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Charlie Campbell, Interview 2

Charlie Campbell was interviewed by Bill Schneider on October 24, 2012 at Bill Schneider's home in Fairbanks, Alaska when Charlie was visiting from his home in Tanana, Alaska. Karen Brewster videotaped the interview, and Chas Jones was also present during the interview.  Charlie was asked to talk about a snowmachine accident that occured near Tanana in April 2012 that killed one of the community's successful hunters as it relates to the Dangerous Ice Project's efforts to document and discuss dangerous ice conditions on the Tanana River. In this interview, Charlie talks about spring subsistence goose hunting practices, ice conditions at the time of the accident, local travel behavior and changes in practices with the advent of snowmachines, the accident and search and rescue and recovery effort, and about the community coming together to try to learn from the incident to avoid future tragedy.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2012-23

Project: Dangerous Ice
Date of Interview: Oct 24, 2012
Narrator(s): Charlie Campbell
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider
Videographer: Karen Brewster
People Present: Chas Jones
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
National Science Foundation
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Springtime ice conditions

Hunting geese in the spring when ice is starting to deteriorate

Hazards and challenges of traveling on the Tanana River in the spring

Changes in transportation and travel methods

Increase in risk taking behavior and accidents

Accident on the Tanana River in spring 2012

Search for accident victim

Recovery effort

Ice and river conditions at accident site

Locating and retrieving the victim's body

Community's sense of loss and need to learn from this incident

Search team members debriefing

Community's self-examination of behavior

Piecing together events of the accident

Locating place of accident on a map

Skipping of snowmachines across open water

Importance of local knowledge when traveling on the Tanana River

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BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay, this is October 24th, 2010. I’m Bill Schneider. KAREN BREWSTER: 2012.

BILL SCHNEIDER: 2012, thank you. I’m Bill Schneider, Chas Jones is here and Karen Brewster.

And we have the pleasure of catching Charlie Campbell here for an interview and what we want to do is pick up on the end of last winter

-- the springtime and particularly an incident that occurred where there was a drowning in Tanana due to poor ice conditions.

And so, Charlie, I appreciate you taking the time and what I would like you to do is kind of lay out the whole background behind that

and give us a context to understand maybe what happened.


CHARLIE CAMPBELL: Well it seems to be human nature, probably in Alaska or any place where there's ice, to look at the solid ice that's been all winter basically unchanging and kind of believe that it will never come to an end.

I'm sure this is the reason why every year at the ice road by Pike’s Landing people sink their trucks,

why people in Minnesota end up losing their fishing houses.

It's just -- it's been so solid for so long and the weather has been getting gradually warmer and you just kind of don’t really believe that it can be coming to an end.

I would say in Tanana we have a little bit more warning about that because the spring comes so quickly

as it does in most of interior Alaska and the signs are there for anybody who wants to look at them.

There's water that begins to run along the side of the Yukon and the Tanana River

and the ice begins to change I appearance, all the raised blocks and jagged chunks have sort of sublimated down to sort of a flat level plain.

The ice begins to get a candled appearance which is where the -- it basically breaks up into these long hexagonal crystals.

And little by little underneath the ice is melting as well.

So, what was perhaps three feet thick in -- at the end of March is now being melted by the water underneath to something that might be a foot and a half thick, with a lot less structural strength to it, too.

So, because of that -- because of the fact that there's no one moment that could be said to be the end of travel,

there's always the temptation for one more trip.

And that coupled with the fact that there's a very attractive way of hunting geese in early -- in middle April

has, I think, caused people to get in progressively more and more trouble trying to pursue this way of doing subsistence.

The geese typically arrive in Fairbanks first and then as they work their way west they get to Tanana.

So, people get ready about that time of year to go out to several places.

One good place is Fish Lake.

Another place is up the Tanana River.

What's good about the Tanana River for geese hunting is that because of all the sandbars exposed at Squaw Crossing,

this is an area of where the river is -- is losing gradient and it's slowing down just prior to going into the Yukon River,

and because of that there is lots of exposed sandbars and lots of little braided channels.

Some of the bars have -- have feed that, you know, that geese can get off of it like vegetation.

