Survival Sense: Part 1

Doomsday Preppers Apocalypse 101

It has been said that Alaska’s upper Yukon River valley is the harshest, most unforgiving environment on the planet.  Local humor quips that there are only two seasons here –winter and the Fourth of July. This is a land of incredible extremes.

By Brian Heaphy, a contributing author to


Dark, six-month winters known for prolonged periods of 40, 50, and even 60 degree below zero temperatures are followed by intense, fleeting summers that are punctuated by 90 degree temperatures and punishing, large-scale thunderstorms.  If you’ve never found yourself out in the open, walking into 40 mile per hour winds at 45 degrees below zero, you just don’t know what you’re missing.  Such environmental conditions call for a healthy metabolism and a “bullet-proof” wardrobe.  There simply is no “faking it” for the person who continually lives their life out in the country here.  The margin for error is scant –and the penalty for mistakes can be very costly.  A person simply has to know what they are doing in order to stay on the positive side of life’s equation from day to day.

Despite the obvious antagonism of the environment, the greatest threat to a person’s well-being here may surprise you.  Apocalypse 101Indeed, the most formidable obstacle to survival in any location comes from within –and it falls under the collective heading of “misinformed” or “faulty” metabolic conditioning.  This is to say that a person is many times more likely to fall victim to “self-defeat” than they are to lose a wrestling match with the bears or succumb to an untimely weather event –and self-defeat is certainly a very bitter pill to swallow.  As such, the balance of my writing over the next several months will focus on the proper understanding and care of your greatest ally in any survival situation –your own physiology.  To a lesser extent, I will discuss equipment, techniques, and mindsets which will tip the odds in your favor should the dark side of nature ever come to call.

By way of introduction, consider that the human body is designed for survival.  This cannot be argued against.  If it were not for such inherent inner programming, few of us would have survived the “arena” of our elementary school playgrounds.  That is to say that the “trauma” we experienced in the form of skinned knees and gashed elbows etc. would have left us to bleed out.   While this is an obvious over-simplification, it is none-the-less true.  There are countless inner-workings which are designed to “keep us swinging” –if only we will let them.  As previously mentioned, it certainly pays to enlist your body’s inner genius as your ally –and not (knowingly or otherwise) treat it with “contempt.”  If you don’t give your body what it wants, it may take it from you –and it may do so at a very inconvenient time.  Like it or not, this is where the battle of survival is most often won or lost.

My Home in Alaska

These things said, I invite you to study the following words of the late Walt Whitman: “Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons.  It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”  The implications of this statement are many –and they are very far-reaching.  A number of years ago, I adopted this premise as my own uncompromising standard –and I worked hard to make it my life’s reality.  Now, it very well describes my daily existence –and it clearly defines my relationship to the natural world.

Next time, I will begin by examining various mindsets and lifestyle choices that put modern man at odds with his inner workings –and thus significantly reduce his potential to survive in all manner of situations and circumstances.  It is inevitable that my overview may initially “irritate” some persons and earn me the discontent of others.  This is certainly not my intention.  As such, I will offer the following words by George M. Trevelyan in advance –as an antidote for any possible contention:  “The truth is a hard deer to hunt –for what man, after seeing his quarry, can turn away?”  For me, these words cut to the bone every time.   The direct implication is that, once a fresh truth registers with one’s inner person, he must choose whether or not to enlist his will and embrace potentially significant change (and inconvenience) in order to abandon his present course, and travel in a wiser direction.  The obvious alternative is that a person can knowingly disregard the truth, and then choose to continue along the way toward self-limited performance and a lesser quality of life.  Amazingly, some of us do.

All Photos By: Brian Heaphy

Editor’s Note: Former U.S. Navy SEAL Officer, Federal Officer, and Wilderness Guide, Brian Heaphy now makes his home in Alaska’s remote upper Yukon River valley.  While practicing a subsistence lifestyle, he photographs Creation & writes about “Living on purpose at the speed of life.” ™

Brian’s survival experience spans arctic, desert, jungle, and maritime environments.  His exceptionally broad base of Apocalypse 101outdoor living skills likewise affords him a very unique perspective to write from.

In addition to his writing, Brian’s striking Yukon River-scape photography has also become very popular.  He currently formats his award-winning images for sale as premium quality note cards, inspirational verse greeting cards, traditional prints, and stretched canvases (  Brian’s work may also be seen at fine art galleries, museums, and gift shops across the State of Alaska.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

BamaMan January 5, 2013 at 7:21 am

why did you take your photo in front of a mirror?


Zed January 5, 2013 at 10:09 am

Great start, looking forward to more.


KansasScout January 5, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I don't think he's in front of a mirror. I think that is a window on the front of his cabin. At the right angle and with the right light a window will look like a mirror in photography and videography.


