Fresh Eyes Traverse team completes 3 year circuit of the interior!

2 April 2024

The Fresh Eyes on Ice traverse team just completed a 3 week journey from Galena on the Yukon River back to home base in Fairbanks on the Tanana River, completing a three year journey through the interior of Alaska starting in Big Lake in 2022.  After our trip last year from McGrath to Galena, we left our machines and some gear in storage in Galena.  In early march of this year, Chris Arp, Allen Bondurant, and Matt Scragg hopped aboard the scheduled flight from Fairbanks to Galena, where we were met by Fish & Wildlife Service Collaborator Karin Bodony.  We spent a few days in Galena organizing our gear, doing a little bit of science, and getting to spend time in the school teaching and learning from 4th & 5th graders about their experiences on the ice, plus showing them some of our science tools while they completed their monthly ice thickness measurements.  We even got to check out a few of the racers in the Iditarod Sled Dog race, where Galena was serving as a checkpoint this year.  Eventually though it was time to hit the trail.  We spent 4 days traveling from Galena to Tanana, heading upstream on the Yukon River.  In the mornings we would travel to the area we wanted to work, get our camp set up, and then go out and do a few of our study sites.  This year we were particularly interested in looking at ice conditions related to zones identified in satellite imagery as freezing later in the season than the rest of the river.  We used a variety of techniques to investigate these areas, including using ground pentrating radar, UAV photography, and manual ice thickness and snow depth measurements, typically following a transect across multiple parts of the zone we had identified previously.

Our camp at the mouth of the Melozitna River just upstream of Ruby

In Tanana we got a nice break from the sometimes cold weather we’d been having while camping, and did a few more sites in that area including taking a look at their ice road that connects the village to the road system at the Tanana road a few miles upstream of town.  From here we continued upriver to the village of Rampart.  Until this point our travel had been great - dare I say, almost easy, and we knew the leg from Tanana to Rampart had the potential to be challenging.  We were right about that, but not for the reasons we thought.  Here the Yukon travels through low mountains and the channel is constricted.  We were expecting deep snow and perhaps overflow, but instead found miles and miles of jumbled and windblown ice.  We never got stuck, but it turned into a slow bumpy day.  Getting to Rampart was a relief and we were happy to be staying in the school there, but we all reflected on how neat it was to see the ice through that section without being obscured by snow.  After working with the students in Rampart and hosting a community dinner night at the school, we traveled overland for the first time on this trip, taking the Rampart-Eureka road back to the Elliot Highway, then taking a tight dog mushing trail into Manley Hot Springs.  Here we were treated with a nice soak in the hot springs, and some interesting ice conditions on the Tanana River and Hot Springs Slough. 

Rough Ice Conditions between Tanana and Rampart

After a few days in Manley, we had a nice ride to Tolovana Roadhouse, which had served as a great base camp for us for field work back in 2021.  This time we had a little company - 5 people and 42 sled dogs worth!  We stayed two nights and checked out a few more of our sites, including our one lake site for the whole trip at Deadman Lake.  With 120 miles back to Fairbanks, we decided to spend one last night camped out between Nenana and Fairbanks.  We worked in a few locations there and brought our total number of sites up to 23 for the trip, before a short ride into Fairbanks in the morning where Polar Field Services met us to help us handle our gear.

Overall it was an amazing trip through beautiful country, meeting amazing people, and collecting data that we are excited to start processing and sharing!