Yukon prospector sees potential bonanza in robotic technology

'Can we imagine today finding another Klondike?' says Shawn Ryan, a Yukon prospector.

'Can we imagine today finding another Klondike... as a prospector you're supposed to do that,' says Shawn Ryan

Some of the creek valley bottoms with placer mining leases held by Shawn Ryan. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Yukon prospector Shawn Ryan is gearing up his efforts to become much more active in placer mining, but with a twist.

He is looking into adding robotic technology to age-old methods.

Ryan is leasing almost 200 kilometres of creek bottom on the west side of the Yukon River south of Dawson City. 

He had staked hardrock claims in the same area years ago. The promising results he found there are now being developed by mining giant Goldcorp.

It makes sense that gold buried deep in the ground may also turn up much closer to the surface in creek valleys, said Ryan, suggesting it's possible the amount of gold in that area could rival what was taken from the gold creeks about a 100 kilometres to the northeast during and after the Klondike Gold Rush.

Miners during the Klondike Gold Rush working underground. (Wikipedia)

"Can we imagine today finding another Klondike, you know, as a prospector you're supposed to do that and so this is what I'm kind of doing, let's dream, let's dream big," Ryan said.

Placer gold lying on top of bedrock more than 15 or 20 metres deep is expensive to get at using heavy equipment in traditional stripping methods, he said.

"When you're past 40, 50 feet, that's a lot of stripping so there's a lot of money going into actually getting to that bottom three or four feet, so traditionally the oldtimers would shaft down and actually just gut the bottom three feet," he said.

"Basically tunnel their way in, that actually worked and that was a viable method so they didn't strip that top 40, 50 feet," said Ryan.

Shawn Ryan showing placer claims he's leasing in the White Gold District south of Dawson City. (Dave Croft/CBC)

He believes it could be done by robots about the size of four wheeled all-terrain-vehicles. Ryan said he has been talking to universities about researching the possibilities.

"The goal within five years is I think, we'll be able to mine the deeper placer deposits that are 50 feet lower, probably with robots, and that's where we're pushing this," Ryan said.


Dave Croft

Reporter, CBC North

Dave Croft is a reporter in the CBC Yukon newsroom in Whitehorse. He has been been covering Yukon stories since 1990.