Keith Knighten was interviewed on August 7, 2010 by Rachel Mason, Shannon Kovac and Karen Brewster at the offices of Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, Alaska. In this interview, Keith talks about his childhood, becoming a pilot, working for the Coast Guard, flying adventures and crashes, the challenges of flying in the Seward area, changes in Seward, and activities at Nuka Bay. He talks about hunting in the Exit Glacier area, flying clients in and out of the area, snowmachine tourism on the glacier, the road to the glacier, and his thoughts on the establishment of Kenai Fjords National Park.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park
Date of Interview: Aug 7, 2010
Narrator(s): Keith Knighten
Interviewer(s): Rachel Mason, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
People Present: Shannon Kovac
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Parents and family growing up in Oregon
Becoming a pilot
Dorthy, his wife
Coming to Alaska and the Coast Guard
Becoming a pilot in Seward
Controlling an airplane on a slippery runway
Learning to fly around Seward
Coming to Seward after the earthquake
Changes in Seward over the years
Flying for Harbor Air
Taking clients out sheep hunting
Communication on the ice field
Arness Zimmerman's snow machine operation
Kilcher party came from Homer
Clients being weathered in
Landing on the ice field
Cabin near the T-craft strip used for moose hunting
Air strip near base of Exit Glacier
Sheep hunters behind the ice field
Goat hunting along the coast
Flying in poor weather conditions around Seward
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KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. All right. This is Karen Brewster, and today is August 7th, 2010.
And I'm here in Seward, Alaska, with Keith Knighten, and also here is Rachel Mason and Shannon Kovac.
And this is for the Kenai Fjords National Parks project on traditional uses of the Exit Glacier area.
Thank you, Mr. Knighten, for coming down here to talk with us this afternoon. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Okay.
KAREN BREWSTER: So just to get us started here, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you were born and when.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh, God. I was born in Oregon in 1929, and June the 11th.
And I came to Alaska in 1965, a year after the earthquake.
I was transferred here in the Coast Guard, at that time they had a Coast Guard Cutter here, a buoy tender.
And I got transferred up here as chief engineer.
And after two years, I decided it was time to quit and retire and be a bum for the rest of my life, so Seward was a real good spot then.
The schools were good, I had two boys in school, and there wasn't much crap going on like there is today.
They had good teachers, good -- real good macho teachers, and I think my kids learned a lot here, and -- from the school.
And so just one thing led to another, and that's where we've been for the last 40 some years.
KAREN BREWSTER: Can tell me a little bit about your childhood and your parents and your family growing up.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: I grew up out in the country, 6 miles from the nearest village.
And my parents were farmers, we had a very small farm, 120 acres.
And milked a few cows, raised a few hogs, a few chickens, and just a general farm there.
And it was right on -- not right on, but close to the Willamette River in Oregon, which is a major river there,
and I spent most of my time -- free time on that when I could. My dad ran a trapline in the wintertime,
and I rode with him on that; and in the summertime we fished and swim.
KAREN BREWSTER: And do you have brothers and sisters? KEITH KNIGHTEN: I had one sister.
KAREN BREWSTER: And when did you join the Coast Guard?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, I spent a hitch in the Navy, went into the Navy in 1944, got out in '46.
And was out, I guess, about four or five months and I went back in, into the Coast Guard.
And that's where I spent 20 years in the Coast Guard; 2 years in the Navy, and 20 years in the Coast Guard.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then when did you learn to fly?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: On the GI Bill after World War II, it would have been 1946.
DON CALLAWAY: So that was between Navy and Coast Guard? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: And why did you decide you wanted to become a pilot?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: I just always was fascinated by airplanes and thought that was the greatest thing, and then after the war, the GI Bill made it possible for anybody.
Prior to that, it was pretty spendy if you had to do it out of your pocket, but the government training picked everything up, so I went for broke.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what kind of a flying school or private school did you -- how does that work?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, I guess you'd call it a private school. It was just a little grass strip out in the country,
and they had two or three Piper Cubs and a surplus Steerman, and so there was not really any -- any flight school as we know it now.
You did your -- your ground school on your own; and the instructors, when you were ready, kicked you out and said go solo.
And then it was up to you to go pass the written, to get your private license.
And I held a private for years, and I flew, I guess you would say commercially in the Philippines for three years, and then came back here.
And after we come to Alaska, I finally got my U.S. commercial license here, and that's about the way, the -- it.
KAREN BREWSTER: How many flying hours did you have to have between ground school and getting your license?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: In those days, I think -- I think it was 30 hours. KAREN BREWSTER: That's all? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. It wasn't very complicated. Of course, the airplanes we were flying weren't very complicated either.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. KEITH KNIGHTEN: They had, what, three instruments and a stick and rudder pedals, and that was the extent of it.
So -- and you didn't have -- and for a private, your navigational was always V -- it was all VFR, so you didn't need any of the complicated or advanced instrumentation that you have now.
KAREN BREWSTER: VFR meaning visual? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Visual Flight Rules.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when did you get married? KEITH KNIGHTEN: 1948.
KAREN BREWSTER: This wasn't a test. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Boy, I better hope that better be right, huh?
KAREN BREWSTER: And what's your wife -- Dorthy? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Dorthy. With one O.
KAREN BREWSTER: What do you mean? D-O-R. KEITH KNIGHTEN: D-O-R-T-H-Y. Most people spell it D-O-R-O, and that gets her real excited.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Well, that's good to know. And where did you meet her?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: She lived across the field in Oregon, we went to the same grade school for a couple, three years.
