Path Cleared Through Kuskokwim Ice Jam For K300

Oscar Samuelson helped with clearing the ice jam near Kalskag. (Photo Courtesy of Mark Leary)
Oscar Samuelson helped with clearing the ice jam near Kalskag. (Photo Courtesy of Mark Leary)

After a strange freeze up and a couple winter thaws, the Kuskokwim 300 will follow the Kuskokwim River exclusively from Bethel to Aniak and back on the same trail.

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Race manager Zach Fansler says the giant ice jam below Kalskag near Coffee’s Bend has been cleared.

“They went through with an ATV and with a snowmachine to kind of test the depths, then they used preliminarily a dozer from Upper Kalskag, went through and kind of cleared an initial path, then they used a truck plow I think to go from Kalskag to Aniak to clear the initial pass,” Fansler said. “Then they followed that with some heavy-duty graders that were I think from the Traditional Village of Napaimute.”

Ice jam below Kalskag.  (Photo Courtesy of BSAR)
Ice jam below Kalskag. (Photo Courtesy of BSAR)

The ice jam formed on the river in November and consists of about four miles of sheets and boulders of ice three to five feet tall. The Kuskokwim 300 is an approximately 300-mile long sled-dog race that usually includes some trails off the river, but with almost no snow on the ground and icy conditions, organizers decided to stick to the river. Clearing a trail through the ice jumble was made possible through joint funding and manpower from nine organizations and tribes in the area.

“It’s still bumpy and windy, were gonna keep working on improving it and the weather will help,” Mark Leary, a resident of Napaimute who was part of the crew said. “If it snows it’ll get better, if it rains it’ll get better, and people driving on it more and more it’ll get better.”

Before they cleared a path through the ice jam, Leary says it was nearly impossible to get through it.

“Well it was hard and slow, there was no danger, there’s always some risk involved when you’re working on the ice but everybody that was involved is experienced,” he said. “We were just glad when we were through it, we were glad, everybody shook hands and we talked about how to keep working on it to make it better and safer for everybody.”

Leary says this is the third a jam like formed in his lifetime, and the first time so many village organizations have gotten involved. The Kuskokwim 300 race is scheduled to start Friday, Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. 31 mushers are signed up.

Learn more at the K300 here.

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Charles Enoch is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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