So and it also seems to be on a migration route, so typically if you are on the south side of Squaw Crossing in -- on say April 20th,

if you could still be out there depending on the ice conditions you'd see lots of geese and swans and ducks coming and going.

And what people do to hunt them is they'll go out and they'll set up a blind and then they'll use a -- they'll make a call usually out of a shotgun shell or some such or sometimes they just use their fingers and they make a whistling sound.

And somebody who is good at it, as long as they are laying still in the blind, can bring the geese in to at least come take a look.

And then within shooting range and then they'll try to bag them at that point.

This is a subsistent hunt that's been going on for many, many years and so it is a traditional way of getting food and particularly welcome at that time of year because probably a lot of people are out of moose meat and the geese are fat and it's a nice change in diet.

Formerly what people would do would be to go out with dog sleds and if it were early enough and they thought they could get back okay, they would -- they would go over it with the dog sleds and camp a couple of days.

To get to any of these hunting grounds requires crossing the Yukon River and -- if you're going to Fish Lake and then a long ride along sloughs which are -- which are melting, as well.

Or if you're going up the Tanana River, they involve traveling on a river that -- that has a melting timetable that's a lot sooner than the Yukon.

So -- but they had -- they had tricks in the old days which they would use to maintain some safety.

They would -- they would put buoyant articles in their -- in the dog sled and in general things aren’t happening as quickly with the dog team anyway and, of course, these old guys had dog teams that were beautifully trained -- at least some of them.

So they would set off from Tanana sometimes splashing the dogs across the lead that runs along shore that might be four or five feet deep,

but it would get them -- or they would find a place where the ice was kind of pushed up against shore and so that way get onto the hard ice,

that although thinner than say late March was still probably safe enough to support them.

And the Yukon River is fairly stable.

There's not a lot of sandbars in it so there's not much opportunity to -- to draw in heat, so the ice kind of rots slowly and smoothly, for the most part.

Just to back up a little bit, the sequence for breakup too on the Yukon River, is that at first water begins to appear along the sides

and it's because some of the creeks are starting to run so there will this sort of tan colored water that runs along the sides of the river.

And that lead, which to begin with may be only -- or that sort of rivulet, you know, gets to be bigger and before long you have probably a fifty foot wide lead

extending from the shore-fast ice which itself is slowly rotting in place but still there, to the main ice in the middle of the river.

So if you can get across -- if you can get across that in its early stages then you usually can have some fairly good traveling.

The problem with the Tanana River and this is a problem that extends all the way up the Tanana up to Fairbanks and beyond

is that the river is interspersed with all kinds of sandbars and braided channels so there is no sort of large smooth continuous band of ice in the middle.

Lots more objects, you know, sandbars and so forth to draw sun’s heat in, so this whole process of forming leads is in effect multiplied on the Tanana River.

But nonetheless these guys would set off with their dog teams and they would go out and sometimes they would take canoes with them and spring out.

That was a fairly common thing to do.

They would go out there and maybe spend two weeks out there, wait for the ice to break up and then come back with their canoes.

That was -- or get somebody to come and pick them up with the boat afterwards.

That was another way of doing it, but the whole pace was a lot slower and if you -- a well-trained dog team can, if they know --

if they have done it before, can swim across open water and they can pull the sled along and it might -- you might get wet,

but as long as the dogs keep going and get traction on the ice at the side and as long as there's not a swift current flowing, they can get you -- they can get you over.

If there's any kind of current or open holes where the current is actually being sucked under the ice moving water then all bets are off.

There's no -- there's no winning in that situation.

That situation is just to be avoided at all costs.

And the springing out thing used to work well, too for the old guys because while they were out there they might also try to hunt muskrats

and I think it was kind of regarded as part of the subsistence cycle.

When snow -- with the advent of Sno-Go’s in the 60’s, that changed a little but not all that much.

Then probably in the last 20 years or so with the advent of big powerful fast machines with great suspension,

people discovered that they could cross little pools of water that were on the ice.

And I'm sure the way people started was, you know, crossing a little bit of overflow or something and they found that if they -- if they really jammed the throttle, if they really got a head of steam up they could just skip across.

