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Tom Gillespie, Part 1

Tom Gillespie was interviewed on April 11, 2010 by Don Callaway, Rachel Mason and Karen Brewster at his home on Bear Lake in Seward, Alaska. In this interview, Tom talks about growing up in the Exit Glacier Road area, logging and sawmills, flooding at Clear Creek and Old Exit Glacier Road, the 1964 Earthquake, changes in wildlife populations, backcountry trails and running routes, the Mount Marathon race, and changes in Seward. He talks about skiing, hiking, climbing, camping, snowmachining, trapping and hunting in the Exit Glacier area, expeditions on the Harding Icefield, and changes in the glacier.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2010-05-04_PT.1

Project: Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park
Date of Interview: Apr 11, 2010
Narrator(s): Tom Gillespie
Interviewer(s): Don Callaway, Rachel Mason
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


Growing up in Seward

His father's logging operation

1964 Earthquake

Early hunting experiences with his father

His parent's arrival in Seward

Educational background

Meeting his wife

Growing up on a homestead

Flooding in the Old Exit Glacier Road area

Trapping and traveling in the Exit Glacier valley area

Caterpillar tractor at Upper Russian Lake

Snowmachining up Resurrection River valley

More about trapping

Moose hunting

Changes in the animal populations

First experience on the Harding Icefield with the snowmachine tour operation

Bear chasing a moose when hiking at Exit Glacier

Early snowmachining

Climbing and skiing Exit Glacier

Expedition from McCarty Fjord to Exit Glacier

Changes in the ice field and glaciers

Work history

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


RACHEL MASON: We're at the home of Tom Gillespie, it's April 11th, 2010. And my name's Rachel Mason, I'm here with Don Callaway and Karen Brewster behind the camera.

And we're here working on the Kenai Fjords National Park Exit Glacier study.

So we -- the study is -- is of uses of the Exit Glacier and around the area.

We'd like to start by asking you to just tell us a little about your life story, how -- how you came to Seward, and then after that we'll get into how -- how you've used the glacier area.

TOM GILLESPIE: Okay. Actually, I was born and raised on -- it wouldn't even be called Old Exit Glacier Road -- Road. It was on Clear Creek, which is directly behind the Pit Bar.

I was raised there with my four -- or my five -- four brothers. Family of seven of us, with my parents, but -- so it's not like I moved from somewhere else.

And as far as a little history of that area, I stayed there until -- oh, I graduated and moved on and eventually later bought the place from my parents, and my wife and I set up a bed and breakfast there in the '90s. But a little --

RACHEL MASON: So your parents moved here? Is that how --

TOM GILLESPIE: My parents moved here. My father came up here during the war to Ketchikan. Spent some time there, met my mother, and then coming back. And came down to Seward.

And to get to Seward, they got into Anchorage and took a barge across to Hope, and then they had people from the towns

-- town of Hope came out and pulled the cars on planks through the mud flats up into the town of Hope, and then they drove to Seward on the old gravel road that -- you know, access Seward to Hope.

And that was -- and they -- he came here because there was a lot of work. Seward was the terminus of the Alaska Railroad, and there was a lot of longshoring and lots of work going on.

As a lot of people that came to Seward at that time were -- that was the main purpose of showing up here.

DON CALLAWAY: What year were you born? What year did they --

TOM GILLESPIE: I was born in 1953, and at that piece of property on Clear Creek. And like I said, I'll give you a little history of that road in there.

My parents spent one -- one or two winters over on another subdivision, actually, just a road.

And then got -- found good, steady work, and then ended up buying a piece of property called -- on Clear Creek from right directly from the homestead, which is called the Bergstrom Homestead.

And that's right behind the Pit Bar, the Clear Creek area, Spenard Builders.

And the road went behind the Pit Bar to another house. My dad put a bridge across Clear Creek to -- to access our five acres, which is on the creek, and -- but he built the road into there.

And then shortly after that, people bought more and more of this homestead, and so the original road went right through our yard, by our house, up until it got all the way to what's called Seavey's Corner.

And that was probably in the -- you know, the '50s and early '60s. And so at the time of the earthquake, and we were live -- still living there at that time, the -- all the traffic going up that canyon --

DON CALLAWAY: Went through your house.

TOM GILLESPIE: -- went through right by our house, like I said, right behind the Pit Bar, through our yard, and up to as far as Seavey's Corner. And from there, there was just foot trails or horse trails or whatever, logging road trails beyond that.

And which brings me up to another thing. In -- in the -- at that time, in the late '50s, when my dad bought that property, he put a -- had started the road in to get access to a state land timber sale

at the base of Resurrection Mountain at Box Canyon Creek, and those roads are still in there today, some of which are part of the Iditarod trail.

RACHEL MASON: Can you show us on the map? Are they -- are they on that?

TOM GILLESPIE: Well, they probably don't show on here because they're just -- it's just a small network in --

RACHEL MASON: Yeah, if you could just mark right on the map. If you see them.

TOM GILLESPIE: The approximate area. Okay. This here would be -- what map is this.

This doesn't show the new road, does it? This shows the old road.

So what I'll do, I'll just put in something like this. And they went in through here. This is a network of roads to access this.

DON CALLAWAY: Access the timber?

TOM GILLESPIE: Access the timber. And I've got pictures, you know, of -- I mean, they hauled huge logs out of there.

And he probably logged it for three or four years, or something like that, until he got the timber out. And the timber, ironically, went over to the Bear Lake Sawmill, which was on this lake right here.

Just down the road. And they had a big -- big sawmill and they had to -- they logged all the area behind Bear Lake.

DON CALLAWAY: Was this mostly spruce or hemlock?

TOM GILLESPIE: Uh, big spruce. Yeah, that's the only marketable material at the time.

Just another quick interesting story, but a friend of mine and I were climbing up here, this was when the Windsong Lodge was being built, and in the evenings we would take off and do one hike, once a week.

