|Yukon Once Again a Leading Address for Gold Exploration |
By Peter Kennedy | 6/1/2011
He spent eight years living in a tin Yukon shack, and has no formal training in mineral prospecting.
But that didn’t stop Shawn Ryan from becoming the toast of the mineral industry last year when his Yukon gold discoveries triggered a massive staking rush that is expected to make the barren Canadian territory one of the world’s leading addresses for gold exploration this year.
Lured by the hope of striking it rich, roughly 140 mining companies will be active in the Yukon this summer, according to the Yukon Chamber of Mines, which expects exploration spending in the region to top $250 million in 2011.
That will mark a new record for a territory that hasn’t seen this level of activity for over a century.
“There is a lot of excitement right now,’’ said Lee Pigage, the acting head of mineral services with the Yukon Geological Survey (YGS) in Whitehorse. “In terms of claims staked and activity going on, we think it is the biggest one that the Yukon has seen.’’
At least 15 companies are expected to be drilling gold targets this year, according to the YGS. (For a full list, check below).
Some say the Yukon is at the start of a multi-decade exploration boom that is comparable to the early 1980s in Nevada, the U.S. state that ranks among the world’s leading gold producing areas and is home to the flagship operations of two of the world’s leading gold miners, Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX: T.ABX, Stock Forum) and (NYSE: ABX, Stock Forum) and Newmont Mining Corp. (NYSE: NEM, Stock Forum).
The Yukon is renowned for its placer (riverbed) operations which have yielded almost four million ounces of gold since the Klondike days of the 1890s. But the latest staking rush is a response to bedrock gold discoveries in the so-called White Gold district about 90 kilometres south of Dawson City and the Selwyn Basin, 55 kilometres northeast of Keno City.
Industry officials say they are the result of the painstaking prospecting and persistence of Ryan who went looking for the source of the placer gold, thinking it must have come from a local source.
“You had to believe that this beast (or mother lode) exists out there,’’ he said during an interview that is posted on the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) website.
Ryan is widely credited for successfully applying deep soil sampling techniques that led to the discovery in 2004 of an anomaly that he later optioned to Underworld Resources, a company that was swallowed in March 2010 by Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX: K.T, Stock Forum)
Another nearby discovery, known as the Coffee project, has been optioned to Kaminak Gold Corp. (TSX: V.KAM, Stock Forum); a company that is expected to have four drills running on its properties this year. The 40,000-metre drill program is expected to cost $15 million.
But industry officials say it was discoveries on Atac Resources Ltd.’s (TSX: V.ATC, Stock Forum) Rackla gold project in the Selwyn Basin that really set the staking rush in motion.
“It triggered a huge staking rush that has not abated to this day,’’ said Yukon Chamber of Mines President Claire Derome
One of the leading players in the field is Golden Predator Corp. (TSX: T.GPD, Stock Forum), a Vancouver company which has staked about 18,000 claims in the Yukon, or roughly 10% of the available ground.
Golden Predator recently caused a ruckus in the Yukon by spending $140,000 to snap up all of the available claim tags, roughly 70,000 in all. “We wanted to stock up so we don’t run short of things,’’ said Golden Predator Chief Executive Officer Bill Sheriff in an interview.
Certain that it pays to be aggressive, the 52-year-old geologist also moved to get a leg up on the competition by recruiting Mike Burke, the former head of the Yukon Geological Survey’s Mineral Services division. “Basically, he is a walking encyclopedia of the Yukon’s geology and minerals business,” said Sheriff.
Golden Predator plans to spend about $12 million drilling properties in the Yukon this year, money that will be split amongst a basket of properties, including Brewery Creek, Clear Creek, Grew Creek and Harlan, amongst others.
Mindful that there could be huge demand for drill rigs this year, Smash Minerals Corp. (TSX: V.SSH, Stock Forum) recently paid $70,000 to ensure that it will have access to a rig on August 1.
“So the pressure is on me and my technical team to get out there and get some drill targets,’’ said Adrian Fleming, Chief Executive officer of Smash.
Prior to taking Smash public in April, Fleming was a co-founder of Underworld Resources, a company that was set up to be a sister to Rob McLeod’s Full Metal Minerals Ltd. (TSX: V.FMM, Stock Forum). That was before McLeod became aware of Ryan’s prospecting work and the fact that some of his properties were for sale.