Then she went one way and I went the other. And I suppose it was 10 years later we got together again.
She -- she became friends with my sister, and oh, one thing led to another, and 63 years later we're still here.
KAREN BREWSTER: That's great. So she came up with you in '65 with the Coast Guard? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And how did that work when you worked on the Coast -- were you out on duty on the ship, and -- or were you based at home, or --
KEITH KNIGHTEN: No. We're -- we're on a ship, and we were on two hour standby.
We did -- we did all the aids and navigation work for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, all the marine aids navigation. We built several new ones here.
And then when we were in port, normally we were on what they call two hour standby, you had two hours to get back to the ship on a recall if there was an emergency.
So consequently, everybody lived with a tele -- had to have a telephone or a radio.
When we first came here, there was -- the telephone service was very poor, so we went radios.
Well, there was, I think, four of the crew lived out at Bear Creek Trailer Park, and
I -- if I inject this, it sounds a little sarcastic, but the City of Seward wanted a ship because they were suffering from the earthquake, and
35 man payroll plus groceries and et cetera, expenses would help, but they didn't want the -- the sailors.
And so to bring my wife up here, and the other guys that brought their wives had to provide their own housing.
We come driving into town pulling a 28 foot trailer, and were promptly asked to leave town because they didn't want trailers in town.
Trailer trash. So we ended up with everybody -- all the married people ended up out at Bear Lake Trailer Park.
And so then from there, we eventually bought a couple acres and that's where we live now, still on Bear Lake Road.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, it's a nice place -- it's nice out there.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh yeah, I'm glad now that we didn't get stuck in town, but yeah, it's nice out there.
We had brown bear in the backyard a couple of days ago. So yeah, it's nice.
RACHEL MASON: How did your wife like living in Alaska when you first came here?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh, she loved it. Loves it still.
She had two brothers that was up there before and during World War II in the Coast Guard, and she always wanted to come to Alaska.
And Murphy's Law, every time I put in for a transfer, I put in my first choice was Alaska and never got it.
I got the Philippines, I got Hawaii, I got the East and the West Coast, and my last tour of duty, I put in San Juan, Puerto Rico, my first choice of duty, hey, I got Alaska.
So it -- I had worked, and she was very happy to come to Alaska.
RACHEL MASON: That's good. KAREN BREWSTER: And did you have children at the time? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, two boys. KAREN BREWSTER: Two boys. Oh, right, you mentioned that.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, they were -- when they came here, they were probably 6 and 10.
And one of them's still here, and the other one, the oldest one is in Oregon.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when you were on tour with the ship, you were gone from home for extended periods? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: That must have been hard.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. I -- I congratulate her or whatever that she raised the boys because we were kind of visitors at home.
We weren't gone -- on this ship, we weren't gone that much.
Some of the ships, one ship I was on we were gone over 300 days out of the year.
And so that's not much for home life, but, you know, the Sorrel, which was the buoy tender I was on here,
we -- we didn't have too bad a duty, we were in quite a bit.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so you eventually -- how did you transition from Coast Guard to becoming a pilot around here?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, I retired, and most people when they retire have a goal or have a job lined up, and I just decided I was going to retire and I did.
I didn't have the proverbial pot or a window to throw it out of.
And so I did have a Coast Guard captain's license, a marine license, so I went to work running on a charter boat that summer.
I retired in the spring, next summer I ran a charter boat out of the Small Boat Harbor.
And at the end of season, we had an old station wagon, and I threw my sleeping bag in it and told the wife I'm going to find a job.
So I headed for Anchorage, and by pure luck, the first place I walked into was a oil supply -- oil rig, oil rig boats, oil boat rigs, or whatever you call it, oil rig supply boats. I'll get it.
And I laid my resume down on the desk, and the guy said, "How the hell did you know?"
I said, "Know what?" He said, "Well, an engineer just quit this morning." And I said, "I just walked in here by luck."
So I got that job. And boy, I was in hog heaven because they were paying fantastic wages, and that got us well -- kept us well all winter.
And come spring, one of the guys, Jim Lawson, who owned a charter boat here, asked me if I'd run his charter boat.
So I said okay, and I quit the oil company and went to work for Jim. And I ran his charter boat, I don't know, five, six years, I guess.
And along in -- in between the first or second year, I kind of got the idea that the charter boats was very -- they was probably six charter boats running around in that harbor then, that's all,
but everybody was on his own. Nobody -- there was no -- I'd be sitting on one dock with two people, somebody else would be sitting on another dock with three people, but nobody was together, so you didn't have enough to go.
So I decided, hey, let's book -- start a booking agent here.
So we started the Fish House and booking charter boats.
And we were up to, like, 20 some charter boats at one time because we were the only one in the harbor that was doing it. Now there's probably a half a dozen, but we were the only one doing it.
And so I continued to skipper a charter boat, and the wife and a friend of ours, they ran the Fish House.
And then -- KAREN BREWSTER: Is that the Clemens family or that was something else? KEITH KNIGHTEN: They bought it from us. Dale and Joan bought the Fish House from us.
And then I was doing a little bootleg flying on the side, and I decided, well, hey, I better go get my commercial.
So I went to -- oh, where was it, Utah -- not Utah, Colorado. Colorado, yeah.
And got my commercial license, and then came back and started flying commercially for Harbor Air, which was at that time Joe Stanton.
