Gary Zimmerman was interviewed on April 10, 2010 by Don Callaway, Rachel Mason, Karen Brewster, and Shannon Kovac at the Van Gilder Hotel in Seward, Alaska. In this interview, Gary talks about his dad's snowmachine tourist operation, hunting, changes in wildlife populations, and his love of snowmachining, being a responsible snowmachiner, and snowmachine access issues. He talks about snowmachining and hunting in the Exit Glacier area, snowmachining and skiing on the ice field, changes in the glaciers, the road to the glacier, his thoughts about the establishment of Kenai Fjords National Park and use and access issues.
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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Growing up in Seward
His father, Edward Arland Zimmerman, starting the snowmachine tour operation on Harding Icefield
Marking the location of the tour operation and base cabin on the map
Snowmachining and skiing on the ice field
Wildlife seen on the ice field
Hauling snowmachines up for the tour operation
Being safe on a snowmachine on the ice field
Access routes up Exit Glacier and to the Harding Icefield
End of the snowmachine tour operation
Guiding sheep hunting trips
Changes in the ice field and glaciers
His father's guiding operation
Snowmaching on the ice field and glaciers
Driving snowmachines off the ice field after the tour operation
Construction of Exit Glacier Road
Running the snowmachine tour operation and first downhill skiing experience
Weather conditions on the ice field and glaciers
Being weathered in at the cabin for six weeks
His father's job as tour operator
Effects of construction of Exit Glacier Road
Love of snowmachining in Alaska
Marking snowmachine routes on the map
Locals who snowmachine and equipment used
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RACHEL MASON: Good morning. My name's Rachel Mason. I'm here with Gary Zimmerman in Seward, and we're at the Van Gilder Hotel. With me are Shannon Kovac, Don Callaway, and Karen Brewster.
So to start, Gary, maybe you could tell us a little about your -- your early days.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, my family moved here from -- I was born in Wisconsin, but we moved here from Illinois in 1969.
And I moved here, I was in the fourth grade. We had a uncle lived up here, he was in the Wildwood Air Force Base, and he was always telling my dad about the hunting and fishing, and my dad's an avid hunter.
And they had saw -- several saw mills in Seward at the time, and my dad was a sawyer, so he came up here first, and then -- then my mother followed him later, about three months later.
And we actually lived out Bear Creek for the last 30 some years, I guess, and I just moved in town just in the last two years.
And that's a little bit different for me. So I live out at Clearview.
And we started right off the bat, you know, being my dad was a hunter, so he -- he was an assistant guide for a guy up in Talkeetna. I can't remember what his name is now.
And so then he got his guide license, and my dad was a big game guide and commercial fisherman for probably about 25 years. RACHEL MASON: Wow.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And so besides doing that, you know, he worked in the saw mills and worked for the state on the highway and the airport.
And -- and then we got involved with the hunting with Joe Stanton of Harbor Air Service. And there was a fellow named Jim Arness from Kenai. He owned a dock.
Arness dock. And all the freight from Kenai used to have to go across his dock. And he owned a little snowmobile dealership that was called Dirt Ski Doo.
So in '69 and '70, they decided that they were going to put a cabin up on the ice field with a ski wheel plane.
The first few times they flew up there they actually landed on floats, with a 180 with floats.
And so that was kind of a -- several rough experiences with that. And so he actually put skis on the plane.
And the first year they built the cabin in there, it was gone. And I think there's still two snowmobiles buried up there. They would be little Olympics.
And then in '70, we went back up there. Of course, I was a kid, like, fifth grade, and my dad ran the cabin part.
And so as a fifth grader going to the Harding Icefield with 16 snowmobiles sitting there and all the free gas and candy bars you can eat, this was a good thing. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: So we used to fly people -- well, I didn't, but Joe Stanton flew people, and Keith Knighten was also involved in this, he was a pilot.
And they'd fly people up there with a ski wheel plane, and they would get out and they would rent these little Ski Doos. I -- we had some 16 horses and 24 horse power sleds.
And we had one double track Alpine. And they'd get out on the -- we had this cabin, and they'd get out and they'd rent these snowmobiles, and they'd drive all over this first main field from Exit Glacier.
RACHEL MASON: Can you mark on the map where the cabin was?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, my best recollection, I'd say was probably right out here in the middle of the first field.
And there's a cabin up there right now, a little hideaway cabin, I think, that the Park's put in, it's about right here. We were over there just the other day.
And the window was broke out, it was blowed half full of snow, but it's a well built cabin. But the field was right out in here.
And what they'd do is they'd fly up here with a ski wheel plane, and we had one double track Alpine snowmobile for the skiers.
And we had skiers from all over the world, and a lot of local skiers, but -- and we had a long rope, and I would tow these skiers.
We'd come down to this area, down this area. And we'd pull them way up in here, and there's a lot of steps and bowls in this -- on this deal here.
And they would ski down to the bottom. I'd drive back down there with that double track snowmobile, and I'd pull them back up. And you're talking, you know, June, July, and August. RACHEL MASON: That's cool.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, the weather would be 60, 70, 80 degrees, whatever it is, but you're up there in shorts with ski boots on, and you would get a really -- the reflection from the snow,
they didn't -- I don't even think they had sunblock back in the '70 -- early '70s, but man, they would come out of there sunburnt.
And we'd also pull them up in this area, a lot. You could go up here. And then overlooking Bear Glacier, you can come up here, park your snowmobile up here, and the people would ski this area, and we'd also pull them up in here.
And then -- so we tried to keep all the main people -- we'd keep them out in just this main field, out in this area. DON CALLAWAY: You can draw on
RACHEL MASON: Yeah, you can write on there, too.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: All right. Well, they would just -- we'd try and keep most generally, because these -- back then, those snowmobiles only had 5 gallon tanks, if I remember right.
And we'd keep them in this area here, you know. Basically.
RACHEL MASON: When you say tow them, would they be like a --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Just like towing a water skier. Yeah. Because, you know, we didn't have chair lifts or anything. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: So we just had -- I think we had a broomstick handle, you know, tied off to a rope, and they would be about 50 foot behind this old Alpine.
It, you know, didn't have much horsepower, but it had two tracks. So we'd tow them up there.
And in the middle of the day in the summer, in -- in the morning, the snow is as hard as this table. I mean, it's just rock hard.
But it softens up real quick. So by the time the -- the tourists would be showing up or the skiers, it would be softened up.
And by the middle of the afternoon, they'd be riding in -- you know, if you step where -- weren't wearing skis or whatever, you'd probably sink in a good foot. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And the skiing was fantastic. And but me and my dad, in this cabin, we used to go up -- early -- real early in the morning, like about 5:00 in the morning. 5:00, 6:00.
