The Most Terrifying Mine I Ever Entered
I’m hot and sweaty. I’m carrying an extra twenty pounds of weight—and it’s not because I overate on Thanksgiving.
It’s my gear.
I’m outfitted in heavy coveralls, stout rubber boots, a hard hat with light, thick gloves, protective eyewear—even a backup battery in case my light fails.
But I’m also sweaty for another reason.
I’m in a silver mine in China, on an analyst tour that began on a set of tractors driving us into the mine, chugging along for 10 minutes, then dumping us out to go on a 15-minute walk on a dusty dirt floor, leading us further and further beneath the earth’s crust.
And now they show us the next part of the tour: a deep hole in the ground that looks barely wide enough to fit a human. A fellow analyst backs up and quietly says, “I’ll pass.”
I proceed with a few other analysts, in the middle of the pack. I descend slowly down the ladder—five feet, ten feet—and about halfway down find that one of the rungs of the ladder is broken. I drop down to the next rung and it holds—but suddenly realize the dirt walls are now touching both sides of my body.
I hear an analyst below me begin to panic breathe, the hole apparently still tight where he clutches to the ladder. The line stops. With people both above and below me, and the dirt walls tightening, it hits me like a fist: there’s no way out!
How in the world did I get here?
Following an early retirement, my parents moved to California in 1997, and almost immediately my Dad got bitten by the mining bug. More accurately, the prospecting bug. From the first time he spotted that tiny gold nugget in the bottom of his gold pan, he was hooked. I can remember his excitement when he showed off his finds.
What immediately followed was the wide and proficient use of dredges, sluices, pickaxes, shovels, pumps, metal detectors, and of course gold pans. Mining trips to deserts and riverbeds and mountains and more deserts, some with roads and some without… scores of mining claims scattered over California, Nevada and Arizona… lots of mining clubs and conventions and shows.
Over the next two decades, he became so adept at prospecting that he was part of a group that would teach you how to use your newly-purchased gold detector—and guarantee you’d find gold with it during the lesson. He always came through. He won a few gold panning contests, too—yes, there are such things.
Naturally, some of this rubbed off on me. And of course it was very exciting when you found something. (That didn’t happen every day; it’s kind of like fishing… you don’t know how long it’ll take you nor what you’ll catch beyond a sunburn.)
My interest quickly transferred from gold panning to gold investing. But what I learned from my Dad and his many prospector friends would pay off…
FROM GOLD PANNER TO GOLD ANALYST
In 2006 I found myself at loose ends, my original career path ending through no fault of my own. I needed a new profession, one that wouldn’t just pay the bills but also bring me satisfaction. I was always told I was a good writer, so marrying that skill with my love for gold investing meant one thing.
I had followed Casey Research, a newsletter firm specializing in the resource sector, for a year and found I had learned so much that it felt like a college education. I thought I would be a good match for them, combining all my interests under one roof. So I sent them some writing samples.
Lobo Tiggre was the editor of International Speculator at the time, the company’s flagship publication. Doug Casey was the founder, well-known in those circles as one of the greatest speculators in the resource sector. Lobo had been trained by Doug, and he responded to my query.
He put me through the wringer. I submitted a number of articles, and each time was met with, “Okay Jeff, this is good, but now we want you to write on this stock” and he’d name a gold company. The research was painstaking, and even required some calls to a remote project in South America, but it paid off. I was hired in 2007.
It was on a trial basis at first, to make sure I knew what I was talking about, but in less than a year I was the lead writer for what would become the company’s largest circulating newsletter, BIG GOLD.
Over the next decade we became a force to be reckoned with. I say that with no false modesty; the quality and depth of our research was unequaled in the field. Even some institutional investors and hedge fund managers subscribed to our newsletters.
What I learned from working with my Dad and his friends, and everyone then at Casey Research, is responsible for much of my success as a mining analyst and investor. I’ll share with you what I learned in a moment.
But first, back to our story…
PRAY THERE’S NO EARTHQUAKE
I’m stuck on the ladder, unable to move, the line at a stop. Suddenly dirt starts falling on my head. Someone above me also appears to be panicking and yells they want to go back up. They’re apparently loosening the dirt on the walls as they squirm around, because dirt is raining down on us.
Then a rock hits my head—good thing I have on a hardhat. It didn’t hurt that much, more startling than anything, but dirt and dust are now sprinkling over the sides of my hardhat, some slipping inside my coveralls. I close my eyes. Worry starts to creep in. There’s still nothing I can do. And what if there’s a sudden earth tremor? I’ve never felt so utterly helpless.
A company team member had already reached the bottom and is trying to coax a couple people on the ladder below me. His English is broken and hard to fully understand, though I can’t really hear him anyway.
The line below me finally begins to move again. I tilt my head to let the dirt fall off my hardhat. I extend my left leg but then realize the walls are so tight around me that I can’t bend my right leg enough to let my body drop down. I’m stuck—good thing I’m not claustrophobic.
I force it, breaking a chunk of dirt off the wall that drops to the ground below. I hear it hit.
And as crazy as it sounds, I suddenly stop and look where the dirt broke off. My eye catches some dark black spots with shiny material running through it.
Native silver. Not all pretty and clean like a necklace or coin, but it’s the real thing, in its raw and glistening form. What every miner hopes to find lots of.
I stare for a minute, taking in the moment, then continue worming my way down the tight hole, eventually reaching bottom.
We’re now in an underground cave of sorts, below where the company is currently mining, to look at a new silver vein they’re excited about. I just saw part of it.
I’d been in many silver and gold mines, but today was special, because believe it or not most gold and silver isn’t visible in their native setting, especially gold. The days of James Marshall casually picking up that famous gold nugget out of a riverbed in 1848 California are mostly gone.
It reminded me of why my Dad got so excited: seeing real silver and real gold is special. You don’t forget it.
I’M NOT DOING THAT, JEFF!
You’re right, you’re not going to do that. You don’t have to.
Now personally, I like flying to China to visit the latest silver mine (tight spaces included for free), or hiking the Nevada desert to explore a new property, or braving the Canadian tundra to check out a gold project. But being a successful mining stock investor doesn’t require that you do those things.
It’s true: you don’t need to be a full-time analyst or a newsletter writer or trained geologist. In fact, it may surprise you to hear that most licensed geologists never make an economic discovery. That’s not a knock on my geologist friends, but knowing a lot about rocks does not necessarily mean you know a lot about stocks.
I started right where you may be now: at zero. While I’ve built up a knowledge base about the mining industry (as well as my bank balance), the method I learned was superior to any other I had observed over the years. It’s no guarantee, but it’s worked. And you can start using it the moment you’re done reading—in fact, we’ll begin while you’re reading.
In other words, if you’re also starting from zero, then my story could be your story.