In an interview, Fleming said he plans to use his Underworld experience to find more gold deposits on the White Gold district, where Smash has optioned 4,177 mineral claims from Shawn Ryan. Much of that ground is adjacent to the east of the property that Kinross picked up through its $136 million Underworld acquisition.
Having already identified three areas of interest for potential drilling, Smash is planning to spend about $4.3 million in the field this year, Fleming said.
Golden Predator’s Bill Sherriff has made a big bet on the Yukon in belief that the territory is in the early stages of an exploration rush that could take decades to unfold.
The view is based in part on the hope that ongoing exploration will uncover the bedrock source of the Yukon’s infamous placer gold operations.
“The likely developments over the next three decades in the Yukon are very similar to what we saw in the first 25 years in Nevada,” said Sheriff. “The reason I think it will last longer in the Yukon is because things will be a bit slower to develop because of the [lack of] infrastructure.’’
Not everyone is sure that the Yukon will yield that kind of riches that have underpinned the success of companies like Toronto-based Barrick. “It’s too early to know whether there is a mine or two,’’ said Pigage.
Fleming said investors should be mindful of the fact that many companies are exploring in remote areas.
However, what will really put the Yukon on the map this year, he says, is if Atac can establish gold resources along the Rau Trend in the central Yukon where the company has identified about a dozen gold and silver targets, including the Tiger zone discovery.
Last summer, the junior unveiled another find in an area known as Osiris about 100 kilometres further east of the Tiger zone, which has all the hallmarks of the Carlin gold trend in Nevada, according to Derome.
Atac Chief Executive Graham Downs said the company plans to spend $20 million this year to complete about 40,000 metres of drilling. “About 95% of that will be dedicated to the Osiris area on the Nadalene Trend,’’ he said. [The Nadalene Trend is described on Atac’s website as a 25-kilometre long belt where six areas of gold mineralization in bedrock have been outlined].
Fleming says he likes the fact that no detailed exploration work had been done in the White Gold areas prior to the arrival of Underworld and Kaminak. When Underworld began drilling on the White Gold property in 2008, no other holes had been drilled in any direction for at least 60 kilometres, Fleming said.
This was in spite of the fact that placer miners had been mining gold in the area since 1892.
Meanwhile, Ryan has created a public vehicle for his interests in about 50 Yukon properties via the December 10, 2010 merger of privately owned Ryan Gold with Valdez Gold Inc. The properties cover 132,697 hectares and are spread right throughout the Yukon.
On April 27, Ryan Gold Corp. (TSX: V.RYG, Stock Forum) unveiled plans to raise $40 million from a private placement financing that will be used to fund exploration on its Yukon projects, including the flagship Ida Oro property, where Ryan plans to drill a gold-in-soil anomaly that was discovered last year.
Shawn Ryan is expected to become President of the company soon.
Separately, here is a full list of the companies that are expected to be drilling gold targets this year. Aside from companies who have already been mentioned, they include: Silver Quest Resources Ltd. (TSX: V.SQI, Stock Forum) Boulevard, Rockhaven Resources Ltd. (TSX: V.RK, Stock Forum) Klaza, Argus Metals Corp. (TSX: V.AML, Stock Forum) Hyland Gold, Northern Tiger Resources Inc. (TSX: V.NTR, Stock Forum) 3Ace, Sprogge, Sonora Gulch, Victoria Gold Corp. (TSX: V.VIT, Stock Forum) (Eagle (Dublin Gulch), Northern Freegold Resource Ltd. (TSX: V.NFR, Stock Forum) Northern Freegold Mtn. area (Nucleus, Revenue) , Pacific Ridge Exploration Ltd. (TSX: V.PEX, Stock Forum) Mariposa, New Pacific Metals Corp. (TSX: V.NUX, Stock Forum) Mt. Skukum, Strategic Metals Ltd. (TSX: V.SMD, Stock Forum) Keg, Stina Resources Ltd. (TSX: V.SQA, Stock Forum) Dime, Solomon Resources Ltd. (TSX: V.SRB, Stock Forum) Ten Mile.