As time has gone on, machines get faster and more powerful and it's all -- in crossing open water like this it is all about speed.

For example, a Bravo, which is a lightweight, inexpensive one cylinder machine that people use for trapping, you could get across perhaps 20 to 25 feet of water

as long as you got a good head of steam before you went across and as long as you weren’t dragging a sled, which is going to slow you down.

With one of the big powerful machines the 500 and 600 and 800-ccs,

you know, rev it up to 50 miles an hour and you can -- you can get on water and you can essentially stay up as long as you want.

That is, as long as nothing goes wrong.

As soon as the -- if you lost power for any reason or if you hit an obstruction that -- that threw you off balance then of course you would sink like a stone.

The other thing that's important to have, if you're going to try to skip water like this, is to have the machine -- have a good entrance and exit onto the ice.

You have to have some kind of an incline plane that kind of eases you down onto it, and the same to get off of it,

otherwise you're going to in essence hit a ledge on the other end.

Maybe take a break for a second here?

BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure. And we're talking about the skipping with the snowmachines.

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: Right. So here -- here in the subsistence life is essentially this new technology -- this new way of doing things.

And to begin with you can get out there, you know, go out for the evening, maybe stay out overnight if you'd like because the -- it's light most of the time by that time of year

and then return home, you know, in the morning or late in the evening and it makes -- it makes for a lot less time away from the village.

So the village is where the comforts are and nice warm bed and who wants to sleep out on a cold sandbar if you don’t have to.

So naturally people began kind of changing their patterns from going out and staying out, to going out for the day and coming back.

The other thing too is that it's -- it's a lot of fun.

It's very adventurous. It's a -- it's a thrill.

You can -- you can zoom around and you see water it's like being on an amphibious vehicle, if you have got the stomach for it that is.

You can just power across these -- these open leads and get to the ice on the other side, as long as you have a good lead in and a good lead out from the lead, in other words, a ramp in and out, and as long as you keep your speed up.

So with those conditions over I would say the past twenty years, but particularly in the past ten, there's been what risk management people would call a risky shift,

which is where behavior of a group all goes kind of in one direction because everybody seems to be doing it.

They -- they talk about that for people who are guides or mountain guides or anything that entails some risk.

It's a beautiful day, one or several of your party is doing risky stuff and getting away from it and so --

and so maybe the more timid members of the party go, "well, gee if they're doing it, that can be -- I could probably do that too. It can’t be that dangerous. We’re -- we’re all here. We’re all doing fine."

So little by little I think it's -- that's what's happened, at least in Tanana and I don’t know if they do this elsewhere or not or how much they do,

is that there's been this risky shift towards doing more and more of this kind of -- this style of subsistence hunting

and probably pushing the envelope a little farther with each passing year.

There've been some signs of what -- had one been interested in seeing them, every year at least in the past ten there has been more machines that -- that get sunk.

Nobody had been killed yet or hurt, but there'd been situations where somebody sank their machine.

If it was calm water, like in Hay Slough for example, they might be able to erect a tripod on what remained of the ice and with some help, winch the thing out of the hole and back onto the ice and get home,

but there are several machines that just got lost and they were gone for good.

But nobody had died yet.

So this is kind of the context in which this -- this accident that happened this spring happened.

It wasn’t so much one guy being crazy.

It was just that sort of everybody was doing it and there was -- it had been sort of accepted as a normal way of doing things.

So what happened this spring, was that a party of people were traveling together on the river up the Tanana River.

And these hunting parties are not necessarily set up with any kind of firm structure,

but are more like sort of just a informal, casual group that takes off together and maybe some guys peel off to wait at this particular hunting spot, maybe it's a point or an island, some place where the geese kind of travel.

So, you know, people will stop and the rest will go on.

It's very much kind of do your own thing, nor do people make plans particularly to -- okay we are all going to check in with each other at twelve midnight or anything like that.

Of course, just about everybody leaves word at home what they are going to do.

That's something that they do with their families because their families obviously have a lot of interest in them coming back alive so they want to know where to send the search party in case they get stuck or broke down.

