An unseasonably warm and dry summer in Alaska is long gone, wetter, cooler, and much darker fall days are settling in, and I finally have time to take a beat and reflect on this summer’s adventures. Like any other sun-worshipping Alaskan, I attempt to pack my summers with as many adventures as time and weather will allow, but one trip this summer stands out.
Back in July, I headed north with some Juneau friends to knock a backpacking trip off our bucket lists: the Kesugi Ridge Trail in Denali State Park. We hopped a flight to Anchorage, crammed into a friend’s car, and after last-minute gear shuffling and fueling up on treats and coffee from our favorite Anchorage bakery, we were on the road on the Parks Highway, headed to Little Coal Creek Trailhead.
With three days, two nights, and 27 miles of trail ahead of us, we began our trek on a beautiful bluebird day with Denali and the Alaska Range in full view behind us (the chances of catching a glimpse of The Great One are only 30%, its peak typically cloaked in clouds). We ascended the first somewhat steep miles of the trail in the hot afternoon sun (80 degrees is hot for Alaskans!) and reached the rugged ridgeline, winding our way across the rocky ridge into the evening until we felt satisfied with our mileage for the day. With a thunderstorm looming ominously above and the mosquitos descending upon us, we offloaded our packs and sought out the flattest place to make camp. We had each stashed a single beer in our packs specifically for this glorious moment.
I plopped down onto the soft tundra, the mighty mountain range towering over the vast valley in front of me, dark thunder clouds and bright flashes of lightning behind me, popped the top, and savored that delicious brew. As an avid hiker, mountain biker and beer lover, I’m a huge fan of trail beers, but this was pure bliss. No longer cold, but after a hot, uphill first day with a heavy pack, that sun-warmed beer was the perfect treat in the perfect place at the perfect moment.
The next morning, we emerged from our tents to find Denali once again peeking out from its shroud of clouds. We packed up and continued on our way along the ridge, crossing gorgeous green valleys and idyllic babbling brooks, clambering over giant boulder fields, wandering through intermittent patches of magenta Fireweed, and stopping for a quick dip in a cool, refreshing lake (easily one of my top five swims – ok, I don’t I have an actual list).
We made camp on an exposed ridgetop spot that night, another thunderstorm approaching as we cooked our final trail dinner, (thankfully) missing our ridgetop perch as we climbed into our tents and turned in for the night. We awoke the next morning engulfed in a cloud and hiked out the last miles of our journey in a gray, misty haze. We plucked plump wild blueberries, watermelon berries and cloudberries from trailside bushes as we descended to Byers Lake, where a few gracious friends picked us up and drove us back to our car.
With long summer days behind me, I’m already dreaming up adventures for next year, with more Alaska backpacking trips high on my list. My backpacking recommendation: pack light, bring plenty of bug spray, and always make room for a summit beer.
–Lena G., Alaskan Brewing Marketing Team