Will father-of-two and former Idaho fish and game biologist Clay Hayes succeed and survive at Chilko Lake, aka Grizzly Island, the only one to win the $ 500,000 prize?
Hayes is now a professional archer and hunter and lives with his wife Liz and two sons, Coye and Fen, on their property near Lewiston in northern Idaho. Together, as a family unit, they hunt, fish, forage and cultivate a large garden. Clay’s vision is to raise his children in Idaho with a working understanding of nature and a sense of empowerment, which is essential for both Clay and Liz.
We spoke to him to find out what we can and how living in Idaho prepares you well for a survival challenge in the Pacific Northwest.
Context of “Alone”
HISTORY’s hit survival series “Alone” is back for season eight and is set in the most dangerous place yet.
Ten competitors, including Hayes, fight for survival in the Canadian wilderness on the shores of Chilko Lake, British Columbia. They are only allowed to select 10 items and a camera kit, as each participant must film their attempts to survive in total isolation. The final game lasts the longest and wins the prize of $ 500,000.
Not only do they have to endure hunger, mental and emotional stress, and the changing elements, this season they also face North America’s deadliest predator: the grizzly bear. The slogan for this season is “No film crew. No gadgets. It is the ultimate test of human will.
Hayes selected 10 items for his Grizzly Mountain survival trip: sleeping bag, pot, ax, saw, multi-tool, bow and arrows, paracord, fishing line and hooks, wire, rods.
April Neale, special for Idaho Press, spoke to Hayes about her life in Idaho and how it could work to her advantage.
At press time, Hayes was still here to win it. The next episode, “Chewed Up”, will air at 7:30 p.m. MDT on Thursday, June 17 on HISTORY.
Avril Neale: Hearing your voice I know you survived Chilko Lake and a grizzly didn’t eat you which is good. You are originally from North Florida, and this ecosystem is so different from the Pacific Northwest where you live now. Idaho is technically, and also, of course, British Columbia, where you’re challenged. Can you talk about the flora and fauna and the significant change and differences you had to overcome from what you knew and grew up with?
Clay Hayes: Yeah, so Northwest Florida, we were inside the state, so when I was growing up it was pretty rural. It was flat earth, swamp pine, Wiregrass, and dwarf palms and things like that. I moved to Idaho in 2008, and I was in southern Idaho for a few years before moving to the Lewiston area. I have always been drawn to natural environments and the woods. So it was a natural thing for me to learn plants, to learn animals wherever I am. When I was in Florida I knew all the plants, all the species, what was edible and what was not, which could give you a rash or heal the rash. So it was only natural for me when I moved to Idaho to pick up this stuff. On top of that, I was also a wildlife biologist in Idaho. And so, in the course of my job, to notice things, plants and animals.
A: You were a wildlife biologist in Idaho. Where have you worked?
CH: I was with the Idaho Fish and Game. I started as a technician in 2007 and left in 2017.
A: If you were to convince someone to move to Idaho, what are the state’s selling points for you as a person who is not native and now resides in this state? Why Idaho vs. Wyoming or Montana?
CH: Western Montana is pretty cool. Northwestern Wyoming is pretty, but Idaho is so diverse. From the south to the north, it is such a dramatic difference in the landscape. And one of the reasons I moved to Idaho and wanted to make Idaho my home was the outdoor opportunities. It is unparalleled.
You cannot find this type of diversity and outdoor opportunities anywhere else in the country. And the percentage of public land for me was important. I spend a tremendous amount of time hunting, fishing, hiking, just being outside on public land. Idaho is full of them.
A: I feel like your training as a biologist has given you a head start in the competition. Now notice I only saw one episode so I don’t know if you press the next episode but I have a feeling not. You scored food early on. The guy from Wyoming who typed in episode one built this amazing shelter right out of the gate. For three days he didn’t eat and it left him with a heart attack. Talk about your ability to feed yourself and yourself so well, right off the bat, and how this strategy likely paid off.
