The ice highway that residents are used to driving this time of year has yet to fully freeze. Bethel Search and Rescue calls the number of open holes on the Kuskokwim River “uncountable” and advises people to use overland trails for winter travel.
Tuesday morning, Bethel Search and Rescue, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, flew 130 miles of the Kuskokwim from the mouth of the Johnson River to just above the village of Kalskag.
What they saw were too many open holes to mark.
One of the people on the flight, Mark Leary, says that the holes are bigger and more numerous than they’re used to seeing in early December. And with the warm weather, none of the holes appear to be forming ice; the open water is black with no slush.
Here are some of the most notable open holes:
Kuskokuak Slough has three large open holes from the Y to Kwethluk with many more upstream of Kwethluk.
The Kuskokwim River main stem below Tuluksak is impassable. Two open holes reach out from the west and east bank with only a narrow patch of ice between them, and the shortcut slough below the Tuluksak fish camps is open bank-to-bank.
The closest open hole to Bethel is near the Bethel Bluffs, and there are more riddling the upper end of the Gweek Island to the Y.
From Napakiak to the mouth of the Johnson River there are at least six open holes in the middle or north side of the river.
Ice in some areas is intact. The trail from Bethel to Napaskiak and Oscarville has been switched to the main river following heavy overflow in Oscarville Slough, and a trail between Bethel and Akiachak has been marked by an Akiachak crew.