And that's about it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So it seems like a challenging place to be a pilot.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: It is. It's -- you know, that -- you've heard it this, and I know it's corny, but what they say about that -- flying here is hours of boredom with seconds of sheer panic, and that's about what it boils down to.
There's good days when you wonder why you're not paying to do it instead of getting paid to it, and other days like today, when you're coming in from Montague or somewhere you wonder why in the love of God I'm doing it.
But it was interesting. I enjoyed it.
And I was very lucky, I never scratched a passenger. I scratched some airplanes, but I never hurt a passenger.
And I probably scared the living bejesus out of a lot of them, but I never hurt one, so I was kind of proud of that.
KAREN BREWSTER: And did you ever hurt yourself?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Is this the place to tell stories? KAREN BREWSTER: Sure. RACHEL MASON: Sure.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Okay. I was on Montague, and I dumped a 180.
There was about a -- it was my fault, pilot error, it was about a 60 mile an hour crosswind,
and I tried to land in it, and it flipped me up on one side and drug a wing down and tore the airplane up pretty bad.
And I come to a sudden stop, and the airplane didn't, and I did, and I hit the firewall.
So I got out and I didn't feel bad, shook up but it wasn't bad.
And but boy, my toe hurt, oh, boy, my toe hurt. That was afterwards.
And that night, I was laying in bed -- they flew me in by helicopter.
That night I was laying in bed and I started laughing. My wife says, "Are you all right?"
And I said, "Yeah." But she said, "Well, what's wrong?" And I said, "I just remembered how I hurt my toe."
I had ski boots on and I was so damn mad, I kicked the airplane and broke my toe.
And that was the only casualty and that's the only time I ever got hurt was the one time I kicked the airplane.
KAREN BREWSTER: That's funny. Now, why were you wearing ski boots?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: It was wintertime. And we had these old heavy ski boots, and it took -- I took -- I'd drill them and put tire studs in the bottom of them because in the wintertime, you've been down here in the wintertime, that runway out there at the airport is just solid glare ice.
And you try to maneuver an airplane when you're parking it or on the outside, and if you don't have traction, you're on your butt most of the time, so you put those -- take those heavy soled ski boots, put tire studs in them, and boy, you got traction. And...
RACHEL MASON: Was that something you figured out yourself KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, I think -- RACHEL MASON: -- or did they all do it?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: -- probably everybody does it. Different things, some people use screws, some of them use tacks, and whatever turns you on. I just happened to come up with tire studs.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, how do you control the airplane on a slippery runway like that?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: You do a lot of 360s around and around and especially on skis. If you're on skis, sometimes it's -- you don't control it, the wind controls you.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what about like when you're landing, too?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, when you're landing, you've got control of the airplane until you lose flying speed, then is when it -- when it gets -- but you're -- you would be -- you would normally be landing into the wind,
so when you slow down, you're fine until you turn, start to turn, and then when the problem begins.
Your airplane wants to weathervane back into the wind, so you try to turn and it'll come back, and sometimes it will go all the way around, and it gets kind of squirrely.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So how did you learn about flying around here? Did somebody teach you, or you just went out and experimented?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: You sort of go out and experiment on your own.
And the first trip I went to Montague, there was -- I was flying a Civil Air Patrol Super Cub,
and I don't remember the exact words, but I asked Joe Stanton where this plane's at I'm supposed to pick up the passenger.
He said, oh, just keep flying along the coast and it's on the island, and it's on the outside of the island.
And that was my directions. And that's -- I finally found my way out and picked them up and came back, but it was kind of by the grace of God and your little hand that you learn.
RACHEL MASON: Are there any special conditions about flying in this area that make it a -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. This is a lousiest spot in Alaska.
RACHEL MASON: Really? KAREN BREWSTER: Why? RACHEL MASON: What's -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, you got mountains all around you, you've got wind, you've got rain, you've got no instrument approach.
And what else. That's about the major thing. But it's a -- this is just bum sky, and your approaches are bad even in -- at any time.
But when the wind's blowing or when Alaska Aeronautical used to come in on schedule, they would go way out to sea out toward Middleton.
And let down on a radio range out there and then come in right on top of the water because that was the only way they could get in.
And that was kind of a spooky approach, but it was the only thing they could do to keep any kind of a schedule.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because it's too short to come in over the mountains?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Right. And so it's -- that's why there's never been a -- there's no -- there's what -- you have what they call a missed approach.
And that means if you're on an instrument approach and you can't land, you've got to be able to go on around and come back.
Well, here there's no airplane capable of doing a missed approach. There was -- excuse me, there was one, the DeHavilland Dash 8 or Dash 7 is the only aircraft capable of that,
but there's about -- they haul about 20 to 30 passengers and there's no justification for that many people in and out of Seward.
I flew schedule one year for Harbor Air, and from here to Anchorage, two flights a day,
and that was probably the most lonesome summer I ever spent riding back and forth twice a day to Anchorage by myself.
KAREN BREWSTER: Really. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Because people just don't -- why fly to Anchorage and rent a car or a taxicab when you can drive up.
So it's a -- schedule's just pretty hard to maintain.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what year did you start flying for Harbor Air? Approximately.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: It must have been -- I would say '66. 1966.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what was Seward like -- you got here right after the earthquake. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: What was the town like?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: It was pretty tore up. And there wasn't much -- they were just -- when we got here they were just building the railroad dock.
And the -- down at the foot of town, that was all pretty much still ravaged by the earthquake.
The ship tied up down there, but that was about the only thing that could tie up down there because it was wide open to the sea.
And the whole town was in pretty bum shape then.
