Finding Myself on the Kesugi Ridge

Experiencing the Kesugi Ridge is most easily a moment of self-discovery for me, I am always trying to see where I am headed whether it is a career, or learning about myself on the trail. For the time it is for self-discovery on the trail, and that trail was, is and will be the Kesugi Ridge. I was meant to travel this trail with a good friend, but that fell to the way side, but this trip is too important to me, to who I have been, who I am now and who I am to become in the future. This time it will be my great dog pal Equinox and myself that explore the amazing land waiting for us. This trail is so much just a trail, but what an amazing trail, it leaves me wanting to return now this very moment. The drive was painstakingly long, with Alaska’s road repair season in full swing and taking six hours for a four hour drive, it was crazy.


From Byers Lake, I attempted to hitch to the Little Coal Creek trailhead but people frown on a weird guy with a huge back pack and a dog on the side of the road. Therefore, after standing on the side of the highway for two hours I changed the plan, hike into Skinny Lake set up camp, get up in the morning, do a day hike to Ermine hill, and go back to Skinny Lake celebrate the day and relax.


The first couple of miles are a refreshing walk, wandering through the forest along the beautiful shore of Byer Lake and winds its way over small hills and ravines. The beginning truly feels like a warm-up for the climbing that was soon to come and when that first turn came, the trail abruptly turned and twisted its way into the sky. I was sweating like a freak, exhausted just as I have many times in the past so I was use to this. A couple of hours go buy slogging through streams running down the trail, tromping through unavoidable mud and lung searing steepness at times I finally made it to Tarn Point, a point where the Kesugi Ridge truly begins, the adventure that I was hungry for stared me right in the face.


Passing by Mini Skinny Lake I was numb by the amazing simple beauty and if this lake area is this stunning what the hell was in store for me? The answer would come soon enough, as I crested a hill and descended into a basin I found Whimbrel Lake and I found heaven. Wandering around the lake, taking pause to savor every ounce of the land in front of me, I was numb. The water was like glass, the grasses rich and green, the few trees that dotted the landscape seemed as if they have been placed exactly where they are on purpose, it was truly amazing.


The beginning of the day began in the sunshine but now clouds were beginning to close in, mostly to the west where the Alaska Mountain Range was getting hammered, but here it was still dry. After resting at Whimbrel Hill we set off again passing through rolling rock incrusted hills, the odd lake would fill in the gaps between low lying areas and the winding trail continued on explicitly through the most wonderful of the land in front of and around me.


A lengthy arduous climb led to the top of Golog Point and with every darkening skies, I get the most amazing view of Skinny Lake and the region beyond, I feel so very small. I knew that I couldn’t make camp along the shore of Skinny Lake with its slopes either too steep or over vegetated, my goal was a much smaller lake sitting on top of a ridgeling about half a mile from Skinny Lake and would be much better to set up a two day camp. Dropping down the trail about a half a mile from Skinny Lake and a mile from my camp site the first drops began to fall.


I hate setting up a tent in the rain. I am not bothered by hiking in the rain, running in the rain, anything but setting up camp in the rain, it sucks. I had still two muddy, steep, compressed, bushwhacking, stream filled ravines to descend into and climb out of before getting back to a normal trail before I have to again bushwhack my way up to my camp lake. Forget that this is huge Grizzly Bear country and the area I am thrashing through is the perfect habitat for these monsters. When I arrive at the small lake it’s sprinkling but not bad so I drop my pack and begin putting the tent up, it wasn’t a moment after I got the rain fly on the tent that the rain cut loose. I get all my gear inside, the dog in and then myself to relinquish myself of wet, muddy clothes and to get refreshed.


Sitting on the shore of the small lake, listening to the rain fall on the land around me, splashing on the otherwise still water I feel like an observer not quite welcomed to be here, but being tolerated non the less. As I finished filtering water for tonight and tomorrow I stood up to walk back to the tent, it’s 9:30 at night and still very light out but as I raise my head I am startled by a moose cow and her calf standing there not fifty feet away. We stared at each other for a very uncomfortable period of time before out of boredom I believe the moose casually moved on. I love tent life, I hate setting it all up but once it’s done life becomes very simple. I settled in for the night and slowly drift off to sleep hungry for what is to come.

The morning was wet, raining and visibility is very low so I take my time waking up, enjoying an extra cup of coffee and eating a full and very rare breakfast before heading out. I was using my cell phone for all the pictures because it’s light, small and simple to use, but now with the rain it is worthless and heading out on the day hike to Ermine Hill I actually felt relieved from the task of recording the days events. The hike down into the valley 1500 feet below me was brutal and the hike back out of it really was a burner, thank god I didn’t have a heavy pack on my back.


Though I pretty much never came into contact with any bears on the trip the moose population made up for it. The days ten mile hike to Ermine Hill and back was uneventful and sadly due to the weather the visibility was horrible, like walking in a cloud with about 500 feet of visibility but for some reason, still it was magical and I couldn’t stop smiling or speaking out loud about what I was seeing.


That night in the tent I was exhausted, sipping my wine in the tent since the rain had gotten stronger I was elated and finally at truly satisfied with what I had achieved on this trip. The rain was a welcome constant tapping on the fly and with rock blues playing from my phone, a content dog beyond relaxed beside me I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.

In the morning the rain had subsided to a light sprinkle so I went for a walk, I found a large and warm pile of fresh bear scat not 30 feet from the tent. We had worn out our welcome and it was time to go. The hike back was an uneventful journey back through the memory of how I arrived here, retracing the steps I took a couple of days ago. Later that day the clouds parted and just as I hit Whimbrel Lake the sun was out in full force, then I knew the travel home would be magical and more importantly dry.



When I reflect on what I saw, felt, wandered through and fell in love with. This could very well be the perfect trail that leads you through and out of steaming humid forests, up difficult climbs just to make you earn the right to be on the ridge. I thought I saw the land, the trail in a very special light, now I’m laughing at how naïve I was. The amount of rain that fell on me could have been a negative, but this is the nature of the ridge and being a part of what is normal here makes it so much stronger for me. The Kesugi Ridge challenged me to look at myself and teach me a bit about myself and I found more of myself than I expected. This was and is a place that forces the rest of your life into the back of your mind. I thought of nothing for three days but this trail, it invades your mind, your heart, your soul. This place is the definition of backpacking in Alaska, I thought I knew what love on the trail was, and I was wrong.



Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply

Translation form - Translate your comment!