And we'd always come up the top of here. And this is a -- a -- this is three different mountain ranges, but just let's say this is at 3,000 feet, and this probably goes up to 3,500, 4,000 foot,
but the snow would be so froze you could drive your snowmobiles up through some extreme areas and actually get up on top of these mountains.
So we'd be sitting up on top of here and we'd be sitting up on top of here, and we'd go up there just about every morning it was clear, and you can watch game crossing this ice field. RACHEL MASON: Oh, wow.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: It was absolutely amazing. We'd see goats. Further down the ice field is an incredible place to go see sheep.
And then out in this field here, several times we had wolverines crossing the ice field.
And we -- we seen this one wolverine one time that we knew it was a world record. He was old and he was huge.
As a matter -- when we first seen him, we thought he was a small bear. And anyway, he was going by the cabin, maybe a hundred yards from the cabin, and he'd stand up on his back feet, like this, and he'd just look at you.
And so we took our snowmobiles out there and we stayed probably 4 or 500 yards from him, and we'd stop, and he'd just look at us.
You know, because he's pretty wild -- to see a snowmobile, I'm sure, for him. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And so anyway, you know, we thought that was plenty of distance because we didn't want to give him a heart attack or something.
RACHEL MASON: What years are we talking about here? GARY ZIMMERMAN: This would be 1969, and the biggest year was the summer of 1970. RACHEL MASON: Oh. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.
RACHEL MASON: For the skiing? GARY ZIMMERMAN: For the skiing. And when they really decided that -- in 1970, that's when they took 16 snowmobiles up there. RACHEL MASON: Oh.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And when we were hauling -- The snowmobiles back then were real small. If you took the skis off, you could fit one in the 180.
And so we were hauling them up there. Joe was hauling them up there with a ski wheel plane, and on a second or third trip up there when he dropped the snow machine off, when he went to leave,
the right hand bungee cord that holds the ski up, broke. The ski flipped down, and he flipped the plane. RACHEL MASON: Oh, gee.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: So we towed -- well, actually, we towed two different planes up there.
And so they decided, well, that was too risky hauling the snowmobiles in the airplane, so they hauled them up there with a helicopter.
And Jim Arness, they brought -- flew everything up there with him. And it worked real well.
RACHEL MASON: And were -- you were just a kid then? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I was, like, fifth grade. RACHEL MASON: Uh hum.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. It was incredible. We used to take markers, like those red markers you're talking about, but we made big ones.
And wherever we didn't want people riding -- well, wherever the glacier -- glaciers recede from the ice field, that's where you want to stay away from, that's when it starts expansion cracks and all that.
And you know how tourists are, if you don't put up a great, big, red sign, they will just -- you know, by -- where they get this trouble is when you go up there,
if you go to the ice field, if you hike up there or if you fly up there, or if you ride a snowmobile up there,
when you get up there, the first thing you'll notice is how insignificant we are because this thing is so big.
You know, it's -- it's like uh -- the biggest problem you have with going to the ice field nowadays with the snowmobile is you can't pack enough gas.
See, I'll -- I'll go up there, my -- my tank has an 11 gallon tank, and I'll pack 8 gallons on the back, and so when we go up there now, we pick different areas that we're not going to get sidetracked, and we go to this area and take a look.
Because if you go from the top of this here, this -- this -- this mountain here, back to the truck where you park on Exit Glacier Road is 24.6 miles.
We have about a 60 mile range. So, you know, you don't get much playing. So when we go up there now, we pick -- you know, definite areas that we want to go to.
But just in the last month, me and the guys I run with, we've been up in here. We've been out here.
This right here is some real good hill climbing right here. This is the first time even from myself we come down into this valley. We were sitting up in here.
And if you go down to here and come back up in here, right now if you go up there, this mountain here has a cornice that sticks out.
It must be 50 feet off this bowl mountain, it's -- it's like a bowl mountain like this that sticks out 50 feet, and it's probably 20 foot thick. RACHEL MASON: Wow.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And -- well, I have pictures of it, but like I say I've had problems with my laptop so I couldn't bring them in today.
But if you see this -- this cornice, I've never seen nothing like that in my life.
I mean, it just -- you know, I hate to say it, but it just kind of freaked us all out. We're going -- of course, we didn't go over there and mess with it because you're really asking for trouble, but -- but to just see that phenomenon, you know, you'll never -- the views that you see are unbelievable.
But -- so while we -- like I say, we've been up in here. And I was up in here. Then last -- last Saturday, we came up and we ran across the front of Exit Glacier, and we came around through here, and then -- RACHEL MASON: Mark it.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Okay. Well, we came -- this was our trip yesterday -- I mean, last Saturday was like this. Then we came over here.
And as a matter of fact, we seen five guys, maybe it was four guys, cross country skiing across it. So actually, we went around them, you know, so they had their peace.
And if they would have been stopped for very long, well, then, we would have swooped in on them or -- well, that might not be a good way to put it.
But we would have pulled over and said, hey, you guys all right. You know, I mean, we don't swoop in on anybody. But --
DON CALLAWAY: How did they get there?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, they skied -- they must have come up Exit Glacier. Well, that's the way they were heading, so I know that's how they got -- you know, they come up through this way.
Then I seen some guy on Exit Glacier -- well, I didn't see him but I seen his tracks. At the bottom of it, somebody went up through there with snowshoes.
And so I was going to follow his tracks up there, but anyway, I decided to come up -- this is the way we come up. We come up this way. RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: This is called Avalanche Alley. It's real steep. It's really dangerous. This is one of the few years we could even get up there. RACHEL MASON: Really?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. It's maybe one out of five you can go through there.
And where we got lucky this year is we got so much snow off the bat in the first of December, and all this must have avalanched in, and then we had that about 10 days of rain or something over Christmas.
The weather was terrible, but I think it made it for ideal conditions because then it iced all these mountains up, and so every bit of snow that goes on now, it all falls in here and it covered up this river.
So you're actually just driving up the riverbed when -- especially when you get in here where it's steep.
So all the snow off the mountains slid into there. And the snow is probably 50, 60 feet deep here, and you're just driving over the top. And you shoot up into here and then you go this way.
But, like, since we've been up there in the last month, we've been on top of this. And we've been over in this area.
As a matter of fact, you can come over here and you can overlook Seward from about -- well, there's a knob over here, I'd say it might be about roughly right there, and you can actually see Seward.
And when you get up here, too, then you're looking out the bay, and you can see Cheval Island, Rugged Island, you know, the whole Gulf of Alaska, you get the whole view.
And you're at about the highest point. My cousin's snowmobile's got a meter on it that tells you the height.
The highest we were at was 5420.
