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High-grade silver boosts Western Alaska

Drills tap as much as 1,304 g/t silver over 2.8m at Waterpump Mining Explorers 2022 - January 19, 2023

Thanks to the thick zones of high-grade silver-zinc-lead mineralization cut during the 2022 drilling of the Waterpump Creek target at Illinois Creek, Western Alaska Minerals Corp.'s first year as a publicly traded company on the TSX Venture Exchange has been a resounding success.

Listing on the TSX.V at C85 cents per share in November 2021, Western shares were selling for a whopping C$5.60 each at the company's peak in August 2022. This meteoric rise began before the first assays from the 2022 drilling had even come back from the assay lab – just a look at photos of the metal-rich cores from the drilling was enough to have investors clamoring to own shares of this upcoming explorer.

With intercepts such as 2.8 meters with 1,304 grams per metric ton silver, along with 2.5% zinc and 37.1% lead, the assays that came out in August did not disappoint.

"We are very excited about the near-term potential for drilling out a preliminary bonanza-grade silver resource with base metal credits high enough to cover operating costs," Western Alaska Minerals President and CEO Kit Marrs.

As a geologist on the Anaconda Minerals exploration team that discovered porphyry copper-gold mineralization on the Illinois Creek property in the 1980s, the Western Alaska Minerals founder and CEO is well-versed in the geology and mineral potential of this large property lying alongside the Yukon River about 300 miles west of Fairbanks, Alaska.

One district, five metals

While Waterpump Creek had been known for its silver-rich carbonate replacement deposit-type mineralization for the better part of 40 years, it had previously been considered a secondary or tertiary target at Illinois Creek, a property that covers more than 73,000 acres of mineral-rich land in western Alaska.

The Illinois Creek Mine gold-silver deposit about four miles southwest of Waterpump and the Roundtop porphyry copper-gold target about 10 miles to the northeast are both viable standalone mineral exploration targets.

The Illinois Creek Mine was an open pit and heap leach operation that produced roughly 150,000 oz of gold and 500,000 oz of silver during three years of mining that ended in 2002. The shuttering of this operation had more to do with financial difficulties related to low gold and silver prices of the day than a lack of ore.

According to a 2021 calculation, Illinois Creek hosts 8.7 million metric tons of indicated resource averaging 0.9 grams per metric ton (253,000 oz) gold, 34.4 g/t (9.6 million oz) silver, and 0.21% (40 million pounds) copper; and 3.3 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 0.99 g/t (104,000 oz) gold, 36.2 g/t (3.8 million oz) silver, and 0.21% (15 million lb) copper.

While a resource has yet to be calculated for Round Top, drilling carried out by Western as a private company has demonstrated the potential of this porphyry copper target.

Highlights from the 40 holes drilled by Western include 64.7 meters of 0.65% copper-equivalent; 166 meters of 0.51% copper-equivalent; 209.7 meters of 0.28% copper-equivalent; and 64 meters of 0.74% copper-equivalent.

"One of the many strengths of the Illinois Creek district is the presence and ongoing discovery of a series of deposits with varying metals," Marrs told Mining News.

In 2021, the Western team decided to take a closer look at Waterpump Creek, a modest deposit that hosted 166,000 tons of historical resource averaging 295 g/t silver, 16.1% lead, and 5.5% zinc.

"Exploration at Waterpump Creek in 2021 focused on expanding our understanding of the high-grade manto mineralization first discovered by Anaconda Minerals Co. in the early 1980s," said Marrs.

The last holes of this program, WPC21-09, cut 10.5 meters averaging 522 g/t silver, 22.5% zinc, and 14.5% lead.

High-grade Waterpump silver

Encouraged by the results of its initial drilling, the company focused its 2022 program on expanding the high-grade mineralization with closely spaced holes to identify the ore controls and trends of the bonanza-grade sulfides encountered in hole WPC21-09.

The first batch of assays from the 2022 drilling encountered multiple zones of the high-grade silver-zinc-lead mineralization Western had hoped for.

Highlights from this first batch of 2022 drill results include:

5.1 meters averaging 459 grams (14.8 ounces) per metric ton silver, 12.1% zinc, and 14.8% lead from a depth of 136.4 meters in hole WPC22-07.

14.3 meters averaging 54 g/t (1.7 oz/t) silver, 10.3% zinc, and 1.9% lead from a depth of 150.1 meters in hole WPC22-07.

10.9 meters averaging 157 g/t (5 oz/t) silver, 9.9% zinc, and 6.4% lead from a depth of 114.6 meters in hole WPC22-08.

11.5 meters averaging 337 g/t (10.8 oz/t) silver, 16.7% zinc, and 10% lead from a depth of 139.1 meters in hole WPC22-11.

3.5 meters averaging 151 g/t (4.9 oz/t) silver, 22.3% zinc, and 5.1% lead from a depth of 152.7 meters in hole WPC22-11.

2.8 meters averaging 1,304 g/t (41.9 oz/t) silver, 2.5% zinc, and 37.1% lead from a depth of 150.1 meters in hole WPC22-13.

2.4 meters averaging 820 g/t (26.4 oz/t) silver, 15% zinc, and 13% lead from a depth of 158.4 meters in hole WPC22-13.

While core from these holes was being analyzed, the drills had cut 47 meters of massive sulfide mineralization in hole WPC22-17, which was drilled more than 200 meters south of hole WPC21-09, and 101.7 meters of similar massive sulfide mineralization in hole WPC22-18, drilled 50 meters further south.

Both 2022 holes ran similar grades over much wider widths:

48.8 meters averaging 144 g/t (4.6 oz/t) silver, 9% zinc, and 5.5% lead in hole WPC22-17, including a 9.8-meter subsection averaging 428 g/t (13.8 oz/t) silver, 15.9% zinc, and 14.1% lead.

101.7 meters averaging 160 g/t (5.1 oz/t) silver, 5.4% zinc, and 5.3% lead in hole WPC22-18, including an 18.5-meter subsection averaging 335 g/t (10.8 oz/t) silver, 2.2% zinc, and 13.5% lead.

With three intervals of high-grade lead-silver and silver-lead-zinc mineralization, WPC22-18 is by far the thickest and most mineralogically complex hole drilled so far at Waterpump Creek.

"Our 2022 drilling program at Waterpump Creek has now outlined a 400-meter-long trend of high grade silver-lead-zinc mineralization. This is a significant step towards defining an economic CRD deposit," said Marrs. "Mineralization has thickened and become wider as the drilling has moved south along trend."

Discovering the Waterpump feeder

Western says the abrupt thickening and multi-stage complexity of mineralization strongly indicates hole WPC22-18 cut an important feeder zone at Waterpump Creek.

"It is remarkable to have cut a sulfide feeder zone so early in a CRD exploration program and this opens up a number of very exciting targets along the Illinois Creek Fault," said Peter Megaw, a Western Alaska Minerals technical advisor with more than 30 years of exploration-focused studies of carbonate replacement deposits. "Having WPC22-18 to ground-truth geologic models and geophysical interpretations should greatly facilitate efficient exploration throughout this apparently very large scale CRD system."

The feeder zone encountered in WPC22-18 appears to lie at the intersection of the Waterpump Creek graben (a down-dropped block of crust between faults) and the Illinois Creek Fault, which suggests similar intersections identified elsewhere on the property may also host feeders that guided mineralizing fluids into the favorable carbonate host rocks.

"Following progressively thicker and more complex mineralization encountered in WPC22-17 and 18 and then seeing it thin again as we drilled further southward along the WPC graben strongly suggests we hit a feeder chimney located at the intersection with the Illinois Creek Fault," said Western Alaska Minerals Chief Exploration Officer Joe Piekenbrock.

Latched onto a major system

Hole WPC22-20, which was drilled about 50 meters south of WPC22-18, cut two thick multistage massive sulfide zones that have CRD experts excited about the bigger potential at Illinois Creek.

Hole WPC22-20 cut 11.4 meters averaging 284 g/t (9.1 oz/t) silver, 14.8% zinc, and 10.9% lead from a depth of 166.6 meters; and 20.7 meters averaging 171 g/t (5.5 oz/t) silver, 9.4% zinc, and 5.8% lead from 185.2 meters.

Western says both these intercepts show classic multi-phase CRD-style massive sulfide mineralization with silver-rich lead mineralization stages cutting earlier zinc-rich stages.

"The multi-stage high-silver mineralization cutting across the multi-stage high-zinc mineralization seen in WPC22-20 indicates that a long-lived source pumped one pulse of metal-bearing fluids after another into the system's plumbing," said Peter Megaw, exploration advisor to Western Alaska Minerals. "Once you see that kind of system strength it is time to look around for more because very few CRD systems have only one spoke to their wheel and you can track them back to the intrusive hub, which at Illinois Creek is likely a porphyry copper deposit."

A CSAMT (controlled-source audio-magnetotellurics) geophysics program completed over the roughly five miles (eight kilometers) between the Illinois Creek oxide gold-silver mineralization and the Waterpump Creek target area during the 2022 field season shows a complex interplay of stacked thrusts and high-angle and possibly post-mineral faulting.

To continue to expand upon the deposit traced during 2022, as well as test the wider potential indicated by the drilling and geophysics, Western plans to carry out up to 17,000 meters of drilling at Illinois Creek this year.

"We think we've latched onto a major silver-lead-zinc system, so the company has purchased three more drill rigs for more aggressive exploration starting next spring," said Marrs.

The new rigs will focus on expanding and upgrading the high-grade Waterpump Creek manto

The balance of the 2023 drilling will test for other spokes to the CRD system in areas where north-south structures intersect the Illinois Creek Fault.

The existing camp will be expanded to accommodate crews for the five drill rigs. Camp material, equipment and new fuel storage have been transported to Illinois Creek so that operations will be ready to ramp up in early spring.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Publisher

Author photo

Over his more than 16 years of covering mining and mineral exploration, Shane has become renowned for his ability to report on the sector in a way that is technically sound enough to inform industry insiders while being easy to understand by a wider audience.


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