Second Bethel Search and Rescue aerial survey shows continuing dangerous ice on Kuskokwim River
The theme of Bethel Search and Rescue’s second aerial survey of the Kuskokwim River, completed on Dec. 19, is “Too Much Too Soon.”
This refers to a heavy blanket of snow laid over relatively thin ice along the Kuskokwim River and its tributaries, resulting in widespread overflow and slow thickening of the ice. The layer of fresh snow has made thorough marking of holes with willows and reflectors critically important for safe travel.
Overall, the aerial survey found that while travel by snowmachine on established trails between villages is relatively safe at the moment, Bethel Search and Rescue recommends against all travel off trails on the river due to snow-covered thin ice and overflow.
The main area of concern near Bethel remains the upper end of Kuskokuak Slough, where a large unmarked area of open water is preventing safe passage across the ice. For those traveling to Akiak, the safest route is currently to avoid Kuskokuak Slough by traveling through Akiachak.
Measurements taken in the Bethel area on Dec. 20 showed ice thickness on the Kuskokwim ranging from 13 inches to 15 inches. But the ice approximately 6 miles downriver from Bethel, between Oscarville and Napaskiak, was only 9 inches thick, far below what Bethel Search and Rescue considers safe for travel with large vehicles.
On the second aerial survey, Bethel Search and Rescue volunteers did not observe recent truck trails anywhere on the mainstem of the Kuskokwim River from the Johnson River more than 100 miles upriver to Kalskag. The aerial survey also found that the ice is especially rough from the Johnson River upriver to just below Napakiak.
Further upriver, several large open water areas were observed during the aerial survey on the mainstem between Akiak and Tuluksak, where there is also no established trail. All travel to Tuluksak has been taking place on the overland trail from Akiachak. Several large open water areas were also observed between Tuluksak and Upper Kalskag, with no established trails observed on the main river.
Bethel Search and Rescue said that they may fly additional aerial surveys as needed in the coming weeks.