“Life Below Zero” scored 14 Emmy nominations and seven wins, for presenting the extraordinary stories of people living in the Alaskan wilderness in mostly freezing temperatures. Kate Bassich featured in the hit reality television series from when it began airing in 2013 until 2015 on the National Geographic channel. Her divorce from Andy Bassich prompted her exit from the show, and her revelation about her marriage was much talked about.
Kate and Andy Bassich
Alaska might be an idyllic place with the beauty and bounty it has to offer, but living there is stil fraught with challenges, and entails being in survival mode most of the time. The temperatures plummet to 40-50 below, winters are long, and summers are spent in preparation for its return. Not many dared to choose that lifestyle. Some might see the appeal in it upon watching the TV series “Life Below Zero,” as it documented the day-to-day activities of people like Kate Rorke-Bassich and her then-husband, Andy Bassich, as they lived at Calico Bluff along the Yukon River near Eagle, Alaska about 120 miles or 200kms south of the Arctic Circle.
They run with a pack of 26 sled dogs, and they hunt, harvest, grow, and brew 80 percent of their own food. Get to know…
For Andy, it was his dream to be self-sufficient and live in the woods, as he loves the isolation and the silence. He was born in Washington DC but grew up in Wheaton, Maryland, matriculating from the John F. Kennedy High School in 1976, and then working as a carpenter. He moved to Alaska in 1980, and first saw the place he now called home in 1984 while mushing down the Yukon. Andy worked for nine years to buy that property, and then spent the next 10 years clearing the land and building his cabin and other structures.
By the time the show started airing, he’d been living there for 30 years, while Kate had been there with him for 10 years. The two first met in Dawson City in 2003, while she was playing tourist and he was captain of a riverboat called Yukon Queen. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with him, and with Alaska after setting foot on it. Kate described her life as perfect, and felt like the luckiest woman in the world each day as she said, ‘It’s a life everybody should live.
Everybody should have this kind of peace.’ She had been living her ultimate dream of being with the one she loved in a little log cabin in the middle of nowhere. Kate and Andy were of the same mind that if quality of life was measured by how much free time one had in doing whatever one wanted, then this meant they were enjoying an extremely high quality of life. They weren’t hiding from anything by living there, but just following what their hearts were telling them was the best way to live.
Yukon River flooding
Kate was fully cognizant of the dangers of living remotely. Back in May 2009, she experienced one of the worst calamities that can happen in Alaska, when their home was submerged in floodwaters, and the town of Eagle was wiped out. They had an unusually wet winter followed by warm weather that turned into a heatwave, which caused the mountain snow to melt quickly. They were already expecting the river to overflow, and the run-off to be more than usual, but nothing like what happened that time.
As the water from the river rose quickly and merged with Ford Lake behind their property, they suddenly found themselves almost waist-deep in water. They scrambled to get their 24 dogs to their johnboat and canoes that they tied together to one of the shed posts and porch beam. It didn’t help that the water was very cold, and the sun was about to set. The danger was not over even as the surge subsided and daylight came, because the water then started rushing towards the river and threatened to capsize their boats. They lost a dog called Skipper when the johnboat flipped, but fortunately the couple and the rest of their dogs were rescued as the ice and water started coming in again.
Andy became the leader of the recovery effort in the community, as he talked with officials and contractors about building cabins for the homeless. Despite what happened, they couldn’t imagine leaving their home and finding someplace else to live. Since then, they’ve made preparations for each year’s river ice break-up to protect their home and their sled dogs.
Life Below Zero: Northern Territories captures the day-to-day trials of people living in the coldest and most remote…
Kate’s life with Andy in “Life Below Zero”
The TV series painted a picture of what her life was like in Alaska. A typical day for Kate would start with a hot cup of tea as she sat beside Andy on the bed, while gazing at the amazing view from their window. Sometimes, that time was spent in silence, but most of the time they were survival planning, and prioritizing what to do no matter the season. They would have a hearty breakfast, as they needed it to stay warm and do their chores.
When the Yukon River freezes, Kate and Andy are landlocked in until it becomes safer to get across the ice and put trails in. Their home is 14 miles from the nearest civilization, and ice blocks their path towards it. During wintertime, the flow of water underneath the ice on the Yukon River is so powerful that ice freezes and re-freezes irregularly, resulting in a jumbled or rough surface, making it difficult and dangerous for them and their dogs to travel across.
While Kate stayed home, Andy had to cut through the ice to make it passable, and check it for weak spots as well, because if one goes through, one could easily be swept away by the current underneath the ice. Once it was safe, Andy or Kate could go to Eagle to get their mail and whatever else they needed. Some of the supplies they get from Fairbanks and couldn’t bring home, were stored in a school bus he converted into a storage unit in town.
Andy had 24 dogs and a puppy, and they ran dog sled tours or short expeditions, teaching people to mush their own teams. They spent $4,000 to $6,000 on dry dog food a year, also feeding them fish that they caught. While others used snowmobiles, he preferred the Alaskan bush way of using dogs to get around. He sometimes used a snowmobile for a quick trip, but then sometimes found it more trouble than it was worth whenever it broke down, as he had to walk far to get his dogs finish the job – they are the couple’s most efficient and reliable workforce.
They also served as the best alarm system, when bears or other predators came to their property. Kate saw all puppies born, and had strong ties with them as she fed, took care of, and played with them. She had a hard time seeing them transition from puppies to being sled dogs. Andy trained dogs as he didn’t want to have to start from scratch when his dogs got too old and he had to retire them.
