A look into the ice jam at Coffee’s Bend, 10 miles below Kalskag (Keep in mind that this picture is taken from a plane – it is much worse at ground level)
“Broken Glass & Mirror Smooth”
November 17, 2014 – Bethel Search & Rescue River Survey
BSAR & Kalskag SAR members did an aerial survey of the Kuskokwim River to assess the ice jam below their village and see how the rest of the River on down to Bethel was holding up after the recent extended warm weather. This is what was observed.
The extended warm weather that began on the evening of November 8th caused 140 miles of the Middle Kuskokwim to break up by the 15th. As of today the River is open from Sleetmute to Upper Kalskag but newly forming ice is making it difficult to go boating. The River has jammed at Coffee’s Bend, 10 miles below Kalskag with extremely rough ice conditions and high water for several miles above the jam. The 90 miles of ice below the jam to Bethel are still holding in place, have become very smooth, and are very dangerous.
Sleetmute to Upper Kalskag:
The River is flowing freely in this stretch; however newly forming ice is making it difficult to go boating. The water is cold and air temperatures further Upriver have been cooler so new ice began forming as soon as the original ice had broken up and moved downstream. The Aniak River, though is completely ice-free and People have been boating in there. Water levels are very low.
Napaimute: north wind pushing new ice toward the south bank, but the strong current in the main channel grabs and holds on to it making a ribbon of ice down the middle of the River
The new ice coming down has been backfilling from Lower Kalskag to Upper Kalskag the past few days and Upper is now blocked in by this newly formed ice. This ice will continue to backfill upstream each day unless it warms up. With the very low water upstream of Kalskag and leftover ice along the shores it may completely block some of the narrow sections of the River before completely backfilling the Middle Kuskokwim.
This new ice is not very rough and because of its thinness – easy to beat a trail through.
New ice at Upper Kalskag backfilling the jam located at Coffee’s Bend, 10 miles downstream
Lower Kalskag to Coffee’s Bend:
The first couple of miles downstream from Lower Kalskag are rough but don’t look too bad from the air. The ice gets progressively rougher as you move closer to the jam. The last 3 miles from just above Nicolai Sergie’s fish camp to Coffee’s Bend are extremely rough. Even from the air the jam is impressive. Experience with the 2002 and 2010 November Break Ups has taught us that it is much worse at ground level.
The Broken Glass: River gets rougher and rougher as you move downstream from Lower Kalskag toward the jam at Coffee’s Bend
This section of the River is impassable at this time. Besides the extremely rough ice conditions that extend from bank to bank, the water level in this area is very high. Water is up into the willows and flowing through some of the side channels that are normally dry at this time of the year. Even if it was cold, traveling on foot through this would be very, very hard. If it refreezes while the water is this high, shell ice along the beaches will be a danger to winter travelers.
Below the Jam:
There has been some minor shifting just below the jam near Iftikum’s fish camp, but beyond that the River is holding in place and very smooth. There are some stretches that appear still bumpy with the old rough ice still showing, but not rough at all. Water levels are high but signs of dropping could be seen from the air.
Minor shifting above Iftikum’s fish camp Smooth River just around the bend
The ice from below Iftikim’s all the way to Akiak appears to be mostly floating – broken free from the beach along both sides of the River, although some shore ice still attached to the main ice could be seen under the water.
In the area between Tuluksak and Akiak there are many open holes. Just downstream of Macivik Slough in the crossing to Mike Napoka’s Island there is a stretch where there is more open water than ice.
Below Akiak on into Bethel the ice appears to be still attached to the shore along the outside of the bends and free floating on the inside bends. Don’t know what stage the tide was at during our flight.
The Mirror: the Kuskokwim River ice still holding at Bethel
This is the 3rd November Break Up on the Kuskokwim in the past 12 years. Two out of the three times it has jammed at Coffee’s Bend. There are six big bends between Lower Kalskag and the straight stretch to the Bluffs. This slows the ice down and the narrow neck at the upper end of Coffee’s Bend is already famous for jams in the spring and now in the winter too.
Some People in the Middle Kuskokwim were hoping the ice would keep on going, clean out the whole River, and start freeze up all over again. But if it did who knows what we’d end up with – a rough River all the way?
Maybe it’s better for it to freeze back up the way it is now. We’ll find a way to get through those few miles of bad ice like we have in the past and then have 90 or more miles of highway on down the River.
And maybe the weather will help smooth it all out later on.
We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s early yet.
Patience & Safe Traveling from BSAR.
*Please note: This is not an advisory that it is safe for travel. It is for informational purposes only.