Rugged-up, chilled-out ad­ven­tur­ers strike gold in Yukon

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Us Holidays - Andrew Bain

CANADA’S Yukon Ter­ri­tory is like the out­back in ice. Strad­dling the Arc­tic Cir­cle and abut­ting Alaska, it has desert con­di­tions, vast un­pop­u­lated spa­ces and an eclec­tic cast of char­ac­ters. Ger­ard Cru­chon is one of them.

In 1982 this French­man moved from Paris to Daw­son City, the Yukon town once known as the Paris of the north; he squat­ted in a small cabin on the Arc­ticbound Demp­ster High­way. Four years later, the ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ment handed him own­er­ship of the land, which he sub­se­quently con­verted into Bensen Creek Wilder­ness Ad­ven­ture & Re­treat, the finest ac­com­mo­da­tion along one of North Amer­ica’s great ad­ven­ture drives.

Ac­com­mo­dat­ing one party at a time, Bensen Creek pro­vides a unique and per­son­alised ex­pe­ri­ence, com­bin­ing Canada’s great tra­di­tion of wilder­ness lodges with the ad­ven­tur­ous spirit of the 750km un­sealed Demp­ster High­way, which is the coun­try’s only year-round road into the Arc­tic.

The small cabin from the squat­ter years re­mains but guests are ac­com­mo­dated in a dou­ble-storey lodge that be­gan life as the dance floor for Cru­chon’s wed­ding in 1993. Hand built with spruce logs over the sub­se­quent five years, the lodge is spread over two floors. Down­stairs are a lounge, kitchen and din­ing area with two wood heaters (a nec­es­sary lux­ury in a place where win­ter tem­per­a­tures can drop be­low mi­nus 50C).

Up­stairs, the spa­cious bed­room ex­tends the length of the cabin, end­ing in the lodge’s finest fea­ture: a large win­dow that of­fers views of the aurora bo­re­alis from the bed. Wak­ing in the night to dis­cover rib­bons of coloured light danc­ing across the sky is a su­perb ex­pe­ri­ence.

Out­side, be­yond the large deck, are a wood-heated shower and hot tub, per­fect for a north­ern lights vigil; this spring Cru­chon has been build­ing a sauna.

The ex­pe­ri­ence is rus­tic and re­mote; the prop­erty is 70km from Daw­son City and 20km from its near­est neigh­bour. The open­fronted out­house means calls of na­ture are just that, yet there is a wire­less in­ter­net con­nec­tion for guests and the finest food within a moose’s roar of Daw­son City.

And it’s dur­ing meals that Bensen Creek’s hos­pi­tal­ity comes into its own. Cru­chon vis­its the lodge to pre­pare break­fast and din­ner for guests in their lodg­ings. Though un­trained as a chef, Cru­chon is blessed with the French flair for fine food, and meals usu­ally con­sist of Al­berta beef, bi­son, and salmon caught in the Yukon River.

The first night of my stay, I’m served cari­bou that Cru­chon has hunted. I or­der the steak medium but chef knows best and it comes out on the scar­let side of red: sweet, gamey and as ten­der as fresh bread. It’s pre­ceded by a dip made from morel mush­rooms, a del­i­cacy that only ap­pears in the Yukon one year af­ter a wild­fire has swept through.

Bensen Creek’s nat­u­ral ad­van­tage is its prox­im­ity to Tomb­stone Ter­ri­to­rial Park, one of Canada’s lesser-known nat­u­ral trea­sures, where black, ra­zor-sharp gran­ite peaks frame wide val­leys and an au­tumn tundra dis­play is as vivid as the north­ern lights. The colours flare briefly in late Au­gust.

In sum­mer Cru­chon of­fers guided hikes in the park and ca­noe­ing trips on nearby wa­ter­ways. I amhere in win­ter and he in­tro­duces me to the soft art of snow­shoe­ing, head­ing up the frozen head­wa­ters of the North Klondike River to­wards the Tomb­stone Range. It is a sat­is­fy­ing day out, even if only to build an ap­petite for the next meal at Bensen Creek. Andrew Bain was a guest of the Cana­dian Tourism Com­mis­sion.

Check­list

Bensen Creek Wilder­ness Ad­ven­ture & Re­treat, Demp­ster High­way, Yukon Ter­ri­tory, Canada. +1 867 993 5469; www.bensen­creek.com. Tar­iff: $C144 ($153) a night for two; three-course din­ner, $C60. Menus can be pre-or­dered. Get­ting there: Air North flies to Daw­son City from the Yukon cap­i­tal, White­horse, where ve­hi­cles can be hired. It’s about a five-hour drive to Bensen Creek. Pick-up can be ar­ranged with the lodge if you are fly­ing into Daw­son City. The lodge is about a 30-minute drive from Tomb­stone along the un­sealed Demp­ster High­way. Check­ing in: Wilder­ness seek­ers, hik­ers and those wish­ing to en­joy the north­ern lights in soli­tude. Wheel­chair ac­cess: No. Stairs into the lodge (and up to the bed­room) and ice on the paths much of the year. Bed­time read­ing: TheCalloftheWild by Jack Lon­don. (The novel was in­spired by Lon­don’s ex­pe­ri­ences in the late 19th­cen­tury Klondike gold rush in Daw­son City.) Step­ping out: Hike in Tomb­stone Ter­ri­to­rial Park or drive 45 min­utes into quirky Daw­son City for a bit of wild west in the per­mafrost. Brick­bats: The lodge’s un­main­tained en­try road off the Demp­ster High­way can be a chal­lenge even in a four-wheel-drive. Out­house vis­its in sub-zero tem­per­a­tures (the Arc­tic Cir­cle is less than 400km away). Bou­quets: Ut­ter soli­tude blended with per­sonal ser­vice. To view the north­ern lights from bed is a treat.

Pic­ture: Andrew Bain

Rus­tic and re­mote: Find good food and bright lights at Bensen Creek

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