And when you're at 5420, the view is just breathtaking. And I'll give you guys a bunch of pictures of that when I get back.
RACHEL MASON: Could I ask you about when you guys used to do the -- the skiing, how long did that last? Did they --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: We did it for a whole summer. RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.
RACHEL MASON: And then after that you didn't do it anymore? GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. They figured if they got -- if we could get 60 days of sun, they'd make good money at it.
But, see, there's, like, times up here in this cabin where me and my dad, we were weathered in there one time for six weeks. And what happens is that cabin, was -- yeah, six weeks right there, stuck in a cabin.
But anyway, the sun would melt out around the cabin. And so during that six -- that storm, there was about a maybe sitting, like, in a 4 foot pedestal from -- well, the wind blows so hard that it blew the cabin off the pedestal.
So that -- you know, pushed it off. And so we're in there, like, it's on an angle.
It was about a week later, Stanton got in there with his plane, and he went, flew back to Seward and got a -- some block and tackle, the old wooden type.
And so we took a block and tackle, we tied it on to the side of the cabin, and hooked it up to that Alpine snowmobile, and was able to pull it back level.
So then from there on about once a week we just moved the cabin. We'd move the cabin 15 feet. And that wasn't fun.
RACHEL MASON: Were you still using that for guiding hunts? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we used it for guiding hunts in the fall. RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And what we'd do is -- of course, back then, everything wasn't as restricted as it is nowadays,
but there was no Moose Range line . That was before Jimmy Carter.
And anyway, when Jimmy Carter became President, they made the Moose Range line, I think it -- RACHEL MASON: I see it's marked on there.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. It became the D-2 land pact, D-2 land bill or something I think it was called.
But anyway, if you take this from -- we'd leave from the cabin, and you'd drive around this mountain because back then, the snow machines weren't like they are now where you can just kind of fireball over the top of whatever you want.
And we'd actually go in this direction, and we'd come around.
And out here in this field here, and I didn't see them the other day, which really kind of alarmed me, because when we were sitting up here, up here, on this rock pile here,
we were looking out on this next field, and I was telling the fellows, well, there's a bunch of expansion cracks out on that next field.
And when we used to go out there, my dad and I, we'd have to drive around these expansion cracks to get past where the sheep hunting was.
And what happens was you got a glacier down there, Tustumena Glacier, and then there's several more glaciers further down where the sheep are at, but you could never get to them sheep because you'd have to fly into Green Lake or Emma Lake.
And the hike from Emma Lake or Green Lake up to the -- where the sheep were at, you know, you'd have to be a world class mountain climber because the alders and stuff are so thick.
We used to take safaris from there and we'd walk down, and so, you know, you're basically downhill all the way.
But it was still so treacherous, and the rain, your packs would weigh 100 pounds if not more, and it was -- it was a very bad experience.
And we only did it a couple of times and we thought -- the first time we did it the weather was so bad, and we used that for an excuse.
And we thought, well, if we caught good weather, it wouldn't be so bad. Well, the time we even did it in good weather, the -- the -- it was just horrifying.
RACHEL MASON: Was sheep hunting the main kind of thing that people wanted to do?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Back then, yeah. See, my dad, he got his guide license by then. And so Stanon would fly him up here with a ski wheel plane,
and then we had -- we had snowmobiles, and these snowmobiles had these little ski booses, like a little trailer.
And of course, you know, we would hook them up to the sled, to the snowmobile, the sled to the snowmobile, and we'd put our hunting gear in one, and then you'd take two clients down to where the sheep hunting was.
And what was nice about that is, is that -- well, one thing, you didn't have to climb a mountain.
So you'd pull out onto the -- pull out onto where the sheep were, within a couple of miles where they were at, and we'd always find a big wind blown area next to a rock.
And we'd set up this big wall tent and we'd just move in, and then we'd hunt.
You literally -- you'd still have to climb up these mountains -- like I mean -- well, we don't have the map where that was at, but you'd still have to climb something like this way out here in these big bowls, because where the sheep were at was where the glacier would recede.
So you had to kind of walk downhill, go up the mountain and around the backside to get to a sheep.
A sheep's not like a goat. When you goat hunt, you just go up there and blast them. You know, I mean, they are pretty stupid.
You know, they just don't run, but a sheep, they have, like, seven power vision eyes, and you even make one step towards them and it would be -- they would be gone.
But when I was a little kid, when me -- when my dad and I found this area, we knew that these guys would come -- we had a radio that kind of worked sometimes.
And they said, yeah, there's no clients today. So dad and I -- dad says, well, because there's no clients, we are going to go exploring.
So we took two snowmobiles with two -- two of the little trailers, and I remember we packed about 20 gallons of gas. Back then, that was a lot.
And so we went back here and we went clear down to where the -- just looking around, you know.
And so we went past Tustumena Glacier, and the next glacier is real flat. But it's a real dangerous glacier.
There's holes -- when if you walk down this glacier, you really need to pay attention because there's -- a hole will show up the size of this table or maybe twice the size of this table.
And when you throw a rock in that hole, there's no bottom. And it's really a freaky deal. It's like a mine shaft. Well, excuse me.
So anyway, we went down -- the first time we went down this glacier, it was just flat, glaring, it was just solid ice.
And on the left side, there was a mound of rocks, maybe a hundred yards wide and a hundred feet tall, you know, left over from the glacier receding.
And I'd drive -- my dad's over here monkeying around, you know, maybe a mile or two off to the left, and I'm going down this glacier. And I'm, like, in the fifth grade, you know. This is 1970.
I mean, there's no cell phones, you know, there's no video games. I mean, so for a kid, I mean, I really feel really fortunate to have lived through this experience.
But I go around down this mountain and I come around that rock pile, and the rock pile on the backside made a U shape.
And I come around and, you know, this is a 10 horse Ski Doo, top speed is 30 miles an hour, it's probably 12 horse, it's 30 miles an hour, so I'm probably doing all of 10, you know.
And I'm putting around and I come around this corner, and not even 25 yards away was six rams laying down.
And I'm going -- I couldn't believe it, I'm looking at these rams, you know. And so I turned off my little Ski Doo, you know, my little yellow Ski Doo, and I'm standing there and they are looking at me, and they all stand up.
So when I -- and I'm not 25 yards from these things. And I go to step off the machine, and they start kind of walking off, looking at me.
And when I'd step on the machine, they'd stop and they'd come back to it.
So I'm sitting there for about 45 minutes, I'm just going, I cannot believe it. I mean, I -- I could have picked up -- well, I could have picked up a rock and I could have fireballed it over there and whacked that sheep.
I mean, that's how close they were. So really, how far can you throw a rock.
And anyway, so my dad comes around the corner about a 45 minutes later, and he's all upset because he hasn't seen me for an hour, you know how dads are.
