Kip Keen's Kip Keen AKA @JrMining - Like an over-excited Jack Russell chasing a rabbit, the scent of fresh core beckons and I scramble to learn what I can of new drilling programs. As is the game, most exploration programs come to naught. But some don't. So it goes. Wag my tail.

I don't know if this will turn into a recurring column. We'll see. It may do so. But for now, it's a good place to plunk some of my conversations this week with active drillers. Two in the Clayton Valley, Nevada, and one in Manitoba.

I'm writing this as the halt on Equitas Resources continues, Friday, and leave that be. May be there'll be something to say by the time I get to the end.

Lithium. It's back. The price has surged in the past year and Tesla plans to build a battery factory in Nevada has squarely put the focus on Nevada lithium exploration.

silver peak by nasa

Silver Peak lithium. Source: NASA

The obvious focal point of exploration has become the Clayton Valley, where Albemarle runs the Silver Peak lithium-brine operation (pictured left). It exploits brines from rather extensive acquifers in the valley and juniors have rightly surmised it's a good place to look for more.

Albemarle doesn't own all - or even much - of the prospective ground (hasn't needed to really) so it's allowed for a nice little staking rush and spurt of property deals. There's a trio of serious lithium explorers in the Clayton Valley, near the California border in western Nevada (Note: I've not been there): Lithium X, Pure Energy and Nevada Sunrise. They all have their merits and approach to lithium exploration in the Clayton Valley. Lithium X chiefly holds ground adjacent and to the north of Silver Peak; Pure Energy holds ground to the south of Silver Peak; and Nevada Sunrise primarily, but not only, explores ground about 10 km southwest of Silver Peak.

I won't say much about Lithium X (LIX-V) here as its exploration plans are not yet fully announced. But, needless to say, it will be hitting ground right next to Albermarle's Silver Peak. So more on that another day.

First, Pure Energy (PE-V).

Exploration at its Clayton Valley South project is ongoing, with three large step-out holes being drilled, as the company eyes resource expansion.

Among juniors operating around the Silver Peak lithium mine, Pure Energy is one of the more advanced in terms of its project pipeline. It recently outlined an initial inferred resources in brine with 816,000 tonnes lithium carbonate equivalent.

Pure Energy CEO Robert Mintak is optimistic drilling will grow the resource and notes they are targeting possible brine horizons significantly farther afield than previous drilling - by 2, 4 and 6 kilometres to the south.

"We're not going after any low-hanging fruit," Mintak told me.

At the same time, Pure Energy, which signed a tentative supply agreement with Tesla in late 2015, is advancing the more technical side of the project. It plans to finish a preliminary economic assessment early this year as a first step to a feasibility study down the road. It is also testing recoveries at a pilot plant in Israel to gauge the efficiencies of what may prove cutting-edge technology enabling it to process the lithium more quickly.

Cash is not an immediate problem. Mintak notes the company has about $1.6m in the bank and that about $3m in warrants, expiring June, are in-the-money. Needless to say, many investors are exercising them.

Onward to Nevada Sunrise (NEV-V).

Nevada Sunrise's main project, Neptune, is about 10km southeast of the Silver Peak lithium mine. Warren Stanyer, Nevada Sunrise President and CEO, describes plans to drill three 400m-deep dual-wall RC drillholes to test prospective strata for lithium brine.

Its targets are born of electromagnetic work which Stanyer and his team believe may highlight brine-bearing zones in the Clayton Valley basin. "I know it's definitely possible," he said.

Meantime, Stanyer notes Nevada Sunrise is assessing regional properties beyond the Valley for prospective brine targets. He, as others, see potential for Clayton Valley like deposits in similar settings further afield.

Stanyer expects drilling at Neptune to start in February and the junior is fully budgeted. In late 2015 the company raised about $1 million, @ 0.$15 with a full warrant, through two private placements.

Finally, turning away from lithium and Nevada, I checked in with Wolfden Resources (WLF-V). Last I spoke with Donald Hoy, Wolfden President, the junior was more focused on its New Brunswick VMS targets follwing its IPO in 2012.

But mid-last year Wolfden turned its attention to Manitoba, and the Snow Lake region, well known for its base metals, and a newish property called Rice Lake. It's after nickel and related base metals and, as the case may be, PGMs.

Interesting story.

Hoy always had his eye on Rice Lake. It's old Inco ground that until very recently Vale held. It was last seriously explored, Hoy notes, in the 1950s and 1960s, but yielded some promising drilling results in a nickel-mineralized deposit with notably broad and at times strong nickel grades (~1-3%).

He liked it enough that in the run up to the Wolfden Resources IPO and listing in 2012, he contacted Vale to see if they might sell it to him.

Indeed, he made an offer. He inquired if they would consider optioning it to Wolfden for a $7.5-million work promise and and ~500,000 shares in Wolfden. Of course, the markets just three years ago were a little different than today's.

Vale declined. In part, Hoy notes, the company had yet to decide on a policy of what to do with such ground and whether it wanted to keep a hold on it. Still, Hoy watched the Manitoba claims map.

Good thing.

In April 2015 the property came up free. Vale had dropped the claims. "And in the end we picked up 100% of it for the cost of the claim staking fees," Hoy said, somewhat bemused.

Since, Wolfden has confirmed historic work on the property with drilling in the fall and redone geophysics with, clearly, more modern techniques. Part of the story is confirming historic grades in the main, pipelike deposit on the property. This has led to intercepts such as 1.18% nickel and 0.69% Cu over 52 metres.

More recently it has also led to the discovery of a new structure with nickel mineralization associated with a VTEM anomaly beneath and emanating away from the main deposit hosted in sedimentary rock. "We think it's a conduit," Hoy said, but making it clear that the understanding of the main deposit and related mineralization is poor, so far.

Hits on the new structure include 1.14% Ni and 0.70% Cu over 14m starting about 78 metres downhole. Wolfden will continue drilling the new structure, associated with a geophysics anomaly about 500m long, in the coming months as well as outlining the better known main deposit and doing more detailed geophysics, include fixed-loop surveys.

Hoy also wants to test the handful of other VTEM anomalies that have turned up in recent work. "I want to demonstrate the property contains other deposits," he said.

In December Wolfden raised $360,000 through a private placement of flow-through shares @ $0.10 with a half-share purchase warrant.

And a final note. Still no word from Equitas.

Woof, woof.

Disclosure: Author owns no shares in companies mentioned. Pacific Website Company Inc. (CEO.CA parent company) has a business relationship with Lithium X and several members of the CEO.CA team are Lithium X shareholders and from time to time may trade in the shares of Lithium X without notice to readers.