So we took off and went up Resurrection Mountain one night, and we were coming down, and this is late in the evening, and we were saying, boy, oh, boy, look at these big trees.

And then I -- I got to this one tree and I said, hey, Don, you know, it's a big tree alert, and I kneeled down, kneeled down to put my arms around it and I kneeled on a steel block. It's a pulley.

And I said, Don, I said, I'll bet this block is one my dad put here to pull logs down from the -- because it was the only one that was left that was still big. And you could see there was -- had been a cable around the tree.

So I think -- in fact, I went up with my kids a couple days later and actually got the block, and I've got it here with me, but I think it's something my dad had put there in the 1950s, and this was in the '90s that we found that.

So it was kind of --

RACHEL MASON: Was it moss covered?

TOM GILLESPIE: Oh, it was completely rusted and everything. But I said to him, my dad's the only one that had a logging sale up there. So anyway, that was kind of a neat story.

DON CALLAWAY: Could you put on there where your house -- your dad's --

TOM GILLESPIE: Oh, okay. Right here. Will that show up enough?

DON CALLAWAY: Make it big. That's fine.

TOM GILLESPIE: Okay, yeah, there was five acres, we had it right on the creek right there.

And so this road, this other road was actually put in later in the late -- in the '60s, the other access from by Spenard Builders.

And then later in the '70s, the road -- no, in the '80s, it follows the -- it's called the Herman Leirer Road.

It follows the Resurrection River more closely than the old road.

So in other words, this old road here was the original one my dad started up to Seavey's Corner to get access to that timber sale.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what was he using that timber for?

TOM GILLESPIE: It was being brought over to Bear Lake Sawmill, and they would mill -- mill it here, and it would be turned into just lumber for housing, the housing development in the area or around -- some of it would probably get exported to other parts of the Peninsula, I would think.

RACHEL MASON: Were the Seaveys already here then?

TOM GILLESPIE: The Seaveys. Not at that time. Dan will let you know here in a couple of hours.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure I'll find out when they got here.

TOM GILLESPIE: There was another family by the name of Rutledge that was there before Dan was there.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. TOM GILLESPIE: And -- but I think he showed up in the early '60s sometime.

DON CALLAWAY: So what did your dad do when he came to Seward? Did he work on the docks or --

TOM GILLESPIE: He worked on the docks. He longshored. And then shortly after that, he got into this logging, and I don't think that proved too profitable, so he went back to longshoring.

And then he longshored until the earthquake, and then the earthquake devastated most of the -- the waterfront, and so everybody had to do something else.

So he went in -- went back into carpentry, which he had had experience at before.

So he ended up getting in on the construction part of the -- kind of the rebuilding process.

RACHEL MASON: Was your family affected by the earthquake? Did anything happen up this far?

TOM GILLESPIE: It -- I remember we were actually fighting upstairs in our house, and my brothers and I all ran -- we thought we were -- the house was shaking because of us.

I remember running to one end of the house and I kind of lied to my brothers and said my dad was motioning for us to get outside. But I was just scared, I wanted to get out of the house.

So I ran back and said, we've got to get outside. So we ran downstairs and tried to get out our kitchen area, but you know, back then everybody just had open shelves, so everything from the kitchen was on the floor.

The refrigerator had opened up, there was milk and broken glass, everything was on the floor.

So we went out the other side door. And I was behind my two older brothers, and right between my older brother and myself, the ground fell down and this mud started flowing out of it.

So we jumped across that and went out in the middle of our driveway, and just stood there and the -- the trees were moving around, and I mean, real wildly.

But back in the woods, because this area has been flooded for hundreds of years, there was a layer of silt the first couple feet. So every place there was a crack, the mud would shoot up in these geysers like 15 feet in the air.

And all the way around our house, because the house was shaking, and it was thawed out there, the mud would shoot up the side of the house and then run down the side of the house.

Like every 10 seconds there would be these big fissures -- geysers.

RACHEL MASON: That must have been scary.

TOM GILLESPIE: Oh, well, we thought it was the end of the world. I was in the fifth grade, so I would have been, what, 12, I guess.

RACHEL MASON: 11 or 12. Yeah.

TOM GILLESPIE: 12. Yeah. So -- but other than that, you know, the whole town, you know, other than the devastation in town right directly we weren't impacted.

We had to -- you know, we harbored a couple families, stayed with us for several weeks while they were, you know, figuring out where to rebuild and stuff.

But that area itself didn't -- you know, other than the cracks in the ground. Of course, there were aftershocks that night that just terrified the heck out of us. But --

DON CALLAWAY: Did you see any of the water, the tsunami coming in?

TOM GILLESPIE: No, because we were out there. And then

-- it was -- you really couldn't get into town unless you walked because the -- at the three bridges, the old ones now -- or there's new ones now, but the old ones, the ground settled and the bridge had popped up 3 feet.

So people were stuck. They couldn't get into town unless they climbed up and walked over and got into town.

And pretty -- by then, it was just, you know, basically emergency personnel going back and forth.

I think my dad had went in town and helped out, but as far as us getting in town, I didn't get into town for, oh, probably a week and a half.

The National Guard was in town kind of keeping track of things, but we were out of school for probably two or three weeks, I think.

RACHEL MASON: That must have been nice for you.

TOM GILLESPIE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Absolve us of homework, I remember.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah, I'm sure the kids loved that.


DON CALLAWAY: Did your dad work as part of the reconstruction? Did he work for the state on the roads afterwards, or help build housing?

TOM GILLESPIE: No, he worked on rebuilding houses. He worked on the new city hall.

It was damaged, it was rebuilt, I believe, after that. The railroad dock, and just -- you know, as a carpenter, they formed a lot of concrete and stuff like that.

And then later when that started slowing down in the '70s, then he went back into longshoring.