And he comes around and he's going, well, where -- he started saying, where the hell have you been? I go, shhh. He comes around the corner and he sees these sheep, and oh, my God, you know.
So we're sitting there looking at them. And me and him both probably sat there for another hour. And we'd play with those sheep. We'd mess with them. We'd stand up and we'd step off the machine, and there they'd start to move off.
And they'd be watching you. They would -- I mean, it was clear -- as soon as you would step back on your machine, here they'd come.
And anyway, we went down in that valley, and off to the left there's a great, big, monstrous bowl in there.
And there was -- there's -- probably still is, in the summer, there was hundreds of rams in there.
And on the other side of the valley is where all the ewes were. And there was hundreds there.
And anyway, when we started hunting in there, and even after we -- we continued to hunt through there, probably until about, oh, I think the last time we went in there maybe was 1980.
But I think we went in there for about 10 years. And we'd take out anywhere from two to not more than six rams a year.
I think our biggest year was six. I mean, we could have went in there with 50 hunters and raided it, but we wanted to preserve the stock.
And plus, we didn't want people to know where they were at. And so anyway, you know, because it was easy access.
RACHEL MASON: Are there still sheep up there?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, they are still loaded in there. But see, now if you go up there -- well, see, then -- then they got -- we got -- like I say, we got Jimmy Carter in office and he put in this -- in this Moose Range line across the ice field,
so then we had to start landing our plane on the left side of the line. And I have pictures of that, which I couldn't bring you today.
But then we made these trailers, sleds out of old cross country skis, and we'd stack all our gear on -- on the trailers, and then we had a rope, and two guys would pull and two guys would push.
And so you had to go 2 miles across the ice field. Well, 2 to 3 miles to go across the line because you couldn't take a motorized vehicle in there.
And so then we would go down there -- down there with wall tents and -- excuse me -- and do our hunting that way.
It was absolutely a fantastic time. The -- the scenery, it's like when I went up there this year, again, it's been a long time since I've been in there, but it was just so exciting to be back up in there again. And --
RACHEL MASON: What was it that you said, there was some -- you saw some alarming developments just the other day?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, see, out here I'm not seeing the expansion cracks. RACHEL MASON: Oh.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: And see, now, I don't know if those show up this summer. I'm going to definitely fly over it this summer with Steve Schafer, he's one of the local pilots, and I'm going to look for them cracks.
Because any other time I've been up in there in the winter, these cracks were big enough to where, you know, you'd always see them.
So when we came -- we're up on this hill here, and we came down this -- this hill here, and the other day, last Saturday, and then we came clear across over here to about where --
RACHEL MASON: You can mark it.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we came -- we -- we run across here, and there's probably 3 foot of snow -- it was just like -- it was like riding your watercraft on a lake or riding a boat on a lake or going out the bay on a smooth day.
And we're going -- we went across, we were probably doing about 30, mainly to conserve fuel, but you could do a hundred across there if you had the power.
And we came clear over here, and this is Bear Glacier here, and we think we were clear down here above Holgate.
And, of course, then you'll see more rock formations and stuff down to where, you know, you'll go past Northwestern Glacier, and I think you can go -- I wouldn't be surprised that you could go right into Nuka Bay.
You know, if -- but the whole problem is with this ice field is so vast, is -- is packing gas. You know, gas is what will hold you back. Excuse me.
RACHEL MASON: How long did your dad continue with the guiding?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, we did that -- he did that for a total of 25 years.
Yeah. We -- he -- but we got into -- once we, you know, every -- every time we ever went sheep hunting in there when we just used ski wheel plane, we'd go in there for a two week hunt, we'd be in there no less than four weeks.
You're always weathered in two weeks longer than you thought you were going to be. You know, we've spent six weeks up there.
The last time we hunted in there -- excuse me, I've got a tickle in my throat.
But -- but maybe we should take a little break. RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Okay. (Break taken.)
GARY ZIMMERMAN: -- skiing, you would probably be -- in all those three areas, you'd be in 3 or 4 feet of powder snow right now.
The snow is so deep the other day when we went up there, when we come up the glacier, with having my father-in-law in the front, which he weighs 150 pounds, he probably had 160 pounds with his gear on.
I have an M 1000 with a turbocharger on it, so I'm running about 300 horse.
And this hill, this hill is probably -- it's a good -- it's over a half mile long getting up through here.
And it's really steep. And it's the first time in my life that I rode a snowmobile going up a hill about 40 or 50 mile an hour, and I had 6 inches to a foot of snow all the time coming over the hood, going uphill.
Now, if he wouldn't have been on the front of the sled, I would have -- you know, my skis would have been probably 6 inches off; but with that extra weight, it was an amazing -- it was an amazing sight.
DON CALLAWAY: And you come this way?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we come this way and then we shoot over through here.
It's just like if you go up there, if you was to go up there today, or any day, but you come up the top of this glacier, you can play -- you can play this whole area right here and you don't even have to go out on the ice field.
I mean, you can -- you could -- you could never go out -- well, I mean, you could never go out on the ice field.
And you could play in this area for the rest of your life and you'd be totally content.
Because, I mean, you drop down and you can see all these different elevations, and you go down this big ravine, you come up the other side and you overlook Seward.
And you can see Mount -- well, you can see as far as the eye can see.
But anyway, the other day, like I say, we ended up at Holgate.
And alls we did -- and this was -- we put 128 miles on from the truck around through here, and come over to here, then come -- of course, then, we were playing around on a bunch of these mountain ranges.
But it's amazing when I show you the pictures where, you know, you've got four or five of your good friends and you're right up at the peaks, and that's what's so wild about the pictures.
You know, you're not only -- you're not only there, but we take pictures all the time with the snowmobiling, but to be right up at these peaks, and then you take a picture, you're standing by the peak with the Gulf of Alaska in the background,
with me and my cousin. I mean, it doesn't get any better than that.
And then all our sleds, we run all these -- every snowmobile up there has got -- has got a little hot dogger in it.
So we make a bunch of ham and cheese sandwiches or Hot Pockets. Yesterday my cousin had White Castle hamburgers. RACHEL MASON: Wow.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. And so we put these hamburgers in there, and then it runs on -- it gets warm from your exhaust.
KAREN BREWSTER: You put that on the muffler?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, puts it on -- put it on the muffler. And so you're out there riding, you know, and you know, you're all kind of worked up and you're sitting on top of -- I mean, you're sitting -- I mean, for an example, you're sitting on
top of this Holgate Glacier on top of the peaks, and you're overlooking the Gulf of Alaska and it's a beautiful day. I mean, you can see as far as Japan.
