What happened to Erik Salitan from “Life Below Zero”?

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Known for its faithful and engaging documentation of survival, in one of the world’s most unforgiving frozen corners, “Life Below Zero” has been one of National Geographic Channel’s massive successes. It started out with 10 episodes in 2013, and is still ongoing in late 2022, with its 20th season in the making. With over 200 episodes, multiple specials and eight Primetime Emmy awards, this documentary reality TV series rivals the genre’s most prominent competitors.

The show followed nine individuals over its course – five solo and two couples – throughout their day-to-day in the frigid wilderness of Alaska, year-round. Erik and Martha Mae Salitan were one such couple, whose almost entire livelihood consists of subsistence hunting. They reside in Wiseman, Alaska, where temperatures reach record lows of -65 degrees Fahrenheit (-54 Celsius). It isn’t even counted as a village or camp, but a census-designated place (CDP), with only 12 residents total.

The married couple dropped out of “Life Below Zero” after showing up in their last episode in the show, entitled “Lost in the Wild,” which is the eighth episode of the show’s sixth season; this was Erik’s 36th appearance, and Martha Mae’s 16th. Unlike her, he was also featured in the first and third season of the series. Erik and Martha’s move left many fans wondering what happened, with multiple questions unanswered. Regular viewers will be happy to know that nothing severe took them out of the limelight.

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What made him so different?

“Life Below Zero” is well-established thanks to its diverse cast, whose collective knowledge spans the whole array of survival skills. This breadth of information is offered through the unique lifestyle of each character in the show, as they all live separately with differing levels of success, and each has their own daily routine and livelihood obtainment strategy. Erik stands out even further in comparison with the rest of the cast.

He revealed many particularities in the show, including the reason why he moved to the 49th state, He said ‘This wilderness is the last true wilderness left in North America. There is no other true wilderness left but right here, in the Arctic of Alaska. That’s it.’

Explaining further how accustomed he is to the lifestyle, he stated ‘A rifle or a pistol, to me, is no different than a hammer is to a carpenter. I’m a subsistence hunter, and this is just an everyday thing for me.’ He is then seen on the prowl right next to a herd of caribou, with no cover in the open snowy plain.

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His specified target is something called a dry cow, which stands for a cow without a calf – this choice is good both for the hunter and the environment. First of all, it means that no baby calves will die of starvation, ensuring the survival of the herd’s next generation. Second, as Salitan himself says, ‘That’s the best meat at this time of year. That’s the fattest animal, and the meat is what’s important to us.’

Erik crouched and aimed down the massive scope of his hunting rifle for a few seconds, but there was only a blunt click when he pulled the trigger. ‘F***ing dud,’ he said annoyedly, leaving the hunt dead in its tracks to return later. He said ‘my firing pin froze, took it apart, had to use some grease that doesn’t freeze so easily. I think the gun’s gonna work well. Hopefully we’ll have some success.’

The next shot sure counted, and the animal was ready to be harvested. He explained ‘I eat meat every single meal, every single day. I buy absolutely no meat whatsoever from the store. Every bit of the meat that I eat is harvested by myself. I love it.’

Shooting animals isn’t the only way to obtain food inside the Arctic circle though, so Erik’s next order of business was to set up brand new traps. While going through the process, he offered the audience invaluable trapping knowledge as well, saying ‘The bait is placed in the back of the cubby. The animal comes along, he sees the bait in the back, he goes in, he hits this trigger mechanism. It’s a real humane way to harvest wolverine.’

Even the most experienced hunters tend to run into issues when setting such traps at night, which Erik is seen doing just moments later. He explains ‘I use my handy trap setter here and try not to break my own arm. There’s a learning curve. I’m just trying to have that curve not include me snappin’ my freakin’ arm in this. I try to use a lot of caution, it’s pretty cold right now.’

As he uttered the words ‘It’s about twenty below zero,’ the metal indeed snapped back together and caught his left hand in its grip, which was followed by a deep groan. He said ‘That wasn’t cool. Well, I caught my hand in it. That didn’t feel particularly good. You can get yourself in trouble out here, so. Learned a good lesson here with these 330’s They’re freakin’ dangerous! I’m happy all it had was my hand.’

Erik’s last lesson in the “Subsistence Living | Life Below Zero” video by National Geographic was gathering. He starts with ‘The last water jug’s empty. Gonna make a run down to the river here and get some water. It’s a little bit different than getting water anywhere else, you know, can’t just flip on the faucet.’

It’s also way more complicated than that, as he further explains ‘The river conditions, just like the weather conditions here in the Arctic, they control everything. Sometimes it’s really easy to get water, other times it’s very difficult. Sometimes it’s kinda dangerous, depending on the ice conditions.’

While collecting water, he made sure to note that he’s standing on an unpredictable ice shelf that could break off at any time, relaying that there’s a thin layer of air between the river’s frozen crust and the water itself, meaning that the sheet isn’t directly supported by water density.

Finally, Salitan fully embraced his choice of coming to Alaska, stating that ‘a lot of people make a lot of fuss about the way I live, and they think that it’s so hard. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t do this. This doesn’t bother me. I like being outside. It’s a nice life.’

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Erik’s foray into the unknown

Before coming to understand why Salitan left the show, it’s important to note a few things about him. First off, unlike most of his former cast colleagues, Erik isn’t an Alaskan native. He was born on 9 February 1984, in New York USA, and grew up apparently an only child. There were clear indications that Erik had an adventurous spirit from a very early age, owing to his regular viewing of movies and documentaries about the survivalist craft.