And then, of course, by then, the pipeline had picked up, and there was a lot of pipe and supplies heading to Prudhoe Bay coming through at that time, so there was plenty of work on the dock.

RACHEL MASON: Did you do any hunting as a child with your dad?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yes, I hunted with my dad. Yes.

Generally, that area, we -- we did hunt -- we'd drive up and hunt the Box Canyon area, and a little ways up the -- up the -- I would say as far as the hunting would probably be this area. As far as the, you know, walking into.

Of course, we would drive over -- and back in that day and age, there were -- there were roads going off here that didn't have any subdivisions on them, so we would hunt where it's called Questa Woods now. RACHEL MASON: Oh yeah.

TOM GILLESPIE: Because it was a gravel pit back there. And that was where he used to -- where when we first came to Seward, he lived for one or two years in a cabin there with my mom.

But as far as that area, yeah, we did. We hunted pretty much all of the Clear Creek, Box Canyon, and lower Exit Glacier area.

Of course, without a road in there or anything, this -- you know, the glacier was quite some distance away.

RACHEL MASON: How did you get in there?


TOM GILLESPIE: We would walk up to, you know, what we would call Seavey's Corner, and then from there -- we'd take those logging roads, and from there we'd walk in.

DON CALLAWAY: So you'd pack everything out?

TOM GILLESPIE: If we got something, yeah. And then later the road was in there, I'm not sure what exact year it was finally put in, but then you could hunt off the road also.

DON CALLAWAY: So what would you take early on? What kind of animals would you take?

TOM GILLESPIE: Moose. My dad got bear. Later I got goat off of Resurrection Mountain. Of course, small birds, ptarmigan and grouse.

And then later I trapped further up that river a ways.

DON CALLAWAY: Up Resurrection River?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: Okay. And dad would get you and the boys to -- your brothers to pack out the moose?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, actually. And then this -- right here where this swamp is, that was a popular spot, and we actually got moose off of that.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, could you mark that one, too?

TOM GILLESPIE: Okay. RACHEL MASON: Just put another mark there. That's close to home.

TOM GILLESPIE: That right there. Yeah. And that was actually the source of Clear Creek.

And if you look around here, there's not many clear creeks around, especially over there because they're all glacial fed.

Well, this one comes right out of -- there's -- you go up there and it's just a swamp with water coming out of it.

And what it is, is the, basically, aquifer coming down from underground of Resurrection River and hits this bedrock hill, so it just kind of comes out of the ground.

So it just stays clear, it stays the same level, it stays the same temperature, everything, year around. It doesn't freeze in the winter and it doesn't get cloudy in the summer.

DON CALLAWAY: And the swamp filters it with the sediment and stuff like that?


DON CALLAWAY: I'd like to step back real quickly. You talked about how your mom and dad took a barge to Hope, and then -- Could they have taken the train also? Could they have gotten into Seward on the train at that time?


TOM GILLESPIE: That's a possibility, yeah, because the train was through at that time.

DON CALLAWAY: Seemed to me that -- TOM GILLESPIE: The money was cost prohibitive, but I don't remember anybody -- that may not have even been a service to that effect, you know, coming down here.

DON CALLAWAY: So what would the train carry? Mostly coal and timber?

TOM GILLESPIE: It would be mostly building supplies heading north into the Interior and to Anchorage and to the Interior for construction.

Building mines and probably building Fairbanks, and you know, was the easiest way to get materials to the Interior.

RACHEL MASON: What all did your parents have with them when they were coming around in the barge?

TOM GILLESPIE: They had an old truck. No, they had an old, like a Packard, just loaded down with cars, they had -- I think the whole roof was filled up with tires.

Half a dozen -- because, you know, they heard that tires -- and they didn't have a flat until they got, you know, between Hope and Seward, but they drove the whole Alcan Highway.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah, right, didn't get a flat. TOM GILLESPIE: Nothing. RACHEL MASON: Huh. Weird.

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. They were well prepared. Over prepared.

RACHEL MASON: Are you the oldest kid?

TOM GILLESPIE: No, I've got two older brothers.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. So they -- they already had -- did they have any kids when they first got here?

TOM GILLESPIE: No. No. They were -- RACHEL MASON: It was just the two of them.

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. They were -- we were all basically raised -- you know, born and raised at that -- on Exit Glacier Road or that Clear Creek Exit Glacier area.

DON CALLAWAY: Are your brothers still in town here, or --

TOM GILLESPIE: I have one brother here that passed away, and then I've got a younger brother -- two -- two brothers in Anchorage, but one that also goes back and forth to Juneau that works with the Legislature, and one in Peters Creek, Eagle River.

RACHEL MASON: Okay. So after you graduated from high school, then I think you started telling us what you did after that, but --

TOM GILLESPIE: Actually, I went to college for a few years. And then --

DON CALLAWAY: Where did you go?

TOM GILLESPIE: To the University of Montana, Idaho, the same place my mom went.

And then I spent a year there, and then came and spent a year at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, back in 1970 something.

And then I wanted to go out and spend some times out in the woods and build a log cabin on a lake. And here I am.

RACHEL MASON: And here you are. Is your wife from around here, too?

TOM GILLESPIE: No. She's actually from Wisconsin.


TOM GILLESPIE: But her -- but she came up here originally because her dad was the city manager of Anchorage.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, no kidding.

TOM GILLESPIE: Back in the '80s. So that's how she kind of first came up here. Ended up working in the National Park up at Denali, and --

RACHEL MASON: Oh. How did you meet her?

TOM GILLESPIE: Met her right here in Seward. And we ended up getting married. We -- she was -- she was actually looking for a ride to go Outside, and I said, well, I'm going Outside, and I gave her a ride, and here it is.

RACHEL MASON: And then you turned around and came back. Cool.

KAREN BREWSTER: How many kids do you have? TOM GILLESPIE: I've got two boys.

DON CALLAWAY: That was one of them that just came in? TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: Nice looking kid.

