In pictures: Fort McPherson to Old Crow by snowmobile

Group members at the Curtain Mountain camp between Fort McPherson and Old Crow
Group members at the Curtain Mountain camp between Fort McPherson and Old Crow. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

Two-dozen people have taken part in the return of an annual snowmobile ride between Fort McPherson and Old Crow. We joined them.

The Johnny D Charlie Memorial Ski-doo Trip took place in March after three years of pandemic-related cancellations, celebrating the rejuvenation of a tradition and, for some, the completion of a bucket-list excursion.

“To see the young people that chose to come, I was really happy,” said Fort McPherson Elder Alice Vittrekwa, niece to former Teetl’it Gwich’in Chief Charlie, in whose memory the trip takes place.

“Uncle Johnny didn’t want to get lost, so he was the one that decided they should make a trip to Old Crow,” she said.



Elder guide Keith Colin and Ethan Koe shoot and harvest a caribou at Curtain Mountain
Elder guide Keith Colin and Ethan Koe shoot and harvest a caribou at Curtain Mountain. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio
Alice Vittrekwa prepares caribou meat
Alice Vittrekwa prepares caribou meat. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

A tradition for more than 30 years, the trip gained Charlie’s name in 1999 after he passed away.

Charlie’s daughter, Chief Liz Wright of the Teetl’it Gwich’in Band Council, says the route has been active since the 1920s but its importance diminished after the Dempster Highway was built in the 1970s – until Charlie began work on the annual event.

Vittrekwa’s husband, Ernest, has taken part nearly every year, but Alice said this was her first trip to Old Crow as part of a large group, with her grandchildren along for the ride.

“I really wanted to make this trip with the kids,” she said at the trip’s Curtain Mountain halfway camp.



“They’re going to remember the most important thing is their jiju and baba were with them … and some of the teachings of our traditional way of life.”

Watch footage of the trip from Fort McPherson to Old Crow.

An initial group of 20 people from Fort McPherson and Inuvik left the NWT on March 15, crossing the Richardson Mountains. Ethan Koe harvested his second caribou to provide freshly caught meat at a camp of various heated canvas tents.

Arriving a day late after a Dempster Highway closure, a crew of seven from Yukon University joined the expedition as part of a land guardians training program.

Residents in Old Crow provided three meals a day for the group’s three-day stay, while organizing games and a ball hockey tournament.

Ethan Koe harvests a caribou
Ethan Koe harvests a caribou. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio
Old Crow residents provide a send-off before the trip back to Fort McPherson
Old Crow residents provide a send-off before the trip back to Fort McPherson. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

“It’s a beautiful traditional and cultural way of getting to visit one another,” said Old Crow Elder Elizabeth Kyikavichik, originally from Fort McPherson, while ice fishing as part of the gathering.

“When the people from Fort McPherson come this way, there is great excitement.”

She thanked organizers like Fort McPherson sub-chief Phillip Kaye, Phyllis Andre, and Vuntut Gwich’in deputy chief Debra-Leigh Reti.

“In all the people who work together, it’s a very beautiful way of coming together, feasting together, visiting with each other, and supporting each other in any way,” Kyikavichik said.



Staying an extra night to deal with broken snowmobiles, the group travelled through windswept snowdrifts to Curtain Mountain, harvesting fresh country food from three Porcupine caribou near the campsite. The northern lights provided a spectacular show by the light of a campfire on their last night.

Elizabeth Kyikavichik
Elizabeth Kyikavichik. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio
Malaenah Alexie interviews Gwich'in Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik
Malaenah Alexie interviews Gwich’in Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

For Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik, the trip had been a dream since Grade 9 at Fort McPherson’s Chief Julius School in 1992, when Charlie organized the first 37-person journey across the mountains.

“I was envious of people that were going out on the trip, being able to go over the mountains, and so I always had that image burned into my mind, the ability of our people to travel like this,” Kyikavichik said.

“I also had a lot of stories from my grandfather, Peter Kay, about travelling by dog team across the Mackenzie Delta over to the Yukon to trap, to hunt.”

The group returned one month to the day before the 31st anniversary of the signing of the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim modern treaty.

Gwich’in Day, April 22, falls this year on the weekend of Inuvik’s Muskrat Jamboree and Tuktoyaktuk’s Beluga Jamboree.

Editor’s note: This report and the accompanying photos and video were filed by freelance reporter Karli Zschogner and Malaenah Alexie, an emerging Gwich’in and Inuvialuit journalist from Fort McPherson.