The Hunt for Jade Cove Nephrite

Greetings- long time no post! We are sharing with you today a wonderful CFMS award winning article written by one of our members Craig Polliard. Enjoy!

The morning came quickly as the alarm sounded with louder than planned rock and roll. The 4am departure was scheduled to beat any and all of Los Angeles residents at the game of leap frog. The early morning traffic was null and void as I motored up the 101 Freeway north at 70 mph making short work of the black top highway. An ACDC song hits the radio “…for those about to rock we salute you” no kidding, can you believe it! Soon the multiple lanes of the road and the big city lights gave way to two lanes and fog; it was as if the land itself was now in control of my time. This is central California en route to the Big Sur area to be exact, and Hwy 1 along the California coast is just an incredible work of art that must be enjoyed. You see, there is jade there and I am hooked. Yes, there still is jade in the Big Sur coves as last years trip down to the seashore proved to me, it just takes some time to learn the paths, cliff faces, and tidal movements, along with exploring the different areas along the water line, trial and error if you will.jade2.png

On my first morning down the cliff face earlier this year I was greeted by waves in the 10 to 13 feet height range. I knew it was big and bad, so I was on my “A” game the whole time, no dumb moves. The cliff faces have many rocky areas at the water line that one could get into trouble if not paying attention to good ole Mother Nature. A tide chart is mandatory. A few small pieces of jade in my pocket between the swells were the beginning of my addiction. The sights and sounds as big surf rolls in is an adrenalin rush as you are timing every move like a game of chess. This past October the wife and I were here for the Jade Fest and had a blast.

So here I was back at Jade Cove flying solo. They say finding jade will do that to you, no kidding! I arrived at Plaskett Creek campground around mid morning Sunday and was pleasantly surprised that the camp hosts were up and about. “Number 12 is open and it’s a nice spot” they said as I drove up. I’ll take it I said before rounding the right hand turn and straight into my site. The weather was outrageous and I was booked to stay for the week. Awesome!

A lot of information has been written about Jade Cove and its rock hounding history back in the days. Sure the jade is not as plentiful as before, but to spend the day down on the rocks with the seaweed, flies, sand like flea creatures, and the cold Pacific Ocean jade3.pngtrying to sneak up and bite you in the butt has got to make some kind of bucket list. A nice gem quality piece of jade is still possible to the lucky nut. The jade here falls under the heading of Nephrite, not to be confused with its brother Jadeite. Nephrite is composed of interwoven mineral fibers, where Jadeite is made of interlocking granules.

The descent down the cliff faces is as written, and is not for the weak hearted. It also helps if you are part billy goat. This particular day down the cliffs there is a path where there were two sets of ropes to hold onto going down or up…very nice. The other three trails are very sketchy, as the morning dew mixed with serpentine, talc, and top soil can make for a slippery ride down the dirt path, “Whoa”, but I made it down. The water line is just incredible, rough and jagged with nooks and crannies everywhere with huge water surges thru the tide pools. I started my exploration each morning by scouring over the area kind of quickly at first due to the fact that others were coming, and fast. I settled into a scouted out spot where you could see where the waves pushed up the shoreline and at their peak fell off to the right or left leaving a large array of smaller stones. I sifted between the rocks on my hands and knees, raking the stones aside with the garden hand rake which worked great. I started at the bottom of the gravel formation, first removing any large rocks, but always on the look out for a larger stray piece of jade, then raking down while moving up. It was great fun to rake the small tumbled rock and out pops a nice little gem quality piece of jade, most suitable for a necklace.

In the early morning the shore line is shaded due to the low position of the rising sun and the tall cliff faces. This makes the trek in very pleasant but can be a little chilly until you get the body warmed up. As the sun rises, the water I brought down sure hit the spot as the high sun and salt air can dehydrate you quickly. The sun can also be your big brother when it’s high overhead and shining down while lighting your work area. I worked these areas of the shoreline between the large rock outcrops thru the afternoon before working my way back over to the trail up the cliff face. The ascent up and out looks like no friggen way, I just came down that! I always mark this location with a small piece of pink ribbon that I carry when I’m in areas I do not know very well. It makes it really easy when you are returning back from a long hike over terrain that all looks the same. I walked past my trail one time without the marker ribbon and it was a little nerve racking trying to figure out what trail was the right one…pink ribbon, yep! Going up is not as bad as going down, just don’t look down. With the weight of my pack and my body weight alone I always feel like I have lots of pressure on my feet which results in good traction…ahh the top.

