This is a continuation of an interview with Gary Zimmerman by Don Callaway, Rachel Mason, Karen Brewster, and Shannon Kovac on April 10, 2010 at the Van Gilder Hotel in Seward, Alaska. In this part of the interview, Gary talks about riding snowmachines on the Harding Icefield and near Exit Glacier, and ensuring that snowmachining continues to be an allowed use in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park
Date of Interview: Apr 10, 2010
Narrator(s): Gary Zimmerman
Interviewer(s): Don Callaway, Rachel Mason, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
People Present: Shannon Kovac
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Preserving the ice field
Friends he rides snowmachines with
First snowmachines in Seward
Snowmachining on Exit Glacier Road
Effects on hunting from the establishment of Kenai Fjords National Park
His father's guiding business and loss of hunting cabin
Filming of a commerical at Aialik Bay
Snowmaching in the Exit Glacier area before there was a road
Educational and work history
Fishing boat accident
Vision saving his life when drowning
Other family members in the Seward area
Working as oil driller and workplace accident
Overflow on the routes
Changes in Exit Glacier
Snowmachining on Exit Glacier
Wanting to keep the Park area open to everyone and equality in use and permit fees
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GARY ZIMMERMAN: I want to see it -- I want to see that ice field, and I'm -- I'm a very strict snowmobiler. I mean, I -- there's nobody -- you won't find anybody in the state of Alaska that loves snowmobiling more than I do.
I mean, I want to meet that fellow and let's go riding. But I want that ice field reserved -- preserved and reserved just like it is today, just like when I left it.
Now, you go up there today, I guarantee it, you won't see one track up there, because it snows. I mean, every time we go back there we can't believe it because we were just here and we thought we had it tracked up.
And it doesn't. And I -- you know, I mean, if we have a belt problem, we don't leave any spare belts. Yeah, because if you blow a belt, you know, it kind of turns into a pile of nothing.
Well, like in my sled, I have two garbage bags, so -- and I haven't blown a belt up there yet, but when I do -- and it will happen -- we'll -- we take out our product.
Now, I know this hasn't happened on the ice field, but we was up Snow River here, you know, last year, year before, and I was with a friend, and it's the first time I've actually seen this on the snow, where he had one of his radiator hoses -- because we have antifreeze -- actually had a hole in it, and when we stopped, he leaks out a bunch of antifreeze.
Well, we was able to repair the hose. And when he pulls ahead, I break out my shovel and my garbage bag, and I -- and, hey, you know, alls you had to do was just kick some frigging snow over it and who's going to know.
But the thing is, I know. You know. So I take my antifreeze.
And I think -- I wished everybody had the same attitude as I do about snowmobiling.
Let's take care of our environment so, you know, they -- you know, because, I mean, alls you have to do is take the Park Service up there or something, have them fly over there, and there's a great big green blotch on the ice field, well, there's your first legit excuse, we need to cut them boys off.
Well, if them boys are taking care of the area, then there's no reason to cut them off.
And I know the whole group I ride with has the same mentality. As a matter of fact, that's probably the same with the Kenai bunch because there's a dozen guys in Kenai that come over here once in awhile.
As a matter of fact, they were up at Nellie Juan yesterday riding with us, and they had the same mentality. We take out everything. You know.
DON CALLAWAY: Could you itemize your group here within Seward, the guys you ride with. GARY ZIMMERMAN: You mean how many there is?
DON CALLAWAY: Yeah, or just their names.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, the main -- the main guys I ride with is my cousin Phil Zimmerman; Jimmer Dick. When I was an Arctic Cat dealer, he was -- he raced for me for years, or with me and for me.
And you got Warren Albertson, he rides with me all the time. He's a real nice fellow.
And then you've got my other cousin, Perry Zimmerman, he moved to Anchorage, and his boy Jake. And Jake's friend Brad comes with us quite a bit.
Then you've got Dave, Dave's a UPS guy. He's a steady goer.
He's -- he's got quite a few snowmobiles, got quite a few kids. He's got about a dozen snowmachines out there. DON CALLAWAY: Really, wow.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And then we've got Mark Clemons at the Fish House. He doesn't get to go very much anymore because he's the coach of one of the basketball teams in town so he's always busy.
And then you've got Ed Merritt. Ed's a commercial fisherman. He -- I've been riding with him and Jimmer probably the most this year.
RACHEL MASON: Is Jimmer related to Packy Dick? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Yeah. That's Jimmer Dick. That Louis' son. RACHEL MASON: Oh.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And then you've got all the guys at No Sweat Auto. You've got Jessie Sweat, Tom Shay. Oh, jeez. There's Jason. I can't remember what Jason's last name is, and I should, his uncle worked for me for years.
Then you've got all the guys at Terry's Tire & Lube. And then there's a bunch of -- and I only know one of them, but his group went with us a couple times.
Travis. I don't know what his last name is but I've known him for years, and he's working on the AVTEC building over here.
And as a matter of fact, I just seen him before I come up there, he said he's heading for Lost Lake this afternoon.
And you've got Jason Lang, Benton Groom, they're State of Alaska boys at -- at the Highway Department, they're -- most of them are riders. Couple of them have backed off.
Gary Ackerson, I think he's 70, close to 70. He still rides.
We've got a guy out of Girdwood, and I'll have to think of his name. But he's 75, and he rides an old Polaris and he drags a scoop shovel, like you know you shovel -- you're shoveling corn, one of those big ones they've got for snow.
Yeah, you see him going across, he's always a couple miles behind. But he's 75, you know, we give him all the grace he needs.
But you can always spot him because from dragging that shovel, it looks like there's a -- you know, the snow's always flying about 10, 15 feet in the air.
So, I mean, there he goes. Oh, God, I can see his name, but I'm -- I'm missing it.
RACHEL MASON: That's a long way to drive from Girdwood.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. He comes down here quite a bit. And, of course, then you've got Jim Cooper and you've got the Coast Guard fellows off the Mustang, there's a bunch of them.
I think there's -- I seen as many as, I think, four -- 14 of them. As a matter of fact, I just came off Exit Glacier one day from up there, and I had my niece with me.
Both my nieces ride and their boyfriends.
But there's these Coast Guard guys come pulling in there, and so I'm shooting the breeze with them, you know, I've seen them.
So anyway, they were -- they were heading up there. So yeah, there -- there's quite a few snowmobilers in town. I mean that's probably the main circle that I run with, but just my exact main circle is probably my cousin Phil and Jimmer and Warren. You know.
Like yesterday, we had all five, six of us up there. Well, Dave's actually the new guy now, but the five of the six of us, well, we've been riding together since 1969. That's how long I've been riding with those guys.
KAREN BREWSTER: So that operation your dad and Joe Stanton were doing in '69, was that kind of the first use of snow machines around Seward?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: They'd been around -- yeah. That was pretty close. But they'd been around. You know, snow machines have been around since probably the '60s, but then I think they probably started getting popular here, I'd say about '65, '66. Yeah. Yeah.