KansasScout January 5, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Now I think after this article I may look into the state of Alaska again. There are times I wish that in this nation there was still a way for a person who's made some mistakes, could start over again like our forefathers and fore-mothers did once in times gone by.


Douglas January 5, 2013 at 3:50 pm

"Why, back in my time'", (In the summer of '85), I rode my motorcycle from San Diego, California, up to Coldfoot, Alaska, which is known to be on what is called "The Pipeline Road" to most people.
It was an adventure that was 11,300 miles round trip, which is almost four times across the length of the United States, on one trip. It took 5 1/2 weeks of living out of a tent and a sleeping bag.
It was a fun, unforgetable experience.


Sam January 5, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I should also point out that it takes a hearty person to handle living on the tundra. I still remember the lightening strike and everyone lineing up with buckets to put out the fire on the tundra so the village would be safe. Walking on ice during the winter months because it was too cold to snow. Spring not arriving until the end of May and winter coming in August/Sept. Going with only a few hours of sunlight during the winter and 24 hours of daylight during June/July can cause some people to become depressed. While my family loved it, we had to make a conscious effort to remain actively involved in the community and not contract cabin fever. It's not for everyone. We would do it again in a heartbeat!!


Sam January 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Looks like part of my comment vanished. :D I said that my family and I lived on the other end of the Yukon River when my kids were young. We were 30 miles upstream from the ocean and learned what it takes to live on the tundra. Our Yupik Eskimo village provided us amazing opportunities – learning to hunt moose, berry picking and avoiding bears at the same time, seeing animals in their natural habitats like bald eagles, moose, caribou, reindeer, geese, and thousands of migrating birds. We learned how to net fish and smoke salmon at a fish camp, how to make moose stew, and how to tell which type of geese flew overhead by their calls. My sons learned skills they will never forget and had the adventure of a lfetime!


Doug January 5, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Excellent! I look forward to future articles in this series.


Dave H January 6, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Great article and thank you for your service!


DougSter January 6, 2013 at 7:10 pm

After completing USAF Arctic Survival School in 1977 at Elmendorf AFB, I spent 12 gloriious months at Galena, AK. I worked part time at Harold's Air Service to make a few extra bucks and to counter the massive boredom. With static temps going to -65F, sometimes colder, the outdoor environment is not forgiving in the slightest. I flew to quite a few even more remote villages, and I saw a bit of death due to the weather extremes (and more death due to human ego). I mostly enjoyed my time in the Alaskan bush because I always meticulously prepared for the current weather conditions. My hat's off to Brian for thriving in that environment.


iriscutforth January 7, 2013 at 3:29 am

But, if you don't have to do it…why do it? Unless one wants COMPLETE privacy. My husband, Dennis, does NOT understand why I go camping by myself in the middle of the woods with the bears, wolves and moose and, yeah, several beavers. Prime Minister Defienbacker, removed aboriginals of Eskimo originalities from the Thunder Bay area, here in Canada, NO not to Alaska, but to the ice flows. Imagine standing over a water hole waiting for a seal to pop up all day just to share a bite with dozens of other misplaced aboriginals. Maybe living in extreme conditions, may or may not, create a sence of right and wrong with lads like Brian. If camping in such extremities be sure to tie your tent to whatever and surround it with ice blocks.


SigCorps January 10, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Alaska is a wonderful place. I have been up here for over 15 years and have never even though of moving back to the continental US. We do have freedoms up here that can be hard to find anywhere else. I have been to the upper Yukon and all over this state and if you are unprepared this place will kill you. We have had several instances of folks who thought they new what they were doing (I think Shawn Penn made a movie about one), and ended up dead. I think we welcom all who want to come up here, just be sure you know what you are getting into. I am not saying that anyone in this crowd would fall into the under-prepared group, but just wanted to toss out that warning. -50 degrees is no joke and I personally have seen temps lower than -75. I would not want to live anywhere else.


jyo February 10, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Alaska is a MUCH tougher place to survive than most people think—if you are from the lower 48, and only know Alaska from TV shows, you have no idea how difficult it is to "Live off the land." Everything, as in EVERYTHING you need you must bring with you or hunt or catch or provide. The weather can kill you, the wildlife can kill you, you own brain can kill you! I've been to Alaska, I've hunted Alaska, I've seen it's interior, and have been awed by it's beauty—but, personally, I am too soft to live there! That said, I will go there again.


Ryan H September 24, 2013 at 6:34 pm

I have no doubt that, given your extensive experience, you are more than capable of handling yourself in multiple SHTF situations and guiding us lesser folk toward full self sustainability if we were watching your movements and techniques but I would comment that your use of quotations and hyphenated words makes understanding your writing almost unintelligible. Most of what you describe is great information but almost all of your quotations and al of your hyphenated words are actual grammatical errors and it makes it unbelievably tough to read in between the "lines." I did what I could to try and understand your point of views but I couldn't get through such horrific grammar to ever take advice from you.


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