Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Alaska Experiment - Discovery Channel - Review

The Alaska Experiment is wrapping up it's short season this coming week with an hour re-visit with all of the volunteers that were involved in the experiment. The Experiment itself was to take 4 groups of people and put them into 4 different situations in Alaska and provide them with some of the necessities and see if they can survive for 3 months.

The timing of the experiment was right at the end of the Salmon run and giving the participants about a good solid month of real winter to deal with. So the key was to stock up on food, firewood and all provisions early as possible as you don't know when the weather will turn on you. Water for some was tought to come by because all the sources froze up and it takes a long time and effort to melt ice and snow for water. They each had a canning system and needed to try to put away as much food as possible. It worked for some and not others. Two of the groups were taken on Moose hunts and Two were taken on Mountain Goat Hunts. So they were given opportunities to get other some meat. The Goat groups both took one home and for the Moose, no such luck. I lived in New Hampshire and tried like hell to find a Moose, they really like to stay in tough locations and are really elusive. I'm not suprised that no Moose were taken down by the volunteers. They did try hard.

The four locations and volunteers were as follows:

Icy Bay, Camp Riou Point(description taken from Sediment-laden water from the mainland surrounding Icy Bay has built the thick, soggy sands of Riou Point's beaches. The sand is littered with hundreds of uprooted trees and driftwood, ideal for firewood or making furniture. A freshwater stream, which can provide water year-round, is about a half-mile down the beach.

An old fish shack located near the mouth of the bay will be home to the Wise family. The shack is near a pristine beach that will take the brunt of the vicious Icy Bay storms.

The volunteers are from Kansas City, KS(Near The OP where I Live), Dennis Wise is a retired GM worker, who spends some of his spare time hanging out at the Bass Pro shop in Olathe, KS(pronounced O-Lay-Tha) doing canoe and kayak demonstrations and loves to fish. Where else would you want to hang out except maybe at Cabela's :-)

Along with Dennis are his two daughters, Jennifer, 21 and her sister Carolyn, 23, a student at Witchata State University. Both certainly had their issues to work out with each other and with their father. They really seemed to come to gether by the end.They were certainly a fun group to watch, because at the start Dad was giving all the direction and pissing off the kids. By the end they worked together and got things done. I'm sure the editing process had a lot to do with our preception of the family, but I certainly was glad to see them all come along and help get things done.

I don't know if the cameras were just potraying the kids to be a pain in the ass at the start, but between eating all the food at the start wasn't really smart. But maybe they just have been spoiled, who knows. But 3 months will change them.

They unfortunately didn't get the Moose on the hunt, but they did catch a great supply of Salmon and canned it right so even if it drove them crazy, they had the food to survive.

I think it really helped to have the knowledge Dennis did of basic carpenter tasks and of course indoor plumbing. My vote is that if it were only the sisters out in the wilderness they would have been in trouble long ago - like wilking into the cabin. But with Dennis along, they put it together and did a great job.

I really hope that they will be doing some sort of speaking engagement in Kansas, maybe at Pro Bass Shop, Cabela's or Backwoods. It would be interesting to hear their perspective on things and not just what we saw edited on TV.

Camp Back Bay(description taken from At the back of Icy Bay sits what's known as a "wall tent," a classic shelter used for decades in the Alaskan wilderness. This sturdy, 200-square-foot tent is built on a wooden platform and outfitted with a wood-burning stove to battle Icy Bay's cold, wet conditions. Jeff Frederick and Elizabeth Widmeyer will live in this wall tent.

Volunteers were Jeff Fredrick, 35 from around NYC and Elizabeth Widmeyer, 23 also from the NYC area.

Jeff is a former mountain rescue volunteer and works as a hydrologist and does environmental consulting in the New York City area.

Elizabeth is a waste water engineer and loves to be outdoors. She spent 75 days hiking, camping, fishing and surviving in the Austrailian Outback. Quite an adventurer I would say.

