The State Medical Examiner Office has determined that remains found on a remote island north of Kodiak in September are those of Francois Guenot, a French adventurer who vanished in May after embarking on an ambitious kayaking trip, Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday.
Guenot, from Maiche, France, began appearing in villages around Lake Iliamna in Southwest Alaska last year with a story that at first seemed improbable to locals: He claimed to have walked, canoed and bicycled his way across Canada and through Alaska, crossing treacherous Cook Inlet on a salvaged kayak. His goal was even more audacious -- to get to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia.
He spent the winter in villages around Lake Iliamna, endearing himself to some locals who considered him a hard worker and pleasant company. Others worried about what they described as a casual attitude toward Alaska wilderness travel, especially after he went on a long walk around the lake on rotten spring ice.
One thing was clear: Guenot did not want to stay put for long.
In May, he told a friend in Kokhanok that he intended to kayak to Perryville, hundreds of miles away on the south coast of the Alaska Peninsula. He was last seen on May 9, near Kokhanok, according to troopers.
Friends last heard from him on May 26. By then, he was near Kamishak Bay on the wild coast of the vast, bear-filled Katmai National Park and Preserve.
On June 20, Katmai park rangers found a kayak believed to belong to Guenot on the beach about 12 miles south of Cape Douglas, along the Shelikof Strait. A waterproof bag was found 3 miles south of the kayak. A U.S. Coast Guard aircraft and a vessel searched the area briefly, but officials called off the search after they found no sign of Guenot.
Friends in the Lake Iliamna area did not consider the discovery of abandoned gear to be proof that Guenot was dead. The man who had once told a newspaper of surviving falling into a river and running out of food on a solo December walk through the Yukon Territory might have simply abandoned the gear and continued the journey on foot, they said.
In August, Guenot's brother and father, Philippe and Robert Guenot, traveled to Alaska to press authorities to continue searching for the 32-year-old. They pinned hopes on the fact that while Guenot's kayak had washed ashore, important survival items such as a knife, tarp, compass and maps had not been found -- signs, to them, that Guenot might still be hiking in Katmai National Park.
But on Sept. 8, a volunteer with the Kodiak Island Trails Network discovered the decomposed remains of a body wearing chest waders, a rain jacket and gloves while cleaning up marine debris on the beach on Shuyak Island. Shuyak Island is at the top of the Kodiak archipelago, north of Afognak Island. The Shelikof Strait separates it from Cape Douglas on the Alaska Peninsula, where Guenot's kayak and gear had been found.
The medical examiner's office used dental records to identify the remains found on Shuyak Island as Guenot, troopers said Wednesday.
Troopers say his family has been notified.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing