German kayakers on 4,500km trip from Hay River to Bering Sea

Two German kayakers have begun a five-month adventure that will take them from Hay River, N.W.T. to the Bering Sea in Alaska, but one N.W.T. search and rescue official warns they might have got started too early in the season.

'We want to break out of our daily life and just get into a new comfort zone'

Janosch Hagen and Jan Kruger launched their kayaks in the Hay River May 14, as they set out on an epic journey that will take them all the way to the Bering Sea. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Just a few days after the ice broke up on the Hay River, two German kayakers arrived with an ambitious plan.

High school buddies Jan Kruger and Janosch Hagen set out Wednesday on 4,500 kilometre trip they estimate will take about five months.

“It’s our first real adventure together,” says Kruger.

It’s also their first kayaking adventure: the pair learned to kayak specially for this trip.

They’ll make their way across Great Slave Lake, down the Mackenzie River to Tsiigehtchic, then over a painstaking, 160 kilometre portage through the Richardson Mountain pass.

The planned route includes a 160 kilometre portage from Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T. to Fort Yukon, Alaska through the Richardson Mountains. (CBC)

"During this stage we will be separated from civilization for several hundred kilometres in distance," Hagen says.

Then it's on to the Yukon River through Alaska and into the Bering Sea.

"We want to break out of our daily life and just get into a new comfort zone, because we have our daily routines as students and it's a very sporty challenge and that's why we do this trip."

The pair will be updating family and a blog along the way, and are traveling with a GPS spotter and a satellite phone.

"We expect the unexpected, but hope that it will be nothing we can't handle."

‘Don’t rely on the Internet’

The pair learned to kayak especially to do this trip. 'It’s our first real adventure together.' (Jacob Barker/CBC)
Jack Kruger, an RCMP search and rescue coordinator in Hay River, credits the pair for having the right communications gear, but says that if they’d asked him, he would have advised them not to go just yet.

"The ice from Great Slave Lake still has to transit the Mackenzie,” Kruger says. “They're going to wake up one morning to find a wall to wall river of ice and debris behind them. Because we can't get to them with boats or jet boats, we'd have to use a helicopter."

That would be an expensive venture.

Kruger says four hours of search and rescue costs about $10,000, and puts the people doing the rescuing at risk as well. 

Kruger has some simple advice for people heading out on the land: don't rely on the internet.

Instead, ask someone who knows the area firsthand.