It was freezing and growing dark in the coastal wilds of Labrador, Canada, when Woniya Thibeault nearly froze to death.
Following a pair of wolf tracks on thin ice over moving water, the skilled adventurer was running as fast as she could for the shoreline, faster than the ice could shatter beneath her feet. One wrong step and the current could suck her under the lake’s surface.
The only sound she could hear was the thudding of her heartbeat.
“In that scary moment, I was like, ‘I could absolutely die,’ ” the Northern California native told The Post.
She didn’t. At 47, Thibeault has gained a reputation for living life on the edge. Living off the grid ever since she was a teenager and studying ancestral skills, she’s learned to hunt wild animals, harvest seeds and berries and make tools from stone and bones to weather any climate. The story of her journey — including the handful of times she’s nearly died along the way — is detailed in a new memoir, “Never Alone: A Solo Arctic Survival Journey.”
In the book, the adventure lover shares her experiences competing in History Channel’s survival competition “Alone,” a series in which 10 contestants endure extreme elements with limited resources.
The last person standing gets $500,000. In two stints, she survived subzero temperatures for a combined 123 days. She set a record for most time spent alone in the wilderness over two seasons.
She was the runner-up on Season 6 of the show in 2019, lasting a staggering 73 days just south of the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
Her most chilling feat, however, came in the fall of 2022, when she competed on “Alone: Frozen,” surviving 50 hellish days in Labrador — the most easterly province of Canada — during a harsh North Atlantic winter.
She was armed only with 10 items — a sleeping bag, fishing line, hooks and a knife, among others — weathering temperatures of 40 to 60 degrees below zero. The show’s introduction called it “the most difficult and dangerous survival experience ever attempted.”
Thibeault’s comfort level in nature goes back to her childhood in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevadas. Her father’s inspiring endurance running — 100 miles, up and down mountainous terrain — fueled her mind-over-matter mindset.
And mind over stomach. At 19, Thibeault was already eating rattlesnake and grasshopper heads to survive a nine-day expedition in the remote wilderness of Hells Canyon, Idaho, in the summer of 1997 — long before there were reality television cameras to follow you into the bush.
“It’s a lot of work to eat snakes – pulling out all those ribs along the spines,” Thibeault told The Post, recalling the formative trip hiking in her hand-sewn moccasins and road-killed deer clothes. She foraged for seeds and wild fruits along the Snake River, with only a stick-framed backpack.
“It was my first time adjusting to hunger and an all-wild foods diet. It was challenging,” the then-biology and environmental studies student at University of California, Santa Cruz, recalled.
“That was the aha moment when I realized that it’s actually possible – it completely changed my world,” Thibeault said.
It was the beginning of a yearslong effort to build up her endurance — which she needed to survive the hellish conditions on “Alone: Frozen.”
The show’s challenge began with her setting up shelter, building with rocks in the freezing rain to the point of hypothermia, then finding food. Nearly a week in, she already felt her body giving out, sustaining solely off of seeds and pemmican (a mixture of dried berries).
“Early on I tried to use the pemmican sparingly. A little ball every three to four days. That was total starvation. There wasn’t any food,” she said. After weeks of starving, she finally caught a rabbit.
“Fourteen days without any food was way harder [than any other challenge]. I really didn’t have anything else to give,” she said.
The second time she competed on “Alone,” she woke up one night nearly blinded by smoke coming from the mussels she had been preparing in her confined shelter. The safety device contestants are given in case of an emergency was not charged, she recalled, in near panic.
“It would have taken them four days to get me. I was totally on my own. I put my fire out and just crawled into my sleeping bag. The next morning I was able to open my eyes, but it was a burning pain,” she said.
After sustaining 50 days in utter desolation, the tough-as-nails competitor walked away with the $500,000 prize – the first woman to take home the prize in the show’s eight-year history. But it took her months to recover.
“I am a person who likes challenges; who likes hard work and who has the capacity to push myself really hard. I think that served me for better or worse. I pushed my body to the limits,” Thibeault said.
“I was truly on the brink of long-term organ damage. My organs were starting to wither,” she said of enduring extreme hunger.
Back home, the wilderness lover plans to use her prize money to build a school to help other nature lovers live off the grid — or at least be more self sustainable.
“My whole ‘Alone’ journey shifted my life. While it’s really satisfying for me to live this lifestyle, it’s imperative for me to share these skills — our world is in desperate need for them,” she said.