Monday, August 3, 2009

Greetings from Weardale,

Back again for the tail end shift at the mine this summer. I arrived Saturday morning at London Heathrow Airport after an uneventful overnight flight (if you disregard the absolutely appalling stuff that passes for airline food these days) from San Francisco, picked up the rental car and headed north. Since leaving early last month, it seems the weather has been rather unsummer-like, and Saturday was no exception. London was heavily overcast, and as soon as I got up the motorway as far as Nottingham the rain started and continued to be quite heavy until I was well past Leeds. Uncharacteristically, the clouds broke as I entered Weardale and by the time I arrived at the mine the sun was actually trying to show through.

When I arrived I found Cal, Byron, and German friend Jurgen Tron taking a lunch break in the container. After everyone finished up, I got suited up in one of our bright orange mining outfits and took a tour with Cal to see what had happened in my absence. When I left we had just reached what appeared to be the end of the Jewelbox-Blue Bell pocket zone. That zone has given us some incredible specimens but sadly is now history as it has largely pinched out. The face of the main tunnel has been pushed forward around 15-20 meters and a couple individual pockets have found. The first one appeared early in July and was dubbed the “High Pocket” due to the fact that is was at least 3 meters above the tunnel floor on the west side of the face, and required collecting from a ladder, and later a platform that was constructed against the tunnel wall. The pocket was not particularly large and much of the material that was recovered was damaged from pocket collapse, but one superb large plate came out, which I would consider to be amongst the few best from the mine. A photo of this lovely thing is attached. The scale coin, as always, is a British 2 Pence, which is 2.5 cm/1.0 inch in size, and gives a good idea how large the specimen is.

Moving forward, another as yet unnamed pocket was discovered lower on the west side of the tunnel, and is currently being worked. Though easier to access for collecting, this one is also collapsed and currently looks like more a jumble of mud and fluorite-covered rock than a proper pocket. In keeping with this, almost everything recovered from it to date has been pretty well beat up. There is a seam of fluorite extending eastward from the pocket out into the face, so there is hope that this might develop into another section of flats as we move the tunnel forward. We should know soon as another shot is planned for the face early this coming week, hopefully tomorrow.

Back from the main face we started a couple cross-cuts, both to the west and east back in June. We suspect that our vein has split and hope to encounter the other branch with the eastern tunnel. Nothing has yet turned up in this direction, the one to the west entered the heart of the western branch of our vein and has uncovered a very large vein pocket. These are quite different from the pockets we find in the flats in that they usually form long tubes that are lined with clusters of large, untwined and mostly opaque fluorite crystals. Specimens from these things are usually not of the quality we get from the flats, but can be interesting and sometimes even attractive. The difficulty with them is that the ironstone that makes up much of the vein is very hard and relatively unfractured, making it very difficult to extract anything but fragments of crystals. Cal has managed, however, to get some pieces out in relatively good condition, thought it takes a lot more hammer and chisel work than a pocket in the flats. The pocket is currently opened up to a length of around 5 meters and appears to be continuing, as evidenced by large amounts of thick mud at the back. Cal, Jurgen, and I took turns at crawling in and hammering at the pocket walls, and came away with decent pieces. Sadly, most of this pocket will be destined for wholesale flats as well, but at least we’re getting something.

Being now firmly ensconced in the jetlag portion of the trip, I was wide awake around 3 am, so got up to take advantage of some quite time in the cottage to write this report. The sky is brightening outside and I can see a pink glow starting to tinge the clouds. Hopefully this will lead to a nice, rain-free day. We will find out soon enough. Time to get the coffee on.

Until next time,

Jesse & Crew

One of the best of the season.

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