We had a guy named Mark Moore was the Scorpion dealer, and this guy named -- oh, man, Bill Richart (phonetic) out at Mile 5 was a Ski Doo dealer.
And then my dad was actually a Yamaha dealer in about '72 or '3 for a little bit.
And we were working -- actually, I think he was working with that Jim Arness. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now, do people snow machine up the Exit Glacier Road, you know, past where it's closed? Do people just go out on the road?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. That's a real good place to take your new drivers. And that's a -- that's such a great family area.
It's just amazing. You go up there on probably any weekend, and you'll see men, women, and children, you know, with their snowmobiles towing an inner tube or a car hood.
And you know, that's a lot of fun riding a car hood. I don't think you'd be brave enough to get behind my rig, but...
RACHEL MASON: I don't think so. GARY ZIMMERMAN: I really wouldn't recommend it either, but you know, you see them up there. And that's -- that's some of the little positive things.
You know, if -- if it was up to me, which it ain't, I would close the -- I would shut down the park thing, just because -- and the reason that is, is because I'm a little bit scared that one of these days they are going to tell us we can't go.
And that ain't right. So as long as they keep it like it is, we'll get along. But I remember when I was a kid, you know, and I got pictures of that, too, of me and Rosco Livingston, I was in the sixth grade and we are up there playing and, well, we couldn't get on the glacier.
Tried to get on the glacier with this little 10 horse Ski Doo. So for the kids and families, Exit Glacier and going up to the bottom of Exit Glacier, playing around in that little valley and the next valley over and on the riverbed is a -- is -- is one of the greatest spots around.
That and Summit Lake Lodge out at Mile 40 is another great spot. Carter Lake is a great spot to take your families because it's a real short trail, and the ice fishing is fabulous.
And the hills, there's a lot of beginners hills, the kids just play and go nuts.
But Exit Glacier is -- it's used by everybody. Like the other day, this is probably a week ago, I come down that road, there was people snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking, and a dog team, and us, all using the same place.
And if you have good etiquette with your snowmobile, when you come across -- when you -- let's say you're going down the road doing 50 or whatever, and when you see somebody, you slow down, you know, to 5, 10 miles an hour, ease around them, 20 miles an hour, give them their space, wave at them.
If you don't know them, you know, if they look happy, you stop, you take your helmet off.
Because, see, it's like if a SWAT team comes at you, all these people, I mean, you're scared to death.
Well, it's just like a snowmobiler. If you're not used to being around the snowmobile, and the guy is coming down the road 50 miles an hour and blows by you, well, that's not a good deal and that's a bad experience.
But even when I was a dealer, and what -- what we've tried teaching even our young people that ride here, you know, the 20 ish group, that when you come across these people that are hiking and -- and driving, you know, stop.
And even if you don't like them, it doesn't matter if you like them or not. Stop, and take your helmet off so that they can see that you're a human being, and ask them, how are you doing?
Hey, do you need a hand? Are you in a bind? I mean, you know, do you have a broken arm?
Like I went up to Lost Lake here six weeks ago. It snowed a bunch, and I went up the night before the trail opened.
The closed sign was -- wasn't on the board, or I didn't see it. So I go -- well, it snowed a bunch, there was a foot of fresh snow there, I know there's 3, 4 feet, it's a moonlit night, so I go fireballing up through there by myself just to go to the cabin.
That's usually as far as I go. Well, I got halfway up the trail, there was this lady, a skinny little thing just sitting there by the trail.
Oh man. And when I seen her, I go, man, she looks like she's in a bind. So I pull up there, stop, take my helmet off.
How ya doin', ma'am? Well, she wasn't very happy. Do you know this trail's closed?
Well, I guess it ain't for me tonight, but yeah, I'm just checking on you to see if you're all right. And I didn't see that, when I went back down, there was not a sign on there; and, of course, the Forest Service, we talked to them the next day and they informed us that we need to use a phone-in method.
But still, the point was that she looked like she was in a bind. And -- and so when I came back down the hill, she was still walking out, and so I stopped and she seemed a lot happier the second time I seen her.
You know. But, you know, some -- some groups start thinking that they own the trail versus it's a multiuse trail.
And it's just like that Lost Lake Trail. That was mainly put in, in about -- from '67 to '70.
And Joe Stanton flew that -- that trail with his airplane, and let toilet paper out, you know, where they thought they should cut the trail, and Warren Albertson and Jimmer's dad, Packy Louis, was the first two guys to start building that trail to Lost Lake the way it goes now.
KAREN BREWSTER: The winter -- the Winter Trail? GARY ZIMMERMAN: The Winter Trail. Yeah.
RACHEL MASON: Going back to what you said about the -- the moose line, can you tell us a little bit more about what the effects of -- you mentioned when Jimmy Carter came in --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, I'm not a Jimmy Carter fan. So I don't know how deep you want to go there. RACHEL MASON: Yeah. That's okay. But just -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know.
RACHEL MASON: -- just what the impact was.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, it made our job a lot more difficult. And we actually -- that was probably one of the reasons why we quit hunting up in there.
Because every time we went sheep hunting up there up on the Harding Icefield, we listened -- we had -- we sold a 10 day hunt, which was two weeks.
And we always told the client you have to plan to be weathered in for two weeks, so this is going to be a four week deal.
So if you only got two weeks off and that's all you can spend here, this is not the place to come. But if you want a nice ram, a fairly easy hunt compared to what sheep hunting goes, this is the place you want to be.
And so with that moose range line cutting across the front of that glacier, it's either 2 or 3 miles, well, you had to use sleds to get across the glacier, well, see --
RACHEL MASON: You can mark on there where it is. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, it's way down here. RACHEL MASON: Oh -- oh, it's off. GARY ZIMMERMAN: It's way down in this area. RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: But if you -- if you -- when you get that window of opportunity, you cannot break camp fast enough, pack up your gear, everything, and get back because when you go out -- going in is a lot easier.
When you come out, you have to come out of this big wind blown snow cave type thing and then go up the glacier, and this was difficult. I mean, it was -- it was -- it was not -- getting out of there was -- it was very extreme.
KAREN BREWSTER: Especially if you had sled loads full of meat.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Right. Yeah, we had sheep, we had carcasses, you know, yeah. But then when you're up there for six weeks, six guys can devour a whole sheep pretty quickly.
And as a matter of fact, the last time that we were weathered in, the first thing we did when that plane land was drain 5 gallons of gas out of his wing for -- for cooking.
Because we were down to our last quart of av gas -- I mean, of Blazo fuel on the -- on the day we got picked up.
But before we even started loading stuff up, man, we just had these 5 gallon Blazo cans, first thing we did is we filled up because there's no trees.
There's no way to make a fire. You know, if you ain't got heat inside that tent to cook, you know, now we start talking about walking out or at least walking down to the tree line and, you know, now we're getting into some kind of a Daniel Boone type expedition, you know.
And I think because the severity of it, you know. I mean, it was my recommendation -- people can go where they want.
