For generations, the Suqpiag people of the Nanwalek and Port Graham area have told of a mysterious being, Nantinaq, that lurks in the thick forests of the southern Kenai Peninsula, especially the Port Chatham area. Tales have been handed down of a large hairy being, like Bigfoot, that uproots trees, makes mysterious knocking sounds and sometimes causes people to disappear.
Could Nantinaq be real, and if so, what is it? That’s the premise of a new reality-TV show, “Alaskan Killer Bigfoot,” an eight-episode limited series that premiered with the first two episodes on Dec. 7 on Discovery+, a streaming video platform. Episode 3 showed Tuesday.
For 40 days in late spring and early summer, a team of five men — Ash Naderhoff, Keith Seville, Noah Craig, DJ Brewster, and Kyle McDowell — camped out in the Port Chatham area looking for Nantinaq. With a video crew, they explored the area, setting up game cameras and taking audio recordings — very spooky and weird recordings. The series includes interviews with a historian, Jeff Davis, local elders and a psychic, Polly Wyrum. Parts of the show also were filmed in Homer and Nanwalek.
“Going out there, all of us were skeptical at first, except some of the Natives,” Naderhoff said.
A Nanwalek resident for the past four years, Naderhoff teaches bush skills and outdoor survival, and helped keep the team and production crew safe.
“None of us expected to find what we found out there, that’s for dang sure,” he said. “… I went out there thinking we were going to be filming a little reality show and telling the history of the area. I never expected to happen what happened out there.”
The last cove on the peninsula heading south before Chugach Passage and the Chugach Islands, Port Chatham includes the abandoned village of Portlock. At the head of Port Chatham is a little side cove, Chrome Bay, its name referencing a mid 19th century chrome mine. All private property, the area belongs mostly to the English Bay Corporation and includes some Alaska Native allotments.
Seventy years ago, residents abandoned the area, some say because of the terrifying presence of Nantinaq. The stories of Port Chatham have been the subject of numerous magazine articles and a recent book by local author Larry Baxter, “Abandoned: The History and Horror of Port Chatham.”
As private property, access to the area is restricted and requires permission of the English Bay Corporation. Naderhoff said the show had to get permission from the corporation, the villages and the village councils.
Brian Kniffel, the Los Angeles-based showrunner for “Alaskan Killer Bigfoot,” said Discovery+ was careful to work with locals.
“It’s such a fascinating story. I was shocked it hadn’t been done for TV before,” he said. “Because it’s privately held land, we needed the blessing and the backing of the folks down there, which is Nanwalek.”
Seville is from Nanwalek, Kniffel said, and the show also interviewed Nanwalek elders.
“There were some hoops they had to jump through,” said Tommy Evans, 60, a Nanwalek elder interviewed for the show. “One of the things the village emphasized, they want to be protected. They didn’t want to open a door where they’ll be invaded by snoopy people.”
Kniffel said Hollywood has gotten a lot of criticism for co-opting Indigenous stories. He wanted to avoid that pitfall.
“It was really important to us their story was getting told,” he said. “… It was important to us it was coming from them.”
Evans said stories about Nantinaq have been told for generations.
“We were always warned to stay away from Portlock, Port Chatham, Chrome Bay area,” he said.
He said he remembered being on a school trip there once.
“I was walking on the beach. I kept hearing people talking in a Native language I didn’t understand,” Evans said.
Back in the 1970s, Evans said a man claimed to have been abducted for five days by something. His wife got suspicious and suspected he might have been messing around with a woman in another village. The man said he couldn’t talk about what happened, but his wife antagonized him so much he talked.
“He told and died,” Evans said. “His hair fell out and he turned purple.”
One time while working on the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in 1989, Evans said he stayed at a cabin on Port Chatham.
“I saw some crazy stuff that happened,” he said. “Weird sounds, just stuff happening around the cabin that kept us on our haunches.”
That’s a common theme of the Nantinaq stories: strange knocking sounds coming from the woods.
“There was this one incident. We were out kind of late,” Evans said. “We were outside and talking. It was kind of crazy. It sounded like whatever was listening to us was mimicking our conversation.”
In a clip from the series on the show’s Facebook page, Naderhoff and the team are shown listening to one of those strange sounds. They’re setting up a game camera and cutting away branches with an axe. From the woods they hear sounds like an axe chopping wood. He said the knocking went on for 15 minutes, though only a few minutes are shown in the series. Naderhoff said they would make knocking sounds, varying the pattern, and something in the woods repeated it.
“You just change it up a little, it would come back the exact same,” he said. “I believe that’s the first time we made contact with something was right there.”
Evans said stories continue about Nantinaq in Nanwalek.
“One thing we’ve noticed is our dogs react different,” he said. “If there’s a bear in the vicinity, they’re not so scared. … If there’s another thing, they’re going to hide. They’re going to try to come inside the house.”
Kniffel said he thinks there’s more material to do a show beyond the eight episodes.
“There’s still plenty to explore. We found a ton of stuff out there, bizarre stuff nobody expected,” he said. “I have the feeling we’ve just scratched the surface.”
Even with just the first two episodes broadcast, Naderhoff said he’s already experienced a bit of reality-TV fame. He visited Soldotna recently and went to a restaurant with his wife to eat. At 6-feet 6-inches tall with his long, salt-and-pepper beard and blue beanie hat, Naderhoff is recognizable.
“I took three steps in the door. It was ‘Ash,’” he said, as people he didn’t know called him by name. “Even going to the laundromat now, people find you talking. It wasn’t something I expected.”
Naderhoff said he hopes “Alaskan Killer Bigfoot” will bring some exposure to Nanwalek and to Homer.
Evans said he’s heard a lot of positive feedback in Nanwalek about “Alaskan Killer Bigfoot.”
“I think besides being oral history amongst the people, I think it’s a story that needs to be shared so we don’t make the same mistake,” he said “We talk about history repeating itself. We don’t want to send people down and find out it’s something else.”
As to what happens, Naderhoff said to keep watching.
“What happens in episode 5 is completely mind blowing,” he said.
“Alaskan Killer Bigfoot” is available as a streaming series on Discovery+. New subscribers can get a free seven-day preview.