The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness
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In the bestselling tradition of Into the Wild and The Last American Man, an intimate portrait of how one man and his family thrive in the most remote of American landscapes: Alaska's Arctic wilderness.
Hundreds of hardy people have tried to carve a living in the Alaskan bush, but few have succeeded as consistently as Heimo Korth. Originally from Wisconsin, Korth came to Alaska in his twenties, and he never left. Across the years, he's carved out a subsistence life like no other--a life bounded by the migrating caribou herds, by the dangers of suddenly swollen rivers, and by the very exigencies of daily survival.
Journalist James Campbell has spent two years documenting the lives of Heimo, his wife, Edna, and their teenage daughters, Rhonda and Krin, and he paints their portraits in vivid detail: evenings listening to the distant voices from the radio's Trapline Chatter show; months spent waiting for the odd small plane to bring supplies; years relying on hard-learned hunting and survival skills that are all that stand between the family and a terrible fate. But it's a complicated existence, too, of encroaching environmental pressures and the fear that this life might be disappearing forever--and how will his two teenage daughters react when one of them goes back to "civilization" for her high school years?
But always at the center there's Heimo Korth, a man who escaped a tough father and a circumscribed life, then reinvented himself in the Alaskan wilderness, only to witness the most unbearable of tragedies, a tragedy that keeps him and his family tied to this inhospitable and beautiful land forever.
By turns inspiring and downright jolting, James Campbell's extraordinary book reads like a rustic version of the American Dream--and reveals for the very first time a life undreamed of by most of us, outside of the mainstream, alone in a stunning wilderness that for now, at least, remains the final frontier.
never-ending work. I admire Heimo, but there is no way I could have stayed engaged in that lifestyle for as long as he has.” If anybody knows what it takes to make it in the bush, it’s Steve Ulvi. He and his wife, Lynette Roberts, and their two children lived on the Yukon from 1974 until 1984, honing their version of the simple life, and then they began a slow transition into Fairbanks, where they moved in 1991. After living on the river for a decade, it took Steve years to acclimate to the idea
the Fort Yukon-to-Fairbanks run to check on Heimo. When his flight from Fort Yukon to Fairbanks was empty, the pilot made good on his promise. Using a map that Jon Peterson had given him, the pilot flew over the cabin. Heimo was carrying an armful of boughs when he spotted the plane. He dropped the boughs and “started to go crazy,” jumping up and down and trying to remember the land-to-air signals that were described on the back of his hunting license. When the pilot didn’t acknowledge, Heimo ran
in the middle of the Bering Sea, 120 miles off the west coast of Alaska, forty miles from Siberia’s Chukchi Peninsula. Heimo then introduces me to his youngest daughter, Krin, who sits in the corner of the cabin, watching me intently. When I approach she looks down at a notebook and begins scribbling. “What kind of greeting is that?” Heimo asks her. Krin stands and shakes my hand and smiles shyly. She has almond-shaped eyes, Heimo’s angular nose, and Edna’s lovely cheekbones and complexion.
It was a caribou, a bull leading five other bulls and a small herd of cows. The Korths needed meat, and the prospects of getting a moose were getting slimmer every day, so Heimo snapped off four shots and dropped three of the bulls. He and Rhonda cut them up and then they walked back to get the canoe. They loaded the meat and paddled to the river. When they reached the river and got out of the canoe, Heimo was grateful that they were only two miles from the cabin. Three caribou made for a heavy
granddaughters and insisted on staying behind to watch Coleen and Millie. It was a dry summer all over the Interior, and lightning had sparked a number of fires nearby. Fairbanks skies hung heavy with smoke. The Bureau of Land Management was using World War II bombers to spread retardant. When Irene saw the bombers fly overhead, she panicked. With Coleen in her arms, and holding Millie by the hand, she fled the cabin and ran down to the main road. She was wandering along the road, as cars sped by