I -- I personally, myself, feel that I could go up there and do a sheep hunt just because the experience I had with my father and I know what to expect and -- and I know being weathered in for a month doesn't -- doesn't freak me out, doesn't bother me.
I mean, it bothers you, but it's -- it's not that big of a deal. As long as you're prepared for it.
RACHEL MASON: But just so I understand, is it because the area of hunting was restricted?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. They just drew the line. I don't think anybody even to this day knows there's sheep in there except for me and a few others. When they built -- when they put that moose range line in, they just went down there and drew a line, you know. And they didn't --
KAREN BREWSTER: And now there's no hunting on that line?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you can hunt, but not with motorized vehicles.
DON CALLAWAY: But motorized vehicles are not permitted.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. And see, when we were hunting from the cabin, when the weather -- when the weather was -- you know, we'd go back and forth to the cabin.
So you had a good shelter, you had a good means of transportation, you could drive your snowmobile in there, it was only a little 12 horse Ski Doo.
And so if you see the weather start to blow in, you cranked it up, you went back to the cabin.
Well, once they -- once they put the moose range line in, okay, now you don't have the advantage of having -- to be able to drive in there. So by, you know --
RACHEL MASON: You'd have to haul it out.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: You'd haul it all in and you haul it all out. And then the weather. I mean, when it blows up there, you know, I mean, it's -- it's really -- it's whipping.
They've got that weather station in up there, we go up -- as a matter of fact, that weather station is right here -- let's see, where am I? At Bear Glacier. Yeah, there's a weather station about right -- might be right here.
DON CALLAWAY: Let's put a mark right there --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, right -- well, make sure I'm not -- oh, no, it's right here.
DON CALLAWAY: I thought this was Bear Glacier.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: This is Bear Glacier. And there's a weather station down low, maybe it might be right here.
Yeah, I bet it is right here. This would be a weather station. We go there all the time, too, because they built it on -- it must always blow because there's always rocks there. So we go there and have a sandwich there all the time, too. But --
DON CALLAWAY: So this is, what, early '80s when you stopped guiding out there?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I would say probably '78 or '80 was the last time we went in there.
Yeah, we -- we switched to more of a -- well, caribou hunting and grizzly hunting, brown bear hunting.
We didn't ever -- that's our -- and then we did a lot of -- a lot of goat hunting, too, especially -- well, we used to do a lot of goat hunting out at Aialik Bay.
As a matter of fact, down on Aialik Bay, we had a -- where that -- well, I don't know if it's Park Service or Forest Service. What is it, Park's have a cabin out there?
RACHEL MASON: I think it is Park Service.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Well, before that Park Service cabin was there, in that same spot, that's where my dad's hunting cabin was.
And the Park Service comes in there when they thought they owned everything, which is sore feelings on the Zimmerman family, burns our cabin down to the ground, didn't pay us for it, and built that cabin in the same exact spot.
Now, I don't know what -- what -- I mean, why don't you just, like -- why don't you just take it and use that cabin? I mean, what was the point of actually burning it down?
And that always was a pretty sore spot with my dad because we did a lot of -- that's a real good area for hunting. Well, back then it was a real good area for goats and black bear.
You know, we did a lot of hunting in Aialik Bay. And it's a beautiful place, too. That was a great place to take clients because you had Aialik Glacier, you had Holgate Glacier, and then from that cabin, if you've ever spent the night out there, you could hear that -- those glaciers rumble all night long. It's pretty fantastic.
A matter of fact, they made a -- I was in on this, too, about -- might have been '72, they made a Contact commercial out there. It was 1972. Yeah. The cold Contact pills. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, anyway, they are -- these guys are filming and Kimo (phonetic) Knighten, which was Keith Knighten's kid, that was one of the pilots that always flew up here.
They are making this commercial, and a great, big iceberg comes and falls off the glacier, makes this mini -- mini tidal wave, washes a bunch of people into the ocean. I'm talking like they are going to die.
And Kimo Knighten dives in. Kimo Knighten was the center of our basketball team, he was like 6 foot 7, and he hardly ever wore shoes and he was tough as nails, he was like a Grizzly Adams. I mean, he was a bad ass.
And he just dives in the water and saves these people. Yeah. And it's a pretty fantastic story.
RACHEL MASON: These are the ones in the commercial?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. Kimo, I don't even know what Kimo was doing out there. He was like a guy who packed these bags or something, you know. He was like a laborer, I guess.
And anyway, they had these people out there and they are making this Contact commercial. The ice falls off, like I told you, makes this tidal wave, and they are standing on this rock and the water comes over, drives them off into the bay, and Kimo Knighten, I don't know, well, we'll just say comes out of nowhere, dives in there and saves these people.
RACHEL MASON: Good thing he was there.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. That's a -- that's an Aialik Bay thing. Yeah, he was pretty popular around town for a while.
KAREN BREWSTER: So on the people who -- I'm wondering about snow machining up the valley before Exit Glacier Road was there. Did people snow machine up the valley?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah, you went right up the river.
KAREN BREWSTER: And the river's safe enough to travel?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah, you'd cross the river because it's way low. It's water skipping. See, you can cross a lot of water with a snowmobile.
You can take -- if your snowmobile is sealed up, you can take your snowmobile and run across this bay and back.
Of course, you can't stop and you don't want to hit a wake because you -- but once you get moving.
But yeah, like I say, I've got lots of pictures of Rosco Livingston and myself, we was up there a long time. He's in Fairbanks, he's a retired teacher. And anyway, I got lots of pictures of us being up there as kids.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you would just go up the valley before the road was there, you would just snow machine up there?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Just go right up the riverbed. You know, right -- well, I mean, it's just like right now, if you go out and throw your snow machine out at Medco, let's say. I don't know how much snow is out there, but, well, you can go up to where they got the road closed.
And if the road wasn't there, we'd drop there and just water skip across them rivers and just go right up there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Were other people doing it or just --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, no, there were lots of people back then. Yeah. Every -- oh, everybody, well, we were a smaller town. I think, we had 12 , 1500 people here, but snowmobiling is -- has always been a real popular sport around here. Yeah. Yeah.
DON CALLAWAY: Could you -- could we go back and talk a little bit about your life history. You moved here when you were in the fourth grade. What year, again?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: That would be -- we showed up here early '69. DON CALLAWAY: '69?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Then, well, I went to Seward -- I went to school in Seward. And I went to AVTEC.
I was in the very first state of Alaska oil tech program. And that's -- they brought a -- they brought a rig up from Oklahoma, and a guy named Hal Corbin was a lead instructor, I would imagine you'd call him.
And they put on a oil technology program. That was involved with all the components of a rig. They gave us an EMT course, we had welding courses. It was a great school.
Before I went to -- did that, I was working for Ray Anderson down here by the waterfall. That used to be Anderson Seafood. And we were building that warehouse that's there now, that's been up and down a couple times since then.
And so anyway, I -- I went into the unemployment office, and Shirley Reynolds -- Dave Reynolds was one of our basketball players -- she was the unemployment lady. And I say, yeah, I want to draw unemployment.