And that’s another thing too, is the skipping is pretty touch on snowmachines.

You're going through water which they are really not designed for.

You're going across sandbars and picking up all this grit, which gets in all the bearing surfaces and subjecting the engines to a lot -- a lot of torque and abuse in warm temperatures, which they don’t like that much.

So it would not be unusual to need somebody to come and get you in that situation, which was another aspect of the risk shift over towards more risky.

The people just had to be kind of come to accept that this is the way it was.

And some of the hunters, too are very -- use this technique very effectively, too there's some hunters that would bring back lots of geese this way.

One of the advantages is that it's -- if you don’t like where you are it is pretty easy to make a move and go to a different spot,

whereas with the old way with the dog team or canoe or combination of those it's -- it's more laborious, you kind of had to stay put a little bit more.

And the other thing is that with this technique you're able to push it later in the season and, of course, as the geese arrive they don’t all arrive at once.

There's some forerunners and then -- and then they begin to get thicker as time goes on and as the water begins to open up, that's when they really begin to show up in numbers.

So, in this particular situation, there'd been several guys who had gone out already in the spring doing this in different directions,

but this one party set out and at one point, one of the -- one of the people in the party George Roberts, peeled away from the group.

And he -- this was completely un -- you know, this was nothing unusual.

This was kind of the normal run of things.

He just decided he would go out and check another part of the river on the south side of the Tanana River.

Then -- and the other guys continued on their way to where they were going.

Then he didn’t show up and his parents began to get worried.

And after a day or so, they began to, you know, they checked around to see if any of the other goose hunters had come across him.

And at that point, you know, they began to get concerned that maybe he was stuck somewhere, but all the other goose hunters they talked to, you know, nobody had seen him, he hadn’t showed up.

So they sent a search party out for him of snowmachines and by this time the breakup was proceeding very quickly the way it does in the Interior.

Once things get to a certain point and when water begins flowing in these various sloughs and channels,

even though it may only be flowing over the ice it may in fact still be ice four feet under the surface of the water, but nonetheless it looks like water everywhere.

And so especially with all that exposed sandbar, pretty soon the river was starting to look quite summery.

There'd be some ledges of shore-fast ice here and there kind of stuck to the banks, but in large part it was getting to a point where even a person who was used to skipping would take a look at it and say, "I think the season is over."

So in that -- in that day and a half that he was, I believe it was, that he was missing, conditions rapidly disintegrated as far as snowmachining.

Nonetheless the search party went out and they went up the Tanana River a ways, took a look around and then I believe kind of realized that they too were at the end of -- essentially the end of navigation for snowmachines so they came back to town.

And I think by that time enough time had passed that people realized there was going to be no looking with snowmachines, so they called the troopers up and the troopers sent a helicopter out.

One of George’s friends went for a ride in the helicopter and was able to see -- he made an educated guess as to where George might have gone.

And they flew over that part of the river and they found -- they could see from the air sort of a -- about a twenty foot in diameter pool of debris, kind of at the bottom of one -- at the lower end of one of these sloughs in between sandbars.

And in the middle of the debris was a snowmachine seat and a goose and they could see this from the air.

It was really pretty extraordinary piece of luck because there's a lot of acreage out there and lots of different channels and so it was a pretty much a wild -- an educated but wild guess to go over there and see that.

And the snowmachine seat could have come from anywhere, but, in fact, the guy who was in the helicopter -- the friend of George’s had loaned his snowmachine to George so that was the machine he was driving and he recognized the seat.

I guess it had some repairs on it that he could see.

So with that, things began to look pretty grim and what was a search and rescue effort, kind of began to segue into a search and recovery effort.

So the troopers gathered together five people and were nice enough to bring down a rubber raft and a motor.

And we gathered up some grappling hooks and some pike poles -- long aluminum pike poles with kind of a point and a hook on the end of it, that were 12 and 14 and 16 feet long.

So we were flown to the sandbar and all our gear unloaded and then we put the raft together and put the outboard on it and headed down to this -- this area of debris.

