Alaska seems to have taken over for New Jersey as the state with the most new reality TV series being filmed there. Sportsman Channel adds another show to the mix with its docuseries Dropped: Project Alaska, which airs Tuesdays at 9pm ET/PT.
The Keefer brothers, Chris, 32, and Casey, 28, hosts of the network’s Back Country Quest TV, were dropped on a river in a remote part of Alaska in September, where, during a month, they crossed over 110 river miles living solely off the land. They began their adventure with no provisions, where their 100 pounds of gear was primarily for catching, trapping or killing their food and then preparing it.
“We were given the task — you have 28 days in Alaska, no provisions. One hundred miles and here’s your tags. Good luck. So that was kind of it,” Chris says. “We set out a goal to make it to the end, and be successful with the game animals we wanted to take and survive, really, in what we’re doing. This show isn’t a survival-based show in the fact that we were using flint, we had the equipment we needed — it was basically what we caught or fished or hunted were our meals and our direction. What we did and where we went, never being there before, that was basically our survival. Where do you go? How do you cover that ground having never been there before? And when you are thrown into a situation, how can you adapt and make it out? So that was our goal.”
While shooting the next season of his series Back Country Quest TV, Chris took some time to talk about his experiences in Alaska and the challenges the new show presented.
When you were dropped, what was your first priority and did you have it all planned out?
Chris Keefer: We did. The first priority was to set camp. Second priority was get food and the third priority was to spot game. It was just like that. That plane flew away and you realize just how tiny you really are in such a vast, vast area. You can see for miles and miles and miles. We gathered wood, found shelter, got a fire going, put our tent up in a good area. I went and started collecting berries. Casey went to the river right away and snagged some fish so we were good to go. We spent about five days in each camp.
Your gear was limited to 100 pounds, so what was essential?
The No. 1 things were… The tent. We had an Arctic Oven — it was made by Alaska Tent & Tarp. It saved our life. It saved our life more than once. Just because of the rain, and the way the tent was built. Just the ability to pop that tent when we needed to and keep us out of the rain, because it did rain just about every day at least once. When we ended up taking one of the animals, we had a four-mile hike back to camp in the pouring rain, and when we got back at 11 o’clock at night it was dark, it’s drenched and there’s nothing better than being able to shed your gear and get in that tent. Alaska Tent & Tarp actually makes a packable 8-pound sheet metal wood stove and we had that with us and so to be able to get a fire and heat — that was huge. The other thing would be the rafts, the rafts that carry the weight of our gear. It wasn’t just our hunting gear, it was the weight of our production gear, all the stuff the camera guys have. It was incredible to see those rafts drift through 3 or 4 feet of water with a thousand pounds of stuff on it. The tent and the rafts were a major part. The optics was another one. Nikon optics. Having the right optics to spot game and determine where we were going to be at, we were using the EDG series. It just can’t fail you. If you don’t spot the game — you can’t see — you don’t know where you are going, so to have the spotting scope from the camp and sit and be able to glass was incredible. All of the equipment we took was very essential and there was a reason we took it. There were some live-or-die [essentials] and that would be those ones.
You didn’t bring any food along, so how did you survive?
It was basically on us. We lived off of grayling and blueberries. It was blueberry season when we got dropped off, so the first four days we were in there was nothing but berry collection and then we had fly rods with us, so we caught grayling and did the fish thing for the first three or four days. And of course, you’re still running on calories and energy from being dropped off. Then it started to get, “Wow, I’m starting to get hungry.” Fish is good but it can only provide so much meat, and the berries are more of a breakfast thing or snack throughout the day. Now, we did bring coffee. We sat and we would just drink coffee that would kind of trick us and keep us going. After the first four or five days, we got an animal; we got a caribou down and we lived off that for 14 days. We kept the meat the way it needed to be kept and we ate every stitch of meat off of it. The first night we had a really good meal and then we rationed it from that point forward because you don’t know if you’re going to get something else. Having 20-some days left, you ration it into bite-size pieces — a couple for everybody and you’re good. After day 14 we ran out and we did not have any food; I believe we went 36 hours without anything — just back to grayling and foraging for stuff. We got into moose and once we got the moose down, life was good.
Were you also responsible for feeding the camera crew?
Yes. [The camera crew consisted of a producer and just one cameraman.] They finished off their snacks and then they were on our regimen and stayed with it. Casey, [producer] Jason and myself all lost over 25 pounds. I believe [our cameraman] Trent lost 15. We lost quite a bit of weight — it was rigorous rowing, trapping, hiking and, on top of that, straight protein, just eating meat. We were very hydrated with water — it was just pristine water conditions with the glacier runoff.
Was there any point where you were actually scared?
No, I wouldn’t say scared. I was concerned, but not scared. We were drifting through the middle of Alaska, and when people think Alaska they think a plethora of wildlife and game and it’s so pristine, which it is, but we went through the middle of Alaska for 14 days without seeing a killable animal. It starts to wear on everybody. We took what was dealt to us and adjusted.
What surprised you most as being the most challenging?
I think the most surprising is no matter the amount of research you do, the hardest thing to deal with is you don’t know what’s around the next bend. You think you have a great campsite but right up there might be a great site so “Let’s go another mile.” That ends up being four, and then you get stuck in rapids and it takes you another three. Next thing you know you’re eight miles, nine miles and you don’t know. And then you pull off and go, “OK did I just miss 10 miles of great land?” There’s no going back, no rowing upstream, so it’s just — what’s around the next bend is the biggest surprise. That was the hardest thing to deal with.
Hindsight is always wonderful, so what — if anything — would you change if you could?
If anything, I honestly wouldn’t have rushed the beginning part. We didn’t take a caribou in the beginning because moose season opened up and we were in caribou country. But again it goes back to not knowing. We drift down a couple of miles, we’ll be in both moose and caribou country and by the time we could find a spot to camp, we were out of caribou country and so I would have slowed down. Looking forward to a next Dropped project.