2020 Race Recap and Results
8th Kesugi Ridge Traverse
August 29, 2020
Scott Patterson shattered his record at the 8th Kesugi Ridge Traverse while Christy Marvin celebrated her birthday with another victory in one of the first trail races to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patterson, a 28-year-old Olympic skier from Anchorage, completed the rugged 30-mile course from Little Coal Creek to Byers Lake in Denali State Park in 4 hours, 19 minutes and 39 seconds. That knocked more than 18 minutes off the record he set on a rainy and frigid day in 2015. Race conditions were much better on Saturday — the trail was mostly dry and the weather was warm but not hot — and Patterson took full advantage. When Patterson reached the Ermine Trail Checkpoint in 1:59:37 he had just a 30-second lead on Tracen Knopp, 21, of Wasilla. However, Patterson extended his advantage from there. Knopp finished in a stellar 4:29:18, a 19-minute improvement from Knopp’s run in 2019 and now the second-fastest run in race history.
Placing third was Cody Priest of Anchorage (4:43:32), who edged Knopp for the win by 22 seconds a year earlier.
Marvin, meanwhile, turned 40 years old on Friday and proved a day later that she’s still a force in any mountain or trail race she enters. The Palmer native clocked 5:37:06, a time slower than her 2018 record (5:27:36) but still comfortably ahead of runner-up Denali Strabel (5:54:04). Mariah Graham followed in 5:56:44 for third place.
Sixty runners started the race and all but two finished.
The event’s COVID-19 mitigation plan required that face coverings be worn by participants before and after the race but not during. It also had two separate starts for the first time, with all the men beginning at 9 a.m. and all women setting off 30 minutes later. The post-race barbecue and awards ceremony were canceled.
One other major change was the cancellation of the 15-mile Kesugi Ridge Half Traverse from Little Coal Creek to Ermine Hill, though race organizers hope to bring it back in 2021.
- Christy Marvin, 5:37:06; 2. Denali Strabel, 5:54:04; 3. Mariah Graham, 5:56:44; 4. Tsaina Mahlen, 6:00:24; 5. Briana Sullivan, 6:01:11; 6. Kala Maus, 6:12:34; 7. April McAnly, 6:22:08; 8. Jan Tomsen, 6:25:12; 9. Anne Fleetwood, 6:36:06; 10. Sarah Freistone, 6:50:03; 11. Tara Schmidt, 6:52:40; 12. Clare Cook, 7:09:28; 13. Hannah Lies, 7:10:10; 14. Kimberly Riggs, 7:35:51; 15. Melanee Stiassny, 7:37:41; 16. Stacy Miles, 7:51:02; 17. Jamie Solberg, 8:26:45; 18. Christy Pierce, 8:28:42; 19. Kristen Hansen, 8:29:34; 20. Cara Hesselbach, 9:05:43; 21. Jennifer Smith, 9:12:20. DNF – Jennifer Barnard.
- Scott Patterson, 4:19:39; 2. Tracen Knopp, 4:29:18; 3. Cody Priest, 4:43:32; 4. Allan Spangler, 4:56:22; 5. Chad Trammell, 4:58:27; 6. Ben Marvin, 5:20:15; 7. Miles Raney, 5:25:03; 8. Christopher Maus, 5:25:36; 9. Jacob Kirk, 5:28:22; 10. Galen Hecht, 5:44:01; 11. Joshua Taylor, 5:44:10; 12. Galen Dossin, 5:52:10; 13. Brian Atkinson, 5:59:22; 14. Thomas Ritchie, 6:05:19; 15. Jeff Young, 6:09:06; 16. Soren Wuerth, 6:14:09; 17. Brian Pautzke, 6:23:03; 18. Mike Schroeder, 6:26:29; 19. Mike Monterusso, 6:31:18; 20. Ben Muse, 6:33:08; 21. Adrian Barniak, 6:46:58; 22. Simon Mcloughlin, 6:48:40; 23. Jacob Case, 6:58:28; 24. Jacob Buller, 7:06:20; 25. Benjamin Matheson, 7:14:36; 26. Rick Hansen, 7:17:54; 27. Travis McWhorter, 7:19:12; 28. Marek Kolendo, 7:26:22; 29. Barry Benko, 7:31:36; 30. Mark Martin, 7:32:16; 31. Andrew Dennis, 7:48:52; 32. Alec Kay, 8:06:23; 33. Aaron Christie, 8:13:13; 34. Joseph Ofeldt, 8:28:00; 35. Nate Boltz, 8:46:15; 36. Christopher Larrick, 9:09:58; 37. Greg Finstad, 9:46:20. DNF – Nathan Pitney.