One thing, too that was leading everybody to think that this might have been where the snowmachine went in, was the fact that there was a set of snowmachine tracks across one of the sandbars up above it leading kind of towards that hole.

And so we got -- we shoved off in the boat and as we were -- went I was sounding with a pole and I could see that there was about four feet of water underneath us and as you -- as you put the pike pole down you could hear it clink on the ice.

So here was a place where there was still ice underneath and the channel was certainly deeper than four feet, but had in essence a band -- a layer of ice and then there would have been water underneath.

And when we got to where the debris was, we found on closer inspection that what it was, was a very slow whirlpool and that the debris was any ice, sticks, trash, foam and what have you -- all riverborne debris that had been all sort of slowly pulled towards this hole.

And when we got to the edge of this nest of debris, we were probing with our pike poles and it was clink, clink, clink and then all of a sudden the pike pole went all the way down and it went down 12 or 13 feet down to a sand bottom.

And so, with this it began to -- the story began to unfold.

Here in this area of sandbars and channels -- it is just a maze really, the little island we landed on was probably no more than 200 feet long and 150 feet across and then right adjacent to that was another one,

but where the suck hole was, which is in essence what it is, there was water flowing along the top of the ice four feet deep and then it came to this hole and it went down underneath to what was in fact the real depth of the channel.

And this hole was right up against a substantial island that they call Solid Rock Island, it actually doesn’t have any rock in it at all, but it persists from year to year and it is an old remnant of a dune.

It's probably twenty feet high in itself so and along the edge of this so-called Solid Rock Island where it met the water was a shelf of ice that was -- this is a shore-fast ice and in the stages of disintegration but not all the way disintegrated.

For example, there was some places where there was still sort of a ramp going down and there was places where the ice was -- had sort of fallen and the crack had fallen -- had formed.

There was, you know, the water was lapping at the edge of the one piece and the other piece was still frozen tight to the bar with a pretty good crack in between and then a little farther down there was another place where there was actually a sharp edge

where the water had run against the ice and made a ledge about a foot and a half tall.

So -- and it was just a little bit down below one of these -- one of these straight faces -- these carved away ice faces where this big circle of debris was.

So it looked at this point fairly likely that's -- that's where the snowmachine had went in.

So we began removing debris from it and that was actually more work than you might expect because the current was very slowly bringing all this stuff in.

So what we would do is we had to load the raft with all these sticks and junk and everything like that and then -- and then drive the raft away a little ways downstream away from the influence of this vortex -- this very slow vortex

and let it go on the current and let it get taken on down to its next destination.

And little by little we got this thing cleared out and we felt it was important to do so -- because if we were trying -- if we were trying to sound and knowing that, you know, we might find a snowmachine or perhaps a body in there,

we wanted to make sure that we didn’t have the interference of all that stuff to have work around.

So once that job was done we had several of the guys kind of hold the -- there was three of us in a raft and one guy’s job was simply to hold the raft against the side of the ice

and then -- and then the other two guys were sounding with their poles.

So one of the fellows in the raft was probing around with this pike pole and all of a sudden in amidst of the sound of sand, he clinked on something solid

and he felt around and he tried lifting up on it and sure enough it was -- it was the snowmachine.

You could feel -- he tried to lift up on the hook and he could feel that he was snagging on something, so there was really no question but that's what it was and that the seat had come loose from it and floated up.

Then he -- he probed -- the other fellow in the raft probed around a little bit more, and this was the fellow who had loaned George the snowmachine, and came on to something that he felt like it was soft.

It felt like fabric to him, so he twisted the pole a little bit and began lifting it up and he's saying I think I have got something here.

And all of us were telling him just go really slow because we figured if it was George’s body, there was no telling where the current that was moving into this hole was going afterwards

and once it was off -- once the body was off the bottom we saw a distinct possibility that -- that it would -- as it -- if we lost it, if it sank back down that it would -- it would be carried down somewhere out of reach.

And so we felt like this was our one chance.

So slowly, slowly he was -- he was bringing it up and then finally his -- I saw a hand break the surface with a coat and I grabbed onto it and we just immediately felt like thank God we found him.

