Stuart Schmidt looks out the window of his log cabin at the Yukon. Late May, and it has finally lost its ten feet of ice. It flows south in silvery, glittering riffles. “Minus 20 around here is springtime,” he says.
You have to be laid back to survive in the Yukon. Schmidt, 59, seems like a weathered mountain man. He gets up every day at half past four to ask himself the same question: Have his people up on Quartz Creek hit “pay”? Somewhere under 20 feet of mud, rubble and permafrost is a three-foot layer of something that might “pay” back the millions that have already been invested. Schmidt is a “placer” miner, looking for gold that erosion has washed into stream beds. His biggest nugget, a few years ago, weighed more than half a pound. Today it would be worth $19,000. Back then, barely three grand.
Schmidt has nearly a thousand “claims” in Yukon Territory, areas he has staked out to announce his “claim” to their mineral wealth. Only around 35,000 people inhabit the nearly road-free wilderness the Cessna reveals in its climb. Dense forest, wild rivers, snow-capped mountains on the horizon. A paradise. And it all might be covering gold. But where?
“You have to learn to read the land,” he says …