For most families, preparing for winter includes putting away the patio furniture and buying a new shovel. For the Alaskans on NatGeo’s second season of Life Below Zero (returning Thursday, April 17 at 9pmET/PT), winter preparations are much more extreme.
The season 2 trailer is almost as intense as the real show; when you live in Alaska, there is no margin for error, and every decision seems like it is life or death. I have so much respect for anyone who calls Alaska’s isolated and unforgiving back country, home. Each of the real people/families highlighted in this series are waging such an intense fight for survival against the elements that they really have little time to mug for the camera. I take that back; Sue Aikens, the show’s tough-as-nails break-out-star, lives alone for 8 months of the year. When it’s winter and your closest neighbor is a plane ride away, you have tons of time to wax poetic to the cameras. And Sue delivers some nuggets of television gold.
Sue Aikens lives alone in Kavik Camp, 500 miles from her nearest city and nearly 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. When she says she lives, “at the top of the world,” she isn’t exaggerating. In the summer months, Kavik Camp is a thriving ecotourism camp offering hot showers, hot meals and comfy bunks for up to 83 hunters at a time. It is also the only air strip and fueling station in the area. Once winter arrives, Sue lives not only in constant isolation, but she also spends 8 months without running water in temperatures that reach -60 degrees, with a grizzly bear neighbor who has been stalking her for years. Sue was attached, and nearly killed by a grizzly bear six years ago, and the attack haunts her to this day. Sue understands that in Alaska, she isn’t the apex predator and she might end up in a bear’s poop.
Chip Hailstone and his native Inupiaq wife Agnes, are getting ready for winter by finding new hunting grounds for the family’s annual Moose hunt. Providing moose meat for their seven children means survival in a land of constant danger, relentless cold and perpetual darkness. The family moves seasonally to track down the best hunt, setting up tents in the snow or on the ice, and member, adult or child, plays an active role in keeping the family alive. Chip and Agnes believe in teaching their son and daughters traditional hunting, fishing, skinning, tanning, and crafting techniques to ensure that Agnes’ tribal heritage survives. The Hailstones hunt bear, caribou, bison, wolf, fox, wolverine, walrus, fish, waterfowl, and even whale and seal according to tribal customs.
For Andy and Kate Bassich and their team of 26 sled dogs, winter means getting to work. Andy and Kate live in relative luxury, in a compound they have built by hand to include a greenhouse, a wood-fueled sauna, and a luxurious home. In the short summer months, Andy and Kate work frantically to hunt, harvest, grow, and brew 80 percent of what they eat and drink — moose, black bear, caribou, wolf, salmon, mountains of vegetables, and beer. Andy’s ingenuity with mechanics and construction have earned him the nickname “The Alaskan McGuyver.”As winter approaches, Andy and Kate’s first matter of business is catching enough salmon to feed their pack of hungry dogs through the winter, as paying to have dog food flown in costs a fortune. Once the Yukon River freezes, Andy and Kate can traverse it like a frozen highway, but a single misstep could mean a deadly plunge into icy water.
Loner Erik Salitan spends his winters alone, hunting and trapping. The only meat he consumes is meat he has harvested himself. In the summer months, Erik is a professional hunter and registered guide and leads successful hunting expeditions. But this winter, Erik also stalks an elusive wolf whose pelt could allow him to purchase enough fuel and supplies to last the winter. Erik moved to Alaska at the age of 18 and while not born here, he knows that Alaska is where he will die.
Midway through season 2, primitive subsistence hunter Glenn Villeneuve returns to the Brooks Mountain range and Life Below Zero. Glenn lives alone surrounded by mountains 6000 ft. high. He lives a 60-mile walk to the nearest road — a trek he completes several times per year to visit his children. Glenn lives in a canvas tent with no running water and no heat except from the wood he chops with an axe. He has batteries for only his head torch and camera and lives completely off the land, hunting moose, caribou, porcupine, ptarmigan and sheep, and by picking berries, roots and leaves. Because of his altitude, Glenn is unable to grow his own vegetables, making winter meals very meat-heavy, and summer meals primarily fish-based due to lack of refrigeration.
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