What: 8th Kesugi Ridge Traverse
When: August 29, 2020 — Wave 1: 9 a.m. (all men); Wave 2: 9:30 a.m. (all women)
Start Location: Denali State Park, Little Coal Creek Trailhead (Mile 164 Parks Highway)
Entry Fee: $65 on-line (registration fee is included).
Lottery Registration: Begins at 9 a.m. Monday, June 22 at UltraSignup and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, June 28. Limited to 85 total entrants. See registration requirements below.
- Bib pickup will be race morning only at Little Coal Creek Trailhead. Racers are asked not to arrive more than 40 minutes before their start.
- There will be no official shuttles in 2020. Participants are responsible for their transportation to the Little Coal Creek start. Carpooling or getting dropped off is required due to limited parking. Participants are also responsible for retrieving vehicles at Little Coal Creek after the race if necessary.
- Participants must sign a waiver before the start confirming their good health and lack of COVID-19 symptoms.
- There will be mandatory pre-race meetings shortly before each of the two wave starts.
- Time cut-offs:
- Full Traverse finish cut-off for an official finish is 9 hours, 10 minutes.
- Full Traverse racers must reach the Ermine Hill Checkpoint within 4 hours, 5 minutes. Any racer arriving thereafter must take the Ermine Hill Trail down to the Parks Highway (even if they’re one minute past the cutoff and were slowed by taking a bunch of pictures). Organizers will help arrange a ride back to Byers Lake from the Ermine Hill Trailhead.
- To receive an official finish, Half Traverse racers must arrive within 4 hours, 5 minutes. It’s not possible to power-hike the full distance and make the cutoff; some running is necessary.
- There are no aid stations. Racers are responsible for their own food and drink. There will be officials at Ermine Hill Checkpoint and a trail sweep, but no refreshments are provided on the course. Water sources are generally available along the first half of the course but cannot be depended on in the 2nd half. Water is consumed at participants’ risk and bringing a water purification device is recommended.
- Racers need to be aware of wildlife and should not wear headphones. Bears and moose have been observed during the race. Consider bringing bear spray and know how to use it.
- Mandatory gear carried from start to finish includes: windbreaker, long-sleeved shirt, pants or tights, winter hat, gloves, sustenance, race bib, and water bottle.
- For 2020, face coverings are required to be worn before the start and after the finish. A face covering is not required during the race but participants should have one accessible.
- Racers must stay on trail and not travel overland or cut switchbacks.
- This is not a race for beginners. Knowledge of the trail is vital. All racers are strongly advised to have scouted the course prior to race day.
- Entrants will receive additional race details via email.
- The COVID-19 pandemic mitigation plan will be shared once it is developed.
The point-to-point Kesugi Full Traverse starts at Little Coal Creek Trailhead and finishes at Byers Lake Campground. It is approximately 30 miles.
The Kesugi Ridge Half Traverse (not held in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic) starts at Little Coal Creek Trailhead and finishes just beyond the Ermine Hill Trail Junction. It is approximately 14.2 miles. (Participants will then travel 3.5 miles at their own leisure to the Parks Highway via the Ermine Hill Trail).
Detailed descriptions can be found in the hiking guides 55 Ways to the Wilderness (5th edition) by Helen Nienhueser & John Wolfe Jr., Hiking Alaska by Dean Littlepage and Outside in the Interior by Kyle Joly.
A brief course description
Located in Denali State Park, the Kesugi Ridge Traverse course starts at the Little Coal Creek Trailhead (Parks Highway Mile 163.9) and finishes 30 miles later at Byers Lake Campground (Mile 147).
Starting at an elevation of 1,400 feet, the trail climbs steadily in the opening four miles to an alpine ridge with a high point of 3,500 feet. The trail is marked with cairns in most places.
When visibility allows, views of the Eldridge Glacier and Denali, the largest peak in North America, are prominent.
Nearly halfway, the Ermine Hill Trail comes in from the right (elevation 2,300 feet). The Kesugi Ridge Half Traverse (about 14.2 miles) ends a short distance uphill from this junction at a rock formation called “The Doors.” After their race, Half Traverse participants take the Ermine Hill Trail 3.5 miles back to the Parks Highway at their leisure. The Ermine Hill Trailhead is at Mile 156.5. A shuttle will return runners to Byers Lake Campground.
Beyond “The Doors”, the Full Traverse descends to 1,500 feet before it climbs back above treeline, passes Skinny Lake and reaches almost 3,000 feet at Golog Point near Mile 20. Around Mile 25, the course begins a long, switchbacked descent to Byers Lake via the Cascade Trail. The course ends in the Byers Lake Campground (elevation 800 feet) with food, drinks and awards. The total elevation gain is 6,200 feet and elevation loss is 6,800 feet. Be aware this is not a race for beginners. Long-distance trail running experience is a must. Familiarity with the course is important. Past races have featured rain, snow, cold, and limited visibility. Sections of the course are extremely technical and can be swampy.