KAREN BREWSTER: So can you talk about what it was like to grow up out in this homestead? Kind of out -- you're sort of far out of town at that time.

TOM GILLESPIE: Oh, yeah. It was -- it was fun. As kids, I mean, we just had the best childhood because we had -- the creek was there, we -- you know, we fished.

And we fished literally every day. We swam in this cold, cold creek when we could.

We built tree forts. We just ran around in the woods, basically, until our mom would tell us -- told us to come inside.

And, you know, we had a big family, so we were well known, you know, in the whole Seward area.

Another thing that was kind of neat, it still goes on to this day that Dan will tell you about, but that area tends to flood as a lot of places in Seward.

So once in awhile we have these horrendous floods that would come down and wash almost around the house, and turn this Clear Creek muddy.

And it was something that probably once every five years we'd have to deal with as a family, either move out or, you know, go out and rescue stuff out of the woods that would be floating away.

RACHEL MASON: Is that just because the water was high, or how -- what causes that?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. The Box Canyon Creek comes out of the mountains up here.

RACHEL MASON: Uh hum. TOM GILLESPIE: Comes down, and it usually goes over and dumps into Resurrection River.

Well, when it gets high -- the only thing that keeps it from going down what is Old Exit Glacier Road is some gravel that was pushed up.

And my dad had done some of that, and the people I worked for, their -- the original owner, he had kept this dike going up here.

RACHEL MASON: Can you mark that?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. The dike runs --

KAREN BREWSTER: You can move the map closer to you.

TOM GILLESPIE: Or get bigger glasses.

Box Canyon. Okay. Right here. This is the same area that my dad built those roads in.

There's a gravel dike up in here, and Dan will tell you here in a few hours that when the water gets high, it will eat that gravel away.

And then it comes right down the road, Exit Glacier -- Old Exit Glacier Road is what it's called now.

And comes right down and floods into this swamp, fills up Clear Creek, you know, flows around the houses and just generally reeks havoc because then it's kind of captured in by the highway.

DON CALLAWAY: Okay. Right. And it's always going the least resistance, so --

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. Yeah. DON CALLAWAY: -- with the roads help. Yeah.

TOM GILLESPIE: But then as soon as the water goes back -- back down, then it'll go -- will find its -- back to its own old channel, go right down here where it dumps into Resurrection River.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that a springtime phenomena?

TOM GILLESPIE: Fall. KAREN BREWSTER: Fall. TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah, September and October when the heavy rains are.

Springtime, though, when I was a kid, we could hear slides coming down, and going across Box -- or coming down off of Resurrection that would actually go across Box Canyon.

I saw one, one day, or heard it, so I ran up there and climbed up on this slide, and the water was backed up probably 10 or 12 foot deep behind this slide, and up probably maybe a quarter of a mile.

And I thought, man, this is going to be a heck of a flood. But ended up -- it just eats out underneath the slide and then slowly drops down.

But since then I've noticed that quite a few times, you know, when I was older I'd run up there and check them.

RACHEL MASON: Is that still doing that today?

TOM GILLESPIE: Oh, yeah. It does it every -- every -- every heavy snow year, it does that.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it's a landslide or an avalanche?

TOM GILLESPIE: It's a snow -- snow avalanche, but it goes down and blocks -- and it's in the spring. If it happens in the winter, it's not a problem because, you know, the spring -- in the spring, the water's already flows -- there's no water running in the winter at all.

And -- but if it happens in May, by the time the water's coming out of the canyon, it comes down in May, it blocks, it actually goes right across the channel, blocks it off, and then the water sneaks underneath it and slowly dumps out rather than a big -- big surge.

DON CALLAWAY: You said you built a bed and breakfast -- you bought your dad's place. Was that tough to maintain, you know, every four or five years you get this flood?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. I built the cabin -- we built small cabins and log cabins, we had them up on -- raised up in the air.


TOM GILLESPIE: And people from Outside would say, well, why did you build these up? It's like well, because it floods here. So, I mean, we were prepared for that. DON CALLAWAY: I see. Okay.

TOM GILLESPIE: And so that didn't become a problem, actually, until we sold it several years ago, and then they had a real bad flood.

And I mean, it was -- it was coincidental. No, we actually went and warned the people that the water was coming, and it was pretty bad.

RACHEL MASON: Can you tell us a little more about the trapping that you used to do?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. When I was in high school, I used to trap actually up on what is now illegal, or wouldn't be allowed.

Let's see. What's called No Name Creek. Okay. Right -- this little pocket right in here, I used to go up, I think I'd snow machine.

I think the road must have been in at that time, but I think it wasn't plowed beyond here, and I'd snow machine up and then hike over and trap in there, but that only went on for, I think, three years or something.

But it was about the -- it must have been right near the Antiquities Act that Jimmy Carter -- because I was trapping, all of a sudden that area become -- I couldn't do it anymore.

It was on that side of the river. And I was pretty steamed at the time, but -- plus, I also had traps right in the local area, trapping for mink and weasels and stuff.

And later in the '70s, we traveled up all the way to the Placer River cabin. I don't know what they call that.

DON CALLAWAY: Oh, yeah. Yeah. RACHEL MASON: Yeah. You can mark that one, too.

DON CALLAWAY: Well, we've marked it a couple of times. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, but different people.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah, if everybody mentions it --

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. In fact, I've got a picture of there, my brother and I. We went up and kind of found it. We'd heard through some locals that it was up there, that was before I think the Park Service, I think, knew it was there.

RACHEL MASON: Did you ever stay in it?

TOM GILLESPIE: We were going to. We'd go up, so sometimes we would snow machine up and then ski over to the cabin and have lunch in there. So we'd have -- just use the cabin just for a turnaround point for our trapline.

And another time we -- in '71, if you look at the records, that was a big snow year.