Jeff and Elizabeth have been dating for a short period of time and this certainly may not be the best way to test your future. Then again, it may be the best way to test whether you can stand to be with each other for a long period of time with out others around. It's like moving to a new city where you know no one at all - actually it's not, but that can be challenging as well and I've done that.

So these two go the raw end of the deal, a tent. No cabin for comfort or protection against the creatures of the night. A big old tent. I personally would have told the producers they were nuts. Things didn't go so well for these two. No luck hunting Moose, they only caught a few fish and half the fish they caught was lost in the canning process. To top things off, Jeff's father, who had been ill, took a turn for the worst.

These two had it the hardest of all the groups I would say. They had a lot going on coming into this and you could see a lot of tension build because it seemed like Jeff was really outspoken and tried to basically run things. There were times where I think Elizabeth should have spoke up or stuck a foot up Jeff's ass. Still after all they went through, it seems as though they came together in the end. Seeing the reunion show will tell if the test helped or hurt.

Location: Upper Chitina River Valley, Camp Flower Lake(taken from Roughly two miles from the river in a densely forested area lies Flower Lake. A log cabin overlooks the pristine lake and will be home to Tim, Allan and Jasmine. This area is a favorite hangout of a herd of wild buffalo as well as grizzly bears, moose and wolves.

Tim Wagner, 36, is a computer engineer at HP in Los Angeles, he is staying with two other friends at Flower Lake. Allen Aujero, 40, former computer engineer, living in New Jersey, work as an independent consultant. Jasmine Kung, 26 of San Diego, is a real estate broker, which taking the time off that she did, she would have lost any money in the horrible San Diego market. That I can tell you from experience of finally selling a home in Costal Oceanside after nine months of hell. Maybe I needed Jasmine selling my house.

These three really had a test of personalities. Tim was so laid back, but still had strong opinions of things, where Allen was outspoken, hyper and seemed to think he had the answer to many things. At least that's my take from seeing the segments aired. Jasmine, kind of went with the flow, but seemed to pull her own weight as well in getting things done. She dressed the kill. collected wood, organized and carried as large of a pack it seemed.

These guys were challenged from the start because the personalities. They went out and cut wood, but didn't always cut right and broke their handle on the big saw. Overall they did pretty well getting set up. They are dropped off 10 miles out with a compass and need to find the cabin. From there they are on their way.

Each group has a load of food and equiptment at the cabins. Non of it has protein, but will be needed to sustain. Rice, beans and all that crap will be waiting them.

These guys went through some crazy times on this adventure. They went out and got fish and Tim took down a Mountain Goat. So the food esentials went well for them.

For what ever crazy reason these guys got a bug up their ass and decided to hike up the glacier to visit the last group we will talk about in a minute. They planned on a 3-4 day adventure and showed up about 8 days later. Not the best planning and navagation for these guys. They ended up staying the rest of the trip and leaving the rest of their stuff back at the lake cabin. To me these guys were a little too dangerous to be left out in the woods. Still in the end they made it and all was well.

Camp Hawkins Glacier(taken from Three thousand feet above the river valley is a trapper's cabin built in the 1950s near Hawkins Glacier; this will be home to Bernice and Greg Pierson. This area is full of rocky terrain, breathtaking views and unique landscapes. The proximity of the glacier will allow Greg and Bernice to use it as a freezer as well as a freshwater source.

Bernice Pierson, 34, works as a personal clothier, but is also an adventure racer. Greg Pierson, 36, is a self-employed concrete mason.

Greg & Bernice have been married for 12 years and live in Huntington Breach, CA, just up the way from my old stomping grounds. Coming from that climate and elevation, they really will be challenged in the process.

Up on the Glacier they are living in a 200 Square Foot cabin, which certainly can be a little closed in. Greg seemed to have issues from the start. On the way up he was hurting and having trouble. It took him 2 days to get a Goat, but he did get one. He was probably a good 30-40 pounds overweight and out of shape on top of not having aclimated to the higher elevation.

