The general opinion people have of reality TV is admittedly not great. Starting from series showcasing over dramatic situations to others accused of staging and scripting scenes, it’s obvious that audiences more or less distrust many aspects related to the reality genre.
However, all of the aforementioned doesn’t apply to Discovery’s “The Last Alaskans”, a show not only praised for being a great example of what well-thought camera takes and natural scenarios should look like on TV, but for focusing on the simplicity and reality of the lifestyle of those living in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Knowing that what makes the series so enjoyable is how real it is, you shouldn’t be surprised that a large part of the audience came to care about the cast members and their families. It’s also especially fascinating in the case of Heimo and Edna Korth, a couple with a heart-breaking but interesting life journey, who have lived in the Refuge for decades.
Are you ready to know more about these memorable people? If so, take a seat as we lead you through the life story of Heimo and Edna Korth.
Who Are They?
Choosing to live out of the norm, in a remote, isolated place is not something easy to understand, especially if you have spent your entire life in a city or densely populated town. Though don’t forget that surviving out of trapping and hunting, while also enduring harsh weather conditions in a cabin, miles away from any civilization is a lifestyle Heimo and Edna Korth chose of their own accord, with the goal of finding a place that they could call home.
If you have watched “The Last Alaskans” at least once, you surely know that Heimo and Edna are not the only ones living in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but they’re the ones who live the farthest, most remote location from away urbanisation, and stay there for the longest time during the year.
So as enthralling as the life stationed there sounds for any adventurer or curiosity-fueled person, it’s hard to forget the dangers and difficulties which Edna and Heimo live through. Besides, there’s always a question that comes to people’s minds when it comes to the Korths, and that is why and how they ended up living that way.
How Did Everything Start?
As expected, not everything about the Korths is as well documented as we would like. There are unfortunately big chunks of information that neither journals, documentaries or TV shows seem too eager to talk about.
Although the task of knowing the entirety of the Korths’ story is admittedly difficult, at least we know the most essential things about how and where they came to be. It started with a very young Heimo, who lived in the then-very small town of Appleton, in Wisconsin.
— RobinKOMO4 (@RobinKOMO4) April 9, 2016
As he affirmed to Alaska Sporting Journal in 2015, his family was never interested in outdoors activities – regardless of the fact that his father grew up on a farm, he wasn’t a fan of hunting.
Albeit those things didn’t to deter Heimo, whose biggest entertainment back in his childhood was to go alone and play in the woods. That is until he became a young adult, and it was obvious that the old, small Appleton wasn’t the place for him, so deciding to undertake a trip which would lead him to the Northwest Territories in Canada, where he found a job assisting a hunter-guide. The job wasn’t that good, but was enough for several months until he moved to Alaska, the next obvious step, though little would he have known that it wasn’t going to be that easy.
Life In Alaska and Meeting Edna
Arriving in Alaska wasn’t as hard at first, as Heimo’s former boss in Canada had allowed him to stay in a mountain cabin that would apparently make things easier for the then-18-year-old. That’s how Heimo became a tenderfoot alone in the middle of nowhere, facing the harsh Alaskan winter conditions while losing food supplies and even falling through the ice once, making it obvious that his adventure wasn’t as good as he had thought.
Not knowing what to do, Heimo wrote a letter to his former boss, who more than generously returned the communication with a $500 check, in addition to two options, which were to buy more supplies with that money or fly to St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea to take back his job with the man.
If you consider Heimo’s life difficulties at the time, it’s not hard to understand why he chose the latter.
Then settled in St. Lawrence Island, Heimo temporarily established his housing in the Savoonga village, where he met Edna. Not much is known about her life prior to that, only that she was a native and was in a relationship with an unknown man, with whom she had a daughter, meaning that for some time there was romance between Edna and Heimo.
Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and after six years of knowing each other, Edna and Heimo fell in love and married. That’s when the now obvious happened, and the then-young couple moved together to Heimo’s recently built cabin in the isolated North Slope region of Alaska, where the Arctic Refuge would officially be established not long after.
One of the first struggles the couple had living there were the primitive living conditions. As Heimo himself admitted, as the young man he was back then, he hadn’t cared much about the “pretty crummy” state of the house, which obviously didn’t sit well with Edna. However, after many repairs and preparing for their first winter together, everything was set; that it was going to be their life from then on.
Their first daughter, Coleen Ann was born on 29 May 1982, though unfortunately, the happiness of welcoming a child was shadowed by tragedy. In mid-1984, Coleen was dragged away by the river when the family’s canoe capsized during a trip. The little girl’s body was never found ,and a memorial in her honor is nowadays placed nearby the Coleen River, which they had named their daughter after.
Despite the fact that four decades have passed since Coleen’s death, her parents still remember her with broken hearts and teary eyes, which is obviously expected considering how tragic the loss was for them. It’s also admirable how determined they were to maintain their lifestyle, regardless of the hurtful memories.