Map & Profile
Participants for the Full Traverse must have completed one of the following since 2017 at a pace within the Kesugi race cutoff pace of 16 minutes per mile: Kesugi Ridge Trail, Crow Pass Crossing, Resurrection Pass Trail, Lost Lake Trail, Matanuska Peak Challenge, Granite Tors, Angel Creek 50, Johnson Pass, Juneau’s Nifty 50 or a comparable race.
A 15-mile training run on the Turnagain Arm Trail (roundtrip between Potter and Rainbow trailheads) in 3:45 or faster has been added as an acceptable qualifier.
Participants for the Half Traverse must have completed 15 miles of one of the above trails since 2017, or 15 miles of a comparable race, at a pace within the Kesugi race cutoff pace of 16 minutes per mile.
Those uncertain about whether they are qualified should consult with race director Matias Saari.
The Full Traverse is capped at 85 entrants; no Half Traverse will be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Registration filled in 30 minutes in 2019 prompting the implementation of a lottery.
Lottery registration opens at 9 a.m. on Monday, June 22 and closes at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, June 28. There will be no charge to enter the lottery. Those who win the lottery and have an approved qualifier will be charged the race entry of $65 (this includes the registration fee).
Those who qualify for auto-entry will be placed on the roster and the remaining spots will be filled by lottery.
Lottery winners and the full roster will be announced on Tuesday, June 30. There will be no waitlist in 2020.
No refunds are given; if race is canceled due to COVID-19, entries will be deferred to 2021.
Lottery Automatic-Entry List
Provided they have an approved qualifier, the following will bypass the lottery and automatically receive entry to the 2020 Kesugi Ridge Traverse. Entry fees still apply and AUTO-ENTRANTS MUST STILL REGISTER during the week-long registration period (those with free entry will be emailed).
Top 2 male and female finishers from 2019 for the full and half traverse
Past champions of the full traverse
2019 volunteers (as determined by race director)
Race Director discretion
Participants for each race must wear or carry the following gear: Windbreaker, long-sleeved shirt, pants or tights, winter hat, gloves, sustenance and water bottle (or hydration device), and race bib.
Participants must be at least 18 years old on race day.
The Full Traverse has a time cutoff of 4 hours, 5 minutes for the Ermine Hill Checkpoint, and 9 hours, 10 minutes for the finish.
How will the race be different in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic? What mitigation measures will be implemented?
Kesugi is a long race in the backcountry with minimal support, precisely the kind of event that can be held safely during the pandemic. That said, many measures will be taken to limit group sizes, promote social distancing, ensure adequate sanitization and encourage responsible hygiene. There will be two wave starts 30 minutes apart. Racers are fully responsible for their own transportation because official shuttles are not possible. Non-Alaskans will be required to follow state quarantine mandates. All racers must stay home if they have a hint of COVID-19 symptoms. Participants can socialize and camp at a scaled-down finish but it won’t be the party, awards ceremony and barbecue of years past. The full mitigation plan will be shared once it is created and approved.
Why will the men start at 9 a.m. and the women at 9:30 a.m. in 2020?
Because due to COVID-19 a mass-start for all participants was not feasible. Men will start first because they are slightly faster so there will be less passing than if the women went first. By having two mass starts separated by gender (instead of mixed-gender Waves 1 and 2), each gender can race head-to-head.
Why was the Half Traverse canceled in 2020 and will it return?
The Half Traverse was canceled to simplify the race plan during the pandemic and because parking at Ermine Hill is extremely limited and official race shuttles would not have been possible. The Half Traverse is expected to return in 2021.
What does K’esugi mean?
It means the Ancient One in Dena’ina. Traditionally the area was used as caribou hunting grounds.
Who are the two Dave Johnstons?
Dave Johnston the Elder (of Minus 148 Degrees fame) helped build the original trail in the mid-1970s, along with Pete Robinson, George Menard and the Youth Conservation Corps. It took 3-4 years to put in the basic trail. Brian Okonek had the idea to use Kesugi’s lateral moraine instead of some of the surrounding high country.
Dave Johnston the Younger (of Iditarod Trail Invitational fame), along with Andrea Hambach, created the Kesugi Ridge Traverse race in 2013.
What are the current course conditions?
Course conditions vary year-to-year. The race director will pass on reports of trail conditions as they come in. Denali State Park rangers (907-745-3975) may also be a source of information.
Will there be lots of snow up high?
Because the race was moved back to late August, snow is not expected. However, those training on the course should expect sections of snow until at least mid-June.
Why has the race date changed so many times?
