The Realities of Survival in Alaska

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What would you do if your homeland were invaded by a foreign army? How would you survive the onslaught of both the ensuing war and the facts of nature? This is a question that people all over the world have had to answer on a regular basis. Whether you’re talking the coastal people of Britain facing Viking raiders, the Spanish resisting the Moorish conquerors, Aztecs falling to the Spanish, Native Americans standing against European settlers or the massive populations of Europe being overrun by the French, the British, the Germans, then the Russians practically back-to-back.

Fast forward to now.

Survival in these scenarios seems like little more than stories of faraway lands or ancient history to most North Americans because it has been more than a hundred years since the last time it happened to folks here. There is no living memory of such invasions of North American soil, and therefore no real understanding of the fear and desperation such an event would cause.

I have lived in Alaska for most of my life. No matter where you go, even in the most modern of cities, you are never more than ten miles from remote wilderness. It is a truly beautiful place. As a friend of mine if fond of saying, “We live in a picture postcard.”

Many of us reading this site try to prepare for any eventuality, be it war, economic collapse, or any other form of TEOTWAWKI. We store food and supplies. We have bug-out bags and weapons ready at a moment’s notice. Our pantries are full. Our maps are memorized. Our path is laid out before us. But as German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke once said, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Another way to think of it is to ask yourself where are you going to be when the proverbial fecal matter is sprayed through the fan? Will you be where your supplies are? Will you be in an environment in which you can survive if you have none of your supplies available and no way to get to them? As a writer, this is a subject I’ve been looking into a lot lately as it is the theme of my next series of novels (ICE HAMMER beginning late 2014).

I’ve been through two potentially big disasters in my life. The first was an autumn flood when we lived on my grandparent’s homestead.  The second happened a few years later after I’d moved to the big city of Anchorage. In the former my family and I were home with a rather well built food storage and plenty of supplies but the whole house was threatened by rising waters that could’ve washed it all away and left us wet, cold and hungry. The latter was the Nov. 2002 7.9 mag earthquake that struck while the family and I were 40 miles from our similarly stocked new home and had nothing but the meager supplies in my wife’s mini-van. Luckily neither turned tragic for us, but some folks around the state lost a lot in both.

I’ve seen a lot of people with that postcard image in their minds look to our land as a place to run to in case the world falls apart. Worries about government collapse, war, nuclear attacks and the need to survive a post-apocalyptic-reality drive people to the Greatland thinking they can survive better up here, off the grid, away from the troubles to come. They see our lands as a frontier with limitless possibilities much like those from a century ago who came up in the gold rush and more recently the oil boom days.

Map of Alaska
Map of Alaska

Like those who intrepid adventurers though, they usually fail to see the reality … Alaska is not for wimps.

Making your way in any land requires not only knowledge of how to survive, but general knowledge of where you are trying to live. While Native Alaskans have lived off the land here for eons, they did so with the knowledge that the factors of the environment can be as much an ally or enemy as a friend or an invading army. The more extreme the land the more extreme the requirements to live there.

Here are few basic facts about Alaska that someone should know before they come up to start a prepper lifestyle in the picture perfect postcard setting you see on Discovery, TLC and NatGeo.

1 – SIZE:  Alaska is the largest state in the union. From north to south Alaska is approximately 1,400 miles long and 2,700 miles wide from west to east, it is over 586,400 square miles in size.  Alaska has the longest coastline of any state. The Alaskan coastline runs for 6,640 miles, more than all the other states’ coastlines combined. That’s not including the coastlines of all its islands. Including them, Alaska has 33,904 miles of shoreline.Most of Alaska, including the capital in Juneau, is not accessible by roads. Alaska has about 12,000 miles of public roads including all highways (there are no freeways) and smaller roads and streets both paved and unpaved. By comparison New Jersey about 1/75th the size of AK has over 39,000 miles of public roads and California 1/5th the size of AK has over 2.3 million miles of paved roads alone.At its closest point, Alaska is less than 3 miles from Russia. Yes, Sarah Palin was only slightly exaggerating … you actually can see Russia from a few places here.

2 – NATURAL FEATURES: Alaska has over 3,000,000 lakes, many with no fish. It also has more than 100 volcanoes and volcanic fields. An estimated 100,000 glaciers cover almost five percent, over 25,000 square miles of the state. There are more active glaciers in Alaska than in the rest of the inhabited world combined.

In summer the sun never fully sets making for long bright days, but in winter it only rises for a few hours a day leaving the land covered in frigid darkness most of the time.

The interior of Alaska regularly experiences dry hot summers with temperatures in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit. The interior also gets as cold as -70F in the winter and often sits at -50F for days, sometimes weeks, at a time.  South Central Alaska has milder temperatures, with winters seldom getting below zero Fahrenheit, but it gets considerably more snow, as much as twelve to fifteen feet, and plenty rain. Southeast gets very little snow, but makes up for it with almost daily rain or drizzle, about 160 inches a year.