And my friend and I, I think I might have had a borrowed snow machine, and my friend had an old Olympic 18 horse Ski Doo snow machine, and we spent one --

let's see, one -- I think a Saturday, went up and we went up to the face of the glacier and looked around, and we could see that the -- the river, you could actually go up the river a ways.

And so the next week we planned it. We took a day off from school and left on a Friday, I think we had three days, we actually snow machined all the way to -- up into here until we couldn't go any further.

RACHEL MASON: Here. Here. TOM GILLESPIE: So we camped -- is this called Summit Creek?

RACHEL MASON: It looks that way. TOM GILLESPIE: There's a -- Summit Creek is right here.

DON CALLAWAY: Right. TOM GILLESPIE: Okay. We camped somewhere along the river right up in here.

And if you know -- the Summit Creek, there's a whole 'nother story behind that, but the -- in the early '50s, I believe, this actually started building up, glaciering or filling up with gravel and started flowing towards Upper Russian Lake.

And so they contracted a guy to take a dozer in there to divert it back this way.

Well, they start up here, and they got -- I don't think they got very far, and then they end up -- you know, somebody could correct me on that, but I think they had the Army or the National Guard or somebody come in and bring another dozer in,

and they struggled and they got all the way up to here, and they finally got it turned around so it came back towards Seward.

And I think the dozer is still -- there's actually one of them sits up in here. And we actually found it snow machining in from this way years later.

Anyway, we got just about to this dike and couldn't go any further, but we did -- we set a camp up here and then hiked up, and actually saw where the dike had been built.

But I doubt -- I'm not sure if anybody's ever had snow machines up there since then, because this area from Placer on, a lot of it is just open water, but when we got up there, there was heavy snow, heavy ice year, so we were just able to cruise right up the river.

And since then, I mean, I think people -- some people have found ways to go in there, but just because that one year was exceptional. And these were machines that were, you know, hardly pull their own weight let alone any gear.

And so when it comes to snow machining bragging rights, that's about the only one I have.

RACHEL MASON: Do you still go up there in a snow machine or do you do much snow machining?

TOM GILLESPIE: Most of my snow machining is right here, running -- grooming. I don't really run them for recreation more than just for work for the ski club.

DON CALLAWAY: Sorry, Tom, I'm going to... KAREN BREWSTER: Don, you could just stay sitting over there.

DON CALLAWAY: Yeah. Okay. I'm annotating your map here. This is your trapping area.

RACHEL MASON: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: So what were you trapping for when you were up there?

TOM GILLESPIE: Wolverine and coyote and lynx. Lynx, there were lynx around, but we didn't -- I didn't get any.

I mean, there was more wolverine than anything. That's what we had the best luck with, that and marten also.

And we -- like I said, we had gone up as far as Placer, so we did actually pretty good for -- from Blackstone Point to Placer, we did pretty good trapping for wolverine.

RACHEL MASON: Were there a lot of other people trapping at that time?

TOM GILLESPIE: No. Not up -- not in that area, we were pretty much exclusive ones. I mean, there were people down -- down here, but we actually, you know, made a pretty good effort that winter to get in there quite a ways.

RACHEL MASON: Who did you trap with?

TOM GILLESPIE: A guy by the name of Vic Stoltz from -- a local guy.

DON CALLAWAY: How was the economics of trapping at that time? Did you make any money?

TOM GILLESPIE: No, not really. It was more of an excuse to be out there.

I mean, the wolverine did bring anywhere from 4 to $600, but it still -- the fact that, you know, you're taking the time off from work or whatever, it just -- you know, I never really did it for the economics other than I just liked to be out there.

I had done it a couple other times, and it's just more of an excuse to be out in the woods than anything. DON CALLAWAY: Did you process your own furs, or --

TOM GILLESPIE: No, we'd -- well, we'd -- you mean tan them? DON CALLAWAY: Yeah.

TOM GILLESPIE: No, no, we -- you'd just stretch them, and then you could take and sell them to, like, Peninsula Fur Company over near Soldotna would buy them.

RACHEL MASON: Have you ever been involved with guiding hunts?

TOM GILLESPIE: Not here, but out on the Alaska Peninsula.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, okay. Well, maybe you could tell us a little more about some of the hunting that you've done over the years in this area.

TOM GILLESPIE: Well, we've done -- like I said, I've done a lot of moose hunting in my early years here.

We've done goat hunts on Resurrection Mountain, and then from here to Cooper Landing. We've hiked -- hiked from here to Cooper Lake. RACHEL MASON: Uh hum.

TOM GILLESPIE: And gotten goats back in there. Right around the Exit Glacier area, I really haven't done too much there.

Actually, my brother and I did hike up to Placer Creek, actually, a couple different times, and tried to get moose and then had a inflatable raft.

RACHEL MASON: Uh hum. Oh, and you floated it down?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. Yeah. Well, luckily, we didn't get a moose. We were back in the sweepers in no time, and we tipped our raft, and we thought we got back -- we thought we were lucky we didn't get a 600 pound moose or something and threw that in the raft.

RACHEL MASON: A couple of times you tried this? TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. Yeah. RACHEL MASON: That's --

TOM GILLESPIE: But at that time, the trail was still in, you know, the -- a trail there had already been put in.

RACHEL MASON: Over the years, have you noticed any differences in the animal populations in -- in that area?

TOM GILLESPIE: I would say the moose population probably has declined somewhat. And I think the -- the fur bearing animals are still out there.

They are something you wouldn't see unless you took the time to look for their tracks. And you know, as far as trapping goes, I'm not sure if people still trap up there or not.

DON CALLAWAY: What do you think's happening to the moose?

TOM GILLESPIE: Well, there's hunting pressure in there now. People can access in there with horses and, you know, walk in, and I just think the whole area has been slowly, you know, deprived of moose.

And you know, I don't know -- you know, this area -- this might -- the whole Seward Bowl might be the best place for moose to winter, and maybe just because of the, you know, conflict with the development, that that's cut back on it.