KAREN BREWSTER: So how did they rebuild?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: I don't really know how to answer that. They just rebuilt.
The biggest -- to my remember -- memory, probably the railroad dock, the new railroad dock was the biggest project in town.
And then the fill around when they dredged the boat harbor, but that wasn't as big as the railroad dock, I think, was the biggest thing going on here.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you lived in Seward a long time. What other changes have you noticed?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh, Lord. The worst change, I guess, is -- I don't know exactly how to -- how to say this -- is tourism.
But I'm not bad mouthing the tourists, it's the effects of tourism, that the stores have all changed.
What used to be the drugstore, I ran in there one day to get something, and come to find out the only thing they had was T shirts, coffee cups, and postcards.
And the -- the tourists have did a lot, and I'm glad to see them here and everything, but it has changed the whole character of the town.
It's made it a more -- made it a tourist town.
And so -- but it's provided jobs, money, and income for an awful lot of people, so the tourism is good for town, but it's changed it.
When we first came here it was just a sleepy old fishing village.
And I think when we come here, the New Seward Hotel was the only hotel, and there was two motels, Murphy's, and I forget who the other was, but there was just two motels.
And so there the capabilities to handle tourists have increased tremendously. But I suppose that's -- and then --
I don't understand, and it's kind of hard for us old folks to understand an operation like the Park Service.
I kind of think -- my personal feelings is, if they'd have left the parks alone, it would have been fine, and you wouldn't have accomplished any more by leaving it alone than you are doing now with all the falderal that's going on, but I guess that's an old fellow's feeling.
KAREN BREWSTER: What do you mean by falderal? You can say whatever you want.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, what's it -- when that park started out, they had one itty bitty office down in the boat harbor.
And now you've got one here, you've got one in the Ray Building, you've got the boat harbor, you've got one out works -- it's just taking a lot of people to do what comes naturally or something. I don't know. It's just...
RACHEL MASON: Did the establishment of the park, did that impact your -- your own recreational activities or -- or your business?
KAREN BREWSTER: Or your hunting? RACHEL MASON: Yeah. KEITH KNIGHTEN: No. No. We -- neither -- I would say we probably -- we probably made money from the parks for the flying because Dave Moore who was -- what do you call it?
KAREN BREWSTER: Superintendent. KEITH KNIGHTEN: -- superintendent here, liked airplanes, and we did a lot of flying for the Park Service.
And he was -- and Dave was -- was human.
He understood what was going on and he was a real diplomat and real good people.
So yes, we made money from the -- from the park, but as I say, I still think it would have evolved without all of expenditure -- expenditure that's going on now.
KAREN BREWSTER: I wanted to ask you that about flying and with Harbor Air. Who were your clients? You said you flew Montague and talk about where else you went.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, at that time, there was three -- in those days, there were three logging camps on Montague.
So we flew loggers, we flew all their groceries, all their personnel. Even sometimes if it was too rough to land a fuel barge, we even -- I've even flown diesel oil out to them.
And then there was the Beauty Bay Mine in Nuka, we flew for them.
We did all the medevacs out of here, lifeguard flights.
And then in between we did deer hunters and hunters and fishermen, but probably our bread and butter was deer hunters to Montague.
And, well, we did all right with -- and, of course, we flew for the Park Service and the Forest Service, so.
KAREN BREWSTER: Was -- at that time was Harbor Air the only small charter air business? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, the only -- the only air taxi in town.
RACHEL MASON: Well, can you tell us some of your experiences flying over sort of the Exit Glacier area? Or taking hunters around that area.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, we started out, we were flying hunters in before the parks became the parks. There was a line --
RACHEL MASON: Maybe you could show us with your purple pen there. KAREN BREWSTER: Here's the purple pen.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: This is going to take a minute. I haven't looked at these charts for years. Yeah. Okay. KAREN BREWSTER: And there's your purple pen.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: This doesn't go far enough. KAREN BREWSTER: We can always use this other map, if necessary. Does it go on -- hmm. Let me look at this.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, this is -- ctually, this is in the wrong order. This goes here. That end goes up towards Upper Russian.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Yeah. No, we're still not getting far enough. We'll say -- KAREN BREWSTER: Well, let's check this out. This goes too far down, we'll open this up.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: I'm looking for -- yeah, up here we are.
Yeah, we used to drop hunters off right in here, and also right in here because in those days, we couldn't land in the moose range, but we could over here because this is just BLM.
So we landed right in there. And then there was some fantastic or was some fantastic sheep, dahl sheep hunting up here.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you want to draw where the sheep hunting area, just put circles around the areas that they would have --
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Okay. They would be here. And -- what is --
KAREN BREWSTER: I'm going to put -- I'll do that. Sheep.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Or in those pictures, did I give you a slide of a sheep alongside a blue airplane?
SHANNON KOVAC: Just a second. KAREN BREWSTER: I'm just writing what these mean. Hunter drop off.
So then how would the hunters -- while Shannon's looking for that, how would the hunters get from where you dropped them to these sheep areas? They would hike down?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, by -- because -- you've been on the ice field, yeah? KAREN BREWSTER: No.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Okay. The -- quite often, it's just as easy to walk up there as it is down here.
And so to my knowledge, we never had snowshoes, nobody ever had snowshoes,
and over here, we didn't use snow machines, so yeah, they would hike up. And so.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then how long would they usually be out on a sheep hunt?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh, anything from five to ten days.
It all depended on -- Arley Zimmerman was our guide, and he -- it was a good -- it was a good guide, put on a good hunt.
