It isn’t very easy these days for junior explorers to go for large discoveries, as most of the low hanging fruit is long gone by now. Significant deposits can still be found, but geologists have to be very creative and inventive, to come up with new exploration concepts, for example using glacial till sampling, re-interpreting old data, or conceptualizing potential mineralization under cover. Westward Gold Inc. (WG.CSE) has been developing this particular last strategy at their Toiyabe Project in Nevada, on the prolific Cortez Trend, hoping to find another analogy of the nearby 10 Moz Au Cortez Hills mine, or the underground portion of the Carlin complex (Portal Mines, Leeville) at depth, which generated over 15Moz Au for Nevada Gold Mines.
Westward built their current land position firstly by acquiring and consolidating underexplored, prospective ground on trend and in close proximity to both past-producing and operating mines, followed by building out an experienced team of geologists – some of whom had a hand in the original discovery of these world-class deposits. Both historical and Westward-led drilling seems to indicate that this tiny junior has a decent chance at finding potentially significant mineralization at depth, and this article will elaborate on why this could be the case.
All pictures are company material, unless stated otherwise.
All currencies are in US Dollars, unless stated otherwise.
Please note: the views, opinions, estimates, forecasts or predictions regarding Westward Gold’s resource potential are those of the author alone and do not represent views, opinions, estimates, forecasts or predictions of Westward or Westward’s management. Westward Gold has not in any way endorsed the views, opinions, estimates, forecasts or predictions provided by the author.
Westward Gold Inc. (WG.CSE) is an emerging gold exploration company focused primarily on advancing the Toiyabe, Turquoise Canyon, and East Saddle Projects in the Cortez Hills area of Lander County, Nevada, along the prolific Battle Mountain-Eureka Trend. The company assembled these fully-contiguous properties over the last couple of years, and it now controls a dominant land package in the region, comprised of 463 claims covering over 3,830ha. The properties benefit from favourable host rocks, significant drill intercepts, a historical resource, permits in hand, and a robust pipeline of untested exploration targets.
The projects are on trend with some of the largest deposits in the world (for example Cortez Hills, Goldrush, Pipeline), in one of the most attractive jurisdictions for mining investment. Westward also recently bolstered their portfolio with the strategic acquisition of 2 additional properties along the Carlin Trend (the Coyote and Rossi Projects), where it is one of few junior companies present in an area dominated by Nevada Gold Mines (Barrick / Newmont Joint Venture).
Westward Gold is led by founder, President and CEO Colin Moore, and co-founder and CFO Andrew Nelson. Mr. Moore (BSc Mining Eng., MBA) is a mining corporate finance professional with 15 years of industry experience spanning engineering, investment banking, and private equity. Most recently, he was a co-founder and director of Momentum Minerals (together with CFO Nelson), which was acquired by Westward Gold in July of 2021. Prior to that, he held positions on the investment teams of leading mining-focused private equity funds, first as a Vice President at Waterton and later at Pacific Road Capital. He also previously worked as an investment banker with Bank of Montreal’s Metals and Mining team.
Mr. Nelson (CPA) is an accounting and corporate finance professional with a decade of experience in mining and natural resources. He previously worked on the investment banking team at Dundee Securities, advising on merger and acquisitions for global mining companies through all phases of their development cycle, from greenfield exploration through to production. Following that, he was part of the team at Dundee Goodman Merchant Partners, a leading mining-focused merchant bank, where he was responsible for analyzing early-stage public mining ventures. He also worked as a financial auditor for Grant Thornton LLP and Davidson & Company LLP, auditing large, mid-tier, and small-cap mining companies.
Colin and Andrew are supported by VP Exploration David Browning (MSc Geology), with a wealth of experience working on Nevada gold projects, specifically designing exploration programs at projects along the Carlin, Battle Mountain-Eureka, and Walker Lane Trends. Management also reaps the benefits of a very experienced Board of Directors, and heavyweight technical advisors. Chairman Mark Monaghan (BA, BC) is a finance professional with 30 years of experience with global investment and merchant banks. Director David Kelley (MSc Geology and Geochemistry) is a geologist and geochemist with 30 years of exploration experience (Newmont, BHP, Gold Standard); he was directly involved in the discovery of several deposits around the world, and was responsible for developing the exploration program at Las Bambas.
It gets really interesting when looking at Westward’s advisory team, among them Steven Koehler, Richard Bedell and Terry Salman. Koehler was involved in no less than 11 Carlin-type gold discoveries along the Carlin- and Battle Mountain-Eureka trends in Nevada, of which 6 are now producing mines. He received the 2005 Thayer Lindsley award for his role in the original Cortez Hills discovery (10Moz+ Au). Bedell led the discovery of Long Canyon, which was ultimately sold to Newmont for $2.3B. Salman needs no introduction, as he was the founder of well-known Salman Partners, a broker specialized in financing exploration and mining companies. Westward will undoubtedly benefit from his excellent access to a large network of investors, funds and financiers.