And you open up your hot dogger and pull out that ham and cheese sandwich and, I mean, that dude is steaming hot.
And you pull out your Diet Coke or your water, and --
anyway, you sit there and you pull out -- and you're having this sandwich with your drink and maybe a bag of chips or whatever, beef jerky, and you're overlooking these views.
I mean, you can't get a meal like that at a steakhouse. I mean, it's fantastic. It's the best meal you'll ever have.
And of course, you're up there, like, with my cousin, we've been riding together since -- for many years; and, of course, my good friend Warren and Mark Clemons and Jimmer Dick, you know, we've all been riding -- we've all been riding since grade school.
So, I mean, we probably got a couple hundred thousand miles on altogether, at least a hundred thousand if I was to guess and be conservative.
And the riding up there is fantastic. And man, I just think everybody should go up there.
RACHEL MASON: And have you noticed a lot of changes since you first -- when you first went up there in the ice field itself?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: I -- the only thing that alarmed me is I didn't see the expansion cracks that I knew I'd drive up there and I'd see them. Because I told him, I said, we were sitting over here visiting, and where -- this is really steep here.
And I was thinking about hitting this one hill with my rig because, like I say, I have a turbocharger on it.
So, and my friend Warren, he said, "Yeah, you go hit that hill, I'll get the camera out, and we'll just movie the carnage." And it was pretty steep, so I said, okay, I won't.
And so when we're sitting there, as a matter of fact, we're having a sandwich right here, right out here, so when we decide to go over here, and I says, yeah, when we go to the next field we've got to watch these expansion cracks because they are big,
and it ain't like, a little crevice, so they're so visible, we'll just drive around them, zigzag through them.
And when we got to here, I didn't see the cracks, and that bothered me. Now, maybe we got that much snow this year, maybe the wind blew just right and filled them for the -- but a crack that big, you know, it just seems -- it doesn't seem possible.
But yeah, I guess it is because they weren't there. If you fly over it today with Steve Schafer over the ice field, when you get out to this next field, you will not see -- I mean, these cracks are -- because when we were hunting, we'd come around -- or sightseeing, or hunting, we'd come around this valley,
and we got out here, and we'd have to drive around these big expansion cracks to get over to the Tustumena area.
And they are not there. And so I would imagine they are probably just blown full of snow. Could be.
I'm definitely going to go up there probably the first week of September, I want to fly over it and see if they're there.
You know. But that was -- that was -- that was the only thing that really alarmed me. And what -- what did alarm me, too, was like this wall of ice has changed. I got pictures of that, too.
Back in 1970, at the end of the year, when we brought the snowmobiles out, instead of paying for a -- paying for a helicopter to fly them out, they had this bright idea that we could take three snowmobiles at a time, we'd come through here and we'd drive out.
Well, this here used to be just a straight wall of ice.
And so we tied all three snowmobiles together, and me and my dad, and Lynn Lockett, you know, our neighbor kid, and we went down this wall of ice, and it was a lot steeper than we ever figured it would be,
and we didn't have studs in the track back then, and then the sleds took off, and it was a free ride.
And we got to the bottom and we couldn't drive them out, so we walked out.
RACHEL MASON: You can mark that on there.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Well, anyway, this is the old -- old snowmobiles. Anyway, we walked out here, and down in the valley, the Army was playing Army.
That's long before a road. And anyway these guys, they couldn't believe that two -- two kids, two kids and my dad come walking out of this valley.
So anyway, they were on the other side of the river, and that river just roars through there in the summer.
And so anyway, one of the Army helicopters came in, the guy got on the radio, and he come in there and they picked us up and flew us back to the airport.
That's how we got out of there. And then when we got home, we got ahold of Jim Arness and he hired a helicopter and went in there and got them out. Got those three out.
And another time we was out here in -- on this ice field, we had a radioman up there, his name was Bruce Tornberg (phonetic), and he was fixing the radio. He got weathered in. It was one of those times we were in there for, like, four weeks.
And this guy was kind of cracking up. And you know, he's literally going crazy. The -- it really bothered him.
So we took three snowmobiles over to the glacier. That was long before there was a trail. And we walked down the glacier.
And we got on this side and there's another time when the Army was in there, and this river coming off the bottom of -- of -- of Exit Glacier was a lot more violent than it is now, or it seems like it was.
And so anyway, these Army guys were on the other side of the river, and they tossed us a rope.
And I said, "There ain't no way. I'm not doing that." So Bruce, oh, he had to get out of there. So anyway, he ties the rope around his waist and he steps in that, and there's, like, 10 of these Army guys hanging on to the other end.
And he steps in that river, and it was that quick, he pops up on the other side. You could hear the boulders rolling in the bottom of the river. I'm not getting in that river for nobody. Man, I'll walk down, I'll hike up over to, you know, up to Lost Lake and come down that way if you had to, but you weren't going to cross that bad.
But anyway, next thing you know, it was an hour or two later, here comes another helicopter, and we got a second helicopter ride out of there.
And on building that road up there, Herman Leirer started that, but my dad was the Cat operator for -- for the first big portion of that, when Herman Leirer was building. I don't remember if he was building out of pocket or if he had a grant or whatever.
RACHEL MASON: What was your dad's name?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Ed Zimmerman. RACHEL MASON: Ed Zimmerman. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.
RACHEL MASON: He was one of the people that worked on the road.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: He was the original Cat operator for -- before the -- you know, when they were talking about trying to get a road in there. Yeah. But that's --
KAREN BREWSTER: On that snow machine operation you guys had going in '69, '70, with, you know, people coming up and riding snow machines or skiing, who were your clients? Were they local people from Seward or they were tourists, or --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we had tourists, we had local people. Over at the Petro Marine building, used to be the Seward Trading Company, was one of the main grocery stores in Seward for many years.
Bob Stanton was an avid skier. He'd go to Europe every couple years and ski, I don't know, the Alps, or whatever they do over there, you know.
He would be up there, I mean, every week skiing up there.
That was back -- I think he's still alive, too. He must be close to 90; 80, 90. I think he lives in Oregon now. But he skied that ice field, and I mean, he was -- he's the guy I remember the most.
But yeah, we had people from all over the -- all over the world.
When my brother Eddie, he was -- he was in the Air Force, and he was home from Vietnam, he flies up there, comes up there, and my -- my very first downhill skiing experience, he -- we got a snow machine and a rope, and there was somebody left their skis up there, and I remember they were Head skis.
So I go, okay, this can't be too much of a big deal. So he tows me to the top of this hill up here, about where this point is.
So, you know, I've never skied before, and getting towed was no big deal because it was pretty much a straight line, and you know no one ever said nothing about leaning or any of that business.
So I get up here and so he's laughing, and I'm kind of figuring I'm in trouble, how all this works out.
