Rock climbing in southeast Alaska is a crapshoot at best! The average annual rainfall in Ketchikan Alaska is 140 – 160 inches. For comparison the US average is 38 inches annually. It rains in Ketchikan around 240 days per year leaving only 125 days of dry weather. When the skies are blue the residents are outside. And while the Tongass National Rain Forest is always a sight to behold, when the sun is shining it is almost otherworldly.
Climbing in a rain forest can be tricky, but during our most recent trip to Ketchikan we had nothing but sunny days and warm weather.
There is a small crag off a dirt road leading to Lake Harriet Hunt. The crag is surrounded by Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock on all sides. There’s a small clearing at the foot of the rock for safe belaying/relaxing and enough trees to put up hammocks by the dozen. The Harriet Hunt Crag has only four “bolted” routes. The bolt patterns don’t always make sense, but they’re there. There are anchors, bolts to build your own anchors, and trees to build your own anchors…so many anchor options! In this case, bomber can be a relative term. You’ll have to decide what’s best for you. If you’re wondering about choss…it’s a rock climbing crag in the middle of the largest North American rain forest, you gotta take what you can get!
The four routes with unbelievably creative names (The Arete, The Center Route, The Crack, and Unknown) can be lead or top-roped. There is a very easy trail from the road to the top of wall which makes it easy to set up some anchors and drop a rope. Aside from The Arete, the routes are SLABBY and stress-free. The Arete, which is the hardest route, is a fun yet beefy 5.10.
Unfortunately, I can’t say too much about the details of the routes. The first time I attempted to climb at The Harriet Hunt Crag I only had one shoe, and on my most recent attempt our only rope was 6 meters too short. But I can say the drive in is gorgeous, except for the guy in the red pickup truck parked in the middle of nowhere looking as if he is debating whether or not he should relocate the body. Lake Harriet Hunt (just a few miles away) is a stunning lake surrounded by trees and mountains. It’s easily accessible and makes for the perfect detour after a quick send of The Arete, The Center Route, The Crack, and the Unknown other route.
During this latest Alaskan climbing excursion, I started to get curious about who Harriet Hunt was. It turns out that she was an early settler in Ketchikan. Among the first wave of women who were to join their husbands in Alaska’s “First City” Harriet Hunt made her mark as a photographer and one of the founders of the Ladies Library Club. The first Library was just a bookshelf that Harriet commissioned a craftsman to build. She then had volunteers carry the bookshelf around the city offering people the opportunity to “checkout” books. Through fundraising, lobbying, and a massive effort from Harriet Hunt and the ladies of the Library Club, that little library bookshelf would get a massive upgrade. In 1902 a parcel of land and an accompanying building were secured and Ketchikan had its first permanent library. Harriet Hunt would be part of that library for the next 32 years until she died in 1934.
Many of Harriet Hunt’s photos still hang in historic buildings around Ketchikan including the new library. It is said that despite trekking through the mud and rain on a daily basis, Harriet always wore a corset and skirt while wearing “ladylike” shoes.
With that, I offer some recommendations for renaming the four routes at Harriet Hunt Crag.
The Arret = Ladies Library Club
The Center Route = Harriet’s Bookshelf
The Crack = Ladylike Shoes
Unknown = The Checkout
Independent of the route names, I would say that if the weather is nice, and you can navigate the unmarked roads, then this spot is worth the trip. However, if you happen to get lost, DON’T ask the man in the red pickup truck for directions!