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DROPPED: ALASKA

Erin Crowell - October 10th, 2011  

They survived 28 days in the ANWR Brooks Range

Chris Keefer, Casey Keefer Jason Brow, and Trent Skiba were dropped in the Alaskan wilderness for 28 days. Photos courtesy of Jason Brown and Trent Skiba.

By four o’clock on day 18, the rain had broken when the team heard the faint return call of a bull – then, from across the river, they spotted him.

“It was a mad scramble,” Skiba said. “Chris ran to the tent and got the rifle. Me and the other cameraman, Jason, sprinted for the cameras and Casey kept calling the moose until he was just a hundred yards away.”

It was day 18 in the Alaskan wilderness and Trent Skiba was hungry. With only small rations of trail mix, granola bars and wild blueberries to tide over the Gaylord native and his group, all four men sat at their campsite—the second day since finishing the caribou, shot weeks before—and waited in the rain for hours, breaking sticks and calling for a moose to come wandering close enough to kill.

Although the outdoorsmen came to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, located in northeastern Alaska, under-stocked – it was all part of the plan.

For 28 days, the Michigan men were left in the middle of the ANWR Brooks Range, one of the most remote places in the world, to hunt and forage for food. The purpose: to document survival for their television show “Dropped, Alaska,” set to air sometime in February 2012 on the Sportsman Channel.

SCHOOLED IN THE OUTDOORS

Skiba, a 2006 graduate of Gaylord St.

Mary’s, works as a field producer and camera operator for Rusted Rooster Media (producer for “Dropped”). He connected with the show after working for its hosts, Casey and Chris Keefer of Lowell who owned and operated a whitetail deer enclosure.

“They approached me one day and asked if I wanted to operate the camera for their new TV show. I quickly learned all the tricks and I’m doing exactly what I want to do,” said the 23-year-old Skiba, who left a year and a half into his outdoor recreation studies at Central Michigan University, to work full-time with the brothers (the two played hockey for Ferris State University and now co-host the Sportsman Channel’s show, “Back Country Quest”).

While he started out as a rookie with the camera, Skiba has been a hunter his whole life, spending time in the outdoors with his father and older brother.

“I’ve been hunting since I was four years old,” he said. “My earliest memory is walking with my dad to his tree-stand in waist-deep snow, which was behind the house. I went to hunting camp when I was eight or nine; and I’ve never missed an opening day.”

Like most Northern Michigan kids, Skiba missed many school days for hunting.

Since joining the RRM team, he has traveled across the continent, filming hunting trips and gear demo tests with a group of guys who use practical skills and a touch of humor.

“The last five years, we’ve been to places like Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska hunting whitetail. We’ve done some out west hunts for elk. I’m actually leaving for Alberta on Saturday.”

For its “Dropped” show, the team looked for such qualities as remoteness, wildlife and overall toughness of a wilderness. The ANWR was an obvious choice.

“We looked at the roughest mountain range in Alaska,” said Skiba. “It’s the toughest, roughest, gnarliest land.”

AWAY FROM IT ALL

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge— home to unnamed mountain peaks of the Brooks Range and a hotly-debated oildrilling issue—is the largest refuge in the U.S.

Its 19 million acres are home to animals such as elk, moose, fox, bear and millions of birds (representing over 50 species) which use the ANWR to nest and breed during the summer before migrating to six continents and every U.S. state.

Because of the region’s remoteness, Skiba and the team spent eight months researching and prepping for the trip.

Trent Skiba of Gaylord had zero experience behind the lens when he joined Rusted Rooster Media. Today, he works as the company’s field producer and camera operator.

“We looked through so many maps, did a ton of online research, talked to the Department of Fish and Game, biologists…it was a lot of research,” he recalled. “We also needed permits to hunt, permits to fish, camp and for backcountry camping.”

On Sept 1, a bush plane landed on a remote gravel strip on the northern side of the Brooks Range, leaving the team with a set of whitewater rafts, packed with over 3,000 pounds of equipment and occupant weight, a satellite phone, GPS and enough gear to fish and hunt their way through the planned 110-miles of Alaskan wilderness.

The team spent their first five days in caribou country, enjoying just one day of full sun before the trip turned into back-to-back days of 35-degree snow and rain mix (tumbling to 20 degrees at night). They found refuge in their minus 30 degree-rated Mountain Hardware sleeping bags and Alaskan Tent Company encampments, complete with small wood stoves.

“As we moved, the snowline just kept coming down the mountain more and more,” Skiba laughed.

CARIBOU FOR DINNER...

On the third day, they brought down a caribou – their first major food source. Then, they packed up and headed downriver into moose country to catch the peak of the rut season, when bulls would be calling for cows.

“We stopped at a couple spots and climbed up on rock shelves looking for moose,” said Skiba. “We had spotted some up high, but they were too big to chase after. They’re the largest breed of moose at around 1,500 pounds.”

Just two weeks after their first kill, four men had gone through an entire caribou. They sat hungry for two days.

“We were basically on a 1,500 calorie per day diet, and there were two days where we hardly ate anything at all,” Skiba recalled. “Just from the physical exertion, it got to the point where we could barely unpack and set up camp.”

Their families heard from the group every three or four days, but conversations were limited to 30 seconds, thanks to the battery life of the satellite phone. Skiba’s girlfriend, Alley (a hunter, herself), was growing concerned.

“Trent’s voice seemed more tired and weak and this was hard to hear,” she recalled. “One phone call I’ll never forget is when he told me he was eating his last meal and was still so hungry. This was heartbreaking.”

FROM HUNGER TO BOUNTY By four o’clock on day 18, the rain had broken when the team heard the faint return call of a bull – then, from across the river, they spotted him.

“It was a mad scramble,” Skiba said.

“Chris ran to the tent and got the rifle. Me and the other cameraman, Jason, sprinted for the cameras and Casey kept calling the moose until he was just a hundred yards away.”

The 38-point bull fell and the team erupted in whoops and hollars until, just minutes later, they heard the grunt of a second moose.

“We couldn’t believe it. We looked and another moose was standing over the first one. Casey shot it with a Strother bow and it died in the river.”

The team jumped in their rafts and tracked the animal about a half mile down-river where they spent two hours in freezing, knee-deep water caping, skinning and quartering the second moose.

The trip had turned from scraps of rations to a bounty of fresh meat. They stored the surplus in a pile of downed trees and stacked willows topped with a tarp to keep it dry and cool.

The team had enough meat—and more—to last them the duration of the trip; and because of Alaskan gaming laws, they were required to take every edible part of the animal.

Skiba and the team arrived safely back at home on Sept. 29 to many relieved family and friends, although some never doubted the capability of the small group of men.

“I never once was worried about him and I knew that if anyone would survive in the wild, it was him,” said Trent’s older brother, Kyle of Lake Ann, who raises whitetail deer in an effort to produce large, high-quality whitetail bucks. “Trent has taught me a lot of what I know about the outdoors and about hunting.”

Rusted Rooster Media will debut their Alaskan wilderness adventure, “Dropped, Alaska,” sometime next February on the Sportsman Channel, available on demand (check with your local cable or satellite provider).

 
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