And so I'm kind of -- you know, I'd side hill this way for a ways, and then I'd stop, and I'd turn around and side hill this way for a ways.
And so anyway, my brother, he goes, yeah, he goes, you know, you're just chicken.
He had more words than that to say about it. He was pretty colorful, too. And he goes, you just got to look where that cabin is and point them skis right to that cabin.
You know. And I'm thinking, boy, this don't sound like a good deal, you know. So I keep zigzagging a little bit more and he's just giving me the business.
So okay. So I remember pointing them skis, Head skis, I remember seeing that -- I looked down at that cabin, and the front of them skis, you see that word "Head," and I'm going, this ain't good.
But I did it anyway. And I shot down this hill, and I'm all tucked in like -- you know, like a ski jumper or something, and I'm going, hey, man, I'm flying.
I mean, I don't know how fast I was going. I don't know, maybe around 40, 50, maybe. I don't know. It was way too fast.
So I'm thinking, well, you know, I'm going to have to stop here, figure out how to stop these things.
And I remember I was going so fast for so long that I actually was thinking about watching the Wide World of Sports.
I thought those guys on the -- on the thing, you know, they just kind of go like this, and stop, you know.
Oh, jeez. I did that move and next thing you know I'm launched like Superman. And of course, it's all nice, soft snow and the wreck was -- was -- it was pretty spectacular, I thought.
And anyway, so he's laughing, and I remember, I see his laugh today.
And he was just laughing. And anyway, I says, "Okay, that's enough." And so I got the skis in my hand, got these boots on.
And he goes, no, he goes, I'm not letting you on that snowmobile. He says, if you want to get home, back to the cabin, you've got to ride them skis.
And you know, and if you try and walk anywhere up here, it's virtually impossible, you know, if you don't have snowshoes or a ski.
So I remember having to put them boots back on and he towed me back to that cabin. And it was probably 12 years before I ever slapped on another set of skis.
You know, because it was a pretty -- I found out the value of going to Alyeska and hiring a guide, an instructor.
RACHEL MASON: How come you guys didn't keep doing the skiing operation with the --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, it was the weather. You know, if -- you know, if it's all -- it's all about the weather.
You know. That's -- but right up there, it's the best skiing -- well, some of the best skiing in the world. I think I'm right, but this is supposed to be the second largest actual ice field in the world.
And the skiing up there, you know, if a person went up there -- and the reason that, like, you can ski at Alyeska on a bad day, because you have trees defining the area.
Up here, like even to this day, when we'd go up there and we're snowmobiling, when them clouds start to move in, we get out of there.
Because you cannot see in front of you at all. It just socks right in.
But if you had trees, rocks, terrain, or a trail where, you know, you have a definition, but when you get up here, it's just goes complete whiteout, you can't see, you know, 20 feet in front of you.
It's real scary driving. I mean, I've drove up there a lot, especially when I was a kid, in bad weather, because when you'd be weathered in, you'd still play around the cabin just to break the boredom, even in the high wind.
But it's so amazing that the depth perception is so -- that it doesn't work.
Where you're looking at the side of the machine and you're watching your ski, and just seeing the ski in the snow is -- it fools you.
But I think, yeah, if a -- you know, helicopter skiing up there would be fabulous. If they took a Snow Cat up there, you know, if they had a -- if you -- if you flew in a Snow Cat, like you see where they use -- where they haul 8, 10 skiers in it, man, they'd have the best skiing in the world. It would be fantastic.
RACHEL MASON: When you were weathered up there for six weeks, what did you do to pass the time?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: We had a radio. Me and my dad played cards.
And you know, we'd -- I'd ride my snowmobile around the cabin.
You'd go out and you'd hike, even at like -- the wind would be severe.
But you'd go out there and you'd just go for small hikes within the visibility of the cabin.
And -- and the worst part about that, the last two weeks that we were in that six week stretch, alls we had was clam chowder in the can.
RACHEL MASON: I was wondering what you lived on. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, we ran completely out of food. And anyway, to this day, I've not eaten any clam chowder. RACHEL MASON: Yeah, I bet.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: That pretty much did it for me. Yeah. RACHEL MASON: Yeah. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. But...
KAREN BREWSTER: What other amenities were in the cabin? Can you describe the hut?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know, I can't remember if it was like a 12 by 16. We had a gas stove, ran on propane, because you had no firewood.
And then we had a Coleman white gas backup stove. We learned that lesson real quick after we were stuck up there.
And we had two -- we had Army bunk beds, the old steel type cots, would have the steel posts between them. Oh, they're maybe about 3 foot, you know, so you'd put them together.
And then on the back, on the outside, we had a -- a portable outhouse where everything was operated with bags.
And then we'd freeze it in the snow and haul it out. All the trash, everything was all hauled out. Even our paper items, we didn't burn nothing.
Because even back then, well, we figured if we weren't good stewards of the environment, someone would complain. And the complaining wasn't near like it is nowadays. You know, I mean, you know.
I mean, I don't know if, like, these four fellows here or whoever they were, I don't know if they -- I mean, I'm sure when they seen us come shooting through there, it probably ruined their day because they thought they had the whole ice field to themself.
That's why we stayed way out. But like I said, if they would have been stopped, we'd have checked on them.
And you know, because there's always some kind of a verbal confrontation between the extreme cross country skiers, are more verbal than the snowmobilers. You know.
So yeah, that's -- that was our -- we packed everything out. Everything came out. All trash, cans, you know, the human products, everything.
And we -- we melted snow. And that's one thing when you melt ice field snow in the summer, versus your snow in the winter.
Let's say you take a gallon -- I'm probably wrong, so someone will probably dispute this, but what I remember is we'd take a gallon of the ice field snow in the summer, and it was a lot more compact than your regular snow.
And for a gallon of -- gallon of snow packed, you'd get like a half gallon of water. And might even have been a little more.
Where if you take a gallon of snow, you're going to get about this much water. DON CALLAWAY: Right. GARY ZIMMERMAN: The -- the intensity of it. DON CALLAWAY: The density.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, the density is what I mean. Yeah. And so...
KAREN BREWSTER: And so what was your dad's job? What was he doing up there?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, he was the -- he was the operator. Well, we maintained the snowmobiles and, you know, we -- we -- when a tourist would come in there, you know, we had this little -- you know, before even safety was cool, we had a little safety speech, you know.
Where if you're driving out to -- like Bear Glacier was -- like Bear Glacier was always a magnet for the tourists.
And so anyway, we put all these big red signs across the front of Bear Glacier to keep people off of them, and we'd explain to them, you know, if you see a red sign or -- alls it was, was a piece of plywood 2 foot by 4 foot on a stake.