Following his high school matriculation in 2002, Erik enrolled in Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, in his birth state. He was dissatisfied with this choice, however, and instead opted to move all the way to Alaska, and pursue a much more uncertain future in its harsh climate. Upon settling in the aforementioned Wiseman CDP, he enrolled into the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, from where he graduated with a degree in Natural Resources Conservation in 2006.

He met his wife-to-be after living there for a while, whom he then dated for a few years prior to proposing during a fly fishing trip. She obviously said yes, and in 2010 gave birth to their thus-far only child – Lucas Salitan. Being a native of Iliamna, from the shores of the eponymous lake, Martha taught her husband everything that his own experience and college didn’t, turning him into a fully-fledged bush hunter and survivalist.

Meeting Martha’s family helped Erik reach a deeper understanding of just how important the Alaskan wildlife is, which prompted him to join numerous conservation groups, including the Pope & Young Club, Northwest Sportsman’s Club, Dallas Safari Club, Alaska Professional Hunters Association, and Dallas Safari.

Full-on Alaskan bushwhacking

Aside from doing his utmost to protect the local fauna and preserve the ecosystem, Erik has also dabbled in entrepreneurialism and founded his own business, known as Bushwhack Alaska Guiding and Outfitting. It’s described on its website as a ‘full-service Alaska owned and operated outfit, with many quality hunts and other year-round Alaskan wilderness adventures to choose from.’

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It also comes with a lodge, of course, named Talarik Creek Lodge. It is situated 225 miles (362 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage, in the Iliamna CDP, to where Erik moved after dropping out of the show to live with his wife and son. The community itself is sustained by approximately 108 residents, which probably feels substantially less lonely than Erik’s previous home.

Reaching the lodge is an adventure in itself, since there are no roads leading to Iliamna CDP. There’s instead Lake & Peninsula Airlines (LPA), which takes the guests in at Anchorage International Airport and transports them to the miniscule airstrip near the front door of Erik’s business premises.

When it comes to more time consuming hunts, Erik has made sure to keep the clients comfortable, no matter where they go. His business offers specialized stormproof shelter tents at various spike camps in the wilderness, including the Bombshelter and Arctic Oven variants, in which his customers have propane cooking stoves at their disposal, which can double as a heating utility if necessary.

Salitan has also been a local wilderness guide since the early 2000’s, which gives him all the experience required to safely lead even the most novice of hunters into uncharted wilderness. While deeply dedicated to wildlife conservation, he also uses this knowledge to locate and secure trophy animals for his lodge’s hunters.

Martha herself comes with significant expertise as well, having been born and raised in her parents’ lodge, and trained from an early age. Even so, there are times when Erik needs to ask her opinion to best determine the appropriate hunting spot, as every inch of the surrounding wilderness is embedded deep in her memory. She normally cooks for the guests, and makes sure all accommodation is in order.

Their son is proving to be a valuable aide around the business as well, learning the craft effortlessly from his parents. While still too young to head out on serious hunts, he provides the guests with various tips and tricks, helping them settle and get used to the harsh environment of Iliamna.

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The business offers hunts for five distinct species: Dall sheep, grizzly bear, black bear, moose, and brown bear. The crowning jewel here are the Alaskan Peninsula Brown Bears of course – the largest bears in the world, whose hunts at the lodge normally last for about 10 days, requiring much more patience and caution than physical readiness and overall stamina. They are sometimes the target of combo hunts that involve wolves and wolverines as well.

So, why did he leave the show?

Erik’s arrival on the screen as a cast member of “Life Below Zero” took place after National Geographic agents scoured his fully built business, and decided that he’d have a lot to contribute. The hunter initially agreed with this idea, but as time went on, the entire filming process became more of a nuisance for the family.

After all, the Salitans have always deeply appreciated the privacy that Alaskan remoteness offered, so cameras turned out to be a little bit too much. His business also has regulars and brand new customers alike, most of whom don’t really appreciate having their private getaway broadcast on national television.

With all of these factors combined, both he and Martha Mae agreed that it would be for the better if the eighth episode of the sixth season was their last public appearance. They still divulge a few things about themselves on the websites of their business and lodge, but only enough to provide an attractive portfolio for the would-be customer.

Hopeful fans expect that their son will agree to join the colorful cast of “Life Below Zero” in the future, but seeing as he takes quite a lot after his parents, this is only a far-fetched possibility at best. It remains to be seen whether the family ever returns to the public eye.

Martha Clifford
Martha Cliffordhttps://medium.com/@MarthaClifford
As an Author at Net Worth Post, I guide a dedicated team in the art of revealing the stories behind the world's most influential personalities. Fueled by a relentless curiosity and a knack for uncovering hidden stories, I immerse myself in the intricacies of our subjects' lives, weaving together accurate data and compelling narratives. My involvement spans the entire editorial process, from the seed of research to the final flourish of publication, ensuring that every article not only educates but also captivates and motivates our audience. At Net Worth Post, we are committed to providing thorough investigations into the net worth and life achievements of innovators across diverse sectors such as technology, culture, and social entrepreneurship. My method merges meticulous research with eloquent storytelling, designed to bridge the gap between our readers and the remarkable individuals who redefine our tomorrow. Through spotlighting their journeys to success, the hurdles they've surmounted, and their contributions to society, we aim to give our readers a deep and inspiring insight into the luminaries who are paving the way for progress and ingenuity in the modern era.

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