Or it could be -- it could be something else. You know, maybe we're becoming -- it's more of a mature forest so there's not enough willow browse for them. You know.

DON CALLAWAY: How about predation from bears?

TOM GILLESPIE: That's a very good possibility. There's a lot more -- especially here on Bear Lake. I mean, there's some years we have lots of brown bears around and seldom any moose.

DON CALLAWAY: Do you know why the bears have increased? Do you have any sense of -- ?

TOM GILLESPIE: Why the bears? Maybe lack of hunting pressure. But, you know, historically, I don't know why -- you know, why they wouldn't just keep overrunning the moose.

But I know two or three years ago we've -- we just had bears -- we used -- we'd even go running out here, but you know, now we don't in the summer, we -- we'll walk slow but you don't go running on the trails because there's just bears everywhere.

RACHEL MASON: Too many bears. TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah.

DON CALLAWAY: You trigger their response? TOM GILLESPIE: Their response, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about experiences actually on the glacier and up in the ice field? You're a climber --

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- you've climbed up there?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yep. Probably the first experience was in the -- is this is where the cabin was? RACHEL MASON: Yeah.

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. We flew in there in 1960 -- when did they say that was -- in '67? KAREN BREWSTER: '69?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah, something like that, '69. So I'll put this TG. RACHEL MASON: Yeah.

TOM GILLESPIE: Okay. We flew in there, I think that's $15 to fly up there, and it was probably another 15 or 20 bucks you could rent a snow machine.

And they said, here's your machine, go. And we had -- I don't know if we even had -- maybe we had three machines, but there was no -- I don't remember anything about crevasse, any of that stuff, about where to go, where not to go.

And we just took off and spent the day just -- I think we actually ran up towards this mountain here, up into the bowl and just played around.

And it was probably only -- I think we had four hours out there, but just hot, blistering sun.

It was the middle of summer, maybe June or July. And I remember we just had a great time.

And that -- the cabin since then, I don't know if you've heard the stories, but they've just found it recently.

DON CALLAWAY: No, we didn't hear that, actually.

TOM GILLESPIE: Oh, the Park -- yeah. In fact, Mike Tetreau, I got a call through -- somebody through him that the cabin has now been -- there's a pile of lumber out there, and people are, like, where did it come from?

But it was 17 feet from the bottom of it to the peak, and supposedly they came back the next year and the only thing that they could see was the antenna on the top.

And supposedly -- I think there were also a couple snow machines buried. And people thought, well, that's the last they'd ever see of it.

And then I actually got a call just about a week ago, somebody said that it was -- had shown up, that you can -- the Park Service is going to try to remove the debris.

RACHEL MASON: Oh, is that because of the melting snow?

TOM GILLESPIE: I guess so. Yeah. It's kind of funny that it would get buried for a while and then start to recede.


TOM GILLESPIE: So that was my first experience up there. And then, you know, we snow machined around the base of the glacier, you know, several times during the -- oh, probably the '70s.

I've hiked over to it before the -- before the bridge was in, you could walk over, and I got chased by a brown -- well, actually not -- I guess it's a mistaken identity, but I was hiking with somebody and we saw a moose running.

We were on the road going to the glacier -- or it was a blazed trail going to the glacier, there was no road but just this blazed path, and we saw this moose running by us.

And I was like, that's funny, it's not running away from us. And we looked back where it was coming from and the bushes started jiggling, and here come a brown bear full gallop, and coming straight for us.

And he -- as soon as he came out in the clearing, he stopped, and then he stood up and sniffed the air, and he still smelled the moose, but we -- the moose had since veered off, and so we were right in line of sight, and he came charging dead at us.

And I thought we're -- we're -- we better get out of here, do what you're not supposed to do, but we ran.

And he kept coming until he got to our scent of us, and then he took off into the -- he disappeared.

But we had a heck of a sneak to get back across the river and get out of there because we didn't know where he was.

But it was a case of mistaken identity, that one there. But --

RACHEL MASON: Lucky moose. KAREN BREWSTER: Is it tough to cross the river there?

TOM GILLESPIE: We had just a little raft at that time, there was no bridge or anything. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. TOM GILLESPIE: And we had just a small inflatable raft we had paddled across. And it was just a gravel road ended right at the river at that time.

DON CALLAWAY: So when did you get your first snow machine?

TOM GILLESPIE: I borrowed my gymnastic teacher's snow machine the first time, twice, and then finally I bought it from him for 400 bucks.

DON CALLAWAY: And what year was that?

TOM GILLESPIE: It was 19 -- probably '69 or something.

RACHEL MASON: It was soon after they first brought them here?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. Yeah. Just a one cylinder machine. And yeah, then we -- that's what I used for running around. But they couldn't do much. They -- you know, you could get them up to mile -- or up to Lost Lake, but it was just a -- it was an all day affair just to get up there.

It's not like now where they run up there in 15 minutes and they can play all day. But I used mine just more for the trapping and the -- just getting into the backcountry.

DON CALLAWAY: But you did say you got up to the -- to the base of the glacier? TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah.

DON CALLAWAY: But you hiked there after you --

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. Because the bridge -- after the road was punched in over several different -- took years of different projects to finally get a push through to the river,

or to the -- where it turns -- at the lookout that's there now, it stopped right there where the big bridge is, and then so we could paddle across the river, and then get on the blazed trail and go out to the glacier.

Or if you were snow machining in the winter, you could just go right up the river. Then a few years later they put in a foot bridge for a while, and then later they came back and put in a large concrete highway bridge.

DON CALLAWAY: What years could you snow machine up the river in that area? Was that in the '70s, too?

TOM GILLESPIE: That was in the -- yeah, '60s and '70s. Like I said, the '70 -- I think it was '70 was the year -- '70 or '71 was the year that we were able to make it all the way just about to Upper Russian with the snow machine.

