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Wherein Valette Conquers A Mountain And Then Loses Her Shit

July 8, 2007

I voluntarily accompanied John and Heidi up Flattop Mountain on Friday, which is definitely less flat-like and more mountain-like. I should write a letter to the State Parks Director.

There were people jogging up the mountain. People carrying small children and small dogs up the mountain. People climbing extra hills and rocks "for a better view." People carrying open cups of beer and taking their time to not spill any. People who never needed to stop and rest.

I was not one of those people.

Steve and Donny

Okay, yeah. I made it over the hilly bottom, up the 3 million wooden steps until muscles that had laid dormant my entire life screamed for death, and up the last rocky up-up-up. But I died every foot of the way.

Supposedly dots have been spray painted on the rocks to indicate the level of climbing difficulty: green for So Easy Even Valette Can Do It; yellow for Everyone Else; and red for Tell Your Mother You Love Her Before You Meet Your Maker. Soon the green and yellow dots looked more lime, and then rocks had both lime and red dots on them.

Conclusion: the dots lie. You will die on this mountain no matter what. Too bad there's no cell reception up here for you to call your mother.

But I did make it. Eventually. And standing on top of a mountain 3500 feet in the air, looking out over the city, Cook Inlet, and the Alaska Range, surrounded by peaks 4000 to 6000 feet high, one feels very small. Insignificant.

Foraker, Hunter, and McKinley from Flattop

And then the trouble started.

We decided to take an alternate route back down the mountain, a trail that did not include thigh-killing stairs but was purportedly "easier" and "faster". Only it didn't look like a trail at all, just rocks and gravel and cliff and 3000 feet down.

John and Steve started down and Heidi's nephew Donny climbed up a giant rock to get a better view. All three of them, the men in our group, claimed there was Most Definitely A Trail. Heidi and I and had some serious doubts about this trail, but decided to just do it. We could see the trail down further, so it had to exist, right?

Wrong. It turned out that this "trail" was nothing more than a steep ass hill covered in gravel with nothing to hold on to except your panties as you pee them through.

My feet had no grip, my hands had nothing to hold except my camera bag, and I slid. I slid down, down, down, mostly on my butt so that I wouldn't fall head-first to the bottom of the mountain.

I stared at the bottom of the mountain and the five miles of straight down gravel between me and it.

Trail Hell

Then I completely Lost My Shit.

Can't do this.
Will die.
I can't do it can't do it can't.
No no no nonononono.

Steve hung back with me and is all, "Almost there!!!! We can DO THIS!!! Yes!!"

But I didn't want him or anyone else (excluding the internet, of course) to know that Operation: Losing My Shit was fully under way, so I told him to keep moving and that I was "Fine."

But the "trail" kept getting worse and worse and there was more gravel and more rocks and more steep and plenty of imminent death.

I sat down again, crying and shaking so much that I couldn't stand.


Mr. Almost There!! ended up putting his arm around my waist and helped me down one agonizing step at a time, and I didn't even want to punch him I was so scared.

Once we finally got down the Cliffs of Doom and met up with John and Heidi and the rest, I saw the trail marker sign.

That's when I wanted to punch someone.

Difficult & Abandoned

So much for it being easier.

I'm not generally afraid of heights. The only other time I can remember feeling this way is the last time my father took me skiing at Alyeska.

I have never been an athletic person, so while my sister picked it up quickly and was shooting straight down the mountain within her first hour on skis, I was still snowplowing on my fifth weekend.

I had gotten confident enough on Chair 7, one step up from the bunny hill, that it was no longer fast enough for me. And I'm sure my father was sick to death of it. So he decided we would ride Chair 6 to the top.

That entire day, I didn't ski the short run from the top of Chair 6 to the Roundhouse without falling. Every. Single. Time. When it was time to go back down the mountain to the lodge, we headed down the mountain.

There was this one hill with a corner, and I could see the lodge at the bottom, so small and tiny. I knew that I was going to ski off that corner and not be able to stop. I couldn't do it, so I sat down and started to cry.

My father was unhappy with this new turn of events, and he told me to get up. But I wouldn't. I wanted to go the rest of the way on my butt, but he would have none of that.

Thinking back on that day, I cannot remember how I got down the mountain. I'm sure my father wouldn't have let me scoot on my butt, even though I remember pointing out another woman who was doing the same thing.

This whole mountain thing is obviously not for me. Next time I will remember that I am better off staying at home with a book instead of panicking all over a mountain.


I am so sorry...I would have gone the other way. If I had only known.

So would I, Heidi. So would I.

I don't do mountains with rocks, I like the smooth grassy kind - you can find them in Wales. :)

Glad you got down safely.

Reminds me of the time I took Suzanne up Grace Ridge. I forgot about all the parts where you're hiking along a narrow bit of mountain with steep drop offs on either side. She did not have a good time going up. Luckily we went down the other side of the mountain, which, though steep, does not have any ridges to balance on.

To shake things up next time, you should slide down the imminent death "trail" in a rubbermaid tub. I'd pay to see that.

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Hi, I'm Valette

I'm a photographer based out of Anchorage, Alaska. I've recently become a wife, a stepmother, and a homeowner. Life is pretty awesome. You can email me anytime. Learn more...

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