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Prospecting in permafrost on Mount White at 13,000 feet msl
By Jim Davis

In the summer of 1970 my enthusiasm of searching for aquamarine peaked after reviewing the locality pages in Richard Pearl's book: Gem Trails of Colorado. His statement (true as it is): "Mt Antero is not for the casual collector", sealed my destiny. I encouraged two CSM geophysics students: Ken Peters and Jim Minetree to make the quest dedicating a week of time. We camped at tree line. (That site harbored a great tragedy a few years later. A party of five was descending the last hairpin turn and bound for home in the Great Plains. The driver apparently failed to stay on the steep road and their Suburban rolled over and over killing all passengers. Helicopter rotor clipped young spruce tree tops are still visible marking where the deceased were flown out. This incident gave the name to the camp site: Dead Man's Camp).

The next morning we went up the north side of Mt Antero and into the saddle it made with Mount White. The three of us decided to spread in three different headings and look for surface beryl that might lead us to aquamarine. At 2PM we planned to regroup and discuss the most promising find. My friends had not found much of interest but I brought back a piece of beryl that had a deep blue color. We decided that it was the most promising and drove to the easternmost bulldozer cut on Mount White. From there we hiked up to 13,000 feet and began to dig around with rock hammers. Several more beryl chips were found in the gruss of the Mt Antero Granite. It was noticed that several of these half-inch chips had a smooth face of the prism. Upon finding more chips and some with two-face development of the prism, we decided the location was worth greater effort. As the sun was approaching later afternoon we decided to set up camp on the barren cut on the north face. That night a deposit of graupel came in after dark surrounding the tent. The fabulous Milky Way returned, undaunted by incandescent pollution at this altitude.

After a hearty breakfast with hopes of more finds we made the thousand-foot trek over large boulders back to the site. As we resumed the digging now with pick, shovel and bar we found more chips and actually they deserved to be called crystals as they had six sides. Even better their translucency became evident. Then more impressive was the first translucent crystal which had part of a pinacoidal termination. This evidenced that the crystal had its origin in a pneumatolyic pegmatite pocket growing in open space. Then digging deeper the crystals appeared even more prevalent, the color was a transparent light blue and all crystals and chips were saved. Enthusiasm really grew but it was near day's end. We returned the following day and collected even more "aquas", none were very large but most were clean and clear. The diggings were now about a couple of yards in volume. As I was in the damp pit, I scraped the head of my Estwing downward. To my surprise it had exposed a dark almost brownish mass that I could see into! The thought flashed that the wave of the rock hammer exposed the largest smoky quartz crystal I had ever touched. Alas, not to be so, it was ice. Essentially we had dug four feet deep and intersected the permafrost. However, now the hunted crystals seemed changed within ice. Looking into their pinacoids, the color was emerald green. But this granite was not a source for chrome, necessary for emeralds. Instead, the aquamarine frozen by surrounding ice apparently caused the absorption of blue light allowing the longer wavelength green to emit. With tough chiseling we broke fist-size pieces of the frozen decomposed granite then laid it out on a poncho in sun. In about 20 minutes the easy part was fingering through the thawed granitic particles and picking out the aquamarine crystals.

The images here are from the find on Mount White at 13,000 feet elevation. The small aquamarine crystals range up to 33 carats; about a ¬ are terminated and about _ are gem grade. Note the crystal below the penny and the eighth to the left; it was selected for faceting and is shown at lower right. The inset shows a brilliant faceted aquamarine that is flawless at 50X, which was gifted to my wife. Two others were faceted and set into my daughter's wedding ring.

 

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The DREGS collection of memoirs from this page can be found at www.dregs.org/memoirs.html