August 29, 2020

Race Info

What: 8th Kesugi Ridge Traverse & 4th Kesugi Ridge Half Traverse

When: August 29th, 2020, 9 a.m.

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 15 at UltraSignup and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, June 19. Limited to 100 total entrants (50 for each race). See registration requirements below.

Contact: Race director Matias Saari at or cell phone 907-529-4178

Course Description

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 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.

Byers Lake sign photo (no longer the finish): The trail is longer than advertised
Heading down the Cascade Trail
Close to Stonehenge Hill
Matias Saari and Harlow Robinson approach Ermine Hill (Ray Hafen photo)
Holly Brooks amid the fall colors (Rob Whitney photo)
Christie Haupert strides out (Rob Whitney photo)
Just after Ermine Hill intersection
Kesugi Half Traverse finish, "The Doors"

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.


Qualifying Trail

Participants for the Full Traverse must have completed one of the following since 2017 at a pace within the Kesugi race cutoff pace: 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.

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.

Those uncertain about whether they are qualified should consult with race director Matias Saari.


The race is capped at 50 entrants for the Full Traverse and 50 entrants for the Half Traverse. Registration filled in 1.5 days in 2018 and is expected to fill even faster in 2019.

Once capacity is reached with valid entrants, a waitlist will be kept.

Those who register without a valid qualifier (as determined by the race director) will be moved to the back of the waitlist. They may only gain entry by completing an approved qualifier before race day and having their waitlist number called.

Mandatory Gear

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.

Age Requirement

Participants must be at least 18 years old on race day.

Time Cutoffs

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. The Half Traverse has a time cutoff of 4 hours, 5 minutes at the finish line.

Race Details

  1. Bibs can be picked up at Byers Lake Headquarters from 5-9 p.m. the night before the race, or at Little Coal Creek Trailhead on race morning from 7-8:45 a.m.
  2. We will NOT meet on race day at Byers Lake. Participants are responsible for their transportation to the Little Coal Creek start, either by official shuttle from Byers Lake (subject to space availability) or personal vehicle (please carpool).
  3. All participants must sign in at Little Coal Creek by 8:45 a.m. (even if they picked up their bib the night before) so that we know how many start the event.
  4. A mandatory pre-race meeting is at 8:45 a.m.
  5. Time cut-offs:
    • Full Traverse finish cut-off 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 along the way). Organizers will ensure 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; running is necessary.
  6. 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 course (less frequently in the 2nd half) but are consumed at participants’ risk (bring a water purification device if in doubt). Friends and family can meet racers at Ermine Hill Checkpoint with gear, food and drink but participants must continue carrying all gear they started with.
  7. 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.
  8. Mandatory gear carried from start to finish includes: windbreaker, long-sleeved shirt, pants or tights, winter hat, gloves, sustenance, race bib, and water bottle.
  9. Racers must stay on trail and not travel overland or cut switchbacks.
  10. 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.
  11. Entrants will receive additional race details via email.


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. Participants who want to recon the course should not assume that a full traverse will be possible before race day because there may be lingering snow.

Will there be lots of snow up high?

Snow depth varies year-to-year, from virtually none to lengthy stretches of snow that need to be crossed. Most of the snow generally melts from the trail by June 15, according to Alaska State Parks.

Why was the race moved up to June?

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; 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. Holding the race in July is not an option because Denali State Park’s trails and campgrounds are deemed too busy then.

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/or Sat 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 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?

No on the refund. No on the bib transfer. In extenuating circumstances, the race director may grant a deferral to the following year.

Should I let the race director know if I am unable to race?

Yes, please do. It helps our planning and opens up spots on the waitlist.

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 is suitable for car/camper camping, but flat spots for tents are few. 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.

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. 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?

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 in 2019. The remainder will need to carpool to Little Coal Creek.

Will the Half Traverse finishers be shuttled once they reach the Ermine Hill Trailhead?

Yes, several volunteers will shuttle 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?

Yes. 49th State Brewing Co. will keep us well supplied!

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, burger flippers and result-takers. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact the race director. Key volunteers will receive free entry for 2020, free camping, race swag and eternal gratitude.


2019 Results:

30 miler with splits

Kesugi Half Results

Results for 2013-18 can be found on UltraSignup