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Dustin Hurt Discusses Nearly Dying And Hitting The Jackpot On Gold Rush: White Water - Exclusive Interview

Think of panning for gold, and images of an Old West prospector might come to mind, standing waist-deep in a river and straining pyrite from pebbles. Now, think of it a different way. The river's still there, and there's gold still in it, but getting at it requires specialized diving gear and an underwater vacuum called a suction dredge. Instead of a rusty pan, there's a multi-stage, finely-tuned sluice box. Did we mention that all of this is taking place in one of the most remote and unforgiving environments imaginable? Welcome to the world of "Gold Rush: White Water" on Discovery and the rushing river full of treasure that Dustin Hurt calls his workplace.

Hurt, together with his father Fred and their dedicated crewmembers, has been successfully mining claims in Alaska's far-flung Chilkat Range for some time now, and he's back in Rockfall Ravine for Season 5 of "Gold Rush: White Water," running two mining teams and aiming for higher gold totals than ever before. "There is never going to be a moment where a gold miner is satisfied with the amount of gold that they have," Hurt told Looper in an exclusive chat. "So I always want more." Hurt also shared with us how he got into gold mining in the first place, how he handles the constant challenges of his work, and the unsuccessful mining moments that still gnaw at his soul.

The history of Hurt and the waterfall that got away

Let's start with a little bit of history. You were a hot shot, fighting fires with the California Forest Service, before becoming a gold miner. What drew you from one dangerous job to another, perhaps even more dangerous job?

I was a dirt worker before I was on the hot shots and it seemed kind of natural to move from running excavators and running loaders to go dig for gold, because I think the difference is simply a sluice box. So I was already trained up for the job. So it just made a lot of sense to go check it out.

It's more of a lateral movement then, I guess.

Yeah, well, the hot shot thing didn't work out as well as I wanted it to. But afterwards, it was just a good move for me to go look for gold, because you know, it was something I was passionate about. I had the experience already.

Well, at this point, with multiple seasons of "Gold Rush: White Water" under your belt, would you say that all of the sweat and toil and danger have paid off in the way you expected?

I thought so. There's a giant waterfall, a 50 foot waterfall that lured me to all of this, and I wanted to tackle that, and I haven't yet made an approach to tackle that. I think that's the difference between when I started and now. That I thought I would be able to just jump straight into that, but it's a bigger job than I thought it was gonna be. So I think for the payoff, I think that's going to be the big waterfall that I haven't been able to attack.

What's the waterfall called?

It's McKinley Falls.

And it's a tempest.

So, someone tried to dig it, and got a bunch of gold out of part of it. And they didn't get to finish it because there was flooding and they got wiped out after three years of prep. And luckily they drilled a tunnel — that we'd live in most of the season — that they diverted water through. They threw 250 men at it. It was a big endeavor, and then they got flooded out two weeks off, and they didn't rebuild. I now own that waterfall and I'd love to get after it, and I think that's going to be life-altering. Just haven't made enough gold to actually go ahead and get after it.

Claims for fame, teamwork, and what's captured on camera

Well, that brings me to something else. How do you go about securing a land claim to mine on, and what's that process like?

So there's several different ways you can go. State claims, but most of the good ones have already been staked, so you usually have to bargain with the owner, and it's just like anything else, you buy it. You come to an agreement, or you do a portion of the gold or something of that nature, but you can strike up any types of deals with the owners to try to work on these claims. I ended up buying these claims from the previous owner.

Do you ever worry about competitors honing in on your territory?

No one does what we do. Anybody watches this TV show, and thinks that they can go into my claims and dig and do what we do? They're wrong, because this is harder than anyone ever will know until they try. So the answer is no.

That brings up another interesting point. The teamwork and the bond between crew members is one of the show's biggest draws. Can you think of an example where a team member stepped up in an indispensable moment of creativity that just totally saved the day?

I can think of hundreds. Well, I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is my guys saving my life. Last season, last year...the years run into each other...where I fell it onto a dredge and almost went over a 50 foot waterfall.

Yeah, Wes — it looked like he was able to save you with that safety line at the very last moment in that sequence.

Yes. And that's when you need really good people to be on point when things like that go down. And there's countless times that that type of thing has happened. They don't always get it on film. But that type of thing happens more often than you would think. And we have to rely on each other to stay alive. It's a big deal, and we do bond over this stuff because we've saved each other's lives over and over and over again.

