Our MI OLA brand ambassadors inspire us everyday to #GetOutThere – – these amazing women surf, paddle, hike, salute the sun, mountain bike, ski, kite surf, and so much more. One of these amazing ambassadors is Ashley B. (@ayeboulet). Whether she is downhill skiing at her home base in Lake Tahoe, CA, hiking up a 14,000 footer White Mountain, beach hiking the coast in the Kalalau Valley on Kauaʻi, Hawaii, or exploring in the Turks and Caicos, we love following Ashley’s adventures. We caught up with this awesome mermaid and got the details on her latest #getoutthere adventure: hiking the Kesugi Ridge in Denali State park in Alaska.
(If you are in hiking shape and ready to tackle a challenge, read on and #GetOutThere. BUT, if you are just starting out or need to refresh the basics, have another look at Hike Like a Girl, and work your way up to this challenge by doing shorter, less ambitious hikes.)
#GetOutThere Guide: Kesugi Ridge
The Kesugi Ridge trail is to date one of the best, most rewarding, and beautiful backpacking missions I have done. Being a mountain girl from the Sierra Nevada’s I had high expectations for this backpacking trip, and this trail surpassed any preconceived notions I may have had. I would highly recommend this trail for any intermediate backpacker wanting to explore the various terrain of Alaska. Expect your jaw to drop around each bend on this one of a kind North American trail.
Kesugi Ridge- Denali State Park
This trail is located in the Denali State Park, bordering the Denali National Park. The state park and national park vary in regards to regulations, permits, trail access, etc. The Kesugi Ridge is a well-defined 30 mile trail. Most backpackers will opt to hike the ridge one-way requiring the need for a shuttle to the trailhead, carpooling, or hitch hiking.
The trail is best accessed from Little Coal Creek Road. I would recommend arranging a trail head shuttle with Byer Lake Campground. A local family operates a daily shuttle from the day parking lot at Byer Lake to Little Coal Creek trailhead. Call in advance and be sure to make a reservation. Overnight parking in Byer Campground is $5 per night.
Distance and trail maps:
Byer Lake Campground is about a 2.5 hour drive from Anchorage. After arranging a trail shuttle, park in the campground day lot. Most backpackers prefer to hike from north to south as the vertical rise is less this way. Below are the maps we carried with us and used on this hike.
We hiked this trail in 3 nights/4 days. We were hiking the duration of most days but wanted to make sure to allow ourselves enough time to enjoy the landscape and scenery. We camped alongside a small lake around mile 6 the first night. The second night we camped near Ermine Hill junction around mile 15. The third night we camped near Mini Skinny Lake around mile 25. Our last day (hiking out by way of Byer Lake) consisted of a mostly downhill hike for 4 or so miles.
We were lucky when it came to weather on this trail. We had an opportune window of fairly dry weather for most of our days hiking. Of course the highlight of clear sky day is seeing Denali (Mount McKinley) towering above the horizon. This monstrosity of a mountain can be seen to the west for most of the trail.
I would imagine that certain sections of this trail would be much more challenging and difficult had it been raining. If possible, leave yourself a window of time for hiking so you can plan according to the weather.
Bears are a serious concern when it comes to hiking in the backcountry. Be bear aware by packing smart, staying loud on the trails, and knowing what to do in case you come across a bear. There is other wildlife to be aware of in these areas as well, be sure to read up on what to do in case you come across any animals when hiking.
Decompression after hiking:
Talkeetna is a nearby mountaineering town where you can enjoy a Denali brewing company beer and burger while viewing Denali in the distance. This is the ultimate stop for refueling and decompressing after hiking. This small town has several patio restaurants, cafes, and shops to walk around. Live music can be heard from several restaurants or in the park on certain days of the week. I would recommend the Wildflower Café and Mountain High Pizza for something local and satisfying to eat. Couple that with a local beer, and you will be in mountain heaven.
Remember to stay hydrated and stretch after hiking to prevent sore muscles and cramping.