On September 12, 2015, the race featured hypothermia-inducing conditions (rain and sub-40-degree temperatures). Matias Saari became race director in 2016 and moved the date to August 21; that year the weather was inclement but not quite hypothermia-inducing (high 40s and rain). In hopes of better weather, and to be scheduled before most other long Alaska running races, Saari moved it to late June in 2017.
Why are there no aid stations?
There are no aid stations because Kesugi Ridge is a remote trail and hauling food and drink onto the course is not feasible. Volunteers are already hauling heavy packs with supplies to Ermine Hill Checkpoint.
A standard race pack has plenty of room for food, drink and emergency gear. Also, spectators are allowed to hand-off sustenance and drinks to racers.
For emergency purposes, will cell phones work along the course?
Cell coverage is spotty at best. Racers should not rely on it. Course volunteers are equipped with DeLorme inReach devices and satellite phones.
Why does the Half Traverse cost the same as the Full Traverse? Why were entry fees raised in 2019?
The Half Traverse costs the same because it requires just as much organization, if not more, than the Full Traverse does. Entry fees were raised in part because Alaska State Parks dramatically raised permit costs in 2019.
The entry fee also includes the Ultrasignup registration charge.
If I’m in the Full Traverse but stop at the Half Traverse finish line, can I still get a result?
You can stop halfway, and that may be a prudent decision if you are in danger of missing the final cutoff or are injured. But doing so will result in a DNF. Racers who anticipate wanting to stop at Ermine Hill Checkpoint should sign up for the Half Traverse.
If I finish the Half Traverse but want to keep going to Byers Lake, can I?
No. The sweepers already are busy enough with Full Traverse participants. Sign up for the Full Traverse next year!
Can the sweepers turn me back?
Yes, if they determine you are underprepared and unlikely to meet the cutoffs, they can turn you back at any time.
Can I wear headphones?
Headphones are discouraged. Racers need to be aware of wildlife such as bears and moose.
Can I bring my dog?
Racers cannot bring dogs. Spectators can bring dogs but need to keep them under control.
If I decide not to race, can I get a refund? Can I transfer my bib to a friend? Can I get a deferral?
For 2020 the refund policy has been modified. Due to COVID-19, anyone who chooses not to participate (regardless of reason) will receive a cash refund ($60 of their $65 entry fee) or deferral to 2021. Participants should notify the race director by Aug. 26 of their choice for a refund or deferral. Bib transfers are still not possible in 2020.
Should I let the race director know if I am unable to race?
Yes, please do because it helps our planning.
What is the camping situation at Byers Lake?
We have a group area at Byers Headquarters for Friday and Saturday nights of race weekend. It was greatly improved in 2020 and now has increased space that is suitable for car/camper camping and tent camping. There is no charge. RVs may not stay here. If you wish to stay at the main Byers Lake Campground (fees apply), plan to arrive early because it typically fills to capacity on race weekend. Byers Lake Campground was closed in 2019 due to spruce bark beetle kill and reopened on June 26, 2020. Byers Lake also has several popular cabins available for rent.
Where can I stay besides Byers?
Mary’s McKinley View Lodge (Mile 134.5) is one option. A fancier option is Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge (Mile 133). There are also many pullouts along the highway where camping is possible. Lower Troublesome Creek (Mile 137.2) has some first-come, first-serve campsites. The new Kesugi Ken Campground (Mile 135.4) allows reservations for tent camping, RV camping and public use cabins.
Will there be a shuttle to the start?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no official shuttles in 2020 so racers will need to provide their own transportation, ideally a drop-off if possible. Carpooling is imperative due to limited parking. Racers will also need to retrieve any vehicles at Little Coal Creek after they finish. Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge generously provided shuttles in 2017-18 that transported some participants to the start. We hope that will again be the case after 2020.
Will the Half Traverse finishers be shuttled once they reach the Ermine Hill Trailhead?
There is no Half Traverse in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In other years, volunteers have shuttled finishers to Byers Headquarters (or to Little Coal Creek if necessary).
Will there be swag?
Yes, there will be an item of Kesugi swag for every participant and volunteer. There will also be prizes for the top performers as well as some randomly awarded prizes.
Will there be beer?
In the past 49th State Brewing Co. has kept us well supplied! Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no post-race party in 2020.
What are the course records?
Despite horrendous weather, Scott Patterson set the men’s record of 4:38:05 in 2015.
Christy Marvin set the women’s record of 5:27:36 in 2018 en route to finishing 2nd overall.
The event needs a host of volunteers, including sweepers, shuttle drivers, and result-takers. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact the race director. Key volunteers will receive free entry for 2021, free camping, race swag and eternal gratitude.
Results for 2013-18 can be found on UltraSignup