'Vertical Hell' Pits Ego Against Wisdom on Nat Geo’s 'Ultimate Survival Alaska' Finale: Episode 10 Recap

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Nat Geo's "Ultimate Survival Alaska" concluded its 3,000-mile expedition with a torturous journey through the Juneau Icefield. After spending nearly two months conquering the Alaskan wilderness, the explorers are eager to complete the final challenge. They have 72 hours to climb 4,600 feet and reach the summit of Observation Peak or suffer the heartbreak of an incomplete mission.

"Vertical Hell" strategy

Under the guidance of expert mountain climber Willi Prittie, the explorers plot a course along a prominent ridgeline. They split into three groups and plan to reunite at an established base camp by nightfall. The simple plan falls apart when Alaska ups the ante with a blinding blizzard.

Forethought is crucial as the men navigate rising elevations and lower temperatures. Mountain man Marty Raney, his son Matt, and climber Tyler Johnson decide to wear every garment in their packs. Dog mushers Dallas and Tyrell Seavey gather drinking water with Brent Sass. Meanwhile, survivalist Austin Manelick and Willi take the lead and sagely leave cairn (trail markers) for their buddies.

As nightfall nears, it is obvious that none of the explorers will reach base camp. Thanks to the trail markers, Brent and the Seaveys manage to catch up to Willi and Austin. They bunk together in a cozy snow shelter. A few miles back, Marty's gang builds a similar snow shelter alongside a rock.

Quonset hut

The storm rages on, pushing temps below 15 degrees. Willi, Brent, Austin, and the Seaveys finally encounter the map's mysterious base camp: a cluster of three rustic buildings. Two of the buildings are padlocked, but the third is open to the public. The modest Quonset hut offers much-needed respite from the battering winds and freezing temps.

As Marty's crew struggles through the white terrain, wondering if they should press onward or retreat from the brutal storm, they spot a trail marker. They soon reach the hut and everyone celebrates. With 48 hours left, they should have plenty of time to reach the summit.

Summit fever

The treacherous storm continues, and the explorers know time is no longer on their side. They decide to brave the 45-mph winds and near-zero visibility. As the weather worsens, Austin falls behind when his crampon breaks. He calls out to the others, but no one responds. When the others realize Austin is missing, they call out and fire signal shots into the air. They eventually reunite, but the close call reminds them to remain cautious. They retreat to the hut for the night.

Only 400 feet from the summit, the men fruitlessly wait for the storm to break. They refuse to give up this close to the finish line. As they climb the steep mountainside, Marty takes a serious tumble and hits his kneecap. Surging with adrenaline, he insists on completing the climb. Everyone makes it to the summit together just as they planned.

Standing atop the mountain with their beards full of frost, the explorers relish Alaska's indescribable beauty. Thanks to teamwork, determination, and local hospitality, they survived everything from rushing rapids to hungry bears and braved this vast frontier.

Meet the survivalists:

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