And -- and so we brought him up onto the raft which, you know, sort of helped kind of roll him into the raft and took him over to the sandbar

and we -- we also had a body bag and so forth and so with the troopers help we flew him back to Tanana.

There was also while we were there we retrieved the goose which apparently George must have shot.

It was apparently on the back of the machine and so it floated loose so that actually got flown back to Tanana, too.

But there was -- there was a real element of sadness for us in there because we just kind of thought, all for a goose, you know the loss of this forty year old man who was really one of the really good hunters of Tanana.

So after that, in the community there was a certain amount of sort of soul searching.

We had a meeting of -- they called it a men’s meeting, which is in Tanana would be kind of the hunters because they do most of it,

and I think also since in this case the, you know, it was the men that had sort of, I won’t say brought it on but they were the ones who were participating in this activity.

I think everybody sort of felt like they should talk -- maybe re-examine what -- what we all were doing and if -- if we should be making some changes.

So at the meeting we had a long discussion about how things used to be.

How they had sort of evolved to the point they were at then where somebody was lost and what we could do about it.

And one -- two concrete things we thought; one was to try to use the bulletin board at the store, which is kind of like Tanana’s version of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

it's the kind of place everybody goes for news and updates and so forth and if somebody could -- could post ice conditions on that along with some strongly worded caution of some kind that would maybe indicate to people that we've gotten into a time where the risk is high and is this really worth it to you.

Another thought was to cut out some trails that would access some of these areas which might still involve crossing the Yukon, but it would be basically less exposure to this risk.

That's -- that's not going to be that easy of a job.

Some of them are like the Old Mail Trail that goes from Tanana to Fish Lake.

It would be great to see it open back up and it's going to take a considerable amount of work, but everybody seemed to think that that was going to be a good way to do it.

They could at least then avoid a lot of travel on Hay Slough, which is the slough that kind of leads up towards Fish Lake.

On the other side of the Tanana, the problem's a little bit more complicated.

You still have to cross the Tanana -- excuse me, the Yukon River to get to that south bank of the Tanana, but the thought was if they could open a trail there that they could get to some of those hunting areas.

But I think overall, too was the realization that it's -- everything had gotten a little crazy.

We had gotten two -- the risky shift had gone too far in one direction.

That we needed to kind of re-examine the way we were doing things.

So hopefully that we will -- we'll be able to do that.


BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Thanks Charlie. That's -- I think that is really helpful.

One of the questions that came to my mind was so at the meeting there was talk about, okay we need to maybe go back to some traditional routes that avoid some of this dangerous stuff,

but were there other things that were talked about at the meeting?

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: Yeah, well the meeting was organized by some of the guys at the Tribal Council.

And it was -- had two purposes; one -- one was to sort of allow some of the men both who were involved in this party that went out and for some of us who were involved in the search and rescue to unburden themselves

and to sort of decompress a little bit and, you know, share their feelings about it.

It was a really -- it was a really good idea.

There was one thing that was both funny and telling in that meeting,

one of the older fellows who was there had quite a lot to say about kind of the old ways and how it used to be done and the reliance on technology

and he -- he made that point several times about -- about being over reliant on technology.

And while he was in the midst of sort of reiterating this, a cell phone rang and there's now cell phones in Tanana and he looked down and he realized the cell phone was coming from him, so he took it out of his pocket and hit the button to mute it.

And then it rang a second time and he looked at it and he decided to accept the call, which essentially interrupted his speech.

And to me that was in a lot of ways the essence of how this new technology works.

It's very effective, it's very compelling and certainly people in the villages are quick to adopt any practical device that will get them an advantage in hunting or whatever.

And so things that work end up being incorporated and here's this -- like the cell phone, here's this great piece of technology this snowmachine that can act like an amphibious vehicle but it's a two edge sword because it's also very dangerous.

So, that I think was one of the big things at the meeting is just how the pace has speeded up and on account of this technology.

And then we spent a lot of time reassuring the guys that had been on the party that, you know, basically the truth of it that it was not their fault

because they all -- a lot of them felt a considerable amount of sort of, survivor’s guilt and they -- they really needed to be reassured that they hadn’t done something terrible.