The walk over and back to camp is on top of an ancient marine terrace with thick vegetation in some areas where only the paths can be seen. No collecting of jade above the mean high tide mark is allowed; meaning the only place to collect is down at the waters edge no higher than the high water mark. Most of the area is wide open with the Santa Lucia Mountains in the back drop which makes for a beautiful walk.

The whole trip was planned around the tides; the lows this week were between 11a.m. and 2p.m., so that meant I had plenty of time in the morning to get ready. Today the trail down was a breeze and I was standing at the bottom in no time, off around the corner south and over a large outcropping of Serpentine to settle in on the back side of this enormous finger sticking out from the shoreline creating a fence like effect to one side of the cove. The opposite side was made up of a number of larger boulders. This area produced for me the other day and I wanted to give it a go again, today I brought my screened sifting rigs. I was early so I just laid back and waited around for the tide to drop. I was able to find a couple of small nephrite pieces in the process of waiting while lying on my belly on top of the large boulders digging between them. With the tide on the fall and having timed the swells and seeing no apparent reason for concern of getting soaked, in I went. To jade hunt around the base of large boulders at low tide you have to wear a pair of water shoes and get in up to your knees at least, sometimes higher, when the outside sets rolls in. What is really cool about this is the rocks or pebbles have built up on the back sides of the larger rocks. Today’s game was to screen these pebbles while standing up to my knees in water in the little tide pools, water temperature at 58 degrees, not bad. Just scoop and sift, then take a look, it had to work. The first load I scooped in the half inch screen, an outside swell hit the large boulder in front of me and I was completely drenched with 58 degree Pacific Ocean. I never heard it or saw it, but sure felt it! Dang, time for a break. Now semi-dried off, and yes the tide had dropped some more, so back in I went. I really wanted to try these screens as all of my jade hunting so far has been by hand lightly fanning it over the top layer of the pebbles then letting the water settle out and collect from the surface.

jade4.pngBack in the tide pool the water was just below my knees with just a little bit of tidal surge coming and going. Sure it was a little cold, but jade fever equalized everything. I’m standing behind a boulder about the size of a VW on the pebble pile built up from behind created by each wave crashing into and over, again and again. All clear, no rogue wave in sight, bend and scoop. The entire 12” x 12” screen box is full; I began to sift at the other end of the pool. The first sift thru I find a nice neck hanger piece of jade sitting right on top. From my five days of digging in the trenches I’ve learned jade can be very sneaky. You see it sitting on top of all the other pebbles, but as soon as you touch it or move the other rocks it’s gone. Jade has a waxy feeling that makes it slippery when you grasp it wet and it just slides between all the other rocks with the greatest of ease, the screens worked great! I was averaging one nice piece of jade about every other scoop. It sure helped to finally get the eye for jade while it was underwater; it took me four days to actually say I know what to look for. A quick field check for jade is the knife test, as jade does not scratch due to its Moh’s Scale of 6, but most other rocks will scratch with a white streak. Serpentine is a different color of green but appears to look like Big Sur Jade; these pieces have to be tested because they sure look like the real McCoy, but will scratch with the knife. About thirty scoops and sifts later my vital signs were dropping, I was still foaming at the mouth from jade fever, lost track of time, thought it was a dream, and was just freezing my butt off. There on the rocks was my baggy of loot, just like in the old days. The day yielded another zip lock bag of good quality jade; I was completely satisfied, completely.

This Big Sur vacation was everything I thought it would be, and of course more. I ended up with many nice pieces of jade from pea to golf ball size. There has been a lot written about Jade Cove and Big Sur rock hounding so there is no excuse not to understand the area a little bit via research. Of course the more you go the more you know, and remember you have to get wet to find jade. Just do your research and you too can have a trip of a lifetime. Rock on!

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2 thoughts on “The Hunt for Jade Cove Nephrite

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    1. Thank you. At the clubs monthly meeting this August 1, 2017, which is the first Tuesday of the month I will have a program on Jade Cove. Hope all can make it,
      CP

      Like

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