Having been married for 12 years, there isn't much to worry about the challenges of living together in closed quarters. But it will take a toll on both of them over the 3 month period. There was one point where cabin fever was really setting in. Greg talked once about seeing some lady at the foot of the bed and then she walked over to the stove. I think I would have headed for the hills at that point. I thought seeing talking monkies when I lost about 4 pints of blood and loads of drugs in me was a trip, seeing things without any of that would put me over the edge.

These guys got a goat and it did make Bernice sick and put her down for a couple days, but she did recover. They did well working together and and really held tight even with all the time in the cabin. The last month was certainly the toughest. The water was frozen and they had to work hard to get water.

They had a bit of a suprise when the Flower Lake 3 showed up at their door. Now they had 3 more people living in their 200 square feet. I personally would have sent the 3 of them back to Flower Lake, but they were kind souls and let them stay right to the end. The rationed food and did what they had to.

Greg and Bernice win the good soul award. I couldn't have done it, especially not with 5 in that little cabin. All in all it was a tough hike out for the crew, but they made it to the drop and headed home to the comforts of toilets and beds and all that good stuff.

I plan to watch the reunion show this week coming up to see how it all went for them and if they had any more insight to things we didn't see on camera and just how amazing it was. Could I do it? I would say yes, but I would want to do a little training before heading out. I might out to Colorado and hike Longs Peak and a couple others. Get my altitude time in as well as work on the survival skills if needed. I have hike mountains in California and they have kicked my ass, but I never gave up once. So for me I would love to be challenged to live in any of those conditions for 3 months and see how it pans out for me. Plus I could do with some more Mountain Hardware gear. I live for their stuff, jackets, gloves, hats, pants, tents and all. Check out their stuff at you can find it at all good retail shops like REI, Adventure 16 and Backwoods.

The show only has a wrap up next week, but check out all the good stuff on the website there are journals and backgrounds on the people. I'm sure they will run the series again on a marathon as well as put it out on DVD at some point like they have will Deadliest Catch, Man vs Wild & Everest:Beyond the Limits.

Great stuff check it out if you can, it's well worth the watch. I'm going to do a little research and see if Dennis Wise might be doing any slideshows or talks in Kansas City at any of the local outdoor gear shops, maybe even the one he teaches at Pro Bass Shop. Keeping my fingers crossed and maybe someday I'll get up their myself.

The people during this taping were obviously protected and had some back up in case things went wrong. I would encourage you all to read some of the great books out there on Alaska and what can happen. One book I've always found interesting was Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. The book is great and if you read it, it will make the movie that much better to see. You get a better sense of how Chris lived and the mistakes he made.

Were the volunteers really ever in trouble? Well producer Brian Catalina gives us a little insight on that. "All the volunteers and crew were given homing beacons called EPIRBS so that if they got lost in a whiteout or got disoriented — easy in Alaska — we could find them. The wilderness experts also had high-caliber hunting rifles as emergency protection against predators like bears or wolves. When the volunteers trekked far from their shelters, the experts accompanied at a distance to protect them and the crew. Bear attacks were our biggest worry and a justifiable one, especially in places like Icy Bay, which has one of the largest concentrations of brown bears in Alaska."

Check out the website for sure, lots of great stuff to see and read.


James said...

Dave, nice job on the recap from season one!

If you're in NH you have plenty of training grounds available to you in the White Mountains (minus the elevation). Good luck getting on for season two.

One other thing: have you heard of any of the volunteers doing speaking engagements?


Dave P. said...

Thanks! I enjoyed watching it, the amount of work they had to do each to sustain themselves is quite a lot.

I wish I could get on for season 2, but my wife is due with our 2nd in September, so maybe next year if it happens again.

Dennis Wise actually sent me an email and he continues to work out at Pro Bass Shop in Olathe,KS about 7 miles from my house. I plan to stop out when he has a canoe/kayak class. I read his email about a week too late to stop at his last one in June.

I used to live in NH - North Hampton on the coast. I would go to the White Mountains and hike all the time - such an amazing place. I would love to move back to that area one of these days.

Dave P.

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Bernice Pierson said...

A friend sent me your blog. Nice write up. Brought back memories. :)
Bernice--Hawkins Glacier