The company started trading on the CSE under their current ticker, name and management in October 2021. Drilling at their flagship Toiyabe project started in Q2, 2022, and the results that came out last summer weren’t bad, but not enough to fend off the selling that took place across the sector in H2, 2022. Fortunately, with the gold price picking up steam again in 2023, the rising tide lifted all boats, and Westward has been no exception:
Share price 3 year timeframe (Source: tmxmoney.com)
The company commenced drilling again this spring, and is awaiting drill results, also from depth where a potential new mineralized zone was targeted. Investors have been buying in anticipation of these results, as the upside for this tiny nanocap is colossal. The chart seems to have digested the December 16, 2022 6.875M PP shares of C$0.08 coming out of lockup in April pretty well, I wondered if there was some C$0.12 warrant conversion going on already? CFO Nelson stated, “We anticipate a significant portion of these in-the-money warrants may get exercised in the near future and act as a built-in financing mechanism. We also have the ability to accelerate conversion if we trade above C$0.20/share for 10 consecutive days.”
Westward Gold has a reasonably tight number of 83.07M shares outstanding, which results at a share price of C$0.16 in a market cap of C$13.29M, and trades at a significant daily volume of 487,950 shares. There are 36.4M warrants outstanding (average strike price C$0.19, most of them expiring in 2025), and 5.6M options (average strike price C$0.18, most of them expiring in 2026). Management (CEO Moore put in C$150k for 2.4%, CFO Nelson has invested C$400k of his own money for 5%), along with the BoD and advisors hold 20.6% of the company, Starcore 4.7%, EMX Royalty 3.6%, Toiyabe vendor MinQuest 2.8%, First Mining Gold 5.4% and Keith Neumeyer 2.0% of outstanding shares.
Management expects to attract some well-known names if current drilling is successful, as the story has already been brought to the attention of institutional investors, and might uplist in the future to attract even more instos. For example, well-known fund Crescat Capital has already been following the story closely and could buy a substantial position if they like what they see. The current cash position is about C$500k, sufficient for ongoing programs in place; management estimates a new raise sometime in the near future in order to fund additional 2023 Phase II drilling guided by the upcoming results.
Of Westward Gold’s 5 gold exploration properties in Nevada, Toiyabe is the flagship and will therefore be predominantly discussed in this article, and by far the most advanced, as it has seen advanced exploration activities leading to a small historical resource of 173koz of gold at 1.2 g/t (2009), whereas Turquoise Canyon and East Saddle haven’t seen drilling yet. Of interest are also the Carlin Claims shown below, recently picked up for a song prior to the run-up in gold (US$20k, 600k shares and NSRs).
Westward Gold is earning into the Toiyabe project for a 100% ownership, and the last obligation is a US$300k cash payment to the vendor due on or before October 15th of this year. The 2023 Phase I drill program was operated by EMX Royalties (EMX.V), the result of a creative deal whereby EMX made a strategic equity investment in Westward, and provided subsidized drilling services in exchange for the granting of royalty buyback rights at Toiyabe and Turquoise Canyon, along with the conditional future granting of royalties on those projects if EMX elects to exercise those rights in the future (for US$3M on Toiyabe and US$1M on Turquoise Canyon, paid to the royalty holders). Recently-completed diamond drillhole T2301 went to a total depth of ~612 meters (one of the deepest ever on the property) and targeted a brand new zone of potential mineralization.
The historical resource is located close to the small past-producing Toiyabe-Saddle mine (89koz @ 1.24g/t Au production over 1988-1993), which is now controlled by Barrick.
Toiyabe already has seen quite a bit of exploration in the past, predominantly concentrated around the near-surface historical resource. That historical resource estimate (2009) had an average grade of 1.2g/t Au, which is elevated by current Nevada standards, and the system is known to produce high-grade zones, like 6m @ 12.85g/t Au, 4.6m @ 10.9g/t Au and 3m @ 26.6g/t Au, all located along faults. When drilling deeper into these faults, it was found that the mineralized zones widened, with the grades trending down. Still the gold had to come from somewhere.