And so if they were going to be up there for, say, 10 days, well, we would check on them once or twice and see if they needed food or anything,
but they generally -- he generally always produced sheep.
One year -- where the hell is it? --
yeah, one year we couldn't get them out, the weather just stayed bad, we couldn't get up to them, so he walked -- they went over to Kelly Glacier and went down Kelly River, and there's a cabin --
RACHEL MASON: You could mark that, too. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Somewhere down in here there's a cabin, and Arley suffered a heart attack here.
And they finally got him over to Kenai Hospital, and he was in there for several days, and they got him resurrected or whatever,
but he damn near died on the -- on the ice field.
KAREN BREWSTER: So they walked down -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: From -- KAREN BREWSTER: Do you want to mark -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: They would have went down this here, and there's a cabin down in here. It doesn't show it.
KAREN BREWSTER: It's not on this map. KEITH KNIGHTEN: But we'll say it's right in here somewhere.
And they got -- I don't know how they got communication. I think -- oh, no, I know. There was a lake, a little lake right over here, and there was some hunters in here, and they got out and got a helicopter in there to get --
KAREN BREWSTER: So this is Zimmerman's -- I'm just going to write Zimmerman's hike -- hike out route, is that -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah.
RACHEL MASON: They didn't have any radios or phones then. KEITH KNIGHTEN: In those days, no. We had one -- one radio up on the ice field at the cabin there, but Seward has some weird radio phenomena here.
We couldn't -- from up there, we couldn't work downtown with marine VHF the same as you can't -- sometimes can't work here from out at Thumbs Cove.
And so we had single sideband.
And single sideband was just coming on to popular -- popular use then, and we didn't know everything -- understand everything we knew.
And if you didn't have the right antennas, instead of being able to talk to Seward, you were shooting over and you'd talk to maybe somebody in Seattle or Louisiana.
And they finally got that figured out, so eventually, we did have single sideband communication, but that was just at the --
at the cabin, or how you call it a cabin, I don't know what you want to call it. It was a shack, I guess.
KAREN BREWSTER: The shack up on the ice field. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So I'm wondering, when you did a guided sheep hunt like this and they are supposed to be out for 10 days and you just -- it was a schedule, okay, we're going to pick you up on such and such a date?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then, obviously, you couldn't always get there. KEITH KNIGHTEN: That's correct. Yeah.
The same thing on Montague. The days on end. And that was one of the closest I ever come to getting kissed by a man was at that time I smoked like a funnel, and these hunters were about 10 days overdue.
When I finally got out to pick them up, and this one guy smoked, and he had been out of cigarettes for a week, and I never even thought and I lit a cigarette, and good God, he's up there smelling that cigarette because he hadn't had a cigarette for a week.
And -- but, yeah, you -- you try to get -- you set a date, but that's another thing about flying here in Seward, you can't guarantee that you're going to pick them up on that date, so we always recommend that they have a minimum of a week's extra groceries from what they planned on.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now, are there other places you took sheep or goat hunters for flying in?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Not up on -- not on the ice field. That was the only -- the only hunters, hunting we did up there was the sheep.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, while we've got the ice field map that you talked about Zimmerman's shack up there, you flew people up to his snow machine operation? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Tell us a little bit about that. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Go back, let's go back way, way, way, way back. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Bill Vincent, Sr., had a daydream of a tram from Seward to the ice field, like they have in Europe and Japan and places like that.
What Bill didn't know was that his -- he thought that the ice field was right behind Marathon, but it's not.
There's a big deep canyon, and then the ice field.
So I'm sure that he picked up the tab for the charter, and he talked Joe Stanton into going up there on the ice field and landing on floats, on just regular floats.
And -- pontoons. And so they made four or five trips up there and figured out that, yeah, this would be a good place to have a camp.
But it was tearing the pontoons up because the inertia, when the airplane landed, it was going faster than the floats,
they were dragging, so it was pulling the rivets in the floats, popping the rivets in the floats, and he just about wrecked a set of floats up there.
So, he found a pair of wheel skis somewhere, and then that's when things started.
And again, I don't know whether Bill or Joe or somebody got with Jim Arness from Kenai.
And Jim had the Ski Doo dealership in Kenai, and the end of the season, summertime, Jim had 13 snow machines still on hand.
So he made a deal with Joe, some of them, and I don't know all the ins and outs of that, but he furnished the snow machines, and Joe would fly them up on the ice field and they'd rent them out.
So we flew 13 snow machines up one at a time onto the ice field.
And then again, I don't know who hired Zimmerman, whether it was Stanton or Arness, but he maintained them, Arley was a good mechanic, good personality and everything, so he was camp manager up there.
And Harbor Air, we -- we -- normally I'd fly in the morning and Joe would fly the afternoon.
Because we were making a lot of trips up there with people we had a -- I think it was a two hour round -- you could go up and spend two hours, and we'd pick you up and bring you back down.
And some of the people would go up there and ski, some ride snow machines.
And then when it got a little more popular, a lot of the local people -- I mean, not a lot, some of the local people here, we'd fly them up in the evening and they'd stay up there all night, because it stays pretty bright on the ice field at night in the summertime.
And the snow tightens up, makes good skiing in the summertime.
And in the daytime, you know, it gets kind of, what do they call it, corn snow, and it's kind of sticky; but at night, as soon as the sun started down, so a lot of people would ski all night and use the shack for warmup, and then we'd pick them up at eight o'clock or 7:00 or eight o'clock in the morning,
bring them back and start hauling tourists up for the rest of the day. RACHEL MASON: Wow.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: So there was always -- you were always worried about when Arley wasn't up there when the day was over and you brought the last customers out, did I forget anybody. Did I get everybody?