And several of them ended up going out on the search party with the helicopter too, which I think was probably helpful for them, you know, get some closure on it so.

Whether or not the community sees this as something that absolutely must stop right now, I would think is very much in doubt and the reason for that is because of the way society is organized in Tanana, in the village.

People are really -- among other things, let people go their own way as long as it's not, you know, going to seriously harm the community.

I feel that, you know, people in Tanana are really amazingly tolerant and that had this been some little small town in say the Lower 48 or whatever,

there wouldn’t be this sort of live and let live attitude.

So -- and I think it probably stems from the fact that in a sort of hunter gatherer society, especially among Athabascans who were so dispersed in small groups, that you really had to kind of give everybody a lot of latitude to sort of collect, you know, to hunt and collect food as best they could.

You couldn’t -- it's not something you could legislate or sort of micromanage.

So, I think at least this has gotten people thinking and has got them kind of examining whether this is in fact a good idea.

And I believe that it will probably -- it will probably make a difference, people will do things differently.

One example of that too is there used to be a lot of drownings in Tanana that were essentially needless because of people didn’t wear lifejackets.

About fifteen years ago there was a real sort of concerted effort to begin convincing people in town and to some extent it came from outside but some extent it came from people in town and now if you go out in the boat without a lifejacket

and one of the older women in a position of leadership sees you, you'll -- she'll probably ask you a pointed question that runs something along the lines of how come you're not wearing your lifejacket.

So, you know, little by little it has become sort of a social no-no to go out without their lifejacket.

Somebody will say something, so with a little bit of hope that might come to pass too with this -- this business of skipping.

It -- maybe I doubt it's going to go away because I mean it's something that I do over short distances.

It's just how far do you extend it? How far do you push it?

I'm not sure that we can really train people to go back to the old ways in terms of going out and spending two weeks out there hunting because the structure of society has changed a lot.

I mean, a lot of people have part-time jobs or even full-time jobs that they need to be back at so they can go out for short periods of time -- get some time off from work,

but the village has a lot more sort of obligations both work and social now than in the past, so I think probably this pattern of going out camping for long periods is less frequent than it was.

Another thing, too, that gets involved in this too is that is the use of alcohol while hunting and without, you know, pointing at any one person or group of people, it does happen some times

and I know that to do something like this requires all your attention and if alcohol is involved, it's going to make you feel happy.

It's going to make you feel carefree and it's a proven fact that this is going to make things start to go wrong by this feeling of, sort of, carefreeness.

So that's the hope of some good that will come out of this is that people will begin to think about this.

As a postscript, what we pieced together happened is that George had been skipping across sandbars and across water

and he had gotten over to more or less where he wanted to be but he was making a -- one other skip across an open lead and there was -- there was a shelf of ice that, like as I say, led down into the water

but in this particular case we saw his tracks head for that shelf and so we can only assume that he went straight across that open water,

but the edge of the ice was at an oblique angle and so as far as we can tell he went up on that, perhaps hit a ledge or a chunk of ice or something that caused him to roll.

And that the snowmachine basically rolled over to the side and just through the worst of luck, he ended up in this one twenty foot suck hole in acres and acres of still calm just very gently moving water that was going over ice.

So of all the luck to end up there, but we do -- we do make our own luck to a certain extent by the choices we make so that would be the lesson for all of us here.

CHAS JONES: I think both of my -- both of my questions were actually answered during his last -- Charlie’s last session.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay, let me ask one more question.

Whereabouts was that? You mentioned Squaw Crossing. Was it at Squaw Crossing or above?

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: Yeah, it was --

BILL SCHNEIDER: So we'll mark this on the map. You don’t need to try to --

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: Right. Well, Squaw Crossing -- the channels are constantly changing. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: This map was made I think last updated some time -- BILL SCHNEIDER: In the sixties.

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: Yeah, in the sixties or something like that, so this was the accurate picture then and since then the main channel has -- had shifted to the south.

Then for a while it kind of went through the middle.

Then it shifted to the north.

Then it actually went behind these islands here and now it's -- it's kind of back on the north side again.