Their Family Nowadays
Losing Coleen Ann in such a sudden and terrible way, wasn’t easy to overcome. However, the Refuge was the Korths’ home and the only place that little Coleen had ever known, so they decided to stay there.
Although their attempts to baptize a nearby and unnamed mountain with their late child’s name was rejected by the Alaskan government under the argument that Coleen Ann hadn’t been of historical significance for the place, the Korths’ kept on with their peaceful lives, raising two other daughters named Rhonda and Krin in the process, in addition to Edna’s daughter Millie.
While raising a big family up in the Alaskan mountains doesn’t sound easy, the Korths took it upon themselves to teach all of them self-sufficiency and resilience. Though, as it happens, children grow up and leave the nest, so eventually the Korths’ girls left, married and raised their kids far away from the Arctic Refuge.
During “The Last Alaskans” last season, it was shown that the Korth’s daughter Krin and her husband Scott moved to the Refuge to try to make a living in it. Although we’re not sure if that eventually worked out, it was obvious that it made Heimo and Edna extremely happy to see their legacy being passed on to the next generation.
Life Conditions In The Refuge
The fact that there are families living in the middle of nowhere, away from the conveniences of any city while also providing for themselves, is something that surely raises eyebrows everywhere and brings up many questions.
While doubting or being in disbelief that Edna and Heimo Korth could survive and raise a family in such an extreme environment is normal, there are more than a couple of misunderstandings regarding their lifestyle. For one, the Korths might live away from civilization, but they’re not oblivious to how modern technology and appliances work.
In fact, you only have to pay attention to “The Last Alaskans” to see it for yourself. Although the Korths don’t use computers or smartphones, things such as chainsaws, radios, satellite phones and even snow machines are quite useful to them and their survival.
Even if the use of those tools doesn’t look that impressive anyway, it’s important to make something clear: the Korths didn’t adopt their lifestyle to make an anti-modernism statement, but to connect with nature in the best way possible, and preserve their ancestors’ way of living, Edna’s anyway.
— Elena Koch (@MoonRivrShifter) May 21, 2017
Many years before Heimo and Edna Korth appeared in “The Last Alaskans”, they had already attracted the attention of the media through the book “The Final Frontiersman”, written by Heimo’s cousin James Campbell in 2004.
The book is solely focused on the Korths’ life in the Refuge, giving it a vibe of a chronicle in which the reader could get an insight into the family’s everyday life, Heimo’s adventures in the wilderness, and the tragedy surrounding the death of Coleen Ann.
As expected, the book received good reviews from renowned media outlets such as The New York Times. However, less talked about is how difficult it was for years to convince Heimo to accept his cousin’s proposition to write about him and the family.
Eventually, “The Final Frontiersman” ended up being much more than just a book about a guy living in the mountains, as it strengthened the once forgotten bonds between Heimo and his family living far away. Nowadays, not only does Campbell often visits his relatives in the refuge, but his daughter Aidan is just as interested in the Korths and their lifestyle as he is.
It’s worth mentioning that the Korths were also mentioned in the book “Warriors Creed”, which retells the quest of how both of them had to be transported out of the refuge to receive medical assistance.
Documentary & TV
While you might have assumed that Heimo and Edna made their debut on TV in “The Last Alaskans”, that’s not true. Their first appearance on TV actually dates back to 1992, when they were briefly showcased in the PBS’ show “Braving Alaska”, which as you should have already guessed, also focused on several people’s lifestyle in the Alaskan wilderness.
More than ten years would pass until in 2009 someone from the entertainment industry set eyes on the Korths again, though this time it was the independent media outlet Vice TV, which ended up producing “Surviving Alone In Alaska”, a documentary film that gives a deeper and detailed insight into Heimo and Edna’s life and their story.
After that, in 2011 Heimo was briefly showcased in “Flying Wild Alaska”, which was followed in 2015 by the premiere of “The Last Alaskans”, which focused not only on the Korths, but on a few other families also living in the Arctic Refuge. The show was produced by Discovery, and though it aired for only four seasons until late 2018, the audience was deeply fascinated by the simple but endearingly real way the casts’ stories were portrayed.
It left such a good impression on people that even local journals regarded the show as the only ‘real Alaskan reality series’, added to the approving review the Washington Post made of it, even describing Heimo as ‘the consistent, narrative center of the show’.
What Happens To The Refugee?
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is located in Alaska, having a size of over 113 million acres, 45 million hectares. As you might imagine, the place is home to several animal species and plants, but only seven families actually inhabit it, but why?
The refuge was actually founded in 1903, but it wasn’t until 1960 that it became a protected area. In 1980 human occupations were banned in the refuge, except for families that were already settled were able to remain in it for a limited time.
That means that the Korths should be able to spend the rest of their lives in the refuge, and so will their daughters, but not their grandchildren. That would put an end to their family’s tradition, but won’t erase the inspiring legacy that Heimo and Edna have left us with, whether it is for their valiant choice to follow their own path of life or by simply teaching us to live with happiness regardless of the difficulties.