How much do you think is captured by the cameras of what you guys are actually doing out there?

So I'm at a disadvantage, because I've never watched the show ever, and I don't I don't know that I ever will. I don't know what they show anyone because I don't watch the show, but I can tell you when the cameras around. I think they probably get 80, 90% of it, but it's those clutch moments where things really go down. If they're in transit or you know the cameras glitching or something of that nature. They can't always follow us where we go because some of the places just too dangerous for camera.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It just gives us the viewer a sense of the vastness of the territory up there. It just seems like it'd be hard to put a camera crew it on so many of those places.

Sometimes we have to absolutely leave them behind and grind through our thing and come back and explain what happens.

Working and leading in an environment made of danger

So, what did you not expect about working and living in up there in all these extreme conditions? Now that you've done it for quite a few years.

I know that it's a rainforest. It's not a tropical rainforest, but it's a rainforest we work in, and I truly felt in the first couple of years that I was there, when I bought the claims, it wasn't this much rain. And it's that we have broken records every year now. How much rain we did get, I did not expect that to happen. The amount of water is just an immense and I did not see that coming this much.

So the environmental challenges, as it's evolved, has probably become one of your biggest obstacles to overcome each year right that you're out there.

Everything out there's basically trying to take us down. It feels almost like a small war. I have a crew and Mother Nature has its crew, and we just battle. It just never ends, the daily battle trying to fight this thing. We try to fight, and we respect it, but it's such a hard task to try to actually get things done out there at all. You'd have to be there to understand it. I'm not sure what the TV show shows. Everyone is in danger. It is scary.

Well that definitely comes through on the show. There's a vibe. In Season 5, who's on your mining crew this time around? Veterans? New blood?

I can't really give you all that. I could tell you that Fred's starting to get — he's almost 80 years old, and I don't think he's gonna be as full time as he usually is. Getting up there in age just like anybody would.

It seems that you're gonna be kind of running two crews at once.

Yeah, Fred didn't want to run a crew this year. And it was a good benefit for me to have two groups out there. I think I made the right choice on that. We had some good people, and I don't know how much I can tell you about that. But we did get some good people. And I think it worked out just fine. The way the way we made it happen.

How does being the boss of two crews influence your leadership style?

I just have my own style. It doesn't change, the number of people. I just have my own style and mostly It's sink or swim. Literally. Just get out there and do it, or else. I don't know what to tell you. You try to mitigate all the dangers; I try not to let them kill themselves.

Ah, that's a good way to do it. You told a guy a few seasons back, there was a clip of you saying to a guy, "Saying 'I can't do this' will get you put out of this.'" There's no vagueness in that.

Something that I've always told them is it's okay to be afraid. Some of this stuff, you still have to do it. That's what it is. And I'm afraid, too, half the time and I still have to do it. So do you. And it's that simple. Being afraid is not an excuse to not doing it. That's the problem.

Getting the gold and getting out alive

Fans really respond to how, so often, you're the one doing the diving. That you're not coordinating all of this from some perch somewhere. You're out there actually doing the work alongside of your guys and gals.

Absolutely. I would never have asked anybody to do something I would refuse to do out there and everyone knows that. I will show them that it's possible before. And that's why my guys trust me, because I will do all of it and show you how to excel at it. And if there's any question I'll do it again and again and again, until you're comfortable doing this. That's a big deal to me.

You've managed to increase your gold goal every season. I was wondering if you were going into this new season trying to get it to hit an even bigger goal, in terms of what you get out there.

Every gold miner wants more gold no matter how much gold you get. It's gonna be a truckload, you want two truckloads, right? Just how gold works. There is never going to be a moment where a gold miner is satisfied with the amount of gold that they have. So I always want more.

Can you think of any big time, totally memorable moments that stand out from this year that people are gonna have to see?

This year Mother Nature really put it to me. Oh man, it was probably the hardest season I've ever had.

The rainfall, the runoff, the snow — all the stuff that we've seen over the course of the seasons. It just seems like it couldn't be any worse.

It was something else. I've never actually seen it like this before. So it was more than I was prepared for. My job is to mitigate all the dangers that I can and try to avoid the things that I can. This year I felt myself avoiding more than mitigating. It was rough.

It was even more extreme than extreme, it sounds like.

Well, I can say we were lucky to get out of that with all our lives.

"Gold Rush: White Water" airs Fridays on Discovery and is available to stream on Discovery+.