So it's very dynamic river all the way on up and the party was traveling along the north bank and where George ended up was over here.

He -- he went across all these channels and sandbars which a lot more complicated than they show on this map and he ended up over in here.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. CHARLIE CAMPBELL: And we -- we helicoptered from Tanana.

We went straight up there and we landed on one of the little islands.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And what would you call that place if you were describing it?

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: South side of Squaw Crossing below Birch Creek.

That's what they also call this -- I forget what they call it, something like -- something that indicates that it's not very worthwhile going to hunt in,

but I think it's called Birch Creek on the map and by this so-called Solid Rock Island which is in fact not solid rock. It's a big sand dune that seems to persist for years.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And how far is from Tanana by the river?

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: That's about -- it's about probably twelve miles by river something like that -- ten miles by air.


KAREN BREWSTER: I had a couple questions.

You mentioned the meeting and the discussion about whether this skipping behavior might continue or not.

I was wondering is it a practice that's more done by young people or is all age groups and if it's young people, how they respond to the suggestion that they change their behavior.

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: It is mostly young people.

George at forty would be one of the older participants, but he was -- he was a gung-ho guy who liked to go out and be in the woods and do stuff.

He was very active so, but I would say in general it's a young person’s thing and I -- my impression was that the young people were sobered by it.

They regarded George as kind of the wise -- the wise fox of their group, you know.

Here was a guy who was seemingly invulnerable.

He just knew the woods and he knew what to do and now he was gone so I think it was -- I think it was a wake up call for young people.

I think it hit them particularly hard actually -- some of them anyway.

KAREN BREWSTER: My other question is about other issues when traveling on rivers.

This is one instance when we are talking about skipping and that risky behavior, but are there other things that people should be looking out for and be aware of when they are out in the springtime or other times of the year?

CHARLIE CAMPBELL: Yeah, well I think the first thing is to know the -- to know the area.

The Tanana River is particularly treacherous; however, people do maintain a trail between Tanana and Manley.

There's an overland trail and a trail that follows lakes and sloughs that essentially goes inland and goes from Manley and it follows the Tofty Road out and then ends up at the confluence of the Tanana and the Yukon River.

To go all the way on the river is further, but by the same token it's -- it's entirely smooth flat going or mostly smooth flat going and you can make really good time sometimes depending on snow conditions.

The disadvantage to it, of course, is that it disintegrates earlier and sometimes even by the time of the April races so-called in Tanana which happen at -- either at the end of March or the first week in April.

The Tanana River is also -- already starting to show some open places and it's important to have some local knowledge of where those places and in Tanana that usually gets passed along.

Somebody will put a sign up and says there's an open hole up by eight mile, be careful or even the Tanana River is no longer safe to travel on.

Of course it's still left to your discretion, it's not like you're going to be breaking a law if you do, but it's -- a sign could be strongly worded to advise you that you shouldn’t.

I would think that being by yourself and traveling on a river particularly that didn’t have a trail would be a huge disadvantage.

There's also a great disadvantage to people who are traveling slower and with loads.

One of the trails that people sometimes follow on the Tanana River is when the Irondog Race goes through, which is in either late February or early March, and when they come through they leave a good wide trail that's marked with lathe

and one which you can sometimes go pretty fast on, but those guys are across a hole before the hole even realizes it exists, basically.

For somebody traveling with a slower machine or pulling a load, instead of going 80 or 90 miles an hour they are going over it at 25 and they may go through where the Irondog just flew over it.

So I think, you know, you have to take all that into account to try to make a decision of whether or not it is safe.

And, you know, on the Tanana River, you know, January and February and the beginning of March would be the safer times to travel, but that's by no means guaranteed either.

Anything after mid-March when the sun starts to beat on it, it really starts to heat up the -- the sand streaks on the ice that are where the wind has blown the sand off sandbars and really melts ice quickly.

There's also drifting that goes on the lee sides of various sandbars that provide insulation and there can sometimes be running water underneath.

It's best looked at as -- with a lot of suspicion and a lot of alertness. You would never take it for granted.


BILL SCHNEIDER: Well I think this has been good. Thanks for taking the time to do this Charlie.