What to pack:
Backpack – I love my women’s 65L Osprey backpack. My pack is lightweight, has lots of compartments, and provides a great fit for my body. A good backpack is always worth the investment.
Water proof/water resistant hiking boots- The weather is variable in Alaska, especially in the mountains. Be sure to pack water worthy hiking shoes as you will likely cross some creeks, muddy areas, and wetlands. Pack extra socks too!
Mole skin- In case of blisters you will want to be sure you have mole skin in your first aid kit. Happy feet is critical for long duration hiking!
First aid kit- Backpacking first aid kits are not only smaller size but also lightweight. It is always wise to backpack with some basic medical items, just in case.
Bear mace/repellant- This is a must. Although you cannot bring bear repellant in your checked luggage with most airlines, be sure to purchase some when arriving in Alaska.
Bear canister- This is mandatory in the National park, but not in the state park. Regardless, I would highly recommend bringing one. Be sure to place all scented items in the canister. Aside from food items that would include sunscreens, toiletries, lotions, etc.
Flare Gun- We carried a flare gun in case we found ourselves face to face with a charging bear. The flare gun supplements having a loaded gun with you. The flare gun is much lighter and safer when it comes to protecting yourself.
Bear bells- This will help put your mind at ease when hiking in more lush areas where a bear, moose, or other animal may be near. You do not want to sneak up on any of these animals, so be loud on the trail.
Bug spray- This is a MUST. There are many flies and mosquitos in this area, especially in the wetlands. Repellant is necessary to help prevent the likelihood of irritating bites while hiking. That being said, Benadryl cream is a worthy item to pack in your first aid kit.
Sunscreen- Even if you’re lucky enough to get a clear sky day with lots of sun, you should always be protected. Even with cloudy days, you will want to be sure to wear sunscreen to prevent any uncomfortable burns.
Meals- Backpacker meals are not only lightweight but packed with the protein necessary for hiking. Depending on the amount of time you plan to backpack, you will want to pack as lightly as possibly. Every pound counts when it comes to food within your bear canister. I would recommend freeze dried meals, rice, pasta, granola bars, oatmeal, jerky, etc. Canned food products tend to weight more than other freeze dried meal options. Fruits are difficult to pack and perish quickly. Be sure to pack enough food and snacks to supply energy and satisfy hunger throughout your trip.
Jet boil (or similar cooking device) – The jet boil helps store the items necessary for cooking conveniently in your backpack. I have a mini backpack burner, small propane, and pot which I also pack for the convenience of cooking a few items simultaneously. Be sure to pack a cook utensil, small sponge, and environmentally safe soap as well.
Water purifier- You will find yourself purifying stream or lake water several times a day. The water is fairly clean, yet I would recommend treating the water before drinking. Be sure to always top off or fill your water containers when passing a water source. You do not want to find yourself hiking without water or desperately searching for the next water source. Plan ahead.
Face/eye mask- Depending on when you plan to hike, the sun may be a bit of a nuisance. In July, the sun was shining until after 11pm. This in mind, if you are light sleeper I would recommend bringing an eye mask.
Binoculars- You will want binoculars to view Denali (Mount McKinley) in the distance. You will also want these on hand for bird and animal watching.
Other miscellaneous items: There are a few items that I like to bring to help lift my spirit when backpacking. On this mission I brought the following items:
Peanut butter – this sweet treat and can be mixed into oatmeal in the morning, making breakfast that much better.
Ipod/small speaker- music is always nice when decompressing in camp or leisurely hiking along the trail.
Camp pillow/sleeping pad- although not necessary, they do help make for a more comfortable night of sleep.
Hot sauce- This will help add some much needed spice to any generic meal.
Sugar/sweet treat- Something sweet to look forward to while hiking such as a fruit snack, lollipop, snickers bar, etc.
Essential oil- I love my oils especially when outdoors. A little goes a long way when it comes to aromatherapy.
Interested in joining the MI OLA Ambassador Program?
Know of anyone who should #GetOutThere with us?
Then shoot us an email at info@MI-OLA.com