BSAR reports deep overflow in lower Kusko

by Angela Denning-Barnes on January 30, 2014

"Bottomless" overflow like this is present between Bethel and the Johnson River. Photo/BSAR.

“Bottomless” overflow like this is present between Bethel and the Johnson River. Photo/BSAR.

The volunteer group Bethel Search and Rescue did an aerial survey of the Kuskokwim River ice, Jan. 29. They traveled with Alaska State Trooper pilot Earl Samuelson from the Johnson River upstream to Tuluksak. They found that the extended warm weather has deteriorated travel conditions but the low snow pack and small amount of rainfall has kept the amount of runoff flowing into the Kuskokwim minimal.

The main river ice is basically still intact although there has been some ice thickness lost. For example, the Kalskag Search and Rescue team reported a six-inch ice loss recently. BSAR says there is still a lot of standing overflow, some thin ice areas, and at least three open holes in the main river from Bethel to Tuluksak. There are also holes in area side sloughs.

According to BSAR, the worst conditions were observed along the 20-mile stretch from Bethel downriver to the Johnson River. In this area, there are very deep and even “bottomless” overflow present, especially around sandbars, islands, and side sloughs. There is even the occasional deep pond of overflow right out in the main channel ice. River travel through this area is not recommended at this time. For the back overland trails, caution is advised as many of the lakes or edges of the lakes are flooded.

This very large open hole is just upstream of Mike Napoka’s Island- about halfway between Akiak & Tuluksak. Photo/BSAR

This very large open hole is just upstream of Mike Napoka’s Island- about halfway between Akiak & Tuluksak. Photo/BSAR


From Bethel to Tuluksak on the main river, the group says the river dries up noticeably upstream of Bethel, but there are still many areas of standing overflow scattered throughout the 50 miles. Some of these overflow ponds are deep enough to be blue in color but not nearly as deep as those observed in the lower river. BSAR says bluish overflow is considered deep enough to cause problems for snow machines.

The three open holes closest to Bethel are marked and have frozen over, but appear to have deteriorated during the heat wave and should still be avoided. The locations of these are: Straight Slough, Joe Pete’s, and the lower end of the Gweek Island on the main channel side.

There are at least three other open holes between Bethel and Tuluksak: on the main river right above the upper end of Kuskokuak Slough which is marked, Tony Hall’s Bend above Akiak, which is not marked, and just upstream from Mike Napoka’s Island about half way between Akiak and Tuluksak, which is marked.

Bethel Search and Rescue is advising travelers that as things freeze back up to please be careful of half-frozen overflow and shell ice and beware of low spots where water has collected during the meltdown.

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