And then in the -- I think the late '70s or early '80s, probably the '70s maybe, we did get some gear and climbed up right directly up the middle of the glacier and came over and climbed a couple peaks up in here and stayed up in here.

DON CALLAWAY: Let's -- could you put that on here? RACHEL MASON: Yeah.

TOM GILLESPIE: I've got pictures of all this I was trying to find. RACHEL MASON: Oh, good.

TOM GILLESPIE: They are just -- they are great pictures because we called it Double Eagle Summit because the rocks at the top of this peak were just covered with thick rime ice, you know, and it looked like feathers.

This whole thing had been plastered with rime ice, so it looked like two eagles, one feeding the other eagle. It was just the most amazing thing.

RACHEL MASON: And that's where you stayed up there?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah, we camped out right in this little tiny notch right here. Right -- or this one I think right here. And -- I'd say right there.

DON CALLAWAY: And could you draw the trail you --

TOM GILLESPIE: The approximate route? DON CALLAWAY: Yeah.

TOM GILLESPIE: Okay. Probably something like this. And then we had to go back and forth. We got up and we had to go around some crevasses until we got away from them, then went out here, and then came over, came up here.

Then we climbed over, climbed this peak. Then we came back and we came down this ridge down here.

And then where is Paradise Creek? Okay.

This one. And then we skied from here all the way down, right down.

DON CALLAWAY: Oh, wow. RACHEL MASON: Wow. Who were you climbing with?

TOM GILLESPIE: I was climbing with a friend, Brent Mahan. And, actually, I think I started out with another friend, Harold Faust, who is a -- he climbs all these mountains around here.

But I think it was just Brent and I that -- the two of us did the -- that one particular expedition.

KAREN BREWSTER: What time of year was it?

TOM GILLESPIE: It was in February. I think it was right near, you know, President's Day, somewhere around that, because I think I had some extra time off.

RACHEL MASON: Did you carry your skis on your back as you climbed up, and then --

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. Well, we skied, you know, we -- we skied here, we had skins on, and then had skins on across here.

We might have taken them off for a short time and had them up to here, then we had them on our back while we checked out this peak, and then the next day came down this -- this ridge here.

And we had -- we had them on our back, 'til we got down here. But once we got down here, we were able to ski. It was just hours of skiing all the way down here, and most of this without having to kick or anything.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. TOM GILLESPIE: And then all the way back to -- I'm not even sure.

At one time, they also had a parking lot, say, in this area here. So you could get up as far as that.

And then from there, they had plowed out that far, and then for some reason, they didn't plow beyond that.

And I just -- in the '70s sometime, that's -- I recall they could get up there a ways, and for some reason they'd stop, maybe right where the Forest Service -- where the Forest Service boundary is out there, something like that.

KAREN BREWSTER: So how long did that trip take you?

TOM GILLESPIE: That was three days. KAREN BREWSTER: Three day trip? TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you said you skied up the face of the glacier? TOM GILLESPIE: We probably had cramp -- KAREN BREWSTER: You skinned up?

TOM GILLESPIE: We probably had crampons on the first part. And then put skins on after that.

And then we went up, and then it's kind of hard because you're looking up and you're trying to figure out, you know, which is the shortest way to get around the crevasses.

RACHEL MASON: Yeah. So this was the first night that you spent here, or did you spend another night somewhere?

TOM GILLESPIE: No, we did. We spent -- the first night was out here. We -- in fact, our buddy was up -- I would say the first night was there.

And then, yeah, the second night was right up in this little notch up here, which was just an incredible spot.

RACHEL MASON: Sounds like a wonderful trip.

TOM GILLESPIE: It was great. And then -- then since then I took another trip, that was in the '90s. But do you want to -- DON CALLAWAY: Sure. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

TOM GILLESPIE: We actually went out with the Park Service, went out to McCarty Fjord, and then skied from McCarty Glacier.

We got dropped off there, and then climbed the glacier up, and then skied all the way back and came out Exit Glacier.

And a lot of people have crossed that and stuff, but the problem with us is we got up there, and it was beautiful weather, and then the weather block -- closed in, we were stuck for three or four days in our tents, and you know, there's mounding snow that we had to keep shoveling away and everything.

And since one of the Park Service -- Mike Tetreau was on the -- on the trip, he had -- luckily, we had flown over -- he had taken GPS readings, so on the way back, finally the weather didn't clear, so it was, like, we are going to have to cross the ice field on GPS and -- because we could not see anything.

It was blowing and snowing, and you could not literally see anything beyond the front of your skis. It was completely -- complete whiteout.

So we used the GPS and ended up skiing for three, just about three full days back across. And we camped out, you know, well out here, coming down onto the glacier from above McCarty Glacier. Coming down on the ice field, I mean.

And then we had like three camps across the ice field until we got to above Exit Glacier, and then we could finally see.

We camped, say, out here someplace. And then we could see. On that that route, we came -- can I just draw it on here? DON CALLAWAY: Sure. RACHEL MASON: Sure.

TOM GILLESPIE: Probably from this direction here. To here. And then we put all our packs and our sleds and everything on our back, and then kind of went down the -- followed this side here down until we came out.

RACHEL MASON: Right at the edge? TOM GILLESPIE: Right at the edge.

KAREN BREWSTER: You skied down that?

TOM GILLESPIE: No, we walked -- we down climbed that part of it. KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say.

TOM GILLESPIE: No, it's -- no, once -- there was so much weight.

RACHEL MASON: Was that actually for Park Service business, or is it a -- TOM GILLESPIE: No, no, it was just -- RACHEL MASON: Just for fun?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. But we were able to -- the Park Service -- because Mike Tetreau worked for the Park, we coordinated the Park Service boat going out because they were doing a study on eagles' nests or something, doing some sort of count, so we coordinated, and they were able to get us -- get us out there.

