We awake to another beautiful morning. The lake is shimmering like a mirror. Paul has had a pain free night’s sleep, which is a good thing because I awake to back spasms. Perfect! (I frick’n hate getting older!) We are in no particular hurry to get up or get moving. We have two days to travel the remaining 7 miles to Bennett Lake. Breakfast is leisurely. We all discuss whether we will all be hiking directly to Bennett Lake or make a stop, and camp a night at Bare Loon Lake 1.4 miles away. We hear it is a great place to swim. Russ asks how Paul’s ankle is feeling. He tells Russ it is much better, but not 100%. Russ announces that we should all camp at Bare Loon, and offers to come back and carry Paul’s stuff. Paul declines, telling him that we will meet them there. A new Parks Canada Ranger wanders into camp to say “Hello”. He also offers to give Paul a ride to Bennett Lake (or within 2 miles…we can’t escape it), via his power boat if he would like. I, of course will have to walk. Curious, we ask why not all the way to Bennett Lake. The Ranger tells us that at the end of Lindeman Lake there is a mile long narrow stretch of treacherous rapids that flows into Bennett Lake, hence the required 2 mile walk into Bennett Lake. He further explains that while many of the Stampeders used and/or built boats here at Lindeman City (decimating the surrounding forest’s timber), once they got to the rapids, they portaged their gear and boats around the rapids, lest they literally lose their shit.
More than a few chanced it and made it, but most who tried, failed, and lost everything. (Be sure to read the upper right portion of the above interpretive panel) The Ranger excuses himself as he has trail maintenance to do. Most everyone sets off, and we lag behind as the Upper Lindeman City campground has an “interpretive center”, housed in a period, canvas clapboard, tent that is flanked by interpretive panels.
Not only does the tent house books and pictures chronicling the history of this “city”, the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike Gold Rush, but there are cards and board games to equally pass the time. This place alone, would be a great destination from Bennett Lake. It is beautiful and engaging. It is mid morning when we hit the trail. We climb (yes all trails begin with an uphill) up out of Lindeman City and stop at an interpretive panel whose embedded picture was taken from this exact vantage point during the height of the Chilkoot Trail.
What a difference 120 years makes! Nature has certainly reclaimed this once scoured land. Paul’s ankle is feeling better, but we tread slowly and deliberately, which is fine with me as my lower back is spasming like a game of Russian roulette. We make the 1.4 miles to Bare Loon lake with remarkable “ease”.
Russ and company are no where to be found. We talk with a couple hanging out at the open air cooking structure and shelter. They tell us that our “friends”, waited a bit for us, and then moved on to Bennett Lake. So much for the plan, Russ!
These two have been holed up here for two days now, as one of their group members is sick with what might be giardia, but most likely the effects from a bad case of heat exhaustion. We give them the rest of our electrolytes, and they share some anti-inflammatories and the water they have been actively gravity filtering with their platypus filter system. Ironically there has been no expectation or request for help (by us or them), but help is offered once a need is observed, and equally, with no expectation of reciprocation. This is the hiking community at its best. Too bad the rest of the world can’t be this way. We talk with the young couple for a good length of time. We consider staying the night here, and ask about the swimming. They say they have done it, and the water was great, but one needs to be careful not to stir up the silt that lies peacefully beneath the still clear water. Once the silt is disturbed, the benefits of swimming and “cleaning up” are foiled. Paul asks me what I want to do. Considering that my back could fail at any moment, I do not want to take the risk of waking up the next morning, moving “wrong”, and becoming “paralyzed” with pain. Remember, NO Vicodin. If that happened camped at Bennett Lake, I would have a better chance of making the 3:30 train to Skagway. We thank the couple for their drugs and water. They thank us for the electrolytes and our extra Via (Starbucks) coffee. We amble on our way. The trail is fairly easy tread, and often marshy. It is lined with nearly ripe blueberries, and I sample a handful at a time as we go.
Moose droppings (or someone has dropped a whole pile of Cadbury chocolate eggs) lie either in or just off to the side of the trail.
We look in earnest for moose in the marshes we pass, highly aware that these guys are unpredictable and that more people are injured or killed by moose in this country, and the U.S., than bears. We pass the dock, at the end of Lindeman Lake, and hope the trail winds close to the rapids so we can peer over, but it does not.
Our last 2 miles to Bennett Lake is spent walking slightly uphill in soft sand, sans shade, and in the noonday sun.
We pass a trappers cabin, and cemetery. As Bennett Lake comes into view, we pass the still standing Russian Orthodox Church (built in the 1900’s) that is now used for a storage area.
