German tourists in ‘Mickey Mouse’ canoe were ill-equipped for Hayes River, paddler says – Manitoba

A Saskatchewan paddler who came across a canoe abandoned on the Hayes River by a pair of German tourists says they were neither prepared nor properly equipped to paddle the rocky northern Manitoba waterway.

Wolf Wagner and John Hoentsch were forced to walk and wade their way across about 115 kilometres of muskeg after they damaged their canoe in a rapid on the Hayes, a historic fur-trade route that flows into Hudson Bay.

While the duo has been lauded for surviving their 11-day ordeal, their buggy and boggy journey from the Hayes River to a highway outside Gillam, Man. — almost 750 kilometres north of Winnipeg — is also serving as a cautionary tale about the importance of preparing for remote wilderness travel and planning for the possibility of an emergency.

“They get a feather in their cap for surviving, because to walk 10 days through muskeg is no small feat,” said Scott Robertson, a La Ronge, Sask., paddler who found Wagner and Hoentsch’s canoe amid what remained of their gear on at Nunatonowago Rapids, one of the more dangerous drops on the Hayes River, on Aug. 21.

German tourists Wolf Wagner, right, and John Hoentsch walked through the bush for 11 days after their canoe was damaged on the Hayes River. The Saskatchewan paddler who found their gear say they were not properly equipped for the trip. (Submitted by Wolf Wagner)

Robertson, who runs a fur-trading company and has been paddling for 40 years, said he always wanted to paddle the Hayes and visit York Factory, the Hudson Bay trading post that served as the largest European settlement in Manitoba for almost two centuries.

But he and his paddling partner spent the last four days of their trip worrying about the fate of two men who left behind a damaged red fibreglass canoe, a black pack that had been torn open by a black bear and a tattered note about their predicament at Nunatonowago Rapids, which sits in the middle of a dense section of Hayes River rapids.

Feared travellers were dead

“The note said, ‘We wrecked our canoe and we’re intending to walk to Gillam,'” Robertson said on Wednesday in a telephone interview from La Ronge, adding he and his paddling partner spent the remainder of their trip fearing they had stumbled across a note from two dead men.

While the Germans’ decision to travel overland perturbed the Saskatchewan paddlers, so did the vessel they discovered. Robertson said it was a fibreglass boat with a folded keel,…

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