But, no, coming back, we just -- we had to just have one person in front and the person behind guiding them with a compass saying which way to go because we couldn't tell.

You know, we'd go for three or four hours and stop, and we were low on batteries, and we had to, you know, get one quick reading, and then get our new heading going until four or five hours later.


TOM GILLESPIE: It was a pretty big deal in town you know, because unfortunately, the word got out that -- you know, that we were low on food.

We didn't have -- you know, Mike had said something about, you know, if it took a lot longer, we might run low on food.

Well, they didn't get the word that we were fine on food, but they were trying to fly in supplies, and they couldn't because it was nasty the whole time. And...

KAREN BREWSTER: Now, you don't have to worry about crevasses when you're out skiing in that whiteout?

TOM GILLESPIE: No, no, not out -- the ice field is fine. It's just wherever it drops off any -- any time there's a big rise in the topography underneath it.

But we were -- we were roped up all the way up McCarty Glacier. Any time we were up on top we were roped up. And as we were going down. And once we got onto the flat, level part of the ice field, then we un-roped.

KAREN BREWSTER: So in skiing in whiteout like that, you didn't have to worry about crevasses, just direction?

TOM GILLESPIE: No, no, just direction. Yeah. Because we knew by our GPS reading that we were out in this flat, and it was just obvious.

But, you know, we had a slide show afterward, but I did take a picture or two of just looking straight ahead and all you can see are two ski tips, and it's just in a field of white. You couldn't see anything, anything beyond that.

DON CALLAWAY: So did you have a map plus GPS with you?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah. Yeah. And then luckily, he had flown and was able to do our waypoints off the route we had flown. He had done that, like, two weeks before that. So --

KAREN BREWSTER: What time of year was that trip?

TOM GILLESPIE: That was in April. That was right this time of year. It would be a day like this.

KAREN BREWSTER: So how long did it end up taking you?

TOM GILLESPIE: We spent ten days up there. KAREN BREWSTER: And it was originally supposed to be?

TOM GILLESPIE: Well, it was going to be around eight or nine days -- KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

TOM GILLESPIE: -- but we spent, I think, four nights in the -- in our tents, you know, four full days sitting in there, and we kept just shoveling snow out, and more snow would build up.

And finally we said well, we've got to get out of here, so -- but it wasn't brutal weather, it was warm. It was just like this, so...

RACHEL MASON: Did you have a radio contact with anybody or --

TOM GILLESPIE: We had -- at -- when we were stuck in the camp, we had radio contact by the way of a relay out along the fjords back to the Park Service.

And so we were in contact with them, and that's -- we said, well, we're going to -- once we dropped down off of that point, then we were out of radio contact.

So that's when we said we don't know -- you know, we are going to try to go across and end up at Exit Glacier in about three days, but there was no way to communicate after that. There wasn't, you know, no cell phones or anything.

DON CALLAWAY: How come you didn't go back down the way you came?

TOM GILLESPIE: That would be probably more risky -- KAREN BREWSTER: Admitting defeat.

TOM GILLESPIE: With, yeah -- but more crevasses and everything else. And then we would have to arrange for a boat to come out and pick us up out there.

And this, we knew once we got down out of the field, you know, we probably wouldn't have attempted that without having that GPS because you can imagine, even with a compass, you're good for an hour or two,

but then -- when everything's white there's absolutely nothing to look at, you -- you would end up being off here and you would never know where you were at, no way to -- you know, to figure out your position at that time.


RACHEL MASON: Well, over the years in going on the glacier, have you noticed any changes in the glacier?

TOM GILLESPIE: Yes. This -- of course, the first time the glacier, you know, did -- it was out substantially further than it is now. Especially -- well, with the whole mouth -- the whole front of it used to stick out so much more.

But we noticed especially on this route coming down, this was in '96, I believe, we came through from McCarty that coming down this side, it was completely different than it had been.

Because I hadn't actually been right over to that south side of the glacier in years, and I could tell then. And even now going out there, and it's been 13 years, 14 years, and it's dramatically changed even from that time.

If you go to the -- it used to be all ice. The only thing you'd see at the terminus of the glacier was ice, but now you get up there and there's rocks just about on the whole front of it except for one small canyon on the south,

mid-south side where the actual ice is still, you know, all the way down to the floor of the valley.

DON CALLAWAY: Could we backtrack a little and talk about what you did after you got out of high school, you know, what kind of employment you were involved in and your --

TOM GILLESPIE: Oh, mostly construction. You know, like I say, I went to college for a few years and came back here.

I worked on the pipeline some time, and I worked -- actually did the same things my dad had done, worked on the docks during the pipeline days.

And since then, I've moved -- I'm in construction still, but you know, run heavy equipment, you know, run jobs and stuff like that for an excavation company in town here.

DON CALLAWAY: Okay. And when did you build your cabin here?

TOM GILLESPIE: This took about three years, in 19 -- or no, 2003, I think we moved in here. But yeah, it took about three years.

Did most of it -- I mean, I had some -- hired some help for parts of it, but most of the log work I did with two other guys, and had some carpenters help me with the roof part.

DON CALLAWAY: You put the windows in yourself? TOM GILLESPIE: Yeah.

DON CALLAWAY: Where did you get the logs from?

TOM GILLESPIE: The logs, actually, this -- if you look here, a windstorm in '96, '97 blew -- there was a microburst came through here, and just literally leveled this lot.

We didn't cut down one tree. All the whole -- the whole driveway, none of that was -- it was all blown down in a big windstorm.

So I had the -- took the logs, and of course, I had an excavator I could -- from work, I used to clear the lot.

Took the logs, took them over to a friend's place, had them milled, he milled them, three sided them, brought them back here and we peeled them and cleaned them up and then stacked them up.

And so probably two thirds or better of the logs came right off the property here. DON CALLAWAY: Oh. KAREN BREWSTER: I'm going to change tape.