GSN

Faces of GSN

Kristen Benchley (Published in May 2015 GSN Newsletter)

It seems quite naive now, but in 2002 I did not realize that geologists were looking for gold in Nevada (or anywhere else in the world). I had just graduated from the University of Vermont with a BS Degree in Geology and moved to Alpine Meadows, CA to live the ski bum life with college friends. The River Ranch Lodge gave me a job as a cocktail waitress where I met Geologist/Ski Patroller/Crown Royal drinking Gene Urie. He explained to me what he did as an exploration geologist, the cyclic nature to the gold business and the fact that there were very few jobs at that time, but things would pick up someday. That “someday” came for me in the fall of 2004 when Gene contacted me about an exploration job, working for Bob Cuffney at White Knight Gold (WKG). I started off doing general office work and then one day in the spring of 2005 Bob brought out a box of rocks and told me to identify all of them. Bob stood over me (probably contem-plating why he hired this clueless girl) while I completely struggled to identify them. “Jasperoid? I’ve never heard of that rock!” My face turned red from the sudden quiz that I soon learned was a part of Bob’s initiation ritual. As another part of the initiation to the industry and Nevada geology Bob sent me on the 2005 GSN Symposium Carlin Trend field trip where I saw my first open pit gold deposit. I couldn’t believe that while driving across I-80 for the first time in 2002 I had-n’t noticed all the mining activity in the state.

As far as a first job, I got extremely lucky that I landed with the WKG crew. I spent 2.5 years working a 10/4 rotation out of Eureka, NV, roaming in the Roberts Mountains and learning from a dedicated group of geologists. Not to say it was-n’t full of challenges. Bob decided that I would begin my second field season acting as “Project Geologist” at Gold Bar Horst. Bob, with his blunt constructive criticism, made it clear that I needed to be planning ahead for my three week drill program. Well, after being stuck on the first drill hole for a month and then it taking two months to complete the remain-ing holes I learned quite a lot about RC drilling and what can go wrong! Having to think back on all my experiences I have the most stories from my days with WKG. If you know Bob Cuffney, you probably can imagine why! Bob and the crew mentored me in all the diverse aspects of a junior gold explorer and I’m always thankful for that. I loved that men-tality as well as the independence of driving your own truck and banging on rocks in a remote and beautiful part of the western US.

I was warned early on about the unstable na-ture of the exploration business, that compa-nies were merged, bought, “imploded” and you should always be thinking of where you’ll find your next job. The one thing I didn’t realize was how true this would be for me personally in the first ten years of my career! The WKG days came to a close when US Gold decided to snap up the companies working on the Battle Mountain-Eureka Trend, including us. The nail in the WKG coffin was celebrated at the infa-mous Wake of the White Knight, by far my craziest work function to date (enough said about that).

The next opportunity introduced me to Alaska where I worked for Teck, on an exploration drill program at the Red Dog Lead-Zinc Mine in the Brooks Range. The highlights that summer were flying in a helicopter, seeing the caribou migra-tion, the northern lights, and learning about the Inupiat native culture, but mine life and logging core weren’t adventurous enough for me to return for a second season. I stayed in Alaska though, working at the Donlin Gold and the Arctic VMS deposits for NovaGold. They had many young exploration geologists and half of them were female; I couldn’t believe it when I started. Up to that point I had worked mostly with old guys (sorry WKG, you were all young at heart). And al-though I only made it 9 months before NovaGold laid off two-thirds of their exploration staff (including me) I had made lifelong friendships, including my boyfriend Caleb Stroup.

After getting the bad news of the layoffs I immediately emailed all of my industry friends and contacts, including Moira Smith, who suggested I contact Fronteer Gold about a job in Nevada. At this point I was pretty keen on coming back to the Nevada desert and driving my own truck instead of taking a helicopter to work! I started working at Long Canyon in the fall of 2008 and what an experience that was! It was extremely satisfying and exciting as a geologist to work on a developing gold deposit. In my experience, Long Canyon and Fronteer was a well-oiled machine (including Major Drill-ing—who kicked our butts by producing lots of core every day), we worked hard by day which allowed us to have some fun at night. We had many great BBQs in the parking lot of the Chinatown and the famous Gin and Taco Tuesdays every hitch. I think most of you know what happened next….Newmont! On an average sunny January day, I came into the Elko office at 7:30AM to a cloud of gloom, Fronteer was being taken over by Newmont. I couldn’t help thinking, “not again!”.

After some short-term contract work, Caleb and I decided we would attempt to work together, so in May 2011 we headed up to Alaska again, this time working on the Chisna project in the southern Alaska Range. This job challenged me most, not solely geologically but also with respect to my tolerance of cold snowy mountain conditions. As with most AK projects it was helicop-ter supported. A group of us were mapping a large mountain range and due to localized weather patterns, every week we were snowed on and it seemed like the wind was always blowing! The terrain was extremely to moderately steep and where there wasn’t outcrop it was cov-ered in scree or boulders. Hard traveling when it’s dry, but a major challenge when covered in ice and snow. Luckily most days you’d return from the field with a backpack of samples that contained gold and the area had seen little to no exploration. Plus the camp cooking was outstanding and I didn’t run into a bear or get stuck on the mountain over night!

For the last three years I’ve been working as a contractor with Agnico Eagle in their Reno office focusing on US Property Evaluations. This has awarded me with all new experiences, challenges and a different perspective on gold projects.

Becoming an exploration geologist has been quite the experience for an east coast girl who had no idea what she would do with her geology degree. I’ve seen some amazing places, in remote parts of the US and worked with so many smart, interesting and driven people over the years. Working and often living with your coworkers for months to years quickly creates close friendships that I think very few industries experience. I used to joke with my Boart driller, Kevin, “I see and talk with you more than my own boyfriend”, but sadly it was true. As a geologist that doesn’t fit the usual “mold” in our industry, it has been wise to keep a sense of humor to handle such times as when I was standing in the Red Dog check-in line at the Anchorage Airport and was approached by several people who informed me I must be in the wrong line. And while having breakfast at the Pony Espresso in Eureka, several locals asked if I was the secretary for the gold company (WKG). After working eleven years as a geologist, I still have to explain to my family what I do for a living and they often marvel at the stories, atypical work environment, and crazy cast of characters.

Caleb and I have settled in Verdi, NV with our 3 year old yellow lab named Ezzy but we both still enjoy adventuring. We just returned from an 18 day trek in the Everest region of Nepal, fortunately before the devastating earthquake hit. The trek involved hiking over three snowy mountain passes at 18,200’, 17,500’, 17,700’ and Everest Base Camp at 17,600’. It was incredible to be amongst the world’s tallest peaks and actually to not feel that “remote”. We joked at how ironic it was to be no more than five hours hike from a town in the Himalaya but many times while working in Nevada you could be more than a day’s hike from the nearest town or ranch!

The GSN has provided me many opportunities to engage with other geologists and a great platform to learn about the industry through publications and monthly meetings. I’m looking forward to the 2015 GSN Symposium coming up in May and am the Symposium Field Trips co-chair with Joe Kizis. I hope that the next generations of Nevada economic geolo-gists can learn as much from this organization as I have, and continue to maintain the wonderful work of GSN.