by Bethel Search and Rescue
November 18, 20: Summary
Although we had another late freeze up, the recent cold weather has brought River conditions closer to what they used to be in “normal” years … but we are still quite a bit behind.
BSAR flew the River today from the Johnson River to Bogus Creek above Tuluksak. This was exactly one year from when we did our first aerial survey in 2018 and 2019. We’ve found that flying our first freeze up survey of the season on the same day each year gives us a valuable tool for measuring where we are at with Kuskokwim River Freeze Up conditions.
The winter of 2018-19 was the warmest on record with ice thickness about half of normal and the earliest break up at Bethel ever recorded.
The winter of 2019-20 was “the Perfect Winter” with good thick ice and plenty of snow.
This year it looks like we are starting out freeze up Somewhere In Between.
This is what was observed on today’s flight:
• The light dusting of fresh snow this morning made open areas highly visible.
• Little to no open water was observed in the tundra lakes except the little blackfish creeks. There are, however, many areas that very recently froze.
• The Johnson River is 99% frozen over but there are still open water areas near each village and along the entire length to the mouth.
• There are long stretches of rough ice in the Johnson River from the bluffs down where the ice broke up in the last storm, piled up and refroze—these may be problem areas when making trails and roads later in the winter.
• The downstream end of the Kuskokwim River Ice is about a 1/2 mile below the mouth of the Johnson River at this time.
• The main Kuskokwim from Napakiak to Bethel has frozen generally intact—there is very little open water.
• River Conditions in the immediate Bethel area are pretty good. No open water was observed within sight of Bethel.
• No open water was seen around Joe Pete’s Bend.
• Unlike the past several years Straight Slough has frozen through most of its length
• THE CLOSEST OPEN WATER TO BETHEL IS RIGHT AT THE UPPER END OF STRAIGHT SLOUGH ON THE FISH CAMP SIDE (NORTH BANK OR LEFT SIDE AS YOU GO UPSTREAM)
•THERE IS ALSO A LARGE THIN ICE /OPEN WATER AREA IN THE CROSSING BETWEEN STRAIGHT SLOUGH AND CHURCH SLOUGH
LARGE OPEN WATER / THIN ICE AREA AT THE UPPER END OF STRAIGHT SLOUGH & THE CROSSING TO CHURCH SLOUGH
• The next closest open water is 1/2 mile BELOW the Bethel Bluffs.
• There are open water areas on all sides of the big Gweek Island.
• The Akiachak Channel appeared to be well frozen—little or no open water was observed
• KUSKOKWUAK SLOUGHIS UNUSABLE AT THISTIME—THERE ARE TOO MANY OPEN HOLES TO COUNT ALONG ITS ENTIRE LENGTH. THERE IS A VERY LONG STRETCH OF NEARLY BANK TO BANK OPEN WATER FROM WASSILIE B. EVAN’S CAMP UP-STREAM TO THE UPPER MOUTH OF KUSKOKWUAK.
• The Main Kuskokwim River from the upper end of Kuskokwuak Slough to Akiak is packed in with rough ice with no major open holes. Surprisingly all of the side sloughs have large open areas including the short cut slough right below Akiak.
• ABOVE AKIAK LARGE OPEN WATER AREAS BECOME MORE FREQUENT.
• 6 MILES BELOW TULUKSAK AT THE LOWER END OF UNDU’S ISLAND FREEZE UP CONDITIONS BECOME EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. THERE ARE LONG STRETCHES OF NEARLY BANK TO BANK OPEN WATER.
•THIS PICTURE IS IN THE AREA BELOW TULUKSAK KNOWN AS NURRPAQ (SP?). THE ENTIRECHANNEL IS OPEN. THERE ARE MORE AREAS LIKE THIS UPSTREAM.
This is BSAR’s first look at 2020 Kuskokwim Freeze Up Conditions. Ice conditions are better than expected in some areas and worse in other areas. We’re always learning and each year is different—that’s why we go look. The River is far from being safe for general travel at this time but with a little more patience and some cold weather things will get better. BSAR will keep watching and reporting.
One final thing we observed today that made us smile was the number of manaqers (ice fishers) out on ice near every village from the Johnson River to Tuluksak. There were many—dozens.
Even in the face of this COVID pandemic the People know what to do – what they always do at this time of the year— go out in the clean fresh air, carefully on the new young ice, and fish for some fresh food.
What better COVID prevention measures are there?
Thank you, be safe & healthy from BSAR.
*Please Note: this is not an advisory that it is safe to travel. It is for informational purposes only.