1-24-15 BSAR UPRIVER ICE ROAD REPORT*:

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Ice Road Markers in the Blowing Snow Near Nulluq Hill above Kalskag

Ice Road Markers in the Blowing Snow Near Nulluq Hill above Kalskag

Summary: Over the past several days the tribal and city governments of Napaimute, Chuathbaluk, Aniak, Kalskag, and Lower Kalskag have pooled their resources and coordinated efforts to establish a safe ice road between the Middle and Lower Kuskokwim. The following is a general description of what travelers can expect along the different sections of the Upriver Ice Road.

Upriver Route 1 Tuluksak to Lower Kalskag:

Lower Kalskag, Napaimute, & Crow Village Crew at Mile Post 0 of Upriver Route 1 near the mouth of the Tuluksak River

Lower Kalskag, Napaimute, & Crow Village Crew at Mile Post 0 of Upriver Route 1 near the mouth of the Tuluksak River L-R: Joe Simeon, Ludwig White, Ben Leary, Andrew Kameroff, Jr., Nikolai Savage, Mike Evan, Jr., Nick Levi, & Dakota Phillips

This route begins at the spruce tree near the lower end of the sandbar below the mouth of the Tuluksak River. Please note this is different than last year. Do not go into the Tuluksak River to pick up the ice road to Kalskag.

This route has been plowed to knock down the rough ice that still remained even after all the warm weather earlier in the winter.

Trail markers are poles with reflectors spaced 2/10’s of a mile apart. Small K300 type reflective stakes are installed in between the poles for extra safety. All KNOWN open holes in the vicinity of the road are marked with willows and BLUE reflectors.

50 year old plow truck dragging steel flats to knock down the rough ice between Tuluksak & Kalskag

50 year old plow truck dragging steel flats to knock down the rough ice between Tuluksak & Kalskag

Joey Evan - plow truck operator & master mechanic

Joey Evan – plow truck operator & master mechanic

Typical Stretch of Upriver Route 1

Typical Stretch of Upriver Route 1 between Tuluksak & Kalskag

Because this is a plowed road it is susceptible to drifting snow, but the road is still very passible.

Travel Tip: if the drifts in the road get too deep just move off the plowed road. There is very little snow off the road at this time.

Travel time between the two communities averages 90-120 minutes.

Paying Respects to Our Teacher: ice road crew visits the grave of legendary Kalskag Ice Road Pioneer, Dick Nash before heading out on the River

Paying Respects to Our Teacher: ice road crew visits the grave of legendary Kalskag Ice Road Pioneer, Dick Nash before heading out on the River

Upriver Route 2 Kalskag to Aniak:

This first 2/3 of this route upstream of Kalskag to Harry’s gravel pit is marked the same as Route 1 – with a combination of poles and stakes.

Most notable is the area below, at, and just above Harry’s gravel pit.

USE EXTREME CAUTION IN THIS AREA AND STAY BETWEEN THE POLES WITH RED & WHITE REFLECTORS

Panoramic View of the River just below the barge landing at Harry's Gravel Pit: the red circles are OPEN WATER - the road is in between

Panoramic View of the River just below the barge landing at Harry’s Gravel Pit: the red circles are OPEN WATER – the road is in between

It looks scary and is dangerous, but a lot of traffic has passed through this area safely. Travelers just need to stay between the poles.

Stay between the poles with RED & WHITE reflectors

Stay between the poles with RED & WHITE reflectors

This is the open hole on the right side of the panoramic picture. This just opened up last week - a result of the current eating bank away under the ice and the hanging ice caving in leaving swift, deep open water. We've seen this before - just not here!

This is the open hole on the right side of the panoramic picture. This just opened up last week – a result of the current eating the bank away under the ice and the hanging ice caving in leaving swift, deep open water. We’ve seen this before – just not in this area – the River’s always teaching us.

Once past the open water, due to extremely rough ice conditions the truck road is squeezed up against the bank for a short distance before making a rough crossing back to smoother ice. With more snow and wind this area will become a problem for truck travelers.

Truck trail is squeezed between the rough ice, half frozen overflow, and the cut bank just above Carl Morgan's fish camp

Truck trail is squeezed between the rough ice, half frozen overflow, and the cut bank just above Carl Morgan’s fish camp

After this short, stretch there is a rough crossing back to smoother ice. This is the roughest part of the whole ice road between Tuluksak and Chuathbaluk.

