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Kuskokwim Ice Road open from tundra villages all the way to Aniak

A grader operated by the Kuskokwim Ice Road crew is seen on the Kuskokwim River on Feb. 1, 2024.
Mark Leary
A grader operated by the Kuskokwim Ice Road crew is seen on the Kuskokwim River on Feb. 1, 2024.

Two weeks of bitter cold temperatures in Bethel and the surrounding region have solidified conditions for truck travel on the river. Kuskokwim Ice Road crew leader Mark Leary called in to KYUK’s Talkline show on Feb. 2 to share a report.

“As of this morning, there are over 200 miles of safely established and marked Kuskokwim Ice Road stretching from Kasigluk to Aniak,” Leary said.

But Leary also warned travelers to be aware of drifting snow, which is likely to become more severe. There’s a weekend blizzard warning for Western Alaska.

“Travelers might find that as the road gets drifted more, it's better to drive off the road,” Leary said.

Leary also warned that the convenience and relative safety of the ice road doesn’t mean that travelers shouldn’t prepare for the worst when heading out on the river.

“During that bitterly cold weather last weekend, there was a couple drinking, ran off the road, got stuck, broke their fan belt. They had no warm clothes, they were sitting in a vehicle with no engine running,” Leary said. “They got severely hypothermic, even to the point where one of them was taking their clothes off.”

According to Leary, the couple had broken down in a section of the river that sees little traffic, but were lucky enough to be rescued by a passerby before it was too late.

Johnson River

As for prime ice-fishing grounds near the mouth of the Johnson River, the ice road crew was able to plow an access road on Feb. 1.

“We did get a road put in to the manuqing area yesterday, through rough ice. It has a sign, it has markers all the way,” Leary said.

Headed up the Johnson River to the tundra villages of Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, and Atmautluak, the ice road has been marked every tenth of a mile.

According to Kasigluk Search and Rescue leader Wilson Twitchell, who also called in to KYUK’s Talkline, the Johnson River will be more thoroughly marked in the coming days.

“Many stake markers last year were run over by vehicles or snowmobiles,” Twitchell said. “Please refrain from vandalizing all trail markers. Who knows? Someday you may need those markers for you to stay safe.”

While crews have worked hard to establish the more than 200-mile ice road, winter is far from over and the work has only begun.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that volunteers would be marking the Johnson River.

Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
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