And she goes, hey, do you want to go to an oil technology program?
And I go, no, no, I don't want to. I was, like, 17 years old, and I was going, no, I don't think so, you know. Or 18, right in there. And I go -- she goes, yeah, but we'll pay you.
Oh, yeah? Well, what do you mean you'll pay me? She goes, well, we'll give you, like, I think it was $350 bucks a week, and you can draw unemployment, too.
I'm going, like, jeez, that's 5 , 600 bucks a week for, like, going to hang out in class. And I go, yeah, okay, I'll do it.
So anyway, I go out to AVTEC and I showed up three days late, because that's how the process worked, and I walked in there and I seen this Hal Corbin.
Well, I seen -- I knew Hal Corbin because on one of those explorations out of the ice field, my dad had a real serious heart attack.
So I actually got out of school at the end of my sophomore year and went to work in the woods over in Anchor Point, logging. I was driving log truck at 15 years old in the woods, and run -- run skidder.
And at 16, I was driving on -- I was actually running a three axle tractor trailer on the highway. And -- and I used to be the milkman at Matanuska Maid. I'd go out and get all the dairy products.
And then when they were bringing in the pipeline equipment, I hauled a bunch of stuff for Lynden Transports through Harry McDonald. We were Whitewater Enterprises then, but now you guys will recognize the name, he's Carlile.
So Harry McDonald is Carlile. I was actually his third driver he ever hired. He hired me at 15.
And I see Harry every now and again and I ask him to this day, I says, hey, how many other 16 year olds have you put out on the highway?
He goes, you're my first and you're my last. So he gave me some big breaks there. And my brother Ed was working for him.
And I went -- like I say, I went to the oil tech program and got out of there, and then I was -- went to work for -- went up and did some interviews, and Hal Corbin gave me this card from Chad Chatterman (phonetic) of Rowan Drilling, he was the president of the Alaska division, and so I went up there and went into his office, and I was sitting there.
And this little old man was sitting behind the desk, and he goes, well, can I help you out there, young fellow? And I go, yeah, I'm looking for Mr. Chad Chatterman (phonetic).
And he goes, well, that's me. And I go, well, Hal Corbin said you'd hire me. I went to the oil tech school.
And so anyway, they interviewed me, and they told me if my folks would sign a release, I could go to work on Thursday.
So I didn't have a driver's license then. I mean, I had one but I didn't have one that moment. And so I took a cab out to Seward Highway and I hitchhiked down to Seward, and my folks signed the release, and got a bunch of gear together, and flew to Prudhoe in October of '77.
DON CALLAWAY: You were 18 then? GARY ZIMMERMAN: 17. DON CALLAWAY: 17.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: My folks had to sign a release. And so anyway, I worked on Rowan 26 and 35 and Rowan 34 and Rowan 41.
And I worked for them, oh, a couple of years, maybe. And then I went to work for Arctic Alaska Drilling and we went to Bakersfield, California.
And we built our first rig, a great big rig, an ice rig, in Bakersfield, and then transported it back to Alaska.
Stayed with them a couple years, then their name changed. Brinkerhoff took them over and I worked for Brinkerhoff Drilling for a couple years.
Then they got slow, and then I went to work for Alaska United, and Alaska United had three different names, so it isn't like I worked for three different companies, but we were Vanguard, Alaska United, and I can't -- the other one skips.
And then I went back to work for Pool Arctic Alaska in the oil field, and then whenever there wasn't a rig running -- you know, you don't -- the longest I've ever spent on one rig was five years.
And anyway, when I wasn't working, then I'd go commercial fishing. My brother in law, Harold Porter, he's passed on, he was a driller for Nabors Well Service on 1 ES, and a commercial fisherman.
So I've gillnetted in Cook Inlet, I've fished herring in Wells Bay and -- and Prince William Sound and Togiak and Cook Inlet. And I've gill netted in Cook Inlet for salmon.
And I was also, I've salmon seined in the Sound as a skiff man. I've worked Chignik, and I've worked Kodiak. I've crab fished in Kodiak.
And we were chicken farmers. Me and my dad built a chicken farm in 1980. We were Alaska Fresh Greatland Eggs.
DON CALLAWAY: Here -- here in Seward?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. We had 22,000 layers on at Mile 7. We built it from the ground up.
We got an agriculture loan from the State of Alaska, we did that, also. You know, so, I mean, you just got to do what you got to do to make a living. But in Seward, I mean, I've -- I've lived a few other places.
When my mother got elderly, we moved her to Kentucky because the weather's nicer and I had a sister there.
And I've drilled gas wells in Colorado. I've pushed tools in Colorado. I was a field superintendent in Colorado for a while, but most -- you know, it just kind of overlaps.
You know, sometimes you're taking -- like if it looks like it's going to be a big summer, I'd take the summer off, you know, because we're working 2 and 2.
The first seven years I worked at Prudhoe Bay we worked 2 and 1, and then they switched to 2 and 2, so a lot of times you could get the summer off, you'd -- or you take a six week stretch off, but, like, you'd take your vacation nonpaid, for -- so you'd end up with six weeks off and so you'd go commercial fishing.
And me and my dad had a halibut boat. We used to long line. As a matter of fact, I had a boat called the "Allons," it was built in World War II.
And it was a wood tender that would go from ship to ship, and we found it and it was thrashed, but the wood looked pretty solid.
So we went and got -- this guy's name was Clay, Mike Clay's dad, I can't think of his name, but he was an old Norwegian wood boat builder.
And -- or he'd been around it a lot. I wouldn't say he was a builder. Anyway, so he kind of supervised us and keep us going in the right direction.
And before that, we -- we'd built -- we'd commercial fished in two smaller boats. I've been on a boat sinking 25 miles off Aialik Bay.
We was in the water for 2 hours on a halibut opener -- well, probably about an hour and a half.
And we got -- we got hit by -- the weather was really bad and it was -- it was deck loaded with fish and we had the boat go down.
And we all survived that. As a matter of fact, the driller superintendent for Nabors Drilling, Dan Hebert, he's still our superintendent, he was one of our deckhands at that time. So we've had a --
RACHEL MASON: How did you get rescued, or --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, my dad -- well, the boat swamped. And I just thought it was -- I had the engine going and the pumps going, so we was looking good, and then we got hit by another wave, but we was in really rough seas.
It wasn't like a rogue wave or something, we were just getting pounded. And anyway, my dad says, put on your survival suit.
And I go, no, I can get it going, I can do it, I can do it. And I looked up at him and here's dad and my Dan -- Dan Hebert standing there in survival suits.
I figured it was time. So I just got my survival suit on, and he was calling mayday, and I guess they heard it in Valdez.
And Valdez got ahold of Kodiak, and we cut the raft off. And when he said jump, and the boat was starting to roll and go down.
We jumped off and we're in the water. You know, there was no more water. I mean, there was no more boat. There was lots of water, believe me.
And then -- and then it ain't nothing like they try and teach you in one of those classes. I ain't saying the classes are useless but they are pretty useless.
