Gold Highbanking: An Ounce a Day Mining the Beaches of Nome

Gold Highbanking: An Ounce a Day Mining the Beaches of Nome

Monica Monica
7 minute read

When the weather is bad and the Bering Sea isn’t behaving, what’s a miner to do? They’ve already cleaned out the sluice box, sold the gold they made to a local gold buyer but they can’t get into the water to get more of that shiny G. The bills don’t stop because the Bering Sea isn’t cooperating. It’s at that point when a lot of miners turn to gold highbanking on the beaches of Nome, Alaska. One miner is averaging an ounce a day, one shovelful at a time, turning the sand into gold. 

Legendary Nome Beach Miner, Alex

Alex has perfected the art of Highbanking on the beaches of Nome. He’s been mining the beaches for years and is well known by the locals and prospectors from all over. 

His set-up is fairly basic but effective. He says on some days he can get an ounce to three ounces of gold from the Nome beach. That's more than the dredges get when they can’t get out on the water which is why this is an attractive option for miners stuck on land when the Bering Sea is too rough to dive. 

Alex has a highbanker set up on the beach and uses his 4 wheeler to go anywhere from 2 and half miles to 12 miles to fill up his 12 buckets with gold bearing sand to bring back and run through his highbanker.  

prospecting for gold on Nome beach

“Last year (2019) there was a big storm and there was a lot of gold on the sand afterwards, it was easy to get it.” Alex says in his interview with Brian Wilder from American Gold Prospectors. “I waited for a storm to come in from the south that pushes the water all the way up the beach and concentrates the sand. I waited 7 years and the storm never came until last year. The gold was concentrated on top of the sand, it was like 10 to 15 grams of gold in each bucket. (I got) 27 ounces last year from that storm.” 


What is highbanking and How Can You Turn Sand into Gold? 

Gold Highbanking allows miners to still mine and run material through a sluice box but without being in the water. A Highbanker is connected to a sluice box, helping to collect the gold from fine materials, like sand. It’s placed near the water as close to the source material as possible. Highbankers are generally made to be a lot more portable than a larger sluice box set up but still allow a lot of material to be run through it. 

One of the most popular ways for prospectors to hunt for gold, highbankers are fairly easy to make, set up and move as needed. They are used all over the world, not just on the beaches of Nome. What makes them so popular is prospectors and miners only need a water source, which is usually where placer gold is found, a pump, a shovel and their trusty highbanker. It’s much easier and faster than panning for gold by hand and usually recovers a lot more gold in shorter time. An efficient gold catching setup is a lot less than the cost of a dredge, usually only a few grand if you buy all the parts.    

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A highbanker is set up on top of the sluice box, allowing miners to shovel the material right into it. In order to work right and catch all that fine gold it needs to have a few parts and be set up properly, for miners to recover any of the shiny stuff. 

Gold Highbanking

The main body of the high banker, the top loading hopper, contains a grizzle and sprayer nozzles. Spray nozzles are placed inside the hopper to spray the gravel forward through the sluice box. This spraying action is the most effective way to recover that fine gold dust that you find on the beach and greatly increase the effectiveness of the sluice box overall. A grizzly, which is a series of sloped bars or grate contained within the hopper which filters out the larger rocks and allows the sand and smaller pebbles to fall down into the sluice and most important, a water pump and engine. The pump is used to force water over the material in the hopper and then over riffles of the sluice box. Gold is 19.3 times heavier than water, so the sprayers will help separate the gold from the sand, washing out a lot of the sand while the gold gets caught in the miners moss, or miracle mat, in the sluice box.   

making money gold prospecting

A few tips from Alex About Mining the Nome Beaches

- Black and red sand is the kind you want to be shoveling up and running through your highbanker.

- You don’t need to dig deep, just take a little off the top.

- If you have to make a run to get more material, cover your box with sand so anyone passing by doesn’t see the gold in it.

- Always do a test pan before hauling all the sand back to your highbanker.

- Dig around the bigger rocks on the beach, you don’t want to collect them, but get the sand around them as gold will gather there. 

- Use Miracle Mat in the sluice box as it captures the fine gold dust that’s found on the beach best. 

- Dig a hole for a bucket under the water to put your pump in so it doesn't get clogged up. 

Gold on beaches of Nome

“The best part about mining the beach is you can mine hot days, cold days, wet days, dry days.” says Alex, "I like the slow and steady gold, every day."

He makes a great point, he can mine more days than the dredging fleet which can really help supplement a miners paycheck during those long periods of being stuck on land. Over the years we've some of our favorite miners give it a try from Emily Riedel to Vern Adkison. It's definitely a great way to stay on some gold when you can't be out on the dredge or if you don't have the money to sink into building your own dredge. It's fairly easy to make your own highbanker with a little know how and start finding some gold, one shovelful at a time.


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