Kesugi Ridge Hike
July 19th-21st 2015
Woodsen and I are last minute planners. I think it’s a common trait of Alaskans who enjoy the outdoors. During the summer, I find it nearly impossible to make a decision before having a good idea of what the weather will be doing, and a three-day hike like Kesugi Ridge would be no exception.
When our friend Cia came to Alaska for a visit last summer, we had a week off and a list of possible adventures to go on. The morning of the first day we all sat in the cabin looking at weather around the state and trying to decide what our best option would be. With a promising weather window, we decided to head up the Parks Highway to the Little Coal Creek trailhead to hike Kesugi Ridge. We referred to this website to get a good idea of what to expect.
The original plan was to camp at a pull-out along the highway that doubled as a campsite. Then, the next morning, head to the trailhead to start our hike. We got to the potential campsite sooner than we had planned, but none of us were keen on sitting around burning daylight. We decided to skip camping and head to the trail.
Mayfair the VW van serving as base camp extraordinaire.
Obligatory pre-hike group photo.
The first part of the hike is pretty much two and a half miles uphill, but with plenty of switchbacks and stunning views to keep you preoccupied.
Getting above treeline is always a little bit of an accomplishment.
After you finish the climb, you are greeted with some of the best vistas the hike has to offer – green rolling tundra, Coal Creek, and a beautiful rock glacier. If you are lucky and weather cooperates, Denali completes the panorama.
We hiked for about 5 miles then decided to stop to enjoy the sunset.
Denali peaking through the clouds.
Quite the view for dinner!
The Swiss Miss & I.
We woke up to another beautiful day of sunshine. Not a bad way to wake up!
Back on the trail with Denali to keep us company.
When I first found this hike, I was hoping that it might be a fun bike ride. All the pictures I found made the trail seem mostly flat along the ridge with only a couple areas where you would have to carry your bike . I enjoy biking trails that are a little technical, such as Lost Lake, but let me tell you there is no way I would bike this trail. I think the problem with looking at pictures is that most people stop taking photos when the trail gets tricky, and I’m no exception. While this trail isn’t very technical to walk; in my opinion, it would be a suffer-fest to bike.
Somewhere in this area, Ermine Hill trail tees into the ridge trail. We wanted to get the full Kesugi ridge experience, so we didn’t think of taking the cutoff at the time; but, if I were to do it again, I would hike past where the two trails intersect, check out the rock formations, backtrack to the Ermine Hill trail and finish the hike. Here is why.
After the rock formations, we were a bit confused as to where the trail went mostly because of where it led was pretty obviously down into a valley. I didn’t want to go down into the valley. I was mentally prepared for a ridge hike, like the name describes. Well, like it or not, the trail goes down, down, down, to a swampy valley where you balance on 2×6 boards to cross. Then you have to hike all the way back up the valley to get back on the ridge. The next ridge top was nice, but I felt like the first part of the ridge hike was more enjoyable.
After taking an abrupt left after Ermine Hill, you eventually get to some really unique rock formations.
It’s a great place to stop for a break and do some exploring.
After the rock formations, you go down into the trees and swamp. Going down, when you know you have to go back up, is always a bit depressing for me. Between that and having to use both hands to hold on for the steep descent, I stopped taking photos.
Down into the swampy valley.
Already halfway back up looking over Skinny Lake. We had thought we would camp by Skinny Lake to break up the hiking, but none of us wanted to camp till we were back on the ridge. We pressed on.
Back on top with some beautiful views.
We found a nice lake to camp at and finished our 18-mile day with a refreshing swim and more beautiful views of Denali.
Holding up well mid-hike.
Knowing we were finished with all the uphill hiking and that we had a short 5 mile hike to Byers Lake, we happily set back out on the trail.
Do we have to go back down?
The trail down to Byers Lake is packed with switchbacks and easy on the knees. We had to take a break when we found the mustache moss. 🙂
Reaching the footbridge means we are getting close!
Hitchhiking back to the van took longer than we thought – no one would stop to give us a ride. What the heck?! We don’t look that suspicious! Ok, who smells? Maybe Woodsen needs to go hide in the trees.
On our way back, we realized there was one-way traffic for the stretch of highway right before Byers Lake due to road construction. I was relieved to find out there was a reason no one wanted to stop to pick us up.
Back in the van and happy to have had such a great hike. Time to head back to Anchorage and hit up the Moose’s Tooth – a post adventure tradition!