Cold and stormy weather has improved the river ice conditions around Bethel. Mark Leary, with Bethel Search and Rescue, said that most of the difficult sections of water around Bethel are now frozen, including the area at the crossing from Church Slough to Straight Slough.
The section of the main river below the Bethel Bluffs is nicely frozen now, but there is a worrisome section at the lower end of Gweek Island.
"It’s on the main channel side," said Leary. "There’s a very large open hole. Not very wide, but it’s long.”
The hole in the ice is estimated it to be 300 yards long, and is located right up against the cut bank. Leary said that he will be talking with Bethel Search and Rescue by Zoom to get that area marked. A reminder: if you see blue reflective markers, stay away because that means open water. Further up the river, Akiachak’s tribal transportation and search and rescue crew has marked the open water at the mouth of the Gweek River.
While there is currently no ice road, there is a marked snowmachine trail from Bethel to Kwethluk. There is less traffic than usual on the river this year, and Leary said that no trail to Akiak has been established yet. Leary said that he was surprised to see that no one was traveling there, but understands the reason.
“This is because of the pandemic, and Akiak is getting hit especially hard. They lost beloved Elders recently, and they’re taking this seriously and they’re hunkering down. They have felt the pain,” said Leary.
Leary said that he and his crew did not enter any villages while surveying the river ice. Further upriver from Akiak, Leary said that there is a huge area of open water where he and his team turned around to explore the Kuskokuak Slough, which had more open water.
“There is a larger open water toward upper end of Kuskokuak that the Akiachak crew has marked. It’s very large, but it is well marked. But below that there is another one near Wassilie’s fish camp that is not marked. That’s very worrisome because it’s the same time of the year we lost those three people on a four-wheeler,“ Leary said.
Ice on the river is estimated to be about 1 foot thick on average.