Trucks have begun traveling the Kuskokwim River, and with Slaviq this weekend, that traffic is expected to increase. Bethel Search and Rescue is urging everyone to drive safely.
“I’d call that ice road, right now, to be barely okay,” said Bethel Search and Rescue member Mark Leary.
Leary measured the ice thickness on the truck trail between Bethel and Napaskiak on Thursday morning. The ice averaged between 14 and 18 inches.
“And when I measure I always deduct at least an inch for safety,” Leary explained. “When I start checking, I start drilling a hole every one-tenth of a mile, and I do that for a couple miles, at least, until I get a feeling for what the ice is doing. And after that I start spacing it out a little bit more.”
One area is thinner than the rest. The ice is only 11 inches thick where the truck trail hugs a sandbar above Oscarville. Leary calls this section “marginal.”
“In a little bit of warm weather it could get a lot thinner and weaker, faster,” he said.
Warmer weather is what’s forecasted for this weekend, with a high above freezing for Saturday. Below the thin ice, the water measures five feet.
“Which it doesn’t seem that much," Leary said. "But if you’re in vehicle and you break through in five feet of water, you’re not going to be able to get your doors open. And even if you get your windows open, you might not be able to get out.”
Leary himself was driving a truck as he collected his measurements. As he always does over ice, he rode with one window rolled down.
“And that’s not so I can jump out of the truck when I break through," Leary said, laughing. "That’s so I can listen to the ice. The ice is always talking to you. Whenever you put weight on ice it makes noise, and after a while you get to understand what it’s saying. That nice little crispy sound, that’s okay. But if you hear any sharp cracking you better turn around.”
Leary’s advice for safe travel is to follow the trail with the heaviest tracks, even if it’s a longer distance.
The truck trail from Bethel to Napaskiak does not have markers. However, Napakiak has marked a truck trail between Napakiak and Bethel.