CH: I knew I had to find food and not just a little. I would have to do well with the food or else I couldn’t have stayed there just because I can’t bear the weight. It’s hard for me to gain weight.
I was able to gain some weight before continuing, but I knew it was going to go away quickly. So it was just a priority for me to do it. I think I was lucky on the location because as you said there is a lot of overlap of PNW in the plant communities and habitat types where we were in Chilko BC ) and where I live.
There’s a lot of twisted tree, just that, this Northwestern forest habitat, a lot of spruce trees. And things like that, something that I knew. I knew the species I came into contact with and was lucky enough to find mushrooms. I came across this grouse. I do bows for a living, uh, I teach people how to bows. I shoot archery pretty much every day. And when these opportunities arise, I am ready to take advantage of them.
A: You ate well. You practically ate your first day there, and the puma was watching you.
A: The lion revisits you? Cats are so curious by nature. Is your boyfriend coming back?
CH: Well I think looking at the season you’ll see what’s going on.
A: What are the subtleties between primitive and traditional archery?
CH: So, traditional archery would include shooting a longbow or a recurve bow. Well, there’s a good chance that’s what you’re photographing. You do traditional archery. It’s laminated and uses modern materials like fiberglass, things like that.
The primitive side of things is what archery equipment would have been like 5,000, 10,000 years ago. It’s wood and sinew and all natural materials, no modern glues or anything like that. And so that’s the significant difference between the two and the type of archery I do is a mixture of those.
A: Now for the show, did you use more modern equipment or did you have something more permanent?
CH: So the bow I took was a wooden bow, so it was a more primitive style bow, but I used steel broadheads and things like that. I mixed these two types of archery.
A: You live in Idaho. Did you build your own house or buy the house and put solar power on it and try to disconnect from the grid that way?
CH: We are not outside the network, we are tied to the network, but we bought a small farm and 20 acres here. Our house was built in 1954. I think I didn’t have a ventilation stick, and we bought it. I don’t know how these guys stayed there.
We worked on it a lot. We planted trees, we put them in the garden. We try to canning all of our garden stuff. All of our meat comes from hunting and fishing and things like that. So we try to be as self-sufficient as possible that way.
A: Foraging life in Idaho, let’s discuss it. You immediately chose the delicious mushrooms. What is Idaho most abundant with, locals in the house or those looking for wild foods? What would you recommend people to start with, and what is the full state that people don’t even realize?
CH: Well I mean there are a lot of edible wild mushrooms here. Bolete, stuff, and whatever is picked out there are pretty common this time of year. And they’re easy to identify once you’ve spotted them. Morels are another.
Everyone picks morels. It’s a spring thing, and then in the fall, we have chanterelles which are incredible. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
There are dozens of edible mushrooms here. We have all kinds of things, like blueberries, blueberries, and Virginia cherries, and I could probably name 50 different species. So you could go out at other times of the year and have a nice feed here in Idaho.
A: For anyone interested in doing the show, what’s the best piece of advice you can offer to anyone who thinks they have the skills to do the show?
CH: This is an excellent question. Prepare for tough times as they happen. People always focus on the physical aspects of this challenge: gaining weight and gaining survival skills, and things like that.
But I would say that the psychological impact of being alone and isolated for so long is not negligible. So, like I said, prepare for tough times. But, on the other hand, it’s common for people to hope for the best and hope that things will turn out a certain way.
The attitude I took there, I just expected things to be rotten. I expected things to be the worst case scenario and nothing less than the worst case scenario. So I was just happy with it.
A: Do you think you would do it again?
CH: I do not know. I said when I left there that I would never do that again. I don’t know if I would do it again. They should seriously increase the prize money, and that’s why I would. I would do it for the money, and that’s not why I did it this time. I don’t know if I would like to do it for these reasons. I did it because it was a huge challenge. It was something that I always wanted to do. I knew I knew the only way to really get to know yourself is to take on a tough challenge.
The new episodes of season 8 “Alone” air Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. MDT on the HISTORY channel.