Short rough crossing above Carl Morgan's fish camp: no small cars recommended

Short rough crossing above Carl Morgan’s fish camp: no small cars recommended

The remaining 1/3rd of the route above the gravel pit to Aniak is not marked for trucks at this time. The current truck trail in this section is following the K300 markers. Use caution following this route as it uses some side sloughs and beaches that may not be suitable for trucks as the ice continues to drop. A truck trail following the main channel and grading are planned for later this week.

Travel time between the two communities averages 75 to 90 minutes.

Upriver Route 3 Aniak to Chuathbaluk:

This is best part of the Upriver Ice Road system at this time. The route is well marked, has been graded smooth, and all open holes are marked. Travel time between the two communities averages 15-20 minutes.

Best part of the Upriver Ice Road System: Aniak to Chuathbaluk. Good job!

Best part of the Upriver Ice Road System: Aniak to Chuathbaluk. Good job!

Upriver Route 4 Chuathbaluk to Napaimute:

Reconnaissance  of a safe truck route has just been completed. Ice thicknesses are good and smoothness is fair. A marked truck road will be established later this coming week.

THERE IS HOWEVER, EXTREME DANGER AT NAPAIMUTE UPSTREAM OF THE DUMP ROAD 

There is unmarked open water and during the last warm spell the channel in front of the original village has blown out.This is common in the swift section of River. Even though the ice is 2′ – 3′ thick the force of increased water during melting times breaks the ice and blows it out on top of the original ice leaving dangerous swift open water. Anyone traveling through the Napaimute area must avoid the middle of the River.

Red Circle shows the broken up, blow out area in front of Napaimute. Below this the River is flooded with 2" of new ice on top of the overflow

Red Circle shows the broken up, blow out area in front of Napaimute. Below this the River is flooded with 2″ of new ice on top of the overflow

Close up of the swift, deep open water in mid-channel from the blow out at Napaimute.

Close up of the swift, deep open water in mid-channel from the blow out at Napaimute.

That’s the Upriver Ice Road Report.

A big thank you to the organizations and People of Lower Kalskag, Kalskag, Aniak,  Chuathbaluk, and Napaimute for their work to establish safe ice roads between the Middle and Lower Kuskokwim.

*Please note that River and Ice Road conditions change daily. This is not an advisory that it is safe for travel. It is for informational purposes only.

12-13 BSAR Assists with McGrath Recovery Effort:

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12-2 Panoramic View of the recovery area just downstream of McGrath

12-12 Panoramic view of the recovery area just downstream of McGrath – all pictures courtesy of Lucy Miller & Sam Samuelson

Despite all the efforts at open water marking along the Kuskokwim in recent days we were sorry to learn that a young man from McGrath was lost to open water near that community late last week. Casey Graham, age 24, drove into an open lead just around the bend from McGrath while enroute to Takotna.

It has been a long time since an under ice recovery effort has been conducted in that area. With that in mind and the extensive collective experience that BSAR has with this kind of work, we sent key member Sam Samuelson to McGrath to help our Upper Kuskokwim neighbors.

McGrath SAR members chain sawing away ice so a new area of the river bottom can be checked. Notice the frosted trees - common near open water in cold weather

McGrath SAR members chain sawing away ice so that a new area of the river bottom can be checked. Notice the frosted trees – common near open water in cold weather –

Recovery efforts extend well past dark. McGrath is much farther north and the days are even shorter this time of the year.

Recovery efforts extend well past dark. McGrath is much farther north and the days are even shorter this time of the year.

As of the evening of December 13, the snow machine and driver’s helmet have been recovered from the water.  Sam reports that the very strong current, slush under the ice, and water depth of 15′ – 18′ is making the good work being done more difficult but the crew is very positive and working well together. Community support is outstanding.

Wall tent heated with a space heater - a place for searchers to warm up and work on frozen equipment is very important when conducting a winter open water recovery. This is a well organized effort.

Wall tent heated with a space heater – a place for searchers to warm up and work on frozen equipment is very important when conducting a winter open water recovery. This is a well organized effort.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the McGrath search crew. A big thank you to Sam Samuelson for volunteering to go up and assist.

We are all hopeful for a successful recovery.

Thank you.

