Afternoon Hike up Highschool Hill in Valdez

I had the pleasure of working in Valdez for one of the most amazing Septembers that anyone around seemed to remember. That said, I spent my working hours walking (my job required a lot of walking and a lot of note taking) and my evenings doing as much outside as I could while still doing the paperwork I needed to get done. I had spied the straight line up the mountain behind the high school on a previous visit and inquired as to its hikeability-I could not tell if it was just one of the many waterfall lines (which didn’t make much sense) or a trail.

6 pm Tuesday evening found me laying on my bed thinking about how I should go enjoy the weather but also really wanting to not move after 8 miles of walking around in the heat (ha, yes the heat I say!) and swarming bugs. The damn bugs loved the smell of my shampoo or something-the only way to ward them off was to be constantly moving. Luckily, years of self motivation and pep talking to get my ass moving when I am tired paid off-I picked up my phone and searched “High school hill hike Valdez”. The results were rather sparse. I read “class 4 at the top”. Well that kind of scared me.

Not that I don’t consider myself to be a bad ass Alaskan climber of many things but when something is saying “class 4” it is either really bad or someone who grew up somewhere flat and is on their first hill wrote it and it isn’t that bad. Perspective. Considering the source was a somewhat official Alaskan site, I was leaning toward the first option. Well, hiking up there by myself is probably dumb, but now I have to. I need to see how bad it really is. And, I need to get over my fear. Or at least face it and decide it is that scary and I should go down.

So 6:30 found me in the Highschool parking lot (there is supposedly another route up from behind the water tank on Mineral Creek Drive- I could not find an obvious trail down that way in all the brush so that is unverified.) Looking up at “900 feet of elevation gain in 1300 feet”:

You can kind of see where the trail starts….

You can kind of see where the trail starts….

I think there is a trail up there. I am all for straight up hikes-it looked fine until that class 4 part that I was unsure about. I started up. Yup, the typical Alaskan trail here. Straight up I went at a concerning steep angle-coming down will be a blast! About 20 minutes later. I found a rope. I grabbed it and started working my way up.

The going wasn’t too bad at first- I almost laughed the rope off. Then I got to the real class 4- 7 to 10 foot sections of hands required and if I fell I was going for a really unpleasant ride. Oh, and of course I had no backpack and it was hot so I had a water bottle in my hand. The rope was incredibly helpful, if not necessary, for safety.

The main point of this post is to answer the question I had of “well how bad is it?” for other people. My answer-totally doable but normal to slightly less fearful than normal people who scramble and climb will be in varying levels of discomfort. To put my experience in perspective, the majority of my hiking has been in the Chugach. I am familiar with scrambly, steep, exposed choss. I have made many a class 3 and a few class 4 ascents in groups and solo. I also rock climb the afore mentioned Chugah choss. So steep and scrambly and exposed on shitty rock is nothing new for me. I felt a little uncomfortable. Part of the discomfort was from the water bottle cutting into my hand as I tried to hold it along with the rope.

Anyway, I scrambled on up, right past the viewing rock in all the photos online and continued on. It flattened out once the rope disappeared. I bushwhacked along a thready trail for a hundred yards or so until it started to go up. At this point, I realized I had passed my objective of the lookout rock at the top of the rope. I continued on for a little while. However, the trial soon started going up again and I found myself scrambling up some rock with no rope. The rock was fine, the loose dirt trail that was about 14 inches wide with a straight off drop was not fine. At this point, I realized I was shaky. I tried to determine if it was because I was dehydrated (the damn water bottle was now empty and just in my way), hungry, tired, scared, or some sort of combination. I determined that all of these problems could be fixed with a cheeseburger at the bottom of the hike. Having already passed my objective, I proceeded down and saved the top out for another day.

On my way down, I found the look out rock. I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the view and think about cheeseburgers. I started slowly working my way down the rope. Luckily, there was no one coming up yet. I realized that this single 300 or so yard rope would be awful to use if another person was on it. I guess this doesn’t see that much traffic so that is not generally a problem. I swore at my stupid water bottle which was still in the way as I passed it from hand to hand trying to pick my way down the rock.

Once I got to the bottom of the hill, the rest of the way down was just steep and loose. If you have hiked government peak or the old flattop trail, you are ready for this part. Before I knew it, I was back at the car.

Time-wise, the overall outing was a little over an hour- half an hour up to where I stopped, 10 minutes looking around, and about 20 coming back down. I hike slightly faster than the average person, and a little slower than the average avid Alaskan hiker.

Overall assessment: Technically not that hard, but the exposure is absolutely class 4. The rope is there for a reason-make sure your hands are both useable. Amazing views and a short and challenging hike.