NORTHERN ALASKA RANGE, ALASKA
There are fewer people per mile in Alaska than almost any where on earth. Some of the emptiest land is in the northern Alaskan Range, where mountain man Marty Meierotto runs 150 miles of traplines. This is Jack London territory: no towns, no roads. Just winter with temperatures close to 60 below, and the state’s 30,000 grizzlies and 11,000 wolves. Up here, there’s no 911 if things go sideways. One mistake — a broken snowmobile, getting disoriented as night falls — can be deadly. Meierotto must be self-reliant: he’s a pilot, navigator, hunter, master mechanic. He also stays ready for trouble and lives by a simple credo: “The moment you turn your back on this place, it’ll kill you.” But the rewards are big. Out here, where there’s no one else, is where a mountain man can feel most himself.
Marty’s Wilderness Safety Tips
» Always plan on breaking down—and hope you don’t. “You’ve got to consciously think of the worst-case scenario all the time… Eventually the worst-case scenario is gonna happen.”
» Carry spare spark plugs in every jacket and pants.
Wild Moment from Last Season
Meierotto’s hairy flight into the maw of a storm on his annual trek to his winter trapline.
THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS, NORTH CAROLINA
Western North Carolina is known as the High Country. Here the Blue Ridge Mountains surge to become some of the highest on the East Coast, nearly touching 6,000 feet. This can be a Land of Beulah—there’s wild turkey and deer to shoot (Daniel Boone hunted here), and nourishing vegetables like kale grow all winter long. It’s hard living, though, if you’re a mountain man who forgoes most modern ways. Winter brings snow and cold, and come summer the pretty hardwoods of Appalachia harbor ticks, timber rattlesnakes, and southern copperhead snakes. You’ve got to work nonstop — tilling soil, planting, fixing something — for these mountains to yield life. No wonder the always hustling Eustace Conway has to eat 5,000 calories a day—a Tour de France–worthy intake—just to keep his weight up. Conway says: “What do I do for a living? I live for a living.”
Eustace’s Tips for Living—and Thriving
» In the mountains, if you’re not always doing something, you’re doing something wrong.
» A chainsaw is your best friend. Treat it nice.
» Daylight is precious out here. Use all of it.
Intruder Alert from Last Season
Conway battled intruders in the henhouse and in the wilds which threatened both his food supply and the peace of his 1,000 acres, Turtle Island.
YAAK VALLEY, MONTANA
In Montana’s far northwestern corner lies the lonesome Yaak Valley. It’s beautiful country that’s still home to far more moose, grizzly bears, and towering old-growth tamarack than humans. Don’t let its pretty face lull you: the Yaak isn’t for the soft. The nearest supermarket is 100 miles away. The blue-cold winter that pours down from Canada can last seven months. Summer’s main activity? Chopping wood for next winter. Here, a mountain man better be good with a rifle to lay in enough meat for those long winters and to keep at bay marauding grizzlies with paws the size of garden rakes. This is where Tom Oar and his wife wrestle a living from the land, practicing the lost skills of making buckskin and antler items from the animals Oar hunts. He continues the legacy of more than 3,000 mountain men who once roamed Montana’s high country.
Tom’s Hunting Guide for Wild Montana
» Up here, it’s out of the door and into the food chain. Forget that at your peril.
» Rattling two old antlers together can lure a buck to your hunting spot.
» Be a crack shot. “If you gotta buy meat in the store, it’s the beginning of the end” for a self-sufficient mountain man, Oar says.
Desperate Measures from Last Season
The worst fire season in living memory threatened to engulf Oar’s log home, then a grizzly ravaged his garden, forcing the rodeo-hobbled Oar to embark on a last-ditch deer hunt to lay in more food for winter.