Roanoke College

Extreme adventurer Sean Burch ’92 competes in “Ultimate Survival Alaska”

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  • Extreme adventurer Sean Burch ’92 competes in “Ultimate Survival Alaska”

  • 12/13/13
  • Rarely has Sean Burch '92 met a challenge he wasn't willing to tackle head-on.

    North Pole Marathon? Placed first in 2004.

    Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Set record in 2005 for what was then the fastest ascent.

    Mount Fuji? Made the fastest winter ascent in 2009.

    The Great Himalayan Trail? Hiked 1,150 miles from east to west in 49 days, 6 hours and 8 minutes - the fastest time ever - in 2010.

    For a man described as "superhuman," Burch, 43, does indeed appear to push the limits of human possibility. What would reduce many of us into withering piles of pulp only lights his fire.

    So when the National Geographic Channel contacted Burch this spring and asked if he'd be interested in interviewing for the second season of their "Ultimate Survival" show, Burch was game. One Skype interview later, he was selected - with a mere four days to prepare - to spend three months in the middle of the Alaska wilderness with 11 other rugged explorers competing in "Ultimate Survival Alaska."

    Burch, who lives in Northern Virginia, said he was honored by the invitation to compete, as National Geographic had covered some of his earlier expeditions.

    But "I knew I was way out of my element; I don't go out hunting or paddling," he said. "My expeditions have been very much based around nonprofits, helping specific cultures. And I want to get in and out as fast as possible."

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    "This was a different world for me, but I liked that. ["Ultimate Survival"] lets you know who you are, what you are made of."

    The unexpected - the bears, the icy crevasses, the sheer near-death nature of the challenge - only heightened the level of the experience, Burch said. It was, without question, physically and mentally challenging, said the man who climbed Mount Everest solo in 2003.

    "But all expeditions are like that," Burch said. "This just happened to be for a long time. I didn't shower or change clothes for three months. But you get through it. There's always that doubt that enters. Like anything in life, you have to throw away the doubt. If you keep it within you, you will fail."

    "For everyone on this expedition, we were all there for a reason. And we knew that if we died, well, that was part of the gig."

    Competitors, divided into four teams, were required to complete nearly a dozen four-day expeditions - not for a grand prize, "just the well-fought pride of having conquered the grueling challenges that Mother Nature can throw at them," according to the show's website. Burch, an extreme athlete, motivational speaker and adventure lifestyle fitness consultant, was paired with a dog musher and an outdoorsman/vice president of a multimillion dollar corporation - both Alaska residents - on The Endurance Athletes team. Other teams were The Military, The Woodsmen and The Mountaineers.

    Burch, who is accustomed to solo expeditions, enjoyed the team aspect of "Ultimate Survival." Everyone had mutual respect for one another, he said, and they were the "real deal" ­- an ex-Navy SEAL, "heavy duty" mountaineers, a combat diver. That authenticity was part of what attracted him to the show.

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    "Ultimate Survival Alaska" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT on the National Geographic Channel. Burch cannot reveal the show's outcome, but encourages people to tune in.

    The show "has gotten some really good press, some good reviews," he said. "Hopefully it will motivate people to get out there and get excited about their world."

    To see a trailer of "Ultimate Survival Alaska" and view competitors' profiles, click here. To read The Washington Post's story on Burch, click here. Visit Sean Burch's website at SeanBurch.com.

    All photos on this page courtesy of National Geographic Channel.