So if you see anything red out there, stay away.
And you know, we'd just give them a big safety speech. Then if all the sleds would be rented, we always had two that we didn't rent.
So then dad, he'd stay at the cabin, and he'd send me over on this mountain here and with a pair of binoculars, and I could be watching these, you know, tourists -- that'd be a nice way to put it -- watching the folks cruising around.
And then if they were getting stupid or something, or if I thought -- as a little kid, he actually gave me a responsibility.
But, you know, if I thought that these people were getting out of bounds, you know, then I'd go cruising over there.
Hey, how you all doing? You know, you having a good day? You know. You know, just sit there and visit with them for a minute.
Well, the reason I stopped, you know -- and they all knew who I was because when we got off the plane, most of them. You know, it's kind of a bad area over here so we need to kind of veer off this way or something. You know.
KAREN BREWSTER: It's interesting that he let them -- your dad just let them go without -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- supervision. GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: There was no guide. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Take off. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. That's interesting.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, you see, if you go up there -- have you been up there? KAREN BREWSTER: No.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, see, when you go up there, you know, looking at this map, we're sitting here, you know, 1 foot by 18 inches.
You know, you go up there and you step foot right here.
Let's say I was to haul you up there on my snow machine, take you to this spot right here.
When you look at that ice field, you're going to go, oh, my God. I didn't know this thing was that big. You know. I mean, it's so vast.
It's -- you know, I don't know what are they saying, I'm probably wrong in half my statistics, but I think they said it's the size of Rhode Island or something, which is a small state.
But, you know, this thing is huge. You know, it's a total of 80 miles long, 10 to 30 miles wide. And right out here, that snow's 3,000 feet deep. So in the summer it's just flat.
You know. And so -- and when you -- now if you have a nowadays sled, let's say you had 15 snowmobiles, even if they are only a 500 or a 600, well, they all have 10 gallon tanks, and if you was to turn people loose with that, you know, they probably would get themselves more in trouble than what we had.
You know, we had 10 horse Ski Doos, 16 horse Ski Doos, and I think we had some 24 horse Ski Doos, and they all had a 5 gallon tank.
So they really probably weren't going to get too far out there. But yeah, we just cut them loose. And man, they would just have a ball.
RACHEL MASON: Did you advertise or did they advertise in magazines or something?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No. I'm not sure all about that. I know they had to have a -- they had a advertising at the Harbor Air Service. And I think most of that just went with word of mouth.
We even had a -- Red Boucher was up there, the lieutenant governor. And my sister was up there when Red Boucher was there, and he's quite a -- was or is -- was quite a lady's man, and my sister, she was fairly attractive, and so Red was visiting with her all the time.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Was your sister involved in all the snow machining?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: No, they just would come up there and hang out. Yeah, they would come up there for a day or two here and there.
RACHEL MASON: Well, I'm wondering about the road, when they built the road, was that in order to encourage tourism or --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Right. That was Herman. RACHEL MASON: So it was Herman's idea?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: I would say -- I'd say that was all Herman Leirer. But that's -- you know, he was a visionary.
You know, he -- that -- that's -- I'd say a hundred percent of that credit. I don't know how -- of course, I was a kid so I didn't know any of the particulars of -- of how he got the land rights or whatever to go through there and cut a road.
You know, they probably didn't even ask anybody. We'll just get a Cat and make a road up there. You know, I don't know if it's federal, state, or private, you know, but back then it wasn't -- I don't think you had to worry about having a permit.
RACHEL MASON: Uh hum. Do you remember your dad or others talking about what was -- what was going to be the result of the road?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, yeah, it was all access to that ice field. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: You know, I mean, you know, I remember hearing them talk about a ski resort up there, you know, because all these guys were flying.
You can get around easier in the '50s and '60s, an airplane is -- you know, everybody -- a lot of people had them. Well, they still do.
But -- so, you know, people flying over the ice field, and you'd fly Herman Leirer over there and Joe Stanton. And Jim Arness, you know, he was, as far as I'm concerned, what I remember of the '60s and '70s here, you know, he was a real entrepreneur from Kenai, and he could see it.
You fly over there and, then you know, you see Alyeska or you see an advertisement for Vail, Colorado, and they go, well, this is way better than Vail.
I mean, I've been to Vail. I wouldn't waste my time. I mean, but that's like -- and that's like snowmobiling for me.
And, I mean, I'm a diehard -- the fight will be on when they try and close it. But what I'm saying is that I've snowmobiled Wyoming, a lot of the good places, and Idaho, and Washington, and Montana.
I've been out in a bunch of those areas, now, I don't have near the miles down there that I got up here, but when you live in Seward, Alaska, you know, I mean, the snowmobiling here is a hundred percent better,
or, you know, there's more area, there's -- the views are more fantastic. It's safer. What's so safe about snowmobiling in Alaska, or in -- on the Peninsula, especially the Seward area, our treeline shuts off at a thousand, 1500 feet.
So you're not -- you're not boondocking. You know. You're just going up there to -- like going up to Lost Lake.
The only reason they use that 3 miles of trail is because as soon as you get up to Lost Lake, the area, the trees quit.
So you have -- you know, you can go play in the trees if you want, but this is all wide open running. Not that you run a hundred miles an hour, but it's all this big hill climbing and side hilling and deep powder riding.
And I think with the group that I hang out with, it's like yesterday, we was at the Sergeant Ice Field. And we'd go right to the top of some of these peaks, and we'd sit up there for an hour. You know, it's better than watching TV.
I mean what's a better thing than going on top of a -- up on top of Goodwin Glacier or Godwin Glacier up here like where we were at yesterday.
We were sitting up there for an hour having some Hot Pockets and a soda pop and looking at the Gulf of Alaska. I mean, wouldn't you rather have your kid sitting up there on a snowmobile or sitting home playing a video game?
I mean, you know, it's incredible. The views and the scenery is -- is -- I just can't -- I wished I had the vocabulary. And I'm not even sure an English scholar would have the vocabulary, to take that man up here on top of one of these peaks and let him overlook the whole valley, and okay, now you tell me how you're going to put this on paper.
You know, you can see the pictures, like I was showing you a couple off my Ipod -- Iphone, you can see the pictures and you kind of get, okay, you know, a 2D picture of it, but man, when you're standing up there and you've got it in 3D and you've got, you know, a wide vision, it's -- it's something that just -- it runs a chill down my back.
KAREN BREWSTER: People who mountain climb, I think, have the same -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Same thing.
KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to ask you on this map, this part you're talking about, your access. Because this map is sort of hard with the divide there. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: How do you -- where do you park your truck on the road and how do you go up?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, right -- well, I don't know, I think the -- where is the road? Right here? Exit Glacier -- I don't have my glasses so -- we park wherever they -- they got the thing closed off. You know, where they quit plowing.
