Mount Timpanogos Trip Report
Aspen Grove, 07/10/04
Mount Timpanogos, or "Timp" as the locals call it, is one of the highest mountains in Utah's Wasatch range. At 11,750 feet, it is only a couple hundred feet below Mount Nebo, at the south end of the same valley. The name Timpanogos comes from a Native American legend, and has survived as the name of one of the most popular hikes in Utah. The mountain is very busy during the summer, especially on Saturdays and holidays, and the day we went was no exception.
Timp can be climbed by way of two trailheads. The Timpooneke trailhead starts from the American Fork Canyon side on the north, and can be approached from Interstate 15 rather easily. The Aspen Grove trailhead is located just past the Sundance ski resort up Provo Canyon. Even though Aspen Grove is lower than Timpooneke, and thus requires more elevation gain, we elected to approach from this route, because it is much closer to my home in Provo. For this climb, I had along my thirteen-year-old brother, Brigham, who was up visiting from Texas.
We got to bed early the night before, but, as usual, I didn't sleep very well before such a big hike. We got up at 6 o'clock, and were out the door by 6:30. We arrived at the trailhead around 7, and after poking around a little bit, we started up the trail. There is a group called TERT which maintains a high camp on the mountain during summer weekends. They also have people at each of the trailheads to offer advice, and answer any questions, as well as report on current conditions up the mountain. The person at the trailhead that day happened to be someone I knew, and after exchanging pleasantries, Brