An exploration season of light and darkness
COVID dashes spring of hope for many North of 60 explorers Mining Explorers 2020 - Published January 19, 2021
Last updated 1/18/2021 at 12:03pm
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."
I cannot help but to reflect on this famous opening passage in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities when considering the dichotomy of mineral exploration across Alaska and Canada's North during 2020.
It was a year that began with high hopes as companies exploring the vast mineral potential that Alaska, Northern British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon has to offer, began preparations for what was shaping up to be the most productive year in a decade. The spring of hope, though, was quickly transformed to an epoch of incredulity as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on markets and locked down plans for what was shaping up to be an epic mineral exploration season.
Despite a two-month lockdown that encroached into the roughly five-month window between spring thaw and winter freeze that typically frames the North of 60 exploration season, most mineral explorers with projects across Alaska and Canada's North were able to adjust to the restrictions and protocols put in place to flatten the COVID-19 curve and began mobilizing crews and equipment to their projects in June.
Some of these companies scaled back programs to fit within the shortened exploration window and coronavirus restrictions, while others were able to complete originally planned programs by compacting their work into a shorter season or extending field programs deeper into fall and winter. A small group of North of 60 mining explorers, however, not only met their original exploration targets but significantly expanded their programs.
This summer of hope for mineral exploration across the North was fueled by strong metals prices – especially gold – and an infusion of cash from notable resource investors. This was especially true for Benchmark Metals Inc., which significantly increased an already robust 50,000-meter drill program at its Lawyers gold-silver project; Skeena Resources Ltd., which carried out roughly 100,000 meters of resource upgrade and exploration drilling at its Eskay Creek gold-silver mine project; and HighGold Mining, which doubled the size of the originally planned 8,000-meter drill program at its Johnson Tract gold project.
While an influx of investment capital, strong metals prices, and an ability to quickly adjust to the COVID-19 protocols helped to brighten what was shaping up to be a dark exploration season, 2020 had one more challenge to offer up to North of 60 mineral exploration companies.
The nearly simultaneous start of drilling and sampling at mineral exploration projects across the North inundated assay labs already dealing with their own challenges related to COVID-19 protocols and restrictions with a sudden influx of samples needing analysis – creating a massive backlog of results that extended through 2020 and into 2021. While the delayed return on assays was less than ideal, patience is a virtue shared by geologists that rely on the results to target exploration and investors eager to find out whether their funding is paying off.
Though the 2020 mineral exploration season across Alaska and Canada's North was not the best of times imagined at the beginning of the year, it was neither the worst of times envisioned at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – one only needs to look back to 2009 and 2012 to find much darker seasons for the mineral exploration sector.
North of 60 Mining News is proud to present Mining Explorers 2020 – a magazine that covers more than 50 mining companies that continued to invest in unlocking the vast mineral potential across Alaska, Northern BC, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon during the epoch of incredulity and belief that was 2020.
Thank you, and we wish every one of you the best of times in 2021!
–North of 60 Mining News