A 2009 hole intercepting a structurally disturbed zone with a result of 13.1m @ 4g/t Au was the first indication of the potential existence of a feeder structure at depth. A 2016 drill program targeting this deeper deformation zone hit 40m @ 1.3g/t Au including 3m @ 3.1g/t Au, suggesting the presence of a deep disseminated zone that is typical of Carlin-type deposits in Nevada and warranted further exploration. Westward Gold undertook its own 13 hole 3,850m drill program in 2022 after analyzing lots of historical cores including pretty advanced methods I never heard of, like hyperspectral core imaging, and the results, although not very spectacular (50.3m @ 0.34g/t Au, 13.7m @ 0.59g/t Au, 6 other holes hitting grades of 0.14-0.34g/t Au), confirmed the belief of management and advisors of potential at depth.
Technical advisor and Carlin Trend expert Steven Koehler commented:
“Significant Carlin-type gold discoveries that I’ve been involved with – including Leeville, Pete Bajo, Turf, and Rita K – have often been preceded by the drilling of thick, lower-grade gold zones. This “smoke”, exemplified by T2210, is a common characteristic of larger gold systems. Westward has taken a systematic approach to early-stage exploration, and as the database of geological knowledge continues to grow, so does the potential to vector into a meaningful deposit.”
The overall concept he has in mind, resembles the nearby Carlin Complex underground deposits, owned and operated by Nevada Gold Mines, with the combination of drill result data and the existing small historic resource located on top of the upper plate rock (historic deposit conceptualized in green square below) together being an analogous expression of a mineralized stratigraphy that runs much deeper over an extensive strike length:
Westward geologists and advisors believe they have identified the right layered types of rocks at Toiyabe, with the right orientation, as visualized in the following section:
The interesting part here is that the historic resource was found on top of a thick upper plate without clear faults which could have served as precipitation channels. The Westward team identified various units of the Devonian Wenban at Toiyabe, and Wenban 5, one of the key host rocks at the nearby Goldrush and Fourmile deposits, is also one of the host rocks of the historical resource.
The Carlin Complex string of deposits doesn’t have any meaningful amount of gold sitting on top of such upper plate rocks, with Carlin type gold deposits gold usually being epithermally deposited in different carbonate or silicate sedimentary rocks. The purple Dw zones visualized in the section above is such a carbonate layer, and the deeper mineralization is hosted in what Westward is calling the SSD zone and is the current focus of attention. The working theory of the geologists and advisors is, that since more gold than usual was deposited on top of the upper plate, there could be substantial gold below this plate, in the carbonate layer. Very few holes have gone deep enough to fully develop the stratigraphic model of the property, which is complex, but the Westward team has already spun it on its head. Results from T2301 will offer key geological data to continue to improve on the interpreted cross-section and generate additional high-priority targets.
T2301 was a deep vertical 295m northeast step-out drill hole going to 612m depth and was recently completed, targeting deep mineralization. It was located 150m northeast of the intersection of the Roberts Mountains Trust and the Diamond Fault, as these intersections of northeast and northwest structures are known to be strong mineralization controls in deposits along the Carlin and Battle Mountain – Eureka Gold Trends in Nevada:
The news release of April 26 showed the assay results for the first 244m, intercepting gold near surface, in line with earlier results, with results for the remainder of the hole expected before the end of May.
The remaining 368m of core in with the labs, and as turnaround times are relatively short, management expects results to be reported 1-2 weeks from now. On a side note: Westward shipped samples from this hole in 3 batches, because of staff scheduling, and simply wanting to get the samples to the labs as soon as possible.
Steven Koehler was optimistic again as he saw confirmation of the company’s theory in these results: “Upper plate gold occurrences along major Nevada gold trends typically form above – or just slightly outboard from – larger, lower plate gold occurrences. Examples of upper plate mineralization occur near deposits including Goldstrike, Leeville / Turf, Deep Star, and Pete Bajo.”
Also, the arsenic values were high and increasing when approaching the first contact zone around 190m depth between the upper and lower plate rocks, which usually is a solid indicator for mineralization. Dave Browning, Westward’s VP of Exploration, chimed in as well:
“The elevated arsenic values are some of the highest recorded in drill samples at Toiyabe. Its increased presence in T2301 may support our thesis that the system continues to gain strength to the northeast.”
I’m curious what the assayed core from the remaining part of T2301 could provide, for arsenic and gold values, when intercepting the deeper carbonate layer or lower plate rocks. Another indicator is the increased pervasive clay alteration and oxidation at depth, which can be observed in this box holding core from 484 to 486.7m:
Again Dave Browning: “This level of oxidation has not been observed in previous drilling that reached these depths. The vertical extent of alteration in T2301 – either as decalcification, silicification, or clay – is impressive in that it is continuous from the contact of the lower plate carbonate unit. This consistent alteration at depth is yet another indication that the hydrothermal system is open to the north and east.