And one morning I landed up there, and here comes, I don't know, two or three people out of the shack.
I thought, oh, my God, I left them here all night.
But it wasn't, it was the Kilcher party from Homer had came across and got there before -- or after we left for the night, so they spent the night in the cabin.
And I flew one of them back down to make arrangements, and then the rest of them came down off the glacier, that's where -- they were the ones that started the name Exit Glacier was Kilcher party, who was the first ones to cross the ice field in modern times, as far as I know.
RACHEL MASON: They came over from Homer on skis?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Skis, snowshoes, or whatever. I even forget how many was in the party now. You probably got all that on record somewhere, don't you?
SHANNON KOVAC: We do, but I don't know how many people that was. KEITH KNIGHTEN: I don't remember. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: I think four, five, six, somewhere in there, but I don't know.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, it was something like that. And... KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. It was a very pioneering expedition that they did. RACHEL MASON: When was that? Do you all know? KEITH KNIGHTEN: No.
SHANNON KOVAC: We'll see Gary tomorrow. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, yeah. I mean, if you say the shack was there already. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you know what year did -- did Arness and those guys start that operation? KEITH KNIGHTEN: That's what I said, I wished I would have kept the -- the log book. Didn't you have that here?
SHANNON KOVAC: I think it's '69 and '70 for the -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, you had it on that or poop sheet, the dates on it, and so.
KAREN BREWSTER: So before you mentioned how the flying here could be so unpredictable, you're flying people up for two hours and bringing them back, did it ever happen that tourists or locals, they got left, they stuck there?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, not for two hours, except for -- no, it never happened, to answer your question, but I think I told Sharon --
KAREN BREWSTER: Shannon? KEITH KNIGHTEN: -- Shannon about Pat Williams when she went up there sheep hunting.
And she was going to hunt sheep. And the second day she was up there, we got a weather forecast that was really going to turn bad for about a week, so I didn't figure she wanted to stay up there by herself with just her and Arley for a week.
So about -- we got this report, and by the time I could do it, it was about ten o'clock at night.
So I flew up and landed on the snowfield and picked her up and brought her back down, and sure enough, it was a good thing because I didn't get Arley out for about 10 days, and -- but it was kind of -- it was surprising to me.
RACHEL MASON: Did she get a sheep at least? KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, she didn't get any.
I'd taken off down here and the wind was out of the north, and I'm not thinking because, man, I get up on the ice field and I figure the wind is out of the north and I landed into the wind, I thought.
Man, I went by that shack about 90 miles an hour, and the wind had shifted and I had a tailwind as I went by it and I liked to never got stopped, but I finally got back and it was so dark I couldn't see the windsock.
And so I finally got her loaded up and we got back.
And that's what we were reminiscing about the other day on the telephone was that night that I picked her up and she says, "Yeah, and I was just sitting down to a steak dinner when you come to pick us up." And I forgot to ask whether she got to eat it or not.
KAREN BREWSTER: And was she glad that you came to get her? Or...
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Yeah. Because she had -- she would have been -- they would have been cabin bound for probably a week to 10 days.
KAREN BREWSTER: It's interesting that taking people up and down the glacier every day that nobody ever got stuck because of bad weather.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, you know, if -- you've got a weather report and if you know it's going to be bad, you don't take them.
Or if it's marginal, you don't -- you don't take them. So you've kind of got to use your head on you.
You don't -- like, you have whiteouts up there.
And several times I've -- I and Joe both, you'd get up there and just break over the glacier and you'd have to turn around and come back because you couldn't see nothing.
And I wished that I would've had my camera one day, it was the most fantastic sight I ever saw, this cabin was yellow, bright yellow.
And I couldn't get in over Exit Glacier, so I went over to Russian Lake and come up that glacier.
And I got about halfway up there, and here's the cabin sitting up in the sky, this yellow cabin, it was an optical illusion due to whiteout.
It wasn't, of course, but from the -- from where I was sitting in the airplane, it looks like the cabin was floating around up in the air.
And to me, I'll never forget that. That was really a weird sensation.
But no, if it was marginal or we thought there was any chance of a whiteout, we -- we didn't leave people.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what were you landing on up there? Did you guys build a sort of an airstrip up there?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh, no, just land on the snow. We had wheel skis, wheels down here and skis up there.
KAREN BREWSTER: So the only person who ever landed up there with pontoons was Joe in that early days?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, they just started to see if it was -- what it was -- would be like up there. And then we went and had both 180s on wheel skis.
KAREN BREWSTER: You didn't have to worry about crevasses?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, not where we were at. There was crevasses back, but -- and then when they got the snow machines up there, Arley took willows and red mask --
red surveyors tape and marked all the crevasses so that the snow machiners wouldn't run into a crevasse. RACHEL MASON: That's good.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: But at that time, where we were at, it sure looks to me like there's starting to be crevasses here, but where we were at -- but when we were there, that was solid -- solid ice there.
KAREN BREWSTER: So how long did that operation last, flying people up there? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Two years, I think, was all.
KAREN BREWSTER: So are there other places that you flew where you took people in up the Resurrection Valley, or -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well --
KAREN BREWSTER: We can go back to those other maps. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Let's go up to this --
RACHEL MASON: Maybe for goat hunting. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Sectional.
