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The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness [Hardcover]

James Campbell
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 25 2004

In the bestselling tradition of Into the Wild and The Last American Man, an intimate portrait of how one man and his family thrive in the most remote of American landscapes: Alaska's Arctic wilderness.

Hundreds of hardy people have tried to carve a living in the Alaskan bush, but few have succeeded as consistently as Heimo Korth. Originally from Wisconsin, Korth came to Alaska in his twenties, and he never left. Across the years, he's carved out a subsistence life like no other--a life bounded by the migrating caribou herds, by the dangers of suddenly swollen rivers, and by the very exigencies of daily survival.

Journalist James Campbell has spent two years documenting the lives of Heimo, his wife, Edna, and their teenage daughters, Rhonda and Krin, and he paints their portraits in vivid detail: evenings listening to the distant voices from the radio's Trapline Chatter show; months spent waiting for the odd small plane to bring supplies; years relying on hard-learned hunting and survival skills that are all that stand between the family and a terrible fate. But it's a complicated existence, too, of encroaching environmental pressures and the fear that this life might be disappearing forever--and how will his two teenage daughters react when one of them goes back to "civilization" for her high school years?

But always at the center there's Heimo Korth, a man who escaped a tough father and a circumscribed life, then reinvented himself in the Alaskan wilderness, only to witness the most unbearable of tragedies, a tragedy that keeps him and his family tied to this inhospitable and beautiful land forever.

By turns inspiring and downright jolting, James Campbell's extraordinary book reads like a rustic version of the American Dream--and reveals for the very first time a life undreamed of by most of us, outside of the mainstream, alone in a stunning wilderness that for now, at least, remains the final frontier.

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From Publishers Weekly

Heimo Korth was one of the many young men who set out for Alaska in the 1960s and '70s to recreate the life of early fur traders in the American West, a movement first observed in John McPhee's classic Coming into the Country. Journalist Campbell has written a worthy sequel to McPhee's book that is a powerful tale in its own right, focusing solely on Korth, who now "lives more remotely than any other person in Alaska" as one of only seven hunter-trappers with a permit to live in the 19.5-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Korth lives with his wife and two daughters 130 miles above the Arctic Circle, the only settlers for more than 500 miles (250 miles from the nearest road and another 300 miles to the nearest hospital in Fairbanks). Campbell artfully details a number of visits he makes to the Korth family in 2002, as he accompanies Korth on hunting and trapping expeditions that make himâ€"and the readerâ€"feel "transported straight back into the 19th century." He also sympathetically recounts Korth's flight from his abusive Wisconsin father and his reinvention of himself as an Alaskan "legend," a "gun-toting, park-hating antiâ€"animal rights trapper with a soft side"â€"but one who is well respected by managers of the ANWR. What makes this more than just a profile of a fascinating personality is Campbell's deft weaving of Alaskan history into Korth's tale, showing how the recent influx of developers and ecotourists is making the trapping life "more of an anachronism with each passing year."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

By the mid-1970s, countercultural attitudes had propelled so many wilderness seekers to Alaska that writer John McPhee gave an account of them in Coming into the Country (1976). Over several visits in 2002, Campbell absorbed the life story of one such emigrant from the lower 48, Heimo Korth, who happens to be his cousin. Korth traps fur-bearing animals to generate what little cash he makes, and hunts caribou, moose, and fowl for his food. Campbell's observation of the shooting and skinning this necessitates is objective, leaving nothing to imagination. Retrospectively, Campbell relates why Korth moved to Alaska (partly due to antagonism with his father), followed by incidents in his marriage to a native woman and their raising of three daughters (one of whom died in an awful canoeing accident) along a remote tributary of the Yukon River. Because the author perceptively describes how teenagers Rhonda and Krin feel about growing up in such isolation, the circle of interest for Campbell's well-organized work will encompass fans of coming-of-age stories in addition to those intrigued by unconventional lifestyles. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Little House in the Big Arctic July 16 2004
James Campbell reports the life of Heimo Korth and the family he has raised, the last family of trappers to remain in the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Although this book has one foot in the "wilderness adventure can you believe anyone can survive this" genre (Heimo regularly traps in -50 weather and even jogs in -20 weather), it is also a kind of domestic family saga, almost a "Little House on the Prairie" but the prairie is the Arctic.
Heimo, his wife Edna, and daughters Rhonda and Krin, face near tragedies and real tragedies lost in blizzards, or facing a broken-down snow machine miles from home, or jumping from ice flow to ice flow in desparate hope of making it back to shore, or falling through overflow ice on the river. Remarkably though, the main thing I'll remember about this book is the sense it conveys of Heimo's redemption (lost and alcoholic, he came to Alaska to trap in the 70s, but dried up and built a family there), and of the love and affection of a family who have no one but each other for months on end. This is a real testament to Campbell's skill as a journalist and author.
The adventure and drama of the Arctic keep the reader turning pages like a good mystery but the after-effect is one of love and integrity.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome To The World Of 40 Below June 18 2004
What would you do if it were 40 below and your snowmobile conked out 15 miles from your cabin?
After reading this book you will understand that the answer is simple. You'd die. End of story.
This is the tale of a real world tough guy who at a young age gave himself over to the pursuit of wilderness survival and is about the only one left out there with survival skills of this level.
The author is no wimp either, spending considerable time with Mr. Korth plus doing mega-research on the history of the Alaskan wilderness, which he weaves into the story in an informing, non-boring way.
When I read Into The Wild I somehow thought that the fellow that died just had a few unlucky breaks-like the river rising which trapped him out in that old bus. Wrong. That guy never stood a chance from day one, and this book shows you why.
Like a lot of guys I have always had two fantasies - living in the backwoods of Alaska or living on a remote tropical island. I heartily thank the author for paring my fantasy list down to one - the island.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Extreme Camping May 31 2004
By Kimera
For those of you who enjoy the outdoors, this is a well-written story about what may be the last pure subsistence family in North America. Ten thousand years ago we were all this way; now we are down to one man, his wife, and two daughters living in the remote bush of Alaska, eating mostly meat and surviving in a shack too small for most lawn tractors in the lower 48. While this may sound grim, it is usually not. It isn't paranoia but rather a pioneering spirit and awe for the natural world that compels this lifestyle (if "lifestyle" doesn't overly trivialize three decades in the bush living mostly on wild game and facing environmental extremes usually associated with other planets). The author is a good writer, the subjects of the story remarkable and sympathetic, and the pace of the narrative usually brisk. Definitely worth reading.
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Comparisons will be drawn between this book and Krakauer's excellent Into the Wild based on the common themes of living off the land and the unforgivingness of the Alaskan wilderness. Where Krakauer's book is a meditation on the romanticism and perils of self-reliance, The Final Frontiersman is an unsentimental and penetrating look at the physical, emotional and psychological challenges of making a living in this remote and and unforgiving environment.

Heimo Korth, his wife and two daughters and the life they lead is fascinating. Campbell's well-constructed narrative makes exciting and evocative reading.

If Chris McCandless, the subject of Krakauer's book, had had the chance to read this book, he might still be alive today.
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5.0 out of 5 stars not girly but you'll love it June 1 2004
By A Customer
This isn't really my genre but when i started reading this story I couldn't put it down. It is incredibly inspiring and touching. It will touch your life and influence you in a positive way: a little like the book, Seabiscuit. It was educational too. It would be wonderful for children in difficult financial or familial situations to read. I can't stop talking about it and I can't put it down.
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