Additional Updates from below McGrath:

  • the ice was still flowing above Stony River
  • the River recently stopped moving at Sleetmute and  the recent cold weather has allowed travel between there and Red Devil
  • there was major ice shifting in the middle Kuskokwim during the last few days of November as far down as the Kolmokofsky River. Cold weather has glued the ice back together but it is rough.
  • A trail has been established upstream from Aniak to Napaimute. No trail above Napaimute as there is major open water from there to Crooked Creek
  • A lightly traveled trail has been established from Aniak to Kalskag. The largest open hole on the Kuskokwim is located below Harry’s gravel pit. It is over 2 miles long.
  • A lightly traveled trail has been established from Kalskag to Tuluksak on the River.
  • There is a marked overland trail from Aniak to Bogus Creek above Tuluksak
  • There is one large UNMARKED open hole just off the trail above Akiak
  • The holes at the upper end of Kuskokwaq Slough are marked.
  • There is still an UNMARKED open hole on the east side of the River across from Wassillie B. Evan’s camp.
Chuathbaluk SAR members preparing to mark the 6 open holes between their village and Aniak. L-R: Jeffrey Hunter & Cameron Phillips

Chuathbaluk SAR members preparing to mark the 6 open holes between their village and Aniak. L-R: Jeffrey Hunter & Cameron Phillips

On November 29 the River 5 miles below Napaimute split all the way across. Above this the ice broke up and shifted all around. It's all freezing back together again now.

On November 29 the River 5 miles below Napaimute split all the way across. Above this the ice broke up and shifted all around. It’s all freezing back together again now.

 

Ice Thickness Safety Information:

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Here is some ice load information gathered from various sources. Please note that not everyone agrees on the safe ice thicknesses for various loads and that there are many variables to consider when determining if the ice is safe for the load you want to put on it. This post is just for general information purposes.

Ice load info from the Farmer's Almanac

From the Army Corp of Engineers:

Every winter it becomes very important to know when the ice is safe to use. Here are some guidelines for determining the safety of freshwater ice. The following table of safe loads is valid ONLY for ice that is clear and sound, with no flowing water underneath. It is not reliable for stationary loads. When in doubt, stay off the ice !

It is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the Safety on Floating Ice Sheets information by CRREL.

Loads on Ice

Required Minimum Ice Thickness in inches Description of Safe Moving Load
1-3/4 One person on skies
2 One person on foot or skates
3 One snowmobile
3 A group of people walking single file
7 A single passenger automobile
8 A 2-1/2 ton truck
9 A 3-1/2 ton truck
10 A 7 to 8 ton truck

From www.engineeringtoolbox.com:

Safe loads for clear solid ice are indicated below:

Thickness of Ice Load or Activity
in
< 1 3/4 STAY OFF
1 3/4 One person cross county skiing
2 One person on foot or skates
3 Snowmobile or smaller ATV, groups of people walking single line
4 Person ice fishing, good for walking individual
7 A small car
8 A 2 1/2 tons truck
9 A 3 1/2 tons truck
10 A 7 – 8 tons truck

Note that ice strength is influenced by many factors

  • age – newer black ice is stronger than old milky
  • distance to shore – ice close to shore is weaker than ice farther out
  • river outlets and inlets – ice close to outlets and inlets is weaker
  • obstructions like rocks, trees and plants
  • water currents
  • cover of snow

 This information must be used a general guide – keep off the ice if you are not absolutely sure.

 

Taking Care of Business: BSAR Marks Dangerous Open Water Area in Straight Slough

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!2-4 Straight Slough Open Water Marking Map: red circles are open water, yellow lines are where willow markers with BLUE reflectors were spaced 15 feet apart. Straight Slough is 1,000 feet wide at the Lower end and 1,200 feet wide at the Upper end

12-4 Straight Slough Open Water Marking Map: red circles are open water, yellow lines are where willow markers with BLUE reflectors were spaced 15 feet apart. Straight Slough is 1,000 feet wide at the lower end and 1,200 feet wide at the upper end

Today an 11 person BSAR team marked off both ends of Straight Slough to discourage travel through that area. There are still three open holes in Straight Slough. This is more than we have ever seen in the Slough – especially in December.

Because of the unusual number of open holes, at Thursday night’s BSAR planning meeting it was agreed that it would be better to mark across the entire width of both the lower and upper ends of Straight Slough than to try to mark each individual hole. This is the first time that BSAR has completely marked off any part of the River in the Bethel area. We hope that this will send a clear message that the Slough should be avoided completely – for now.

Marking across the 1,000' wide lower end

Marking across the 1,000′ wide lower end

Marking across the 1,200' wide upper end

Marking across the 1,200′ wide upper end

BSAR would like to remind People that BLUE REFLECTORS MEAN OPEN WATER – STAY AWAY.

