Kids at this year’s Smelt Derby might have been bundled up like kids everywhere in more modern parkas but they were keeping alive a long, proud tradition. Photo: Dr. Daniel S. Neuman between 1911&1920
You know how sometimes you start talking about one thing and something much more intriguing comes up?
In a recent post I mentioned Victoria has reported the beginning of the river breakup in Ugashik. One of our commenters, problem child, wondered about traveling between villages during breakup.
“I imagine that there is an interim period when the river is not safe enough for snow machines or open enough for boats…”
I asked Victoria about that:
“It’s ALWAYS dicey, even when we have 4-6 foot if ice. It can be thin in areas; it can be broken underneath by a heavier vehicle going over it – like cars and light trucks. Roland and a friend got caught in that this year, when all looked safe.
They went over a spot a number of light trucks had gone over that day on the way to a Smelt Derby…”
Smelt Derby? Time for a momentary subject change!
Smelt are a little fish that swim many rivers in the west, both Alaska and other areas. Maybe like a big sardine but not as strong tasting.
The derby happens each year during Winter Carnival in PIP. ALL ages drill or chop a hole in the river in this one traditional area on certain day and during a 3-5 hour time limit, they see who can catch the most smelt. It is just done a stick, line and homemade hook.
Most times lately it is a young lady who wins. Prizes and much bragging rights are awarded for the winners. Even the littlest, 4-5 years do it.
Getting back on topic, Victoria’s husband and a friend broke through ice that looked safe on top:
“…Getting wet even a mile from the village can be life threatening. John, our friend did get wet up to his thighs, 6’4” guy, and had to be rushed home to thaw.
We have a month or more, depending on weather when it is plane travel only. No boats can go and traveling by snow machine is out as is the 4 wheeler.
Ice goes through a few stages before it breaks up, opaque looking and then needle or honeycombed where it looks good ‘til you step on it.
Lakes that freeze all the way to the bottom now are thawing so they have lifted off the bottom and the ice floats. It is probably still safe in places, but you must know them lake by lake. In our area between PIP and here are about 10 lakes of all sizes we cross to get there.
Creeks are the fist to open and might be only 2-3 feet across but 6-10 foot deep – VERY deceiving.
We have some lakes and creeks that are ‘warm’ meaning they seldom freeze completely. Having life long knowledge or access to someone who does is a lifesaver here.”
Like problem child pointed out…
“…If flooding occurs there could be other transportation issues. So let’s get the villages well-stocked up before spring springs some more issues!”
So true problem child!