You know, I mean, you don't bob around like a cork. Every time you start to feel your body raise up, you better get all the air you can because you're going under. I don't care how big your survival suit is.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, wow. GARY ZIMMERMAN: It sucks. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And anyway, yeah, I remember seeing a C130 flew over us, and then a Coast Guard auxiliary boat picked us up.
And that was more horrifying than actually having to jump in the water. And I was warm the whole time. I was not cold, chilly one bit.
I was perfectly fine in the survival suit. But the thing was, is that's the people that might need some lessons, because what they do -- well, I'm not saying they do it.
It is -- of course, that was a boat sinking in '87, so I'm sure it's new and improved since then.
But those people, they tried to come alongside you and grab you. Well, that's not a good thing. When they start to come alongside you, you think about that poster, I mean, this is what happened to me.
I actually thought about that poster in the boat harbor where it shows that guy all chewed up by the prop. And that's the only time that I could actually swim.
When I was in my survival suit, you know, and I was a lot younger than I am now, and that -- real quick, it seemed like we were a hundred yards apart.
And I'm trying to swim to that raft and I couldn't make it. So I figured, well, okay, I'll lay on my back.
Well, then, you know, you get hit by a couple waves, that don't work.
So then when you're laying on your back and then you try and get your feet back underneath you, where you're kind of buoyant, and that's the trouble, when you get your feet underneath you -- if you've got more than one person, you want to lay on your back and make like a little -- like a -- like a piece of driftwood, you know, floating around.
But when you're by yourself, it's -- it's -- it's pretty intense.
RACHEL MASON: It was lucky you guys had got into your survival gear. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, it was very lucky.
But that guy that's trying to pick me up, he was trying to come -- come alongside me, and that's the only time I actually did swim, and I was -- I was swimming away from him for, like, my dear life.
Because I figure, this son of a gun's going to run me over. You know, so he's -- yeah, I didn't like it. But it was sure nice to be on his boat when we got on.
RACHEL MASON: I bet. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when did your dad pass away? GARY ZIMMERMAN: '91. Yeah.
DON CALLAWAY: So when you're working in Prudhoe and you had your 2 off, would you come back to Seward?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. 90 percent of the time. Yeah.
DON CALLAWAY: They fly you back to Anchorage and then --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, they fly you to Anchorage and then you're free to go. We used to fly mostly the BP charter, but now they have a lot of the -- some of the jobs like when we were working for Conoco when they first got started up there, and we flew commercial, that was -- that was nice.
You know. Yeah. And then when we flew for Rowen -- when we worked for Rowen, we used to fly the BP charter, and then Rowen bought their helicopters.
And anyway, then they decided that they needed to fly us up there with some airplanes. And they was a lot smaller, they weren't a jet, and that was not comfortable at all.
You'd have to fly around Mount McKinley, and we -- we had three or four real bad experiences with that, and so, you know, we -- they finally switched back to a commercial flight. Yeah.
DON CALLAWAY: So during this process, you know, can you -- I assume you got married during this time?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I've been married -- well, this is my second marriage. Yeah, I got married -- I got married to this real nice, beautiful woman, and she was from California, and I think, oh, somewhere around '84, and we parted ways in '87. Yeah.
As a matter of fact, I don't know if I should really tell this part, but that -- she actually saved my life in that boat sinking because what happened is I kept going under the water, and it's just the honest god's truth, you know, but anyway, I was going under the water, and I'd open up my eyes and I'd be looking out and I'd see all this water, and going, man, I'm not going to make it.
I mean, you know. And I -- you know. And I'm Catholic, so I'm -- like I'm repenting and stuff, and man, I -- I should repent today. You know, I mean, I try and stay up on that because you never know if you're going to get whacked, you know. So I'm re -- I mean, I actually had time to repent.
And so anyway, finally I was -- like, I was in the water probably maybe an hour or so, and I was just exhausted, and this big old wave comes over and pounds me, and I'm way under and I look up and I -- I think, you know, maybe there's 20 feet of water above me, and I thought, that's it, man.
This is it. I'm -- I'm going to pass away. I'm dead. You know. And in this -- her face flashed in my mind.
And I thought, if I die, she's going to get my Corvette. Her name was still on the title. And man, I tell you what, I came alive. And that's the honest truth.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, I thought it was going to be like you saw her beautiful face.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. Hell, no, because she was mean. I mean, you know. Yeah. No, everything was fine. RACHEL MASON: Her meaness saved your life.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, yeah. She would, too. She'd a took that Corvette.
And I said, I ain't dying today if I have to swim to town. And man, every time a wave was coming up, and I was all fired up, I mean, I wasn't going down.
There was no chance of me drowning that day.
Yeah. But I was -- I mean, I was just wore out. And so she gave me the second wind. RACHEL MASON: That's good.
GARY ZIMMERMAN:And I seen her -- I hadn't seen her for a long time, and I seen her a couple years ago, oh, about seven or eight years ago, she came to Seward.
She calls me up. And so she wanted to go have coffee. And so, ok, I said, yeah, that sounds safe. You know. And anyway, I told her that story.
I said, yeah, you remember when we sunk that boat? She goes, yeah.
I says, yeah, your name was still on that title, and you saved my life. There was no way I was giving up that Vette.
RACHEL MASON: Did she see the humor in that?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, she did. Yeah. She's actually -- you know, she's a -- she's really a nice gal.
We were just young and wild and, you know, I mean, I was working in the oil field, I was probably a derrick man or something back then, or a loader operator, and, you know, that's -- those kind of stories can't go on tape, of what when on on the North Slope, you know. RACHEL MASON: Oh, yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: But she -- but yeah, she turned out. She's fantastic. She's got great kids, you know, they're very well mannered. Yeah. I'm glad for her, actually.
KAREN BREWSTER: When did you get married to your current wife?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: We got married about seven years ago. And I've known her for 30 years, too.
Yeah. She -- I'm -- Laura and my sister Peggy used to be flight attendants for Reeves Aleutian Airlines.
So I was, like, 17 or 18 years old, and I was working for that Rowen, and I'm sitting in my sister's apartment off of Wisconsin in Anchorage.
And I hear a knock on the door. She comes in. Those Reeves Aleutian gals, they used to give them this real nice red parka, kind of a Russian style, or Eskimo style parka, zipper, with this beautiful wolf thing on top, you know, wolf tail or whatever.
She walks through the door, and I'm going -- man, I was just smitten. You know, I couldn't hardly speak. DON CALLAWAY: Thunderbolt.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. So anyway, you know, I didn't say nothing. And so when she walks out the door, I thought, well, I better go ask her if she wants to go to the movie. I got brave then. And I did.
And I says to my sister, I said, well, what's that gal's story? Oh, she's going out with a pilot.
And I'm thinking, well, roughneck at Rowan Drilling, airline pilot, ah, what's the use. It's out of my league, you know.
But anyway, but the funny thing was my sister and her have always been friends, and I bumped into her on and off over the years.
And we actually were visiting on the phone. And anyway, her -- her husband didn't work out after 20 years.
