By DEREK CLARKSTON
t 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Howard Valley drove up Pillar Mountain to enjoy lunch while basking in the late-June heat.
Shockingly, he didn’t run up the mountain that overlooks Kodiak city.
Last year, Valley rocked the inaugural Discover Kodiak’s Adjust Your Altitude hiking challenge, officially summiting 42 peaks — 70 if you count the mountains he climbed before the challenge started.
He decided to give everybody a head start when the second installment of the challenge kicked off Wednesday.
“I haven’t completed one (a mountain) yet,” said Valley at midday Wednesday. “I will before the day is over.”
Valley ended up crossing Heitman and Barometer mountains of his challenge sheet by the end of the day.
“I was going to do Kashevaroff next, as I heard there was a taco feed,” he texted Wednesday evening. “But when I climbed into my car after Barometer I got a leg cramp and decided to call it quits for the day.”
The challenge — hiking to seven summits — was a blockbuster hit last summer, which surprised Discover Kodiak Executive Director Aimee Williams, who expected only about 20 hikers to participate.
Kodiak, though, is a town filled with outdoor enthusiasts. Williams said more than 350 people signed up for the inaugural challenge, with 150 of those people completing all seven mountains — Heitman, Kashevaroff, Pyramid, Barometer, Sharatin, Monashka and North Sister.
“I was very happily surprised to see how many people are willing to step out of their normal everyday routine and do something new,” said Williams, one of the 150 people who completed the challenge last summer.
The challenge has gained even more steam in Year 2, with more than 350 people already signed up for the Adjust Your Altitude challenge and the new Foothills challenge, which will keep “casual” hikers mostly on flat ground. The Foothill portion includes Heitman, Pyramid and Pillar mountains, and trails at Termination Point, Near Island and Spruce Cape.
With the COVID-19 pandemic canceling many events on the island, Williams anticipates more hikers to tackle the challenges — she has set a goal of 500 entries before the event ends on Sept. 7.
“It’s one of the few things that is happening in 2020 that happened the same that it did in 2019,” Williams said. “I think that is a great thing for the community just to have something that hasn’t been canceled or altered.”
The challenge is simple: After signing up and purchasing a $5 sticker, challengers must post a photo of themselves and the sticker at a specified location on the mountain to a social media page with #discoverkodiak or #ayakodiak. Verified finishers will be entered into an end-of-contest drawing for $1,000 — $500 for the Foothills challenge — and weekly drawings.
Williams said some hikers took photos with a stuffed bear or in costumes, like in a three-piece suit or dressed as a lion.
“It is neat to see how people’s personalities come out in their pictures,” she said.
At 71 — 72 in a few months — Valley doesn’t expect to log as many miles as he did last summer. Twice he completed the seven summits in 24 hours. Those who finished the challenge in a day — which happened 14 times — received 10 entries into the $1,000 drawing.
Former Kodiak running stars Levi Fried and Keith Osowski recorded last summer’s top time in 15 hours, 15 minutes.
Williams has taken away bonus entires for the 24-hour completion this year and will award five entries — four more than a normal finisher — to those who complete the seven hikes in a week.
“We heard some stories of people doing some things that were pretty unsafe,” Williams said. “I fully expect people to still do the 24 hours, and I know several people who are planning it.”
With trails seeing an increase in usage, Williams launched a “Like Where You Hike” campaign to remind hikers to pick up trash and to expect the unexpected.
“Even if you are starting out, and it is sunny and daylight, preparing for darkness and rain is something that you should do because everyone knows how fast the weather can change here,” Williams said.
Valley had thought about conquering the seven summits years before Williams made it a challenge. Being retired, he had plenty of free time to climb.
“It gave me something to shoot for,” he said.
Entries can be purchased at Discover Kodiak on East Marine Way, while specific instructions can be viewed at kodiak.org. A Facebook page — Adjust Your Altitude - Kodiak Participants — gives hikers an opportunity to share photos and hiking conditions. As of Wednesday afternoon, six people had already posted pictures of their hikes.
“The idea is to get out and do things with your friends and family and see parts of Kodiak that you haven’t seen before,” Williams said.