The author’s dog Cleo during an ascent of North Sister on the morning of July 4

Kodiak has literally exploded in vegetation over these past few weeks. With that explosion, it is a great time to talk about the reality of trails on Kodiak. 

As I made my way through almost head-high salmonberry bushes at the beginning of my hike up North Sister last weekend, I couldn’t help but think about people new to Kodiak.

I was wondering how newcomers find trails to these common hiking spots and what their thoughts are (maybe sometimes including expletives) once they are literally chest deep in the vegetation, trying to make their way on a trail that they can’t always see to their feet.

I always feel when I’m describing well-established trailheads to newcomers, it’s like I’m sending them on some wild egg hunt. 

For those of us who have lived here a while and know there is a path underneath the canopy of green, we take that knowledge a bit for granted.

Even with the recent improvements in years of excellent topo maps overlaid with clearly marked trails, some trails are just challenging to find, as it still takes knowing where that worn path lies under the salmonberry bushes and pushky to make the hike happen.

I’m going to put the speech therapist hat on for a second here and say that it is good to communicate very clearly about what you do and don’t want/expect in a hike with your potential partner(s) so everyone can be on the same page.

From a distance, trotting up toward the alpine looks like it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but the reality is, with how much Kodiak explodes in greenery even in just the span of a couple of weeks, things change quickly. In other words, bushwhacking may not be a great way to build a relationship if that isn’t the idea of a good time for everyone in the party. 

One of Kodiak’s popular local hikes, Monashka Mountain, still has a strange way of getting people a bit turned around when trying to ascend it.

Even the more experienced hikers sometimes second-guess the best route up.  So, rest assured, to those who are planning to mark Monashka Mountain off their Seven Summits challenge list, you aren’t the only ones who may have had a challenge in finding the best way to the top. This mountain that is known to so many still has experienced hikers double-checking that they are taking the right path.

What really, then, is a trail? How does one person’s understanding of the word “trail” on Kodiak differ from another person’s understanding? 

One definition I found in an online dictionary is this: A trail is “a mark or a series of signs or objects left behind by the passage of someone or something.”

Technically, then, a trail isn’t something that necessarily clearly points us where to go — it just shows that someone has been there. In Kodiak, then, a “trail” might just be some bushes that have been slightly whacked down a bit by animals or humans. 

It seems fitting to close with this poem from a 12th century Japanese poet, Saigyo (1118-1190). Titled “Not Stopping To Mark The Trail,” these words may speak to those right now who are embracing wilderness as an outlet during these times we are in: 

Not stopping to mark the trail,

let me push even deeper

into the mountain!

Perhaps there’s a place

where bad news can never reach me!


Ella Saltonstall, born and raised in Kodiak, works as a speech language pathologist and enjoys musing about parenting, communication, music and everything in between.

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