Part of the team: L-R Norman Japhet, Doug Lee, Charles Guest, Jack Beaver

Part of the team: L-R Norman Japhet, Doug Lee, Charles Guest, Jack Beaver

Good work by a good crew. With the major danger in the Bethel area taken care of, BSAR will begin reaching out to our neighboring villages to assist them with open water marking in their areas. Any village SAR teams needing help, please contact BSAR.

Thank you to all that came out to help today.

MAJOR DANGER IN STRAIGHT SLOUGH!*

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Boat dragging for a snow machine that went into an open hole at the lower end of Straight Slough on December 1st.

CLOSE CALL CLOSE TO HOME: Boaters dragging for a snow machine that went into an open hole at the lower end of Straight Slough on December 1st. You can see Bethel in the background

Despite BSAR’s efforts to get the word out about the dangers of early season winter travel on the River, the word never reaches everyone and there’s some that don’t listen anyway.

On December 1st a snow machine with one adult and two children on board drove into the open hole at the lower end of Straight Slough.

We are very thankful that all three made it out of the water. The snow machine was lost.

BSAR will be working over the next few days to get this very dangerous area marked. Volunteers are needed.

Please help us get the word out: Travelers must avoid Straight Slough. Traffic above Bethel should use the trail around Joe Pete’s Bend to Church Slough.

Also with truck traffic opening up on the River, BSAR did some additional ice measuring along the route from Bethel to Napaskiak.

Ice thickness was consistently 10″ – 12″ thick. The top 2″ is snow ice which has less strength than good clear ice.

This thickness is considered marginal for trucks by experienced travelers. You can get away with it but please travel with extreme caution.

Sample of ice taken right on the truck trail by Nick O. Nick's old fish camp: this area was 11" thick minus 2" of snow ice = 9" of good ice

December 2 – Marginal Conditions for truck travel: Sample of ice taken right on the truck trail by Nick O. Nick’s old fish camp: this area was 11″ thick minus 2″ of snow ice = 9″ of good ice

That’s report.

Safe travels from BSAR

Thank you.

*Please note that this report is not an advisory that it is safe to travel. It is for informational purposes only.

50 Holes in 50 Miles: 11-24-15 BSAR Aerial River Survey*

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Two open holes in front of Wassilie B. Evan's camp. There are 30 open holes in Kuskokwaq Slough alone

Two open holes in front of Wassilie B. Evan’s camp. There are 30 open holes in Kuskokwaq Slough alone

Summary: Today BSAR members flew with Earl Samuelson to survey 60 miles of the Kuskokwim from Napaskiak to Tuluksak. With warm temperatures, strong southerly winds, and rain stalling winter again the Lower Kuskokwim River is no place to be traveling right now.

Over 50 open holes were counted along 50 miles of the River. In addition the recent storm has brought deep overflow to all parts of the Lower River affected by the tide.

MAJOR DANGER: Open holes at the upper, middle, and lower end of Straight Slough

MAJOR DANGER: Open holes at the upper, middle, and lower end of Straight Slough. This is looking upsream from the lower end

The darkness of open water. These large open holes are formed when the flowing ice jams in a narrow channel upstream

The darkness of open water: These large open holes are formed when the flowing ice jams in a narrow or shallow channel upstream

The remainder of what was once a large hole. There are many of these smaller open areas scattered all throughout the River. A little cold weather will finish closing them up

SMALL BUT DEADLY: The remainder of what was once a large hole. There are many of these smaller open areas scattered all throughout the River. A little cold weather will finish closing them up

Looking downstream at the upper end of Kuskokwaq Slough. This open holes is just around the bend from where we lost 3 people in 2014 (yellow arrow)

Looking downstream at the upper end of Kuskokwaq Slough. This open hole is just around the bend from where we lost 3 people in 2014 (yellow arrow)

Closing: It was good to get up in the air with Earl again. We’ve missed working with him since he retired from the Alaska State Troopers last winter.

As you can see from these pictures no inter-village main river travel is recommended at this time. The glare ice with water on top makes it even harder to see the dozens of open water holes that are out there right now. A little cold weather will heal up the smaller ones then Kuskokwim SAR groups will start working on the bigger ones that will stay around for awhile.

Please be patient and if you must travel use the back trails.

And please don’t let anyone travel that has been drinking.

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving from BSAR.

*This report is not an advisory that it is safe to travel. It is for informational purposes only.