Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kuskokwim Ice Classic




As spring advances slowly, the southwest Alaskan tundra begins to soften on the surface. The ice on the Kuskokwim River, which has served as a highway to trucks, cars, snowmachines and dog teams for the last five months, begins to rot. The ice is four feet thick, and the river is 800 miles long. Simply melting would take too long. The transition from frozen ice highway to flowing river happens in a few days. We call it “Break Up.” (see here and here for my posts about it last year)

Break up is a violent event. Spring rains and snow melt in the mountains raise water levels in the rivers as warming temperatures soften the ice covering them. Edges break loose from the bank and water washes over them. Large leads open in the middle and the surface becomes pocked with narrow ribbons of open water. As current picks up the plates of ice crack, begin moving and jumble up against each other. It starts way upriver and the whole mass of ice begins to move down toward the sea.

One of Bethel’s fun annual events is the Kuskokwim Ice Classic. In early April, a “quad-pod” is built of 2x4s and erected on the frozen river about fifty feet out from shore. A cable connects the top of the structure to a small building onshore which contains a clock. When the ice breaks up and the quad-pod falls in and washes a hundred feet downriver, the cable is pulled from the clock. The clock stops and that moment is declared Bethel’s moment of break up.

The Ice Classic begins when the pod is erected. Tickets to guess the exact day, hour and minute of break up are sold for $5 each, or a book of five for $20. Half the money goes to the winner’s pot and the other half goes to Bethel Regional High School. The students are in charge of ticket sales around town and collection of the deposit boxes where people place their guesses. For the last two years, the winner of the Ice Classic has received over $5,000.

Predicting break up is an item of general discussion around town for most of April. It can occur at 4 in the morning or at 4 in the afternoon. It can come as early as late April or as late as early June. The most frequently occurring date since records have been kept is May 18th.

Most people seem to be expecting an early break up this year. The ice-saavy Natives I know are saying it is at least two weeks away, so not in April. I’m guessing the first week in May. Tickets must be turned in by tomorrow, April 16th; as far as I know, they are not available for purchase on the internet, which is too bad. Some of you might want to enter! I’ll let you know if I win the $5 K.

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6 Comments:

Blogger health watch center said...

Hi Tundra,

Very interesting posts, beautiful and cute pictures...

800 miles?? Yeah it will take too long to melt...Hey I am new here just wanted to say hi...you have made this blog very interesting by adding those pictures...thanks for sharing. Keep the good work going..

Self Help Zone

Sunday, April 15, 2007 10:10:00 PM  
Blogger TheTundraPA said...

Self Help--thanks for visiting, and for de-lurking! I love to hear that someone enjoys my words and photos.

Tundra

Monday, April 16, 2007 5:51:00 PM  
Blogger Dr. Brokeback said...

Tundra-
Thanks for your comments on my post. I set up a link on my site.

I don't think I could live in Alaska. Although you seem very enthusiastic about various winter activities, I'd choose short-term water boarding over all those months cold and dark.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Wil said...

After two days of full gale and four inches of rain, it's only a matter of how many hours until the ice breaks up in the lake here. Although, the temps are still hovering near freezing and the sun isn't due for another 36 hours, so hard to say how many hours it'll be...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 3:39:00 PM  
Blogger TheTundraPA said...

Dr. Brokeback--thanks for the link! I have linked you, too, and very much enjoyed reading your blog.

This place is so different from what most people know--in so many ways--that I hope people find it interesting to read about. It is certainly not for everyone, but it suits me well, and I enjoy writing about it and sharing this amazing culture and people with those who are interested. Thanks for visiting!

wil--freezing rain ranks pretty high on my Misery Scale. I hope spring comes soon for you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 4:21:00 PM  
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:24:00 AM  

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