The men strategize and fall into three groups based on their bearings. Professional mountain guide Willi Prittie, dogsledder Brent Sass, and climber Tyler Johnson want to take the high road: a path that traverses peaks more than 4,000 feet high. Mountain man Marty Raney and his survivalist son Matt join survival expert Austin Manelick in forging a direct path through the river valley. This seemingly simple route leads them to frigid water and dangerous swamps. Dogsledding brothers Dallas and Tyrell Seavey use their racing mentality to choose an efficient path, but the barren ridgeline leaves them exposed to the elements.
Cold weather and heavy exertion mean the survivalists are burning far more calories than the average person. Their meager rations offer only 1,000 calories per day, leaving everyone desperate to find additional food. Tyler and his group ingeniously use metal bits, limbs, and caribou fur to fashion fishing poles. They catch eight ounces of grayling, boosting their protein intake. Rainy, open terrain makes it impossible for Dallas and Tyrell to light a fire; they dine on uncooked, instant rice and dehydrated beans. Meanwhile, Austin gains another two grams of protein by popping a dime-sized frog into his mouth.
The finish line
Tension grows when Marty takes a break to pan for gold, but the motley crew is still the first to reach the extraction point. Although fog hinders Dallas and Tyrell's visibility, the disoriented duo manage to reach the plane with time to spare. As the deadline approaches, Willi's group decides to cross the near-freezing waters of the Alatna River. They complete the journey in time to see a rainbow appear over the lake.
Treacherous terrain, dangerous predators, and harsh weather create plenty of action and suspense, but "Ultimate Survival Alaska" also captures the region's natural marvels. The sheer excitement of the veteran explorers makes it clear that this is the adventure of a lifetime. But will their jubilation sustain them as they continue the rigorous expedition?
"Ultimate Survival Alaska" airs Sundays at 9 PM on National Geographic.