Meares Island – Moist Misery

In the late summer of  1972 I started a job prospecting in the rain at Meares Island, British Columbia.  I was hired by Kaiser Resources, which had a small office in Vancouver office run by a relatively recent PhD  who specialized in coal. Coal was actually the resource that Kaiser was the best known for. It puzzled me why coal man ran a metal mineralization office; but I was not an important part of the operation, and so my puzzlement did not count. But he had hired me and for that I was grateful since I was broke, not having worked while I recovered from a few weeks of healing after falling down a steep slope earlier in the year.

My assignment was to assist a geologist in prospecting a large property on Meares Island, a mountainous chunk of land off shore of Tofino, a fishing village in the rain forests, on the wet, west coast of Vancouver Island. How “wet”?  How about 10 feet of rain a year?  Most of the rain buckets down during the winter, and is the reason that the dense forests that blanket the steep topography are called rain forests.

For almost every day for many weeks I got wet – No: make that saturated. Meares Island is reputedly beautiful. In writing this piece I unsuccessfully tried to find a photo that showed Meares Island socked in by cloud, but of course tourist images rarely show rain, do they? But I rarely saw Meares without a fug of cloud and mist around Lone Cone, which was the peak closest to camp. A good day was cloud and mist without rain, mist and suchlike clag. Camp was close to the shore and on a clear day we could see Tofino, but those days were also rare. We called the sea skookumchuk, a West coast Indian word.

The camp was cozy.  We had two separate trailers for two men and an occasional guest. I think that the promise of living in a trailer instead of a tent may have attracted me to the job, since canvas tents were the norm for prospectors in those days. But, one of the trailers was a dedicated drying hut. Because it rained all day, almost every day, we had two sets of clothes – we wore one set while the other dried. Not that the set we wore stayed dry for long – despite full rain gear we would be walking in water-filled boots, sloshing inside our wet gear soon after starting our work day.

Work required much walking, which felt like swimming by the end of the day. Walking conditions were rough: steep, with many tree falls and innumerable streams. Kaiser had  mineral claims around steep Lone Cone and our job was to investigate outcrops of rock to map the geology and mineralization, and to perform soil and stream sediment sampling surveys. Soil sampling required angering short holes into soil with what looked like a large corkscrew – about 3 feet long – and scooping soil off the auger tip into paper bags. But in many places the soil would be thin cover over buried boulders or shallow bedrock which required moving a short distance and trying another hole.

Sediment sampling required finding silt and fine sand trapped in the lee of larger boulders, or in quiet pools, and slopping  some into the sample bags. That could be a challenge when working in vigorous streams in run-off spate, since fine sediment was washed downstream. So at any chosen location I would have to make many attempts: spot a candidate boulder, wade out to it, feel around the base or the rock, grab some fine sediment. If there was none, or the smidgen I retrieved washed away through my fingers, then I had to repeat the attempt at another boulder. After a while I would have chilled fingers, and often  bruises from tumbling off slippery rocks.

The sample bags were of robust paper, and had drain holes. But it was almost impossible to write sample location, date, and other details on the bags when they were wet – and they were always wet; rain trickling off tree branches and  streaming off our slicker hoods. Yet, it was vitally important to record the correct details on the bags, so we would write in firmly pencil and when the bags were later dried, rewrite the details from the stray surviving graphite streaks and faint pencil imprints.

The locations of soil and sediment samples were recorded on maps so were often approximate. There was no GPS support in those days: we used pacing, compasses, coarsely contoured maps (wet) and best estimates to locate ourselves. The samples were sent to Vancouver to assay for copper and likely gold, silver and  possible associated mineralization. I recall the Lone Cone area having a volcanic geology (duh!) so the geological model  may have been a massive sulfide mineralization or contact skarn-type model (see this old report for info). I did not understand much about formal geology in those days and likely did not pay enough attention. besides: I was wet.

Although we were seemingly surrounded by water, I recall one continual frustrating problem was an erratic water supply for the hot water showers. The source of water was a stream nearby, transmitted by plastic hose. But the hose end often was moved by the turbulent water, or the sediment filter became clogged, or bears chewed through the hose, or… The reasons were several but the solution was single: don the yellow slickers and go walk along the pipe.

I do have some stunning memories. In particular:  seeing spawning salmon teeming like a carpet up nearby streams. And in the trees, a congregation eagles and osprey resting after feasting on the soft bellies and eyes of the salmon. It was common to see bears too. And: we had marvelous oyster and clam beds right outside the camp. But in general this was a  miserable job and I was glad to finish it about Christmas 1972. In the New Year 1973, my girlfriend Barbara and I escaped to Europe and North Africa for some drier adventures.

About Ed Medley

Ed Medley has been on a random walk for over 50 years. Many scribbles and snapshots at this site are from his vagabond transits; others are from his decades of international experience in geological and geotechnical engineering, academia, and mineral exploration prospecting.
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