We could tell we were tapping into a geologically interesting area when we began to see massive zones of shearing, veining, oxide, and clay in the upper plate. These features are associated with major thrust faults such as the Roberts Mountains Thrust. The amount of alteration observed in the siliciclastic upper plate speaks to the potential of the system we are chasing.”
For now the SSD zone is interpreted by Westward as a 300m wide, northeast orientated conceptual mineralized trend, basically following a fault line (Diamond Fault) as can be seen here:
Although the SSD Zone is the main target, the company also reprocessed data of a previous regional-scale gravity survey covering all three properties (Toiyabe, East Saddle and Turquise Canyon), and numerous structures seem to unite these properties into a consolidated entity:
I didn’t really understand the rationale to keep all three projects separate, although obviously at different exploration stages and at different terms/ownership. CEO Colin Moore explained this:”These projects were systematically consolidated in the early stages of our company through both M&A and in-house staking activities. From a practical point of view, they are indeed at different exploration stages, with different vendors, certain varying option obligations, and some underlying royalties. The different ownership is the main reason why we keep them separate in our disclosure (although they form one fully-contiguous combined package), but one other important factor is these projects do have name recognition amongst geos / corporates / etc. who have been active in Nevada over the last few decades. They know Toiyabe, and Turquoise Canyon, and are impressed we were the first company to finally control both at the same time, so after the upcoming October payment for full ownership we might maintain them as separate properties because of this.”
When looking at the exploration potential of the 100% owned Turquoise Canyon project, it seems that gold sampling returned low values. The minimum for economically interesting drill targets usually surpasses 20 ppb Au, and in this case the top values are 8 ppb:
As the SSD Zone is effectively a blind target, these sampling grades aren’t decisive fortunately. According to management, when you factor in that Turquoise Canyon has 150-300m of Upper Plate cover, those gold-in-soil values bleeding up into the less-favourable upper plate rocks from below is actually quite promising. Surface geochemical anomalies, favourable stratigraphy, and observable structures are continuous from Toiyabe’s historical resource onto the Turquoise Canyon Project. Moreover, clays commonly associated with Carlin-type deposits, present at the historical resource / Toiyabe-Saddle open pits, are also observable at Turquoise Canyon. An IP survey on chargeability and resistivity was flown over 17 line-kilometers, providing the geologists with lots of useful information, as for example favourable host rock was identified (Dw, short for Wenban):
Widespread folding and alteration are also present at Turquoise Canyon, just like at Toiyabe. As the project has never been drilled yet, this could be an interesting opportunity. According to management, drilling is planned for as early as late 2023, depending on results from Phase I at Toiyabe. The third property East Saddle is partially subject to the same earn-in agreement as Toiyabe (for 83 out of the 101 total claims), with the remaining 18 already 100% owned by Westward. After the last October payment on Toiyabe is completed, East Saddle will therefore also be fully owned. Exposed Wenban host rocks were found here at surface, as were parts of the aforementioned Roberts Mountains Thrust, and this was a reason for management to acquire this property as well. Early-stage exploration activities including mapping and sampling are planned here for Q3, 2023 to develop eventual drill target areas.
With Toiyabe assays due very shortly, it will be very interesting to see what the upcoming drill results will show us. Could Westward be scratching the surface of another Cortez or Carlin Complex type of deposit here? Time will tell, and we will get a first indication very soon.
It isn’t always easy to recognize realistic large scale exploration potential in the absence of impressive drill results or significant historical resources. Westward seems to convey a convincing thesis though in this regard, as highly prospective land in between large NGM mines combined with the geologists that discovered those deposits, and exploration findings consistent with the working geological theory so far bode well for upcoming drill results. The first meaningful drill result at depth, targeting mineralized envelopes analogous to the nearby 10Moz Cortez mine, is expected within a week from now. If Westward does hit something significant, the share price will probably reflect this, and names like Crescat Capital will be sitting front row to likely invest substantially in the company, providing them with sufficient cash in that case to drill Toiyabe extensively for potential elephants, typical for the Carlin and Cortez trends. Stay tuned!
I hope you will find this article interesting and useful, and will have further interest in my upcoming articles on mining. To never miss a thing, please subscribe to my free newsletter at www.criticalinvestor.eu, in order to get an email notice of my new articles soon after they are published.
The author is not a registered investment advisor, and currently has a long position in this stock. Westward Gold is a sponsoring company. All facts are to be checked by the reader. For more information go to www.westwardgold.com and read the company’s profile and official documents on www.sedar.com, also for important risk disclosures. This article is provided for information purposes only, and is not intended to be investment advice of any kind, and all readers are encouraged to do their own due diligence, and talk to their own licensed investment advisors prior to making any investment decisions.
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