Their property has a solar panel, but they used wood to heat their home and other structures. They used a fish wheel, a device that operates like a watermill, to catch fish in the river. The two worked together in preparing the fish for human consumption, involving cutting, scoring, brining, and smoking, with each one weighing as much as seven pounds about 3kgs. As they caught as many as 100 fish or more, they had their work cut out for them. They harvested vegetables from their greenhouses, and Kate would dehydrate and freeze them. Andy ran a trapline for marten, lynx, and other wild animals.
One of their sources of income was offering custom wilderness adventure vacations in which one could stay at one of their log cabins, and learn survival skills, winter camping, and salmon fishing.
Kate relied on Andy and trusted him completely to look after her. She knew the basic stuff, but it was Andy who took care of most things when he was around. She worried whenever he had to leave, although they did have a radio to communicate so they could let each other know if something went wrong. The most time he had been away from home was a week up to 10 days, whenever he had to attend a meeting for Yukon Fisheries; Kate would then be left alone to manage the place. All would be well except when the weather turned bad, or when predators came looking for easy prey. She said that the best part was when Andy came home and he was ‘super sweet’ to her.
Andy tended to work alone, but there were times when he needed Kate to help him out, and just gave her instructions. He was all praise for her as he said she’s good at dropping whatever she was doing whenever he asked her to.
Whatever she lacked in ability and knowledge, she more than made up for it with her willingness to do things and try her best, and that’s all that mattered in his book.
Kate’s divorce from Andy
Kate and Andy announced their split in 2015, and their divorce was finalized the following year. Some were surprised by this, as the two seemed to have a perfect partnership, but there were those who thought that it was inevitable. She alleged that she was physically and verbally abused by him, but stayed hoping things would change for the better, but it had gotten worse over the years that she wanted out of the relationship.
In season one alone, the viewers could see that something wasn’t right with their relationship, as Andy yelled at Kate whenever things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. He would explain that he wasn’t pissed off at her, but just frustrated. One could only guess what happened when there was no camera filming them.
Kate said that Andy can be sweet sometimes and would even surprise her on her birthday, such as giving her a necklace that he’d made out of argillite, and set on silver with finger bones of a lynx.
They would also go ‘on vacation’ at some cabin, just to have a different ambiance even if they only stayed there for a day. However, she admitted that their life together wasn’t some fairytale, as they did have issues from time to time. She said that it was easy to get on each other’s nerves, as they were together 24/7. Unfortunately, Andy lost his patience often, and would curse or yell, although not necessarily at her.
There were those who felt that his attitude towards her was justified, as she seemed to have a slow reaction time or she seemed to have difficulty doing what he asked of her. For those wondering why she’s like that, she later posed the question, ‘Have you ever been so deeply afraid of a person’s reaction that you forget what you know how to do, out of paralyzing fear of making a mistake?’ She later posted on her Facebook page that she’s fighting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it was hard as there were unwanted memories and triggers.
Kate’s life after the TV series “Life Below Zero”
Kate left the show after they separated, but Andy’s still part of it much to the dismay of some fans who believed he should be fired by the network after what he did to her. He continued to live his dream in Alaska. In 2018, he sustained an injury that became infected, and received treatment in Florida. After six months, he returned home and brought his new girlfriend named Denise with him. She was a trauma nurse at the medical facility he was in, although they first met a couple of years before that while she was with a Boy Scout troop on a canoe trip. He was still using crutches and Denise was a big help to him.
When Kate left Alaska, the producers of the series called her up and asked if she was open to doing an interview, and she agreed as long as she could tell the truth. She found it funny that they couldn’t say yes to that, but had no problems airing the ‘ugly truth’ while she was still part of the show, despite her pleas not to air those that would hurt her and her family.
After everything that happened, Kate described herself as a bit broken, but still standing. Her healing mantra has been, ‘Freedom is being you without anyone’s permission.’ She misses her dogs, and was happy when she heard that the last puppy she raised called Jack was adopted by friends.
Living in Canada
She moved to Newfoundland in Canada, and built a life for herself, spending some time traveling and reconnecting with friends and loved ones. Fans were kept abreast of what was happening in her life via her Facebook page. Kate officially became a senior citizen on 24 March 2021. She had phlebotomy (removal of blood) for hemochromatosis, a disorder in which there are elevated levels of iron in the blood that could cause damage to many parts of the body including the heart, liver, and endocrine glands, and said she’s recovering. She had a thyroid cancer scare that year as well.
Kate received her Covid booster shot in January 2022, and has been vocal about the importance of following safety protocols, and her disappointment with those people who chose to ignore it. She’s often been attacked for this, and has sometimes felt it’s better to say nothing at all, but said that it hurt her as she grew up in a time when one could speak without being persecuted, in the way it is now through her social media account.
She has also strong opinions on politics in America, and said she never looked down on anyone’s political beliefs as that’s a personal choice. Kate has received death threats and ‘hate mails’ as she ‘despises Trump as a man.’ However, no amount of intimidation, insult or threat can stop her from saying what she believed is right.
Her Facebook page has become a way for people to get to know her better, and communicate with her. Kate’s a Christian and a liberal thinker. She loves mankind no matter the color, country, religion, or sexuality, and hates injustice to humanity.