KAREN BREWSTER: Where the gate is? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. It's right past that Wind Song Lodge, on the left. RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: So you park there. We pull up to the fence, we unload. Because we don't like driving our sleds on too much pavement. We avoid that. RACHEL MASON: You want him to mark this? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Go ahead.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. Well, I think -- I think the gate is somewhere, let's say there. And then we go up the road, and -- let's see here. We're here. Is this the road here, I guess? They really don't have that marked real good. The Resurrection River road.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, because that's the glacier. So that would -- GARY ZIMMERMAN: Okay. All right. Here's the river. KAREN BREWSTER: -- be the road. That's where it crosses right there. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Okay. That's the bridge right there. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Okay. We -- we go past the bridge about a hundred feet, we drop down the bank, we come underneath the bridge, and then we head right up this valley here.
This is the easiest way to get up there. And that's -- like I say, as long as it's avalanched.
And right now is -- if you want to go -- if a person wants to go to the ice field, now is the time. That's what I -- when my father-in-law talked me into taking him up there, and he's 82.
I told him, okay, Ray, but you need to tell them you ain't coming in to work and you need to come now. Not next week. I'm not taking you up there next week, now is the time.
Because the weather showed us a two way win -- two day window was Thursday and Friday. It was actually nice Wednesday, so we took him up there Wednesday. Yeah.
And if you come down this way and go over -- and you get over to here, you can come down and go through these valleys. This is some beautiful riding in here. It's all experienced riding, though. I mean, if you're -- if you're -- if you're a little gun shy, you don't want to go play over here.
But with the guys I ride with, they are all old, experienced guys. So we work our way through these hills. There's a real bad valley right in here, I think it's probably -- probably about right here.
So when you're coming over here, you've got to pick and choose your way through here. And you'll get right up on top. Right up behind Marathon there's a knob. From sitting right here, you look over that -- look towards Seward, and you'll see that it looks like a thumb sticking up.
There's peaks like this all over, and then there's this round thing sticking up. Well, that's where you want to get to, and that'll take you right up behind Marathon, right behind that peak, and you'll overlook Seward and you'll see everything.
DON CALLAWAY: What -- what do you do when the avalanche corridor is not passable?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well we go to Lowell Point. KAREN BREWSTER: Which is where?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: That's out there 2 miles off the road. But that's -- you've got to be really extreme to get through there. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you come up the other way?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. You go up to Lowell Canyon. But that is -- I don't recommend anybody going up Lowell Canyon. We've been up through there a few times, and you know, I wouldn't tell anybody about Lowell Canyon.
DON CALLAWAY: So -- so it sounds to me, correct me if I'm wrong, getting on the ice field is real problematic most years. GARY ZIMMERMAN: Oh, yeah. DON CALLAWAY: So you go up --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. You might not go up there for another 10 years. Or you might go up there every year for the next 10 years.
But -- but what was nice about this year, that early snow we had, we had -- you know, remember how much snow we had in the first of December?
I mean, we were just going nuts. Well, man, this is going to be -- oh man, we got to -- we had our snow machines cranked up early and ready to go. You know, I mean, here, it's a beautiful year.
And then that rain came at Christmas, and we -- you know, a couple of my buddies that ride were going to go buy a new -- Oh, I'm not going to buy a new sled now. I said, quit making excuses.
You know you can go. I mean, I don't care if it rains every day in Seward, there's still good riding here.
You've just got to go. You know, I mean, you can't use that as an excuse. You've got to get past further than the front door.
You know, that's the problem when you get older, you know. Like for me, when I come home, I hang up all my snow machine gear. I have this place right there inside the door where it all dries out nice, and I have it all hanging there.
My bibs, my avalanche beacon, my pack, my helmet, my gloves, so I use no excuse not to go. Oh, I can't find my gear.
Well, when you're over 50, that's the first thing you'll say. Oh, you know, I've got to put on my pants. There's no excuse. So, I mean, you've got to make yourself go.
And that's where guys this year, several of them didn't buy new sleds. And -- and boy, I tell you what, the couple guys that like to ride with us that didn't buy sleds this year, were getting new ones, and they sold their old stuff, oh, yeah, we'd be calling them up and giving them the business. You know.
KAREN BREWSTER: There's -- so there's you and your group of friends who obviously go up there. Are there other people in town? GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is it a popular thing to do?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, the -- the mayor goes -- well, he ain't the mayor no more. Dave Crane goes whenever he can. He goes with us quite a bit. He's a great fellow, too. He'd be a good one to talk to about snowmobiling.
As a matter of fact, I don't know why I didn't mention it to him. Dave Crane. The chief, both of -- a couple of past chiefs, Chief Brosoe (Dave) used to ride with us all the time. He's moved out of town.
And Chapman, Walker, they all rode with us. You know, there's a whole -- yeah, there's a slug of people.
And then you have the younger crowd. They like Lost Lake more because they -- just because they haven't been up there very much.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it sounds like if you go up to the ice field, you have to know what you're doing and go with somebody who knows.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, that's what we do. And when -- whenever we ride up there, too, if we have a newbie with us, someone that's new, we only go as fast as our slowest rider.
And for as much experience as you see up there, when, like, say I call it my group, it's not really my group, but the guys I know, you know, we're not -- we have high horsepower sleds, but it ain't like you're going up there doing a hundred miles an hour.
You know, because it's all -- all our snow machines have real long tracks, or deep paddle tracks. You know, you have a lot of horsepower.
We just mainly got it for going up on these mountains. A lot of times you have to zigzag, side hill and switch back to go up through them. You know, that's why this year I bought a turbocharger.
KAREN BREWSTER: In deep snow GARY ZIMMERMAN: In deep snow -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- you need the high powered machines.
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. I was -- I was on -- I was up by Godwin Glacier yesterday, well, there was one machine on top of the glacier and the rest of them were at the bottom of the glacier. Yeah.
DON CALLAWAY: So how long do your machines last?
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Well, the one I got I'll probably keep five years. I probably could keep it longer, but you know, and -- and there's no use buying a new -- for me there's no use buying a new snowmobile next year because I have a bunch of custom things. I have -- I have a different suspension, it's called an EZ Ryde, it's a very expensive suspension.
And then I have the turbocharger, which is -- you know, it's -- it's taken me about three years actually of saving and rat holing money to put the sled together that I have now. Yeah.
DON CALLAWAY: So the turbocharger is after factory use that --
GARY ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. He bought -- I bought it from Boondocker's. It's a Boondocker turbo. And I'm running about 300 horse, where the rest of these guys are run running 150, 170. You know, but...