Wolf Wagner and Johannes Hoentsch came to northern Manitoba in mid-July to experience an authentic Canadian canoeing trip and they both got a little more than they bargained for.
After landing in Winnipeg on July 16, the two tourists from Dresden, Germany headed north, with the intent of traveling from Norway House to Port Nelson via several bodies of water.
Since this wasn’t their first backwoods canoeing expedition, the pair didn’t encounter any problems 10 days into their trip. However, this all changed on the evening of July 27, when Wagner and Hoentsch hit a particularly nasty patch of rapids on the Hayes River and crashed their canoe 50 kilometres north-east of Knee Lake.
Even though the two escaped the crash relatively unharmed, they soon came to the grim realization that their boat was broken beyond repair, which meant that they had no other option than to hike approximately 105 kilometres on foot to the nearest town.
“We got our clothes out and dried them overnight and then we made the plan to start walking,” said Wagner, who works as a branch manager for a bank. “The GPS was still working … of course the maps became a bit wet and we dried them on the line on the next morning, then we decided to walk to Gillam.”
With their navigation equipment and camping gear mostly intact, the two decided the quickest way to make it back to civilization was to head north. However, this was a lot easier said than done, since the climate got more and more frigid with every step they took.
“After the third day we had kind of a routine … getting up at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to travel,” said Hoentsch, a researcher and PhD student at TU Dresden. “It took a little bit longer to get out of the tent, because … we went north every day and it got colder and colder and colder.”
This was made worse by the fact that they had to cross at least six bodies of water on their route to Gillam. At one point Wagner and Hoentsch had to fashion a makeshift raft to carry their food and supplies across Stupart Lake.
“The biggest problem was that our shoes were always wet,” said Wagner. “Everything was wet and we could never dry it.”
Even though the pair didn’t run into bears, wolves or any other dangerous carnivores, they said the flies and blistering heat from the sun were punishing enough on their own.
Regardless of these dire circumstances, the tourists said there was never a moment where they thought they would perish in the wilderness. Since a good chunk of their food supply survived the initial crash, the two had just enough energy to complete the entire trek through the bush, arriving in Gillam Aug. 6 after hitchhiking the last 17 kilometres once they finally reached the road.
Considering they had lost around 10 kilograms a piece and were covered head to toe in bug bites, Wagner and Hoentsch seemed to be in good mental and physical condition by the time they made it to Thompson on Aug. 8 to talk with the Thompson Citizen.
Hoentsch said one of the ways they were able to maintain their sanity during this ordeal was to listen to some podcasts that were saved on their phones, which had also survived the crash. They are particularly big fans of German comedian Jan Böhmermann and listened to his show titled ”Fest & Flauschig” right before bed.
“We listened to them in the evening. For the last two or three kilometres that was our motivation. We can look straight forward for dinner and for the podcasts.”
Hoentsch also mentioned that the thought of their loved ones kept them going throughout the entire ordeal and stopped them from giving up.
“At the beginning we asked each other for whom are we doing this and we told ourselves that we are doing this for our girlfriends,” he said.
While these two are now safely back in Dresden, Wagner revealed they are more than willing to return to northern Manitoba for a similar kind of rugged, outdoorsy vacation.
“I think there are many destinations left here in Manitoba,” he said. “I want to see Churchill and I want to see it in the winter.