The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Young geologists take on key projects

Veteran explorers make way for new crop of professionals to manage mineral exploration companies, projects and mining operations

Young people working on mining projects in Yukon Territory are nothing new. But young people in charge, running the show at some of the most exciting mining projects in Canada's Far North? That's different and was noticeable in several camps during the 2013 field season.

Whether in grassroots exploration, at advanced projects or in producing mines, a new generation of 30-something and even younger professionals, appears to be taking the lead in the Yukon.

The trend even extends beyond mining to government, where Currie Dixon, elected to public office at age 26 in 2011, now serves as both Minister of Economic Development and Minister of Environment for the Government of Yukon.

In mineral exploration, the young leaders include 18526 Yukon Inc.'s Scott Berdahl, MS, BSc, at the Orwell and Einarson projects, Archer Cathro Associates (1981) Ltd. Partner and Senior Project Geologist Julia Lane, BSc, GIT at the Rackla Gold Project, Rockhaven Resources Ltd. CEO and Director Matt Turner and a slew of others.

"Archer Cathro has handed over the reins to a group of five young people, the youngest of which is 28," observed Berdahl, who, at 27, may be the youngest and yet the most experienced of this new generation of Yukon explorers.

"You see all these children of industry getting a leg up and then you see people like Julia Lane, who came into the industry through college and rose through the ranks," Berdahl said.

Geology consultant Venessa Bennett is another example of a young geologist who has emerged as a leader in Yukon mineral exploration, he said.

"Venessa is certainly young and on her way up. She's a big asset to the Einarson project and was to others I won't name before they tucked their tails and ran," observed Berdahl, referring to the sharp decrease in mineral exploration activity this year in the territory.

"Venessa is as knowledgeable as anyone I've met on geology, in general, and geology in the Yukon, in particular," he added.

A grassroots dynasty

Though Yukon's recent mineral exploration boom has allowed numerous young people to gain experience very quickly, Berdahl began doing field exploration 17 years ago at age 10 with his dad, longtime Yukon prospector Ron Berdahl.

"A lot of that early work was just hauling rocks and picking up rocks, asking whether they were any good or not, until I got it," Scott Berdahl told Mining News in an interview Sept. 18. "I remember doing a paid job when I was 13."

Berdahl has worked in the Yukon field for more than 13 seasons, first as a prospecting assistant to his father and later as a company geologist. He also has worked on the geology of the southwestern United States and Euboea, Greece. In addition, he studied geology, aerospace engineering and writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, obtaining a bachelor's degree in geology in 2008 and a master's degree in science writing in 2010.

This year, father and son managed the family's operation while Ron's brother, Andrew, took a break to pursue doctoral studies in philosophy at Princeton University. Scott provided consulting services to Anthill Resources Ltd. at its Einarson "Carlin-style" gold project just east of Atac Resource Ltd.'s Rackla Gold Project and exploring their own properties.

Located near the Yukon-Northwest Territories border, Einarson covers about 1,100 square kilometers (424.6 square miles) due east of the Rackla project. Anthill optioned the Einarson property from the Berdahls in 2010 and now holds a 30 percent interest and the right to acquire up to a 100 percent interest.

The Berdahls also explored their Orwell Project located just south of the Einarson project for Carlin-style gold.

"Due to the 'Mom and Pop' nature of our business, I've just shipped those samples to the lab and the results are pending," Berdahl said in mid-September.

Berdahl said he and his father also "plowed ahead" with exploration of some 20 other properties in Southwest Yukon, including units with geology analogous to the White Gold district and Juneau-Ruby Range prospects. These include the Cliff Property, which is anomalous for gold over a large area, and the Poshingermann Property, which is located 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Kinross Gold Corp.'s White Gold Project but is similar structurally.

"We've now defined some big multi-element anomalies, including one over two kilometers (1.24 miles) long and another one we've defined for one kilometer (0.62 miles)," he said.

Berdahl said some of the properties have big geochemical signatures in the Kluane area near the Wellgreen PGM-nickel project and others that are located northeast of the Alaska Highway across the Denali Fault.

"I think many of these road-accessible properties have been overlooked, but we were pleased to see that Teck (Resources Ltd.) moved in nearby a couple of years ago, and they keep coming back," he added.

Studying Carlin-style gold

Archer Cathro, one of the premiere independent geological consulting companies in Canada, specializes in grassroots exploration to resource definition programs in Yukon and northern British Columbia. The company was formed in 1965 by Al Archer, P.Eng., and Bob Cathro, P.Eng., and is now in its fourth generation of partners.

Young geologists taking the lead at Archer Cathro include Sara Eaton Drechsler, Heather Smith, Matthew R. Dumala, P. Eng. and Dylan Wallinger, along with Lane.

In 2013 Atac President Rob Carne took a season-long vacation, tapping Lane to direct Atac's C$6 million-plus exploration program during the field season.

"I realized that if my wife and I took the year off, we could afford to keep two young geologists on the job for the summer," Carne told Mining News in early August.

Lane, a self-described student of all things related to Carlin-style gold mineralization, relates the story of the search for gold at the Rackla project with the precision and unbridled enthusiasm of a key participant.

"What we've determined in the last few years is our deposits are hosted in what appears to be fairly simple geology. But it gets more complex the closer you look into it," Lane told a group of reporters in August.

Like most geologists, Lane said she learned about Carlin-style gold in school, but no one knew how to find it. So Atac brought in 10 consultants, including structural, chemical and stratigraphic experts and accomplished exploration managers to take a look at the Rackla property. The company also encouraged its technical team, including Lane, to bone up on Carlin-style mineralization by taking as many short courses as they could during the three years since the original Osiris and Isis discoveries.

"So this summer, we're going back to the basic skills of knowing where the mineralization is before you invest the dollars in drilling," Lane explained.

Atac's regional exploration program which mainly involves getting boots on the ground to prospect, conduct geochemical sampling and perform excavator trenching, has chalked up impressive recent successes.

"Every year, we're coming up with more and more discoveries. We've all learned an extraordinary amount in three years," Lane said. "What's been the most useful exploration tool here is gaining an understanding of these systems and knowing where the first places are to focus our efforts."

The Anubis discovery, for example, was made after a "hand" sample returned 100 grams per metric ton gold.

"That was from an outcrop, and we knew we wanted to drill it as soon as possible. So we basically stepped the drill back 50 meters, drilled straight towards (the outcrop) and got a very nice intercept," Lane said.

Carne said Atac hoped to close the 2013 field season with about C$19 million in its treasury, enough for at least two more years of similar exploration programs.

"We started the season with C$26 million in the bank. We didn't want to spend all that endowment during this field season and be facing depressed markets next year. So we elected to do a very selective program, getting some geological details together," he said.

Carne said he expects exploration to continue at Rackla for another two to three field seasons before the project will come to full maturation. "So our goal is to carry on, demonstrating the economic potential of the project," he said.

In the interim, Carne said the company aims to strike a "delicate balance" with targeted aggressive exploration, especially around its 2012 discoveries, the Anubis and Pharoah Carlin-style sub-districts within the Nadaleen Trend located about 10 kilometers (six miles) west and 13 kilometers (eight miles) northeast, respectively, of the Conrad/Osiris area.

Following up on Atac's 2013 objective of finding more significant targets at Rackla, Carne said the company would like to have as many as six drills turning on the property next spring.

Encouraging results at Klaza

Turner, 34, earned a bachelor's degree in geology from University of British Columbia in 2002, though he has been actively involved in mineral exploration since he graduated from high school in 1997.

Turner supervised field work at Rockhaven's Plata Project for two summers and before that, managed and participated in numerous exploration projects throughout Western Canada, focusing mainly on precious metal vein, IOCG and diamond deposits.

Turner is following in the footsteps of his grandfather (A. Mark Turner, in whose memory a scholarship in geology is awarded at the University of Western Ontario), his father, (retired geologist Terry Turner) and his uncle (Independence Gold Corp. President and CEO Randy Turner), all of whom distinguished themselves as Canadian mineral explorers.

A father of two sons, himself, Turner said during a recent interview that his children have very few options in choosing professions.

"My kids really have no choice. They have to become geologists or NHL hockey players," he said, laughing.

This year, Turner managed a C$1 million field program - 50-60 percent financed by company insiders - at Rockhaven with an eight-person crew, including six locals.

By contrast, Rockhaven spent C$5.5 million in 2011 and C$7 million in 2012 on exploration.

"In years like this, it may seem like we're losing ground, but we were able to figure out a lot geologically this year in terms of zones and zonation," Turner said. "Before, we were too busy chasing the drills. I feel like we've advanced the project this year to the point where we're justified in spending another $7 million in 2014."

The 2013 program focused on follow-up exploration at its road-accessible Klaza gold-silver project in the Dawson Gold Belt of south-central Yukon. The company completed about 5,000 meters of excavator trenching on the 73-square-kilometer (28.2 square miles) property, and "a lot of that was on new ground," Turner said.

Rockhaven Sept. 24 reported initial 2013 excavator trench assays and preliminary gravity and bulk sulphide flotation metallurgical results from one of eight known mineralized zones on Klaza.

With 38 excavator trenches completed, the explorer successfully confirmed continuity of mineralization in the Central and Western Klaza zones, including new high-grade exposures returning 5.61 g/t gold and 300 g/t silver (11.61 g/t gold-equivalent) over 18.79 meters in TR-51, 16.20 g/t gold and 158 g/t silver (19.36 g/t gold-equivalent) over 6.84 meters in TR-52; 25.70 g/t gold and 449 g/t silver (34.68 g/t gold-equivalent) over 2.27 m in TR-66; 8.29 g/t gold and 295 g/t silver (14.20 g/t gold-equivalent) over 4.60 meters in TR-69; and 16.76 g/t gold and 1,052 g/t silver (37.80 g/t gold-equivalent) over 3.03 meters in TR-70.

Preliminary sequential gravity and flotation tests on sulphide-bearing drill core from holes in this area produced high combined recoveries of 97.3 percent for gold and 99.0 percent for silver. "Detailed excavator trenching at the highly prospective Central and Western Klaza zones has identified priority near-surface drill targets for 2014," Turner said Sept. 24. "Also, we are highly encouraged by the preliminary metallurgical test results, which suggest gold and silver should be recoverable through conventional flotation techniques."

The known strike length of the Klaza Zone has been traced for 2,400 meters and drilled to 300 to 335 meters depth, and the property's BRX Zone has been traced for another 2,400 meters and drilled to 400 meters depth.

Turner also told Mining News that Rockhaven has completed numerous drill holes on 200-meter centers across the Klaza property, "which the majors like to see."


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