French traveller Francois Guenot is lucky to be alive.
After getting lost on a solo trek in the Ethel Lake area, he arrived in Mayo, soaking wet from a fall in the Stewart River and with no food left in his supplies. He climbed the dyke and started knocking on doors looking for help.
Guenot is a 32-year-old ski instructor from Maiche, France who arrived in Canada last summer. Ever since he was a child, he said he dreamed of the world map and the North.
“In Europe, you see the print of man everywhere,” he
said, when interviewed recently in Mayo.
“Here, it’s open land. It’s wild.”
With no wife or children to worry about, and a healthy fear of growing old, Guenot decided to embark on a big adventure.
“I don’t want to stay like a dog on a leash in France,” he said.
He started his journey in Alberta last summer, slowly making his way to the Yukon by canoe, by bike and by foot.
When he first crossed the border into the territory, he found a cabin on private property. Although he waited for awhile to see if the owners would turn up, he finally gave up and went in. It was cold and dark. When the owners of the cabin did show up, they gave him food and a ride to Watson Lake.
There he was given four or five bikes so he could put together one that he could use to travel. He also helped an elderly woman for four days and was rewarded with moose meat.
“That was three days food,” he said.
He made his way to Whitehorse by bike, where he spent four days at the Salvation Army. Then he headed north on the Klondike Highway.
Guenot spent eight days in Pelly Crossing. People in that community gave him mukluks, a hat, a digital camera, a map, $20, long johns, a sweatshirt, moose meat, a headlamp and an antler-handled knife.
The generosity continued when he reached Stewart Crossing. He was given a map and a pair of warm boots before starting off on what would become the worst snowshoe trip of his life.
Leaving the highway just after lunch one December day, he started down the Ethel Lake Road. His goal was to hike up Hungry Mountain. Seventeen hours later, he reached a cabin he’d been told about where he spent the next four days before starting up the mountain.
The deep snow made it hard going. “It was laborious,” he said.
His first camp consisted of a tarp hung over a tree. It was attached with smaller branches through the tarp holes. Underneath, he made a bed of spruce bows.
Once he had a fire going, dried his clothes and made some bannock, he slept for 12 straight hours, Guenot said.
Since he had misread the map on his first attempt up the mountain, he decided to make a second attempt. It was a tough decision, he said. “There is no trail, I’ve tried already, one time. I was lost.”
Finally he climbed high enough to look down over the Stewart River Valley and got his bearings. He found a snowmobile trail and started to follow it to Mayo.
“I like to see that,” said Guenot. “I felt like I was just dreaming.”
So did Mayo resident Blaine Peter when he noticed snowshoe tracks as he drove his snowmobile into Ethel Lake from the highway.
“It was kind of weird because there were no tracks from the highway coming in so they were like out of the blue,” Peter said.
The tracks went right through the gap trail on Hungry Mountain. He couldn’t follow them because his machine broke down, but he returned a few days later. He picked up the trail and eventually found Guenot’s spruce-bow bed and shelter.
Meanwhile Guenot was making his way to Mayo.
Josee Lemieux-Tremblay was surprised when she heard noise outside of her home in Mayo one day. It was Guenot speaking to her and her brother through the door in French. She opened it to find a wet Guenot and a sled filled with his gear and supplies.
She couldn’t believe he had walked to Mayo from Ethel Lake, spending about a week on the trail and running out of food.
“I offered him emergency kind of help,” she said, inviting him in to dry off, take a shower and have a meal.
“He appeared to be a really nice person,” Lemieux-Tremblay said.
At the Na-cho Nyak Dun offices where she works, she said people had been wondering where the mysterious snowshoe tracks came from.
“There’s a Christmas mystery,” she said. “Nobody knew for awhile. We had so much fun talking about this mystery.”
At a cabin in Mayo where Guenot has now taken refuge for a while, he stirs a pot of moose sausage and rice.
“I want to learn about the wild lifestyle,” Guenot said. “I am respectful about the old people and their ancestors.”
A copy of the Jim Robb’s Colourful Five Percent lies by his table. His journal is filling up with writing and abstract drawings.
Soon he’ll have even more to write about. His next destination is Dawson City. And then on to Inuvik which he hopes to reach by the spring.
But his adventures won’t be over yet. Then he plans to go to Russia, to meet some friends, and enjoy a good game of Risk.