Good God, I'm sorry, but it's been so long since -- KAREN BREWSTER: It looks different from the air probably.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, I should know this. I'm thinking right in here was -- but everybody locally, all the old local pilots called it the T-craft strip.
KAREN BREWSTER: Actually, I think that might be -- would that be here?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, there it is. Okay, I'm way off -- I told you I was goofy.
RACHEL MASON: Well, the maps are goofy. KEITH KNIGHTEN: No. Yeah. That's the T-craft strip.
KAREN BREWSTER: Does this go like this, kind of? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. But you've got to -- something somewhere here I saw --
KAREN BREWSTER: That's the Exit Glacier Road right there.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh, okay, then, that's where I'm caddywhompus.
Yeah, this is the cabin that the parks rebuilt here at Fleming -- is it Fleming?
SHANNON KOVAC: They rebuilt one at Placer Creek. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Okay. Placer Creek.
KAREN BREWSTER: This says Boulder Creek. KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, this is the cabin that was an old miner's cabin that they rebuilt, but yeah, the T-craft strip here, we used to fly -- fly hunters in there for moose.
That was a very popular strip there and there was a lot of moose up there years ago, in that area. Just about anybody that flew in there got a moose.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you know where they would go for a moose from there?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Just right anywhere around there. Pete Kesselring was camped right on the end of the strip, and he was drinking coffee one morning, and he set his coffee cup down, shot the moose, and finished his coffee, and so there was moose all over up there.
KAREN BREWSTER: That's the best kind of moose hunting. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh, yeah, that's the only way.
KAREN BREWSTER: Moose hunting. And do you know about all those cabins up there? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Do I what?
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you know where those -- there's cabins up here? The other ones that you know of?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, there was -- to my knowledge, there's the one -- the one down here just above Exit Glacier Road.
Have you got that marked? Is that a cabin there? KAREN BREWSTER: Right there? KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, right here.
KAREN BREWSTER: Does that say "cabin"? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, "cabin." There's that one, and then -- and the one that parks rebuilt up there.
Yeah, at Placer Creek is the other one. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. That's that one. KEITH KNIGHTEN: That's the only two that I know of. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: And then I -- pardon? KAREN BREWSTER: Go ahead. KEITH KNIGHTEN: I guess that's a new cabin that BLM -- or Forest Service put in up there. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, this one up here? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Since my time, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I don't know. I'm wondering, back to the T-craft strip, do you know how that airstrip got there and why?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: For moose hunters.
Somebody went in there and mucked it out. And then, I don't even know whose T-craft it was that used to lay there, they crashed it in there.
And -- but I don't know -- that was -- that strip was notorious for eating airplanes.
Joe Stanton went up there, he was in his -- no. Tommy Madson, Tommy Madson went up there in his T-craft, landed and flipped over upside down in the snow.
So Joe went up to look for him, and he found him, and Tommy said, come on in and pick me up, waved for him to pick him up.
Joe went in and landed and he flipped right alongside of Tommy.
So then we all went up, and the Coast -- or the Air Force had a -- one of those big banana, twin engine helicopters down.
And I don't know, four or five of us from the Civil Air Patrol went up and picked both airplanes up and put a bunch of hundred mile an hour tape on them, and Joe flew his out and Tommy flew his out.
But everybody laughed about Tommy telling Joe, oh, it's fine, you can land, and he just landed and tipped over, but...
KAREN BREWSTER: So that strip was used in the winter and the summer?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah -- no, namely in the fall, primarily, for moose, during moose season.
KAREN BREWSTER: It doesn't sound like it was a particularly smooth runway.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, it wasn't so smooth, it was short and brushy. There was a little niche in the river there, and -- or notch, and it was -- I don't remember how long it was, but it was strictly a Super Cub strip.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. On the map it looks like it's real close to a mountain, but that's not -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, that -- that -- that didn't have anything to do with it because you had good approaches up and down the river.
RACHEL MASON: Was there another airstrip other than the T-craft strip along that river?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, there was a -- a strip right at the base of Exit Glacier.
RACHEL MASON: Oh, yeah. We heard about that, I think.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. I don't know who made that, they marked it with Blazo -- or with avgas cans.
And it was short and tight, but you could work it because, oh, I forget, again, don't ask me what year it was, but it was before the bridge was put in,
Dale Clemens, I think, was instigator, and who else, anyway, they got a bunch of media people from Anchorage down here to show them Exit Glacier.
And they had some rubber rafts up there where the bridge is now, and they ferried them across on these rubber rafts, and then they hiked into the glacier.
Well, I was in the office out at the airport, and Joe -- or Dale called and said, "Hey, can you land in front of the glacier?" And I said, "Yeah."
And he said, "I'll be right out." So here he come a few minutes later with a case of cold beer.
And he says, "Take this up and land at the glacier and give it to those people coming across walking in."
So I go up and land, and there was -- about, probably about this time of year because there was a lot of trees and brush and they couldn't see the strip.
And they couldn't hear me when I landed because I just ducked in and landed, grabbed the case of beer and went over and sat down on the glacier.
And here come all these guys with this hard crossing and panting and puffing and bitching, and I'm sitting there with a case of cold beer.
Well, again, I just about got kissed for that case of cold beer. And, so, yeah, there was that strip.
That's the only two strips that I know of in the valley.
KAREN BREWSTER: And how much was the Exit Glacier strip utilized by people?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Same thing, hunting or whoever, Doc Hall would go in there, and I don't know, he had been there a long time.
