The Eskimos never hunted for sport. They hunted to eat; for subsistence. There were no 'trophys' in any eskimo cabin. Nonetheless they were subject to the State hunting laws. They said the Game Wardens occasionally fly over and if they’re caught hunting out-of-season they were in big trouble.
It was late March. Many families in the village had run out of meat. Some men had illegally killed a moose an hour or so away from the village and hid and camouflaged it because they didn’t want to transport it in daylight. This moose would be enough meat for the whole village until the salmon returned.
After dark, two snowmobiles set out to retrieve the moose. Jack Egnaty, a cautious and competent Eskimo drove the first and for some reason I was selected to drive the second. We crossed the frozen river and went up a stream valley at speed. It was dark and only the snowmobile’s headlights lit our path. We were going faster than I felt comfortable going but I was determined not to fall behind or, God forbid, get lost again. I stayed close behind. The valley narrowed and the walls got steeper and soon we were zipping along a narrow ledge, not much wider than the snowmobile’s track and we’re 30 feet above the valley floor. The trail twisted and turned. Jack didn’t slow down and I stayed right on his ass. He was the Eskimo. He knew where we are going and why we’re on that ledge and why the hell we have to be going so fast.
Then, without warning, Jack peels off the ledge, racing furiously down the steep slope and into the valley. I’m right behind. Maybe the trail was out ahead. We zip along the frozen stream bed for a little while and then Jack guns his snowmobile up the slope, having enough momentum to JUST make it back to the ledge. My heart’s in my mouth as I climbed behind him, barely thinking of not making it up to the trail and falling backwards, snowmobile and all into the valley. I made it.
We sped along the ledge for another ten minutes or so and then Wham! Jack’s banking into the valley again and we repeat the whole harrowing sequence. Finally we’re back on the ledge. I’m covered with sweat. Jack stops his snowmobile. He gets off and walks back. He looks at me strangely and says, “When I fall off the trail you don’t have to follow me."
Reprinted from my book 'SLEETMUTE, A true story of Alaska' available on Amazon, Apple iBooks and other fine booksellers
Today the school in Sleetmute is named after Jack Egnaty.