Hiking Deer Mountain | Ketchikan, AK | September 2019
Before Curtis knew for sure that he’d be able to visit Ketchikan this year, we knew that we wanted to hike Deer Mountain. Perhaps it was a bit presumptuous seeing as Ketchikan is the rainiest city in the US and we had no idea what time of year we’d be there or for how long, but it was a dream of ours that we’ve held onto for so long. When packing his sea bag, Curtis brought his hiking clothes, boots, and rain jacket, and I did the same with my carry on, also including an umbrella and my camelback.
Our first day in Ketchikan was rainy and overcast and we were unable to see the mountain at all. We were content to just walk around and be together (a third post about everything else we did there is forthcoming!), but we agreed we wanted to at least give it a shot the next day, on our one full day there. We were up before 6, dressed in layers, and Curtis packed a few snacks and sandwich supplies he had picked up at a grocery store the day prior. We got some hot chocolate from the hotel and ate apples for breakfast.
We left the hotel on foot, walking a mile and a half to the trailhead which is found at the end of Deer Mountain Road. The elevation gain started early as we strolled up the pavement, but when we rounded a corner and saw the entire peak, we knew this would be worth it. While it was chilly and the sky was partly cloudy, it wasn’t raining and the visibility was decent, and we knew we had the perfect day for hiking.
Once at the trailhead, we looked over the map to get an idea of what we were about to do. Of course this wasn’t the first time we’d researched this trail — we knew what to expect, a steep 6.5 mile round trip climb up to Deer Mountain, which was around 3000 feet in elevation. However, our eyes drifted to the continuation of the trail — which continued another 11 miles over other peaks and ended on the Eastern side of the island. We had always just focused on Deer Mountain, knowing that it was a prominent peak overlooking Ketchikan, but it’s actually the shortest peak in this range. While it was tempting to think about how we could possibly arrange for a ride on the other side and attempt to do the full through hike, we just weren’t prepared for that…maybe next time. 😉 We noted the other highlights along the through trail, including other peaks and lakes. We agreed to stick with the plan, not knowing how strenuous the trail to Deer Mountain would be, and decide at the peak if we wanted to go any further.
We began our hike through the mossy forest, and were enchanted by everything from the big trees to the small waterfalls along the path. As we were walking, I kept waiting for the trail to get steeper, but there was never as much of an incline as I had imagined. That’s when I realized I had been imagining this trail to be more like the ridge trails to the Ko’olaus on Oahu which go straight up the mountain — this one reminded us of a wonderful feature on mainland trails called the “switchback.” Glorious switchbacking, where the elevation gain is reasonable and you have plenty of time to enjoy the view from both directions as you make your way up the mountain!
After about 2 miles, we reached the tundra. There were patchy clouds obstructing the view, but every now and then they’d break and we’d get a peek at Ketchikan, Ketchikan Lake, or the mountains in the distance. We decided the clouds were what really made this experience, and from now on the words “foggy tundra” will instantly transport our minds back to these perfect moments, all alone on a mountain in Alaska with not a care in the world.
Two and a half miles into the trail, we reached the trail junction for the peak. The next stretch switchbacked back and forth up the side of the mountain for a quarter-mile to the peak. We were the slowest going up this part, not because it was challenging or steep but because the views captivated us. Every time we rounded a corner going up the switchbacks, we would have to stop and stare at the the view in the new direction which we were heading.
We finally reached the peak, which was engulfed by a cloud, but it still wasn’t raining and we weren’t too cold! We found the waypoint marker and sat down to eat sandwiches and snacks. We lingered in case the cloud decided to pass, but eventually decided to move on — the continuing trail beckoned us, and while we knew we wouldn’t go too far, we just had to see what it was like.
We made our way back to the junction, then continued on the trail headed for a lake. The fog was thicker on this part so there wasn’t much of a view, but it made the trail seem mysterious and peaceful all at once. It reminded us a little of hiking Mount Washington in New Hampshire. We spotted little lakes off to the side, and kept our eyes out for wildlife.
While we physically felt like we were able to continue walking this trail for a while, we eventually decided to turn back because the visibility was so low, and we knew there were other trails that we could hike around Ketchikan that afternoon. Since our time there was so short, we wanted to make sure we saw as much as we could, while still taking time to enjoy being together. And so we turned around and started heading back, still loving every bit of this trail. It wasn’t until we were nearly back at the junction with the peak trail that we came across another hiker.
The clouds cleared more as we made our way down, but the closer we got back to the trailhead the more people we saw on their way up, and we didn’t regret our decision to rise early for a foggy hike. We made it back to the trailhead, then continued walking back into Ketchikan, feeling energized and enchanted from our first Alaskan hike…hopefully the first of many!
If you’re interested, here is our Alltrails recording for this hike beginning at our hotel, including some walking around Ketchikan afterwards.