Buckled Ice, Overflow, and Other Obstacles


Heading across overflow

Feb 16, 2011

One of the things that most Alaskans feel is a positive about our state is the ability for its citizens to get involved in the ‘politics’ of the state and stand the chance of actually having an impact if so desired.

Predator controls, aerial wolf shooting , a teacher killed by wolves, bear maulings, coupled with subsistence issues have all made the headlines in the past. All of these issues get dealt with, or ignored, by our state Board of Game, part of the state’s Department of Fish and Game. The Board members are appointed, once they voice an interest, by the Governor and then confirmed by the legislature for terms that  expire on a rotating basis.

There are a number of Advisory Committees, each dedicated to a specific geographical area and serve as a place for local residents and villages to address issues that come before the Board of Game.  Anyone can make proposals for changes in statues of how game units are run.  Every three years each area comes before the Board for those proposals to be reviewed and dealt with.

The Alaska Peninsula, that long skinny part of the state that stretches out to where the Aleutian Islands begins is up before the Board in March. Proposals have all been submitted months ago by a variety of local residents, village and city councils, guides, concerned citizens and of course the Department of Fish and Game.

Our Advisory Board, that deals with a small portion of that area, met this about three weeks in Pilot Point.

Due to a horrific event on Christmas Eve that happened in our yard the interest from this household was even more peaked than normal.  This interest comes on top of heightened interest due to an area teacher being attacked and killed by wolves last year, a continued issue with nuisance Brown bears and diminished opportunities for hunting game meat.

To make it to that meeting those of us in the villages near Pilot Point had one option of traveling over the frozen swamps, lakes and river to get there.

While making this trip under mostly blue skies, low winds and temperatures hovering around 0 degrees, not counting windchill it came to mind that many would have no idea what that entailed.

This distance between the two villages is only about 7 miles by way of the crow flying but overland in the winter it turns into about a 10-12 mile trek.  Snowmobiles and 4-wheelers traversus a frozen river, a number of creeks both frozen and not, frozen lakes, and a swamp that can frozen but again can have spots where it is not. (the thing to remember is we are near active volcanoes and this means there is activity that keeps some things from freezing solid all winter)

There has been some good snowfall in the week beforehand that I had heard caused a few places in the trail to need shoveling to clear. Also the trail is not marked except by tracks from traffic which can disappear from either more heavy snowfall or thawing that erase them.

We have to deal with things like ‘overflow’ which is where the tide as it moved up and down seeps up into low areas where the ice is cracked.

Overflow...where water seeps up through the ice when it rises.

We must also move through areas where the ice has not frozen smooth. These types of areas can have parts where it is just a little heave…..

Buckled ice on the edge of the river

….or these heave areas can go on for some time and be higher or rougher than you can transverse with a snowmobile or 4-wheeler.

Trying to find a safe way off or onto the river.

There is also the issue of getting on and off the actual river. Think of it this way….if all the ‘beach’ is taken up and all you have are the high banks of the river…how do you get up and over it?

Of course we have the normal issue of things like fog.  I have literally seen fog move fast enough to overtake a speeding skiff!! Just the other day I watched the fog roll in ……

Looking north toward our village, watching fog move in.....

…….and cover more than 8 miles in less than 5 minutes!

Still looking north but less than 5 minutes later!!!

So,  given all these issues sometimes getting to a meeting to lend your voice to an issue needs a little extra ‘consideration’  than just jumping in a car for the short 7 mile ride!!


3 Responses to “Buckled Ice, Overflow, and Other Obstacles”

  1. jim Says:

    I had built a remote cabin, about 7 miles off the road up the North Fork of the Chena River near Chena Hot Springs, back around 1986. We used snowmobiles and hauled load after load of stuff, dealing with bitter cold weather, icings, falling into rivers or getting stuck in the water or overflows at 40 below, etc. However your situation is far more difficult. Warmer weather is actually worse and you also must deal with sea water and tides. Sea water doesn’t freeze as warm as fresh water does. It is nasty stuff.

    As I hauled cabin logs behind the snowmobile from the log lot to the cabin lot during a week in March, wolves were near me. I never saw them but I heard them early in the morning as I woke up in my tent, sometimes they were as close as the dog next door. Their howls sounded so peaceful that I never felt afraid.

    However a couple years later, during the winter, my friend and I came across a wolf kill about a quarter mile upriver from the cabin. A moose had been torn to smithereens. Pieces of moose were scattered across about a 60 foot, well packed radius spanning the frozen river. It looked like the moose had been run through a cuisinart. The wolves ate everything– the brains, eyes, ears, nose, guts, underarms, everything; except the really tough tendons right above the ankles. Obviously they didn’t like those chewy tough tendons.

    I don’t know if it would save me, but now I carry a warm can of bear mace in my chest pocket whenever I walk more than a foot or two into the woods.

  2. benlomond2 Says:

    silly question… but would a ham radio copnnection to the meeting be an alternative method of getting your voice heard ?? or do you actually have to be there in person ?? Just amazing that people can adapt to all sort of weather conditions !!

  3. ugavic Says:


    I can imagine the ‘meat grinder’ look to what was left of the moose. I have seen bears tear into fish and it is amazing. I have now also been exposed to how fast they can tear prey apart…not a pretty sight and scary when you think of what they can do to a human! Mauling is one thing, tearing apart to kill and eat…totally different!!!

    I, as do most who live in the ‘bush’ full time, have a healthy respect for both the wolves and bears.

    I have come within spitting distance of a few wolves in the wee hours of the morning…heading out to check on a generator acting up. Thank heavens I was just a few quick feet to a building, had a flash light and two dogs with me. The wolves left promptly.

    The bears I have encountered, even when trying to get to fish for food, preferred to get away, that is until the last incident!

    When it comes to tides, overflow and ice you learn to listen to those who are ‘bush savvy’ about when and where to travel. I only go when things are pristine and with lots of people knowing exactly where and what I am doing. It does increase your chances but nothing is full proof here :-)

    We can use the phone system for conference calls on these local Advisory Board meetings but the quality can be so-so, with lots missed on both sides. (We all also have VHF as back-ups, but no ham that I know of)

    When it comes to the actual Game Board meeting we can submit written testimony but that tends to have lots less affect if you do not show up in person to back it up with live testimony. They are broadcast but do not allow us to testify except in person.

    I have learned to be comfortable on some of the largest transport systems in the country, and then to adapt to travel out here:-) If people want to do things that goes a long way towards ‘able to’!!

    Actually I am glad to learn new skills as a whole and the idea of being more independent out here is good.

    Now to learn to be a better shot …so I can be still better protected…not necessarily a hunter!

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