Paddling Bennett LakeAugust 22, 2016
We arrived at the Bennett train station after our scenic train ride over White Pass from Skagway Alaska. We were very excited about being at Bennett Lake as it was one of the more remote parts of our trip and it was very beautiful with huge mountains and sandy beaches. Since the train continues on up the right side of the lake to the town of Carcross we decided to paddle up the left shore of the lake.
We had a snack, packed the boat and started paddling, anxious to get going. We had only been paddling twenty minutes before we ran aground. Luckily it was a beautiful sandy bottom so Dwane & I didn’t think much of jumping out and pushing the canoe to get going again. That would have been fine, but the water was freezing! It was a good first-hand reminder how cold the water is. The weather is hot and the place is beautiful, but the water is way too cold to swim.
Our first campsite was on a nice beach not far from the old Bennett town site. The kids were thrilled by all the broken glass and rusty metal left here from the gold rush days. We did a nice walk down the beach after dinner, stopping every other step as the kids pointed out more “treasures”.
The next morning we only paddled another twenty minutes before we found the most beautiful beach. We couldn’t paddle past it so we stopped for a good long play. We ate lunch before deciding that we couldn’t paddle only twenty minutes a day so we continued on.
After paddling another hour the wind started blowing hard. Luckily we found another beautiful sandy beach where we could stay and make camp. The wind blew hard from the south all afternoon, but our camp was facing north so we were well protected. The kids played for hours. They ran down the sand spit, dug trenches down the beach, collected rocks and played imaginary games in the blazing hot sun.
The wind subsided in the middle of the night but leaving camp again mid-morning we could feel it start to pick up. Our choice to paddle down the left hand side of the lake was reaffirmed today. Although this route is longer because of all the bays and points, all the bays give shelter and temporary relief from the blowing winds. They also provide safe pull outs along the many leeward beaches.
While we never had a scary moment, the tail wind continued to build creating bigger and bigger waves. The trips around each point got more intense until we decided it was time to get off the lake. Our pull out was the leeward side of a rocky point. It wasn’t a bad spot, sheltered from the wind with a beautiful view down the lake. Alone Dwane and I would have had a pleasant day there, but the kids weren’t having it. After both kids fell and hurt themselves on the rocks and in response to my constant urging to “be careful” they went stir crazy. Without the freedom of movement they were used to they were not loving this spot.
We stayed on our rocky shore for lunch and dinner. We had some fun moments, games and a chocolate cake for Chuck’s half-birthday, but we were anxious to move on and find a nice campsite. We got back on the water at 8 pm but only paddled a short while before we were again pushed off the water by a strong tailwind. Luckily this time it was on a small, but sandy beach, allowing more room for playing. Dwane helped the kids build a driftwood fort before we all crawled into the tent and fell fast asleep.
After a day stranded by the wind we didn’t want to chance it again so we got on the water early the next morning. The glass calm water was such a stark contrast to the previous day. We had a beautiful paddle with the mountains reflecting in the water in every direction. The paddle to West Arm was further than we had thought. It is very hard to judge distances on this lake because the scenery is so huge with the big mountains and big lake. We paddled around several rocky points without safe pull outs so we were happy to be paddling this section on a calm day.
We arrived at West Arm and took a break on a small beach. We had planned to explore West Arm by paddling down its length and back up the other side so we hadn’t been concerned about a crossing. West Arm had been one of the planned highlights of the trip. There was a cabin we could use halfway down the inlet and a creek we could hike up to reach a beautiful alpine lake with good fishing. That was the plan. However when we turned the corner into the arm we were both taken back with how BIG it was! It was going to be quite a detour and after a difficult day yesterday we wondered if we could even complete the trip we had planned with the kids.
During our short break we looked across West Arm at an amazingly beautiful beach and at the water which was still flat calm. At that moment we decided to skip the side trip down West Arm and do the crossing. The crossing took twenty-two minutes and although safe with no wind we did breathe a sigh of relief when we reached the far shore.
Both kids had fallen asleep in the canoe during the crossing so we let them sleep as we made camp. As anticipated they were very excited when they woke up and saw camp set up on a beautiful beach.
We had a few rain showers throughout the afternoon, but our nice big tarp allowed us to enjoy the view without getting wet. There was a break in the weather so we went for a good long walk down the beach before having dinner.
Waking up the following morning I felt sad that we would be leaving such a beautiful place, so instead we decided to stay. It was good to see the kids chill out and have some quiet fun as well as their usual running around madness. That evening we did a nice hike down the beach the opposite direction to Millhaven Bay and strolled back to camp through the open forest overlooking the lake.
The next morning we were on the water early. Our goal was to reach the town of Carcross, but that meant paddling the rest of Bennett Lake before the wind became too strong to continue. It was a nice paddle and we didn’t rush because we weren’t anxious to leave this beautiful lake behind. Close to town we hit a submerged rock hidden by the silty water and we were perched on it for a short scary moment before we were able to paddle off of it. I hadn’t realized the water was shallow enough to stand in as it was full of sediment from the river. If I had known it was so shallow it wouldn’t have made my heart beat so fast when we were teetering on the rock. For the rest of the trip into Carcross we had to paddle very far out from shore to avoid the shallow water. We knew we could easily stand in the water, but it was still strange being so far from shore with the wind and waves increasing in strength and hitting us broadside.
When we finally made it to town our first stop was to get the kids ice cream. We know our priorities! We purchased a little fresh food and checked our emails. A couple of tourists stopped by to chat. “Are you floating down the river?” they asked. I could only laugh, my arms didn’t feel like we’d been floating!
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