Czech mushroom picker recounts 4-day journey through N.W.T wilderness

After a 30-kilometre journey through forest in the Northwest Territories, Marie Neumann walked into her mushroom-picking camp, four days after being reported missing.

Marie Neumann hiked 30 kilometres finding her way back to camp

Marie Neumann spent four days hiking through the Northwest Territories forest making her way back to camp. It's believed she walked 30 kilometres over that time. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Marie Neumann walked into her mushroom picking camp around 10 p.m. Friday. It was as if she'd just come back from a hike in the woods. She was tired, a little hungry, covered in mosquito bites, but otherwise fine.

But Neumann wasn't coming back from an afternoon hike.

'I made the mistake of changing direction," Neumann said Sunday. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)
She'd just finished a four-day, 30-kilometre journey through forest in the Northwest Territories, trying to make her way back to camp after losing the trail trying to find a backpack.

It began last Monday. She split with fellow picker Kristyna Hajkova on her way back to camp. After first leaving the trail she went north, back the way she'd came. Then she turned around. 

"I made the mistake of changing direction," Neumann said on Sunday, still camping in the forest where she'd lost her way. "I stood on a rock and saw the way south was more inviting, comfortable, it was ground you could walk in. 

"I thought we were very close to Yellowknife. On the way up we saw campers, I thought I could just walk the other way, hit some roads, and maybe hitchhike back to the camp."

Turning south, Neumann went the wrong way. It was one of a few mistakes Neumann believes she made along the way. The others involved underestimating the terrain and not understanding how far in the wilderness she actually was.

She turned away away from her camp near Reid Lake and walked into the maze of bush and lakes that make up the landscape of the subarctic boreal forest.

Search and rescue volunteers meet with Marie Neumann who'd been reported missing in the N.W.T. wilderness. (Yellowknife Search and Rescue)
It's believed she walked about 15 kilometres until she hit Jennejohn Lake — still at least 30 kilometres away from Dettah, the nearest community. At that point she realized she'd gone the wrong way and had to turn back.   

"I was worried all the time," Neumann said."I knew I was taking too long. I was worried for the people here and thinking I'd be reported missing." 

She'd been reported missing shortly after losing contact with her fellow mushroom pickers Monday evening. RCMP, Yellowknife Search and Rescue and volunteers were all involved.

Neumann, second from right, in camp with fellow mushroom pickers. Many have travelled from Europe on the hunt for lucrative morels. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

The effort included a helicopter, which Neumann spotted on her third day out. She used her blue mushroom-bucket to signal it, but it was no use. 

Neumann retraced her steps over the next two days, using her compass as a guide. Even though she didn't have anything to eat, she wasn't hungry, only focusing on making it back.

"The hardest part was the emotion," Neumann said. "You were embarrassed that this happened, you were worried for the other people.

"I was feeling good. l  wasn't stressed, I wasn't afraid, but I thought maybe the other people think I'm dead and are freaking out. I didn't want to cause that to anybody."

Kristyna Hajkova (left) and Lukas Koubek were named honorary members of Yellowknife Search and Rescue after the search for Marie Neumann ended with her arriving back safely. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)
She made it back into camp Friday night, a relief to searchers and fellow Czech mushroom pickers Lukas Koubek and Kristyna Hajkova. Both mushroom pickers were named honorary members of Yellowknife Search and Rescue after the search was over.

Neumann rested Saturday, debriefing with RCMP and making sure she was all right. Then, she returned to the mushroom camp where she's staying.   

"I didn't suffer in the woods, I kind of liked it," she said. "I felt good when I was out there. I wasn't terrified. I was worried for the other people, not for myself."

Her story finished, Neumann put on her gear, met up with the other pickers and went back out into the bush.

With files from Loren McGinnis and Alyssa Mosher