In this modern-day gold hunt, several salty dogs, smartphones in hand, compete for a real-life treasure chest full of gold and silver. On June 20, Edmonton and Calgary cache crusaders set out to find one of the two $50,000 valued prizes, that was until the triumphant pirates were caught using a compromised means to win.

THE HUNT

Chris Cromwell, Gold Hunt’s spokesperson, says the hunt was inspired by Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure. The American Art Dealer who famously hid $2 million in gold and jewels in the Rocky Mountains, inviting treasure seekers to decipher his clues to find the loot — a search that would ultimately claim five lives.

The seven previous Gold Hunts, worth $100,000 each, took anywhere from 20 hours to 10 weeks to complete. Some 13,000 maps were sold to treasure hunters.

This time the hunt is worth $50,000 and includes updated rules and features that are more COVID-19 friendly. With touch-free clues, a virtual launch party and non-sequential riddles to reduce the chances that multiple pirates will drop anchor at the same time and place.

Two-time-treasure-hunter, Trevor Savage, whose team Ineligible Bachelors lost both of Edmonton’s hunts last year, was looking forward to marooning his competition in 2020. 

Savage said the Gold Hunt was “traumatizing at times” as they came incredibly close to winning both hunts. Last year, after sitting on the final clue for two weeks, the Ineligible Bachelors were beaten by one of Savage’s friends, who previously declined to join their team.

“What makes matters worse is the guy that found it, I introduced him to the hunt, and he went to school with me,” says Savage.

Unfortunately, this year has not proved to be any better. Savage and his team made their way to the final clue only hours before the Edmonton hunt was put on hold. 

Urgent Announcement posted on June 22 that revealed a possible compromised hunt. Photo: Gold Hunt’s Instagram page

COMPROMISING WIN

The Gold Hunt team faced two kinds of booty bandits, both on-the-web and in-the-flesh.

Immediately as the maps were being released in Calgary and Edmonton, Stephanie Howie, Gold Hunt’s sales and PR manager, says they received a malicious cyber-attack, bringing down their website. However, the game was back on within 20 minutes.

“There was nothing that got really wrecked past that. It just caused us a lot of extra headache and panic,” says Howie.

Then just before midnight on June 22, Gold Hunt released an “urgent announcement” that the game had been compromised, following questionable achievements made by the winning pirates. Gold Hunt wrote that they will be withholding the loot until their lawyers can have a closer look at what happened. 

Both hunts were over within the first two days. Hours after the announcement of a potential Edmonton winner, Gold Hunt put out an official message that the hunt was being suspended due to “evidence of compromised activity.” 

“Crazy what people will do for $50,000.”

 —Stephanie Howie

This compromised activity was provided to Gold Hunt via other pirates through screenshots of conversations. The winners were found in breach of the trading, sharing and purchasing of answers, says Howie.

“So it’s not even us, like, (other) people narked on him.”

Acknowledging their own legal obligations, and the size of the prize, Gold Hunt had to review and decide what to do next, says Howie.

“A fair and honest hunt is what you were promised, and it is what we will deliver,” says Gold Hunt’s Instagram page.

This has been a learning curve for the fledgeling company, the unfortunate situation will help them put more measures in place to ensure that pirates are playing legitimately, says Howie.

“Crazy what people will do for $50,000,” says Howie.

Savage was disappointed with the news. 

“It sucks for Gold Hunt. It sucks for the hardcore people that love the game like me, it sucks for us. It sucks for the people that aren’t very good at riddles.”

Because of how close the Ineligible Bachelors got, and how challenging the riddles were, he hopes to get a headstart on the next hunt if this one is called off.

“They really stumped us this time,” says Savage. “Like it was a lot harder than previous riddles. Which is good because I’d rather it be hard. I don’t want it to be found overnight.”

Calgary’s practice riddle. Photo: Gold Hunt’s Instagram page

MOVING FORWARD

On June 26, Gold Hunt announced that they will be re-launching the hunt later this summer, dates to come. They will be honouring all previous maps and bonus hints purchased towards the next hunt.

Savage says that winning the next hunt would feel like a big weight off his shoulders, finally putting the hunt to bed and quieting the hecklers in his life. But, heavy metals aside, he says he loves the game for the experience. 

“For 35 bucks, it was a month of thrills and ups and downs,” says Savage. “I get to see my city for all it’s worth and all the great places that I haven’t seen before.”