And so when Peg told me that she'd been divorced, I figured, well, I'll just call her up. I'm a little braver nowadays.
Funny, that pilot didn't work out so good. You know, so yeah. My -- my wife, she's beautiful. She's a little bitty thing. She's been with Alaska Airlines for 30 years.
You know. She's -- she loves snowmobiling. She doesn't fish, she doesn't hunt, and I like that part, gives us a little space in that area.
But if she did, she could go whenever she wanted. But we enjoy a lot of camping, we have a beautiful camper.
We have a Keystone Raptor down there in Kentucky, so we tow around and we go -- it's a toy hauler so we've got four wheelers in the back of that and bicycles.
And we like going to the national parks. We -- and we like going to NASCAR races, like we've been to Daniel Boone State Park, for example, or Cumberland Gap, and you know, we've been all over the East Coast.
Shiloh Battlefield, we do a lot of things like that, too. But yeah, she's pretty energetic.
RACHEL MASON: That's great. Is she from around here?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. She's -- she was born and pretty much raised in Seattle.
RACHEL MASON: Oh. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Yeah. As a matter of fact, that's where she lives. RACHEL MASON: Oh. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.
DON CALLAWAY: And how about brothers or cousins in the area?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Both my brothers are deceased. My brother Eddie died in Togiak spotting herring. It was a midair conclusion with Dick Moll. Margaret Anderson's husband Ray was in that plane wreck, too. My brother was flying for him.
DON CALLAWAY: When was that, again?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Jeez, you know, I think it was '80; 1980 or '82, somewhere right in there.
Then my little brother died out here at Nash Road in a one car car wreck.
A mysterious wheel come off his truck. And so that's -- we won't go too far there.
And then I had a little sister that passed away in 1969, so the only ones that are left is my sister Peggy. She lives in Kentucky, her husband's a UPS mechanic.
He works on the composite bodies, and is a jet engine mechanic, too, so he's worked for Rolls Royce and a few of those companies.
And my sister Joan, she lives in Nikiski, and she's married to a nice fellow, his name's Bill, Bill Boutalair.
And he's an avid hunter, snowmobiler, and he's got more of a utility type sled. And he's a lineman. And has been a commercial fisherman.
Her first husband, Harold, I think he died in right around 1980, in a -- he hit a tree with a snow machine. It was a freak accident.
And so anyway, that's what killed him. So then she remarried this guy.
And I have nieces -- it's funny, my sister's kids in Kentucky moved up here. One's living with me now and one lives downtown. And two of my sister's kids in Kenai moved to Elizabethtown, so they kind of swapped kids, I guess. Adult kids.
And my cousins, my cousin Phil is probably one of my best friends. He lives out here at Mile 7.
He's got G & P Enterprises, he's self employed. And my other cousin Perry, he works for -- used to be the phone company manager, been with this GTE back then for many years.
He lives in Anchorage. I don't see him very often. So that's probably my -- the main family that I -- we have lots of family in Wisconsin, you know, or in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois area.
You know, you see them every 10 years once or twice, you know, that's -- yeah, but to see them on the street, I probably wouldn't recognize them.
DON CALLAWAY: And what do you do now? What --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: I work for -- right now I'm off work, but I was -- I was injured with working for Aurora Well Service. A hose came out of there, weighed a couple thousand pounds, and crushed part of my skull.
It happened to me three years ago. So I went -- you know, I was off work four or five days, or whatever, and went back to work, and anyway, I've been fighting a case of severe vertigo.
And anyway, I quit working for Aurora, and that's when I went to Colorado, and I was drilling for Patterson Drilling down there, we were drilling for oil and gas -- well, yeah, gas wells, by the -- by the Grand Junction area.
DON CALLOWAY: Right. And so anyway, I started having -- about every three weeks after I was slammed on the head, I'd have a -- I have these electrical shorts.
And it feels like -- I can feel them coming on, and I can see you and I can hear you, but while I'm having this short, I can't respond, and it feels like you're getting nicked by electricity.
And so, you know, I was having these once every three, four weeks, and I was not really too concerned about it, you know, because I always had a warning.
And, you know, I mean, I've always been -- which is maybe wrong, but I was always taught, you know, you're a man, you need to work; man up and go to work.
Well, when I was working in as -- I made it as field superintendent, I was talking to a friend of mine at Nabors, which I've worked for Nabors on and off since 1984.
And so we're talking about it, and I sent him a couple good hands that wanted to go to Alaska.
And so anyway, old Don calls me up and we're talking and I told him I was field superintendent, and he goes, you know, if you're up here, he says, we'll -- we could put you pushing out here.
And, well, it's the first time in my oil field career I asked, well, what do you pay? Because I was figuring, you know, if it's good pay, it was a check, big checks.
And the check was about a good 30 percent more than what I'm making in Colorado, and I'm making good money in Colorado.
So I talked -- it's the first time I ever even talked it over with the wife because she usually just lets me go with it. You know, if I think that's what we need to do, that's what we do, just we don't try and make an issue out of it.
So we came back to work for Nabors a year ago this July. And I'm drilling for them on Rig 16, we're doing a modification, and my vertigo was -- in the last three years has been subsiding.
But, you know, but -- and I don't tell people I really have a vertigo problem.
And so anyway, in December, Nabors shut down a bunch of rigs that were unexpected, and they sent me out to 19 AC and they offered me a job as assistant driller and motorman.
See, now, that's good jobs. Pay is good. Well, then, as a working person, I was working every day, and then on my days off, we had bought an automated wood splitter, it was called a Chomper. We could -- we could cut -- we could process up to five and a half cords of firewood an hour.
It's all automated, kind of. And so I was working for Nabors as a motorman, so let's say, I started in January, it was actually before that, and then cutting wood on my days off. Well, the vertigo started getting worse, and I started having more of these electrical shorts.
Well, then, by July, July 14th, I went to supper, come back from supper, at 6:00, and I was really feeling bad, so I sat down on the steps in the motor room that goes up to the air compressor room, and I lost about three hours.
So I went to the medic, the toolpusher, and he comes out and was -- and I told him I was sick and I barely could get to the medic. He said, oh yeah, you've got a flu or dehydrated. Well, I wasn't getting any better.
So I went to town and they -- since then they've done a bunch of testing on me and they -- they've found out underneath my brain here, where I got hit on the head, I've got a big dent up there, it forced my brain down on my brain stem and caused inner ear damage to where there's problems in there.
And I have -- where your brain lays in there, I have microtears in my brain. So when I work at a consistent basis, it causes these electrical shorts to get more active.
And so they were supposed to do surgery on me on March 13 and 15th.
DON CALLAWAY: Of this year?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. But right before the -- I was ready to go, you know, if you guys think you can do something for me, you don't have to explain it, just do it. You know.
And so anyway, the insurance company calls me up and they go, well, we want to have another opinion. Well, we've already had about 10 of them.
And so then I was a little bit upset about that at first, but then I talked to this other workmen's comp lady friend of mine, Tammy Lindsey, who is an expert.
