Scuba diving meetings were always well attended. Two brothers named George and Dick Tomsguard suggested a new slant to diving at one of the meetings.
They were from Alaska and spent time as many did looking for gold. The theory was that both rocks and gold rippled over large boulders in a river with the aid of the current. The two of them spent many days studying how rocks fell much slower than gold and were able to see fair results.
Here in the Northwest, they found remote areas via road maps where they parked their cars and hiked in to find deep lakes and/or river pools. They purchased SNUBA gear: a quiet compressor, dive suit with added weights, tanks and lots of hose. The objective was to do a walk-in dive quietly and leave without the disturbing the surroundings. Taking care to stay quiet meant a landowner offering a shotgun welcome was unlikely. Like diving itself, maneuvering out of this situation had to be done with great caution.
We met the two of them east of Seattle at their local tavern and played pool with the locals. It was good to get to know the brothers better. We asked how the SNUBA was working, to which they responded, “We’ll show you!” Presenting a small, pint-size coffee can, they asked us to lift it. Wow! It was heavy! George put a rock-like thing in my hand, and as I turned it, it glimmered. Oh, the glimmer of the elusive gold in all of its charm! There were rocks with gold embedded in them and actual nuggets! That can was worth big bucks. They later told us how many they had found and had sent home to Alaska.
Frank from West Seattle Dive Shop and I joined them on one occasion. We hiked in through the thicket and could hear the river, the boulders posing ominously. We suited up and waded against the current to the down side of one of them. George, Frank and I dove some 20 feet to where we could feel the coolness of the geothermal layer. We swept the hose along the bottom sucking up rocks hoping to find gold. Ever aware of big rocks falling from above, we spent a lengthy time under and finally back up to the river bank.
We knelt down to screen the dirt, rocks and gold! We couldn’t believe it. This locale and many other locations were the brothers’ secret and they did it right! These generous guys gave us a share of their good fortune. Somewhat dangerous, it was, but so rewarding.
After that, we decided to combine our search for gold with river running. On one venture we used a SNUBA but took limited gear on our quest to find gold. A river of choice had a strong current, and we ran short of air about 60 minutes early fighting it. The brothers had it down to a science and brought river running to a whole new level.
One dive member flew his small plane over a feasible river and charted areas for water falls as he was unsure how to proceed. Earlier, a group on a first run had found themselves in a quiet area that felt unusually still. Suddenly, 15-foot falls appeared, and they were forced over them. One guy dislocated his shoulder and went to the North Bend hospital.
River running was always the best in the summer. but we did it all year round. The four-man heavy-duty raft was a favorite. To keep beverages safe, we wrapped them in towels and tied them to the raft. On one run, we refined our river running by sending a couple of guys ahead to set up a camp, build a fire and prepare food.
On one trip, a fellow rafter had fallen off the raft and struck his tailbone on a boulder and blacked out. We were able to purse his purple lips and give him a capful of tequila. In no time he was up and running.
In the beginning, three of us made a test run in our four-man raft. We had rowing down to a system, having learned how to dodge the various obstructions. We were in the groove when the current slowed. Ahead of us was a large tree trunk that had fallen across the river. Our thought was to approach the tree, lift the raft up and over and be on our way. Well, almost — as we approached the trunk, the current sucked the raft and us underneath it. We grabbed branches and found our overturned raft in brambles as we heard the sound of cans of beer making their way down stream.
Sharing the identical expressions of shock, we untangled the raft minus the goods inside. Fortunately, some of the goods floated and were gathered further down. Lesson learned: Don’t try to outsmart the river.
Just because we were all good swimmers, once entangled in branches, we could have declared “Sayonara!” But the Diving Gods were with us, and we are here to tell another day!