Lots of vegetables grow very well up here, including cabbage, carrots, potatoes, squash, beets, barley, and many greens as well as wild mushrooms and fiddle head ferns. We have a few berries too, for dessert. You can make other stuff grow, but it takes some work.

3 – POPULATION: Alaska’s population is over 740,000 people with a density of 1.2 inhabitants per square mile. Well over half that population lives in the City of Anchorage and its surrounding towns. Most people are very independent minded, armed and outside of the densest parts of the cities few expect help beyond neighbors to arrive in an emergency except to clean up the mess and start an investigation.On a similar note, Alaska has the highest per capita percentage of military veterans of any state. 15% of Alaskans have served in the military, many came here with the service and stayed. There is definitely a solid base of skills if group defensive measures are necessary.Alaska is also considered an ‘End of the Road’ place for a fair number of criminals and other less desirables on the lam. Someone you think may be a friend could end up being a serial rapist hiding in the backwoods. On the other hand, a scary looking man with a scarred face who doesn’t talk much could be a retired Special Forces Medic and the only person for a hundred miles who knows how to heal an infection with natural remedies.Speaking of bad guys and natural remedies another part of our population is the mosquitoes. They are everywhere, and while they don’t carry diseases like in some warmer parts of the country, they do come in swarms sometimes so thick you can’t even talk without eating a few hundred every sentence. They are an inescapable force to be reckoned with in both Taiga and Tundra.

This isn't your mamas snow.
This isn’t your mama’s snow.

People have lived in the arctic, including Alaska, for thousands of years and some have even thrived. My aunt is an Athabaskan native of the Salchaket tribe. Her people survived centuries in the worst conditions the interior of Alaska could dish out. But that survival was not easy. They had to constantly move to where the food was. Nor was it all that exciting, as their diet consisted primarily of dried meat, dried fish, a few wild vegetables and berries and long periods of huddling inside their houses for weeks on end waiting for a deadly cold snap to break. Then, some new folks moved in and passed on smallpox and now my aunt is the last of her people.

That is the reality of being prepared in Alaska, or any other extreme climate location. Where ever you plan to survive, the true answer to making through whatever may come is not just what food and supplies you have prepped and ready in your current position. But what you can hunt and gather and what knowledge you have to survive when rescue is never coming, when you will be on your own for months, years, generations.

Something to consider before you decide to head to the great wide open freedom of the north land. Yes, we are among the freest places in North America. Yes, we have no state taxes and minimal local taxes. Yes, we allow homeschooling and food storage and pretty much any amount of ammo you want for pretty much any gun you’d like to own. But when the SHTF and you have to live in the bush with the mosquitoes by summer and the ice by winter, do you have what it takes to make it in the place we call The Greatland?

The new book series I mentioned earlier is a project that is part fiction, part quest for useable knowledge. You can learn more about ICE HAMMER here. While the stories promise thrills and adventure, more than that the books will strive to present a scenario of how an end of the world as we know it scenario would actually play out up here, in Alaska including real advice and methods that work.

 

About Basil Sands:

Working from his home in Anchorage Alaska Basil Sands is the author of several best-selling military/action thrillers set both in Alaska and other locations. Born in Alaska he has lived in Ohio, California and Maryland. He served in the US Marines in the eighties and in the Alaska State Defense Force after 9/11 where he was the NCOIC of the 492nd Coastal Scouts Detachment assigned the responsibility of patrolling sections of South-Central Alaska and Prince William Sound. For much of the nineties he worked his grandparents’ homestead where he and his family raised much of their own food. He’s been a certified Wilderness Rescue EMT and a Boy Scout leader since 1997 and for several years was the head of the IT section of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Disaster/Emergency Response Team. He moved to the big city in 2001 for a job opportunity but his heart has remained in the wilderness where he spends as much free time as possible hiking, exploring, and learning the secrets of the land. He and his family like to collect wild vegetables, herbs and berries throughout the various seasons and enjoy using all the resources the land has to offer as well as cultivating their own raised bed vegetable gardens in the middle of sub-arctic suburbia. He’s fond of saying that “fishing and hunting are not sports, they are grocery shopping”. In addition to writing he works as a Lead IT Specialist for the US Government and is an accomplished audiobook narrator. Find out more about his books and audiobooks as well as his full bio at www.basilsands.com .

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AFi
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AFi

well basil, i really liked your post. it is very informative and true about the great land. it is the truest place of survival on earth. my fiance is born and raised yukon and travleing there was the greatest beauty ive ever seen. one day we plan to move there and build our dream cabin far away from civilization.

Basil Sands
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Basil Sands

It really is a beautiful place, but the beauty hides some very powerful dangers that anyone who chooses to live up here must understand. In the cities while life is normal it’s just like any other city other than the weird daylight and darkness periods and extreme temps in winter. But if the SHTF you’ve got a whole different deal, as the environment can become an enemy. That said… I love living in Alaska, even in the bad times. This is just one beautiful state.