But -- and there was -- in those days it was just utilized if somebody was moose hunting up there or saw a moose.
In days gone by, you know, you could fly and shoot the same day, and if people saw a moose up there, well, they'd land and shoot it and bring it out.
KAREN BREWSTER: Who maintained those strips, you said they got brushy, did somebody come along and brush them out?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, if you landed and needed some more room, you got your axe out and brushed it out and took care of it. And whoever was using the strip took care of it.
But with the big tundra tires you can work a pretty rough, rough ground.
KAREN BREWSTER: So that's what you guys were using were the big tundra tires? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
RACHEL MASON: Did you do any hunting yourself?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Oh, a little bit of moose, generally, for -- for meat. I had two teenage boys, you needed a moose.
RACHEL MASON: Yeah. Did they go hunting with you?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. They -- they both -- the older boy particularly, he really liked to hunt.
And in fact, he killed his first black bear, I think, when he was about 10.
KAREN BREWSTER: So did you go moose hunting up this Resurrection Valley area? KEITH KNIGHTEN: No. I hunted Paradise.
KAREN BREWSTER: Paradise -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: Valley. It's over -- RACHEL MASON: Where's that?
KAREN BREWSTER: This -- this Paradise Valley by the glacier? KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, no. No, no. KAREN BREWSTER: No a different place. Different Paradise.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Bear Lake over here. KAREN BREWSTER: Here, why don't we mark that.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: It's up Snow River. Here's Snow. KAREN BREWSTER: This is South Fork Snow River. KEITH KNIGHTEN: Okay. This one, it's up in here. Up there is good. KAREN BREWSTER: So that was moose? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Moose.
Okay. And you did some bear hunting, too?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: No, I didn't. I never had anything against bears, and I figured if I left them alone, they'd leave me alone.
RACHEL MASON: Something's wrong here. I'm sorry.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: But you know, they never even dressed them out, they just drug them down to the airplane, guts, feathers, and all.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now, what was that you were talking about? KEITH KNIGHTEN: No. RACHEL MASON: He's talking about sheep. KEITH KNIGHTEN: The sheep hunting, off behind the ice field.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, where you had -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Yeah. And that's a picture of a couple of sheep we took up there and one picture of Arley and one of Joe Stanton.
And I forget -- forget who that -- who the hunter was, what his name was.
KAREN BREWSTER: So but they had to haul the sheep back up to where you had left them?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah. Well, generally, we were pretty much on the level, they'd just drag them across the ice field and you'd land and pick them and their sheep up.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, but they would cut it up. They wouldn't bring them back whole, would they? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, that's what --
KAREN BREWSTER: Whoa. That's a big animal to be dragging around.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Well, it was on snow. It's not too bad.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And we didn't talk about goats. I don't know if anybody ever flew in for goat hunting or --
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Not so much up there. Most of the goat hunting that we did was along the coast.
KAREN BREWSTER: So farther down to Thumb Bay? KEITH KNIGHTEN: Thumb Bay -- Thumb Cove? KAREN BREWSTER: Thumb Cove?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, on the outside, between Resurrection and Prince William Sound, all along the coast there, there's lots of goats.
And we had, I think, five cabins out there on various little lakes there; we'd land them on floats and then they'd go up to the mountain, and we had -- they had to stay in the cabin.
Generally, it was a week's hunt, and they'd spike camp up on the side of the mountain for the goats for a couple, three nights; and if the weather was bad, they had a good cabin to stay in.
KAREN BREWSTER: What's a spike camp? For people who don't know about hunting.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: A spike camp is, well, a camp you put on your back and carry with you, I guess -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. KEITH KNIGHTEN: -- is the way to describe it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Sort of your -- what's the word I'm trying to think of. There's a name of it. I'm blanking out on the word I'm thinking of.
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Okay. Anyway, a spike camp is a camp away from the main camp that's portable and used for a couple of three nights, then you come back to the main camp.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Did you yourself do anything up the Resurrection Valley and, you know, trapping, or -- KEITH KNIGHTEN: No. KAREN BREWSTER: -- hunting or anything? Snow machining?
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Not really, no.
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you ever -- did you fly -- do a lot of flying up this valley and across over to Upper Russian? Is that a common --
KEITH KNIGHTEN: Yeah, that's the area, common. There's the old saying, if you can get in this end you can get out the other end, or vice versa.
So a lot of times you'll come out of the canyon here 2- or 300 feet because it will be clear to get right in front of Exit Glacier, and generally always a big hole there.
So you either come over the top and drop down into the hole or come under.
And when Alaska Aeronautical was flying in here, time and again they'd get to Exit Glacier and have to turn around because they couldn't -- they were flying bigger airplanes and they couldn't get down below the treetops and come down the river like we did.
And so they'd turn around at Exit Glacier, which is 6 miles from the airport, or whatever, but they couldn't make it. So yeah, that's a -- was and is still a well used path in and out of Seward.
KAREN BREWSTER: To get to Kenai and ? KEITH KNIGHTEN: To Kenai, Anchorage, or wherever, especially if the weather's bad.
Now, years ago there used to be a doctor come in here, when they didn't have a doctor here called Dr. Isaacs,
and he'd fly in from Kenai, and he did the unheard of, he'd leave here zero-zero visibility, and fly with his wristwatch, time his way, and go through that canyon when nobody else in their right mind would.
And he's still -- still kicking. He never -- never scratched an airplane, but there are very few other people who had the guts or the smarts to do that, but Doc Isaacs could, and did.