view work in practice? How do we go from a brand-new camp in an unexplored bit of remote British Columbia and turn that into a successful mining project? Is it even possible?

Crystal Lake Mining are targeting porphyry systems; think Galore Creek (in the next valley over), then double that. These systems are known to occur in and are being mined across Northern British Columbia. Here, they’re related to five overprinted subduction and accretion events that have bombarded the West Canadian coastline since the Triassic period, every one of them bringing its own metals and structural controls. This is not a simple geological terrain, but it is a rich one.

BC Mapping geologist Marco Vanwermeskerken records a mineral showing (Photo: @AnatoleTuzlak)

Just along the highway southward, the Brucejack mine sits in the upper stockwork zone of one of these systems, with highgrade gold in vein systems. Somewhere underneath Brucejack, there’s a source of fluids and metals, the bigger body of magma or hydrothermal alteration that drove Brucejack’s gold up. These ‘porphyry’ source zones, while lower in grade, can be gigantic.

The Bor and Majdenpek open pits in Serbia are two similar examples related to subduction in the Tethyan belt of Eastern Europe. That region has been continuously industrially mined since the late 1800s, with limited change to the overall ore quality or resource.

The first stage in identifying anything in the field, big or small, is to get geologists on the ground. Against all advice, Cole brought HEG’s first teams into Newmont Lake in 2018, in a bitter Canadian Rocky winter snow. They brought an RC rig with them up to ‘Burgundy Ridge’. The teams put a pad in and drilled a hole well off-season. The hole hit notable copper-gold mineralization and quickly silenced the naysayers. That thing that nobody did in the Golden Triangle, had just been done. Not only that, it was a success.

As soon as the snows cleared, the team were back in Newmont Lake. A mixture of experienced BC geologists and youthful fresh faces dropped into a camp, 18 km from the nearest road (a route being built for Galore Creek) and immediately engaged. Soil samplers were helicoptered around grids on the entire property, aeromagnetic surveys were flown, grab samples were taken, and maps were compiled.

These weren’t just sketch maps or oddly interpolated geochemical results… These were digital data sets that layered day-byday onto historic data, satellite images, and MINFILE government databases to produce a live database of the Newmont Lake projects in a custom-built (by HEG’s GIS wizard Allan Jacobs) version of ESRI’s Arc.  The license was split into target areas based on surface mineralization and probable geological structures. Prospectors were sent straight up to chase metals across the targets and feed back into this database. The resulting records from a team of 50 positively engaged and skilled people swarming a mountainside at all hours of the day are, to say the least, a staggering read.

When IP lines, geo-maps, aeromag and geochem all line up, you’re probably onto something big. Crystal Lake Mining’s first major one of these correlations hit along the slopes of the Chachi Ridge, within view of their summer camp. Copper >150 ppm in soils, plotted in big anomalies along the footwall of a large offshoot of the Mclymont Fault system; IP results showed a conductivity anomaly; gold and heaps of sulphides were observed at surface in bedrock, nickel, cobalt, copper, and zinc; the lot.

Not a fun textbook or mineral collector’s showing, this one occurred along a 2 km strike.

Surely that’s a whole season’s work and everybody is off for cocoa? Apparently not… The HEG team rounded this whole sampling and assay program off in three months alongside MSA LABS, who rush-assayed the samples. That left two months of the Canadian summer to go drilling. The problem (if you can call it that) was how to pick from a wide range of targets on the property.

Drone shot of the new camp (Photo: @AnatoleTuzlak)

One major factor was weather. Burgundy Ridge is sandwiched between two glaciers and snows of 10 to 12 meters in winter. That’s not a problem for an active mine or a major, just look at Siberia, Northern Alaska or Nunavut, but for an early stage exploration project, digging out is an unnecessary expense.

We asked Cole how HEG had picked its spots:
‘[T]here are so many factors to consider. You have to combine all aspects of geoscience and nature, from terrain to weather. One of the biggest issues affecting high-alpine drilling is water, can you get it safely above a glacier and can you store the waste cleanly at that location without it freezing? Can you provide constant support to the drill rig by helicopter, or will it be regularly clouded in? It’s tough, so those holes have to be worthwhile.

We sent two diamond rigs out to work. One on the 72 zone and one on Burgundy Ridge; we wanted to follow up on our RC holes from 2018 and these zones have a short summer access window, they were a top priority. Our mappers had seen large bodies of disseminated mineralization at ‘72’. We think that could extend to depth based on local structural patterns. On Burgundy we’d gotten high-end results from our winter holes and wanted reliable diamond core to log andbetter understand the system.’

From an observer’s perspective, and I’ve worked in camps in West Africa, Turkey, Europe, and other ends of BC, I’ve not seen one this well focused and positive about its purpose before.

As I type, sitting in the exploration office in the Newmont Lake Camp, the rigs are turning 24 hours a day and results are coming thick and fast, everybody is still smiling, and I can smell steaks on the griddle. It’s an awesome project and a lot of fun to be a part of.

You can follow Crystal Lake Mining on all the regular channels for videos, pictures, and updates from the site, from stunning scenery to technical explainers. Stay tuned!

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