NG Kids travelled into the wilds of Canada to meet 98-year-old Alex Van Bibber, the awesome adventurer who's been exploring the country's icy north since he was a child...
One of 16 children, Alex Van Bibber was born in 1916 in a First Nation community based at Squaw Rapids in the Yukon Territories. First Nation people were the original native people of the area — his mum was a Tlingit Indian. Alex's dad arrived in Yukon from West Virginia, USA, during the 'Klondike Gold Rush' to Dawson City in 1898. During the 'Gold Rush', thousands of people headed up to this extreme wilderness to pan (search) for gold. Panning was a laborious job and involved sifting gravel from streams to search for small bits of the precious metal.
Alex learned from his dad how to survive in this remote part of the world, discovering how to hunt, fish and live off the land from an early age, just as his ancestors had done for generations. When he was 13, Alex had to travel hundreds of kilometres to Dawson City where they went to boarding school. But they didn’t travel by road. “We used to go to school by wooden raft down the Yukon River,” says Alex. “Why pay good money to take a boat when the water’s going that way anyway?! It took us five days, and when we got there, dad said to sell the raft for spending money. We got ten dollars for it."
In 1942, when he was 26, Alex was hired by the US army to lead a team on a 800km trek across the treacherous Mackenzie Mountains during the winter. The army wanted to find a route for a new oil pipeline to Alaska during World War 2. Alex and the team hiked for 43 days into the icy north of the region, wearing snow shoes that looked like old tennis racquets and moccasin shoes made of animal fur. Temperatures dropped below -40°C! At night, they slept in canvas tents called 'wall tents'. "We had to tramp down the soft snow with our snow shoes," remembers Alex. "That way the dog teams and sledges could follow the trail. Every night we lit a stove to dry out our frozen moccasins."
Alex’s expertise was called on hundreds of times over the years — he took politicians climbing into the snow-capped mountains and even helped rescue plane-crash survivors in -50°C temperatures! Amazingly, Alex is still hunting and scouting the land today, aged 98. Wow!