She said, no, this is a good thing. And she looked to where they was going to send me to a place in Portland and another place in Seattle to have another -- another --
DON CALLAWAY: Another workup.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Another workup. There you go.
So right now, I'm just -- my two neurologists, my inner ear guy, and Dr. Lord, who used to be in Seward, they just say they -- just be as active as you can be and we'll work on it.
So I says, well, does that include riding my snowmobile? And they go, yeah.
But he says, if you go riding for two days, then you need to take two days off.
And so riding my snowmobile and ice fishing and waiting to be healed. Yeah. That's what I'm doing now. Yeah.
So when they don't let us go riding snowmobiles, then I'll have to go out here in the Gulf of Alaska and chase halibut.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when does the snow machine season end for getting up on the ice field?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- on average. I'm sure it varies from year to year.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think this year you can go up there until May 15th. You know, it depends how fast -- well, it depends if the Park Service gets picky.
Because if they open up that road and then we can park up there by the turn around by the bridge, well, that would extend it a long ways.
But do they want you sitting there? I don't know. We'll have to find out.
But I'd say, you know, May 1st is what the Forest Service says for Lost Lake unless we have extreme amount of snow.
And that's not going to be this year. That trail's pretty thin right now. But you know, and when you walk up the trail, it looks bad, like at Lost Lake, but if you was to walk up there in the summer, the mud and stuff that you see on Lost Lake Trail is actually sitting on a big rock anyway, so it isn't like you're ruining out causing --
KAREN BREWSTER: But going up to Exit Glacier you're on the river and then up that valley.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Up the valley. But see, this valley is all full of snow.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. GARY ZIMMERMAN: So you can go around.
There's -- there's one, there's one creek crossing about here, right where this line is, and that creek's real shallow, so you can go in and out of that creek.
And this other creek crossing, we don't even go through that. We drive around through the woods, through -- we -- we just zigzag through the trails and went around this loop here, it's about a mile detour.
So yeah, May 1st, you know, I would say. You know.
RACHEL MASON: Why do you not go on that, that creek crossing?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, because it's a nice spot, but when you go cross the creek, the bank's real steep, and then you've got to make -- right when you go up the bank, it's maybe 6 foot high, then you've got to make an immediate left because there's a rock there.
So if you got all ambitious or something where you got bounced wrong and you pinned it, you could slam into that rock and cause, you know, physical damage or damage to the sled.
But now, if you -- we haven't been doing it, but when you come back down, you could go shooting across it because it's real easy. But you know, I mean, I'm anti-water, so I just prefer to go through the woods, even though it takes longer.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you have problems with overflow on any of your routes?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. No overflow. That's mainly a lake issue. Yeah. Like Bear Lake is real bad for overflow.
Carter Lake -- not Carter Lake, but Crescent Lake is up there at Mile 30 is real bad for overflow.
Trail Lake, another real bad one. Yeah. I don't like the overflow. That's just bad news.
RACHEL MASON: Has that overflow situation changed over the years? Is it more -- is it more of a problem now than it used to be?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: I think Bear Lake -- well, this year they had -- they didn't have overflow, but there was so much rain, they had a bunch of rain on the lake, so that was an issue.
But no, I -- I don't really see any change in that. There's a -- if you go up Snug Harbor Road, and I don't know what the name of that lake is where that dam's at, that lake is a real bad lake for overflow and I don't know why.
But, you know, we just stay completely away from that area.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now, what about all the years you've been going up on the ice field and you've looked at Exit Glacier, have you seen the glacier changing?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: You know -- you know, boy. If you look at my 1970 pictures when we were playing up there with the snow machines, you know -- you know, I don't know, that's -- I might not be a good one to ask there.
I think those signs are pretty funky, myself. To say the glacier was here in 1970 or '60, and I'm going, well, I don't think so. I don't think it was much farther than where it is right now.
But I -- I'd definitely tell you it's changed because I know this wall of ice has changed big time, and I know Exit Glacier has changed. I think it's easier now than what it was. I think the crevasses were wider and deeper, and I think the pictures that I have, you know, would show you that.
But it has definitely receded. Has it receded as much as the signs? I don't know. I think that's a tourist thing.
You know, I mean, that would be good. The glacier was here in 1970s. Well, no, wrong, I don't think it was there. But you know, yeah, it's definitely receded, though.
KAREN BREWSTER: You guys never snow machined actually on Exit Glacier?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No, we didn't have enough horsepower. Yeah, you have a 20 horse Scorpion, that's all, you ain't going far.
KAREN BREWSTER: And now you can go -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, I can go right up through there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Up the glacier. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah. I could go up there this morning. I could go up there this afternoon and give you a thrill. I'd just blow -- I'd just blow right up through there. I mean, it'd just be --
KAREN BREWSTER: So there's enough snow it fills in the crevasses?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. I mean, you want to stay on the ridge, too, especially when I've seen that guy on that snowshoe. If you snowshoe up in there, I will take my snowmobile. You know.
KAREN BREWSTER: So can you put on the map where you would go?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, no, this -- this ain't detailed enough. But you would -- you would have to -- well, right here, you just go right up to where I seen that snow -- that snowshoer, looked like he came up partway, and then he went this way, and then, of course, his tracks get out of sight.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. GARY ZIMMERMAN: But that would not -- if they said -- but, you know, there's -- there's two ways to look at this, going up Exit Glacier.
If -- if one person seeing my track go up there, you know, then do I want you riding a sled up there? I'm not sure.
You know, I'm not trying to say that I'm better than anybody else, but I know I have lots of experience. So would I want an inexperienced crowd trying to drive up Exit Glacier to get on the ice field?
You know, well, if I was going to be honest with myself, I'd say no. Unless, you know, I just -- but, like, from my group or -- or a Seward guy, yeah, I'd say go for it.
Because you can ride that ridge. It's like going up Trail Glacier out at Moose Pass.
You go up to Hunter, up where the tracks are at, if you take a right at Hunter and you go up to Trail Glacier, you go up there and you go -- you got to go straight on that ridge.
And I mean on the ridge. I mean, don't you be going 50 yards to the right and the left because alls you've got to do is fly that glacier in the summer and you'll see why you stay on the ridge.
And it's very tempting because you're going up the ridge, it's a long glacier to get up into Upper Paradise, but you look at them big fields out there and all them crevasses are closed, yeah, I'm not going out there.
That's why this summer I'm going to fly this ice field with Steve Schafer or somebody, and I just want to see if them expansion cracks come back, see if, you know, the winter thing just fooled me.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well yeah, to me, looking at it, standing at the bottom of Exit Glacier, you know, in the summer, imagining that somebody could get up that by snow machine is pretty phenomenal.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Well, I -- KAREN BREWSTER: Because you look at it and you go, I don't see how that's possible, but I've never seen it in the winter.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, if she gives me permission, I'll go up this afternoon and I'll show you how it's done.