We drop down to the lake, and again are greeted by cheers of “You Made It’. We hoot and holler along with them. Glad to be done, and to see so many now familiar faces. Russ, Trudy and Heidi greet us, telling us they “saved” us a spot on the beach next to them. Paul, being the funny man that he is, asks Russ, “Dude what happened? We’d have been here sooner, but we were waiting for you to come back and carry my gear”. Russ initially looks shocked, and Paul lets him off the hook, with a slap on the back…”I’m just kidding”. Into the cook house we filter, as it is time for lunch and to eat mostly what’s left of our food (save dinner and breakfast). Stories and laughter fill the shelter. Russ shares a particular story about one woman’s use of bear spray/repellant during the Valdez oil spill clean up. The story goes something like this, ‘People from everywhere and all walks of life flooded into Valdez to help with the clean up as Exxon was hiring anyone and everyone to sop up the oil as fast as they could. Each individual was issued a can of bear repellant, or bear spray as its more commonly referred to as. As the people work, there is an overseer/safety guy that is on the lookout for bears. The workers are told that if they hear the air horn, it indicates that a bear has walked onto the beach and is too close. They are to immediately stop what they are doing and return to the rally point, bear repellent (spray) in hand. The woman (who Russ makes sure to point out that she is blonde…”no offense meant, as it is true”, he tells us) hears the air horn, pulls out her spray and begins to lavishly douse herself, from head to toe, with it. Of course she is overcome by the potent effects of the industrial strength pepper spray, leaving her incapacitated, crying, blind, and dripping in snot. When they get her back to the rally point and clean her up, they ask her why she did what she did. There having been no orientation/instruction on how to use said spray (thinking it was “obvious”, and that with their safety protocols there would be no need to ever deploy the spray to ward off a bear), she assumed that because the canister read, “Bear Repellent “, and not being from around these parts, that bear repellent was the mammal’s version of mosquito repellent, thus once she heard the horn, applied it accordingly.’
More stories and laughter continue as more people roll into camp. We are worried as our Canadian Triad has yet to appear, and no one in camp has seen them since Sheep Camp. We hear rumors of an emergency airlift from the summit. As luck would have it, Brent (of the Canadian Triad) walks into the cookhouse! Where the hell have you been? Where are the girls?…we ask. “Have I got a story for you”, he replies. They got going early enough (0730), and like us were dogged by menacing hoards of mosquitoes. The biggest problem was that they ran out of water 3/4 of the way up to the first false summit, and it was getting warmer. Brent was able to find a spring in-between the rocks, but by then the effects and signs of Heat Exhaustion had already set in. By the time they got to the summit and the Warden’s cabin, the combination of the sun and the rocks, it was now 120F/52C. (Holy steaming shit, Batman! That’s even too hot for us!) Brent was red hot, and his heart rate was racing. The Ranger got them drinking water, and would not let them leave till Brent’s heartrate and skin temperature returned to a “normal” level. By the time this occurred, it was too late in the day to make it to Happy Camp at a reasonable time. In the meantime, several other hikers, who were in worse shape than them, were airlifted off the summit. (That’s gotta be expensive) The next morning, they headed down the summit, determined, having made it over the hair-raising climb, to make the train at Bennett Lake by Saturday. They had heard about Paul’s injury (news travels quickly, and in both directions on the trail), and wondered how far we had gotten and if we were still on the trail. Brent got as far as Lindeman Lake, but was still feeling the effects of Heat Exhaustion. The Parks Canada Ranger offered to give him a ride in his power boat to the end of Lindeman Lake. He would walk the final 2 miles into Bennett Lake. When Brent accepted, the girls ingeniously unloaded the bulk of their heavy and unnecessary items, and added them to Brent’s pack. The girls would spend their final night at Bare Loon Lake, and walk into Bennett Lake Saturday morning. Brent found the final 2 miles of soft sand tortuous (as did most of us) as his pack was heavier than he would prefer, but was happy to have finished the trail without having to have been airlifted out.
We also talk with Amanda and her cousin Stacy (who owns Doggy Decadents ) Both are quite adventurous. They hunt, fish, ski, snowmobile (extreme), and are homesteaders doing their best to live off the land and provide for themselves and their families. They talk about the challenges of co-existing with bears, wolves, moose, sub-zero temperatures, and raising (of all things) chickens, in said environment. Amanda, in fact, writes a blog mainly about homesteading, and all things Alaska, called IdlewildAlaska.com . You should check it out. She is way more adept at blogging than I, and has a wonderful, and informative writing style. Via our “smartphones” we all share pictures and corresponding stories of our adventures.
We filter some water and Paul takes a dip into the lake to cleanup, with careful attention to not step on the broken glass and rusty nails that remain from another once bustling town, and the last of our, home prepared and packaged, freeze dried dinners are consumed. We retreat to the confines of our tents, and for me, the last of 3 more nights I will have to endure my lopsided air mattress. Night one on the trail, one of the baffles became dislodged. Could it have been one of the ones on either edge of the mattress? Of course NOT. It was the one right smack dab in the middle! My nights were spent either rolled up into Paul or pressed against the tent door. Good thing I’m a side sleeper. We all wonder what we will do in the morning to pass the time before our train comes to carry us back to “civilization”.