The Yukon, home of the largest gold rush in history. 100,000 stampeders from across the world invaded the region in search of riches. While only 30,000 to 40,000 actually made it across the treacherous terrain, and only a few thousand even struck gold, people continued to flock. Gold fever they call it! It’s a game of chance with the elements; however, I was about to find out there was also some skill to it.
Gold Fever at Claim 33
I arrived at Claim 33, a museum, souvenir shop, and one of the few locations the public can come to pan for gold themselves. It’s here that I’m taught that you can pan for gold all you want, but if you don’t have a proper technique, you’re going to lose every bit of gold you find.
I’m handed a black steal pan with a pile of gravel and dirt. I’m guided to the water trough where I’m given a brief tutorial on the proper way to pan for gold. I start sifting through the dirt and gravel, trying to separate the gold flakes from dirt in hopes of striking it rich. I shake my gravel in water, washing it, trying to loosen the dirt. I’m corrected multiple times due to my poor technique but soon get into the rhythm. Wash, pour, dip, wash, pour, dip.
It’s all about the Technique
After a dozen attempts I appear to be making some progress. My friendly instructor laughs at my terrible technique. In the time it’s taken me to get half way through my pan, she’s finished three, and found gold in each. It seems I would have been a starving stampeder had I been around during the Gold Rush of 1898.
As the large stones are sifted out of my pan I see my first flake shining in the lip of my black metal pan. “GOOOOLD!” – I concentrate on not losing the flake. Praying that by shaking the last big rock out, I don’t accidentally knock out the precious flake with it. Another gold flake pokes through the thin dust. I think to myself “I’m gonna be soooo rich!“.
Gold Fever in the Yukon
It soon becomes apparently that I have Gold Fever. I begin planning to sell my life and move up here to become rich. I shake, dip, wash, pour, until finally – I present my earnings for my 15-20 minutes of labor. 4 gold flakes – estimated value… not a lot. In that instant I’m cured of the fever. While clearly my technique needs some work, it’s surprisingly fun sifting through dirt, a practically worthless pile of nothing, and turning it into a few gold flakes that could actually be worth something. My back aches from the short time I was bent over – those Stampeders had a hard life. For those that struck it rich, it must have seemed worth it. For those who didn’t, I can’t imagine the despair.
While panning for gold my seem a bit “touristy” – it’s a great way to learn the history of the Klondike Gold Rush and really does provide an accurate portrayal of the pain and frustration the thousands of Stampeders would have felt. Many locals in this area spend their time off knee deep in rivers and streams panning. It’s sort of a mix between a hobby and a part-time job. If it pays off, it pays well, if not – well, they get their fair share of Vitamin D and get to take in the outdoors. Which in my eyes, is one of the best riches you can find in the Yukon.