SHANNON KOVAK: It's not up to me. KAREN BREWSTER: But, yeah, it looks like it would be pretty treacherous.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. You need a -- you need a high horsepower rig, you know, you need at least, you know, an M8, and all. I mean, because -- well, once the guy makes a track and goes up through there and then you come back on the track, well, that's -- you've got yourself a road.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: You know. KAREN BREWSTER: And everybody's going to follow it.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. And that's -- and that's -- you know, and for me to even suggest, you know, that you shouldn't ride on that glacier, you know, I feel that you're trampling on people's rights. You know.
DON CALLAWAY: But for safety reasons. GARY ZIMMERMAN: For safety reasons, you know.
And then, you know, and how are you going to sit there and tell, yeah, Warren, you can go; or Phil, go ahead; yeah, Gary, knock yourself out.
And then let's say you get some people down from Anchorage and say, no, you can't go. Well, you know, heck, they might even be better riders than us.
DON CALLAWAY: Well, but -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I wouldn't be afraid to --
RACHEL MASON: Or they might not know anything.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. And that's the whole point, you know, like on any glacier, you know. It's just like this little valley here, Avalanche Alley.
Like when I took my father-in-law up there -- that's our -- our nickname for it. When I took my father-in-law up there, when he flew up here, I told Ray, before he even came up here, there is -- you're not going to pressure me.
We're not going up there just because you're here. I don't care if it costs you 500 bucks or a thousand dollars to get here or 10,000 or a hundred thousand, it's -- we are going to go up there and we're going to stop.
And we're going to sit there and we're going to look through our lenses and zoom it in, make sure all that stuff's avalanched out because you get a foot, you want that snow on the bottom of the hill. You know.
RACHEL MASON: When did your father-in-law come up here?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, it was like last -- well, he just -- he just went home yesterday. So he's been here since Tuesday.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, Tuesday.
I took him up there Wednesday, and then he thought he was going to go riding on Thursday, but that Wednesday's ride was all he could really -- wanted to take. RACHEL MASON: Uh hum.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. 82 years old.
RACHEL MASON: That's cool. GARY ZIMMERMAN: I know. Yeah, it just amazes me. Yeah.
RACHEL MASON: Okay. Well, you've told us a whole lot about the glacier and about your experiences.
Have -- do you have anything else that you'd like to make sure that we know about?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, I know this will be my little political statement, but I think that -- you know, I hope that they don't ever close this to snowmobilers. And I think --
DON CALLAWAY: By "this," you mean here, but also the recreation area, right?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Right. Oh, yeah, that would be horrible. You know, if they -- if they start pulling that maneuver, you know, the people will come out, just like -- they've had other meetings here where they are going to close some area, and people get pretty fired up about it. You know.
Like you've got, like, Oscar Watsjold, he just had his birthday, 90 some -- years old, Monty Richardson, those -- those might be two guys you want to talk to. They were -- they were skiing and hiking up through there, you know, in the '50s and '60s.
You know, I mean, it should be open to everybody. But the only thing that I would like to see change is everybody that cross country skis across that ice field, they should have to pay a user fee just like the snowmobilers.
You know. And I'm serious. Because they charge me $35 bucks a year to register my snowmobile. Okay. If you've got a pair of skis -- and I got two snowmobiles.
So that's 70. Dave Hettick, he's got 10 or 12. So look what it costs him for his kids to ride.
So if you're a skier, you should have to register your skis and they put the sticker on your skis just like they do my snowmobile.
And if you're a hiker, you wear one of those ski pass things like they got at Alyeska. You know, fits on your zipper. Well, I paid my 35 bucks.
And move that ski pass from coat to coat. And -- and I think that would be fair. But right now, all the snowmobilers, you know, nationwide are paying their state fee, or whatever it is, to ride in the areas, where cross country skiers, snowshoers, dog mushers, and hikers, they don't pay nothing.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is that for even on the Exit Glacier Road?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, yeah, I think if -- yeah, I think if you're cross country skiing anywhere.
KAREN BREWSTER: But for you as a snow machiner, if you just wanted to go on the road, could --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah. If I take my snowmobile and I take it out to Bear Lake, which is -- I take it on Bear Lake Road, or I take it on a road that's not -- let's go back in the Caribou Hills, that's not a road, that's just old seismograph trails.
Okay. I've got to spend 35 bucks to register my snowmobile. And now they've gotten so picky about it, if you buy a new snowmobile, they register them for you right there at the dealer.
And, you know, I'm not complaining about 35 bucks because they say, which I think it's to interpretation, that 80 percent of the money or 70 percent of the money for your register fee goes to maintain trails and fix things up is what the original spiel was about 10 years ago when they started doing it in Alaska.
But I'm just saying, you're on Lost Lake Trail, and you're a skier, and I have no problem with that. I will stop just about every time to check on your wellbeing.
But I want to see a sticker on your skis where you paid 35 bucks. Or let's say, okay, let's say they pay 15 bucks, or it's 5 bucks.
But it's one person, so I'm one person on a snowmobile, they charge me 35, I'd like to see them charge everybody 35, and that would actually -- not only I would have a good schnicker off it, but the more money that we would get because not only -- I think they say there's 40,000 snowmobilers in the state of Alaska.
So that's 40,000 $35 bills. Well, let's say there's 40,000 skiers. Now, let's take their 35 bucks; and let's say there's a thousand dog mushers, let's get their money; and, you know, your snowshoers and your hikers, if you're going to hike up Lost Lake Trail or, you know -- you know, you see people running up this trail in the winter in their little jogging suits.
That's cool, but I want to see that tag that they paid their 35 bucks to use that trail and that will bring in more money to maintain these trails. If it's actually true where 70 or 80 percent of the money goes to work on the trails. You know.
And, you know, and as far as, like, search and rescue is one other thing I'd like to mention a little bit.
Whenever somebody's lost in the Seward area -- my dad started Bear Creek Fire Department is another thing he did.
And we put the search and rescue in out there, my dad did, and my uncle George. Anyway, whenever somebody's lost and a call goes out, there's not a snowmobiler in town that is not out there on the search and rescue.
And we don't care if you're a dog musher, a hiker, or whatever. We go look. And you know, and that's one thing that I always like to throw in there. You know, when the -- when the call's out for help, you ain't going to find a better group of people than your snowmobilers to go -- go searching.
Yeah. That's pretty much about it.
RACHEL MASON: Okay. DON CALLAWAY: Shannon, do you have any questions or anything?
SHANNON KOVAK: No, it's like Gary just read my mind. Every question I had, you just addressed it, so, yeah.
RACHEL MASON: Okay. You said you've got another question? KAREN BREWSTER: No, we have one minute. RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: I want to thank you for having this meeting and doing this Exit Glacier project. I think it's a good thing.
I'd like to have people know that, you know, there's a -- there's a great, big world out there, you know, in Alaska, this backcountry in the winter, backcountry riding is nothing but the best.
And there's a lot of people that, you know, if you're not a very experienced rider, there's people that will take you. All you have to do is go to your local dealer and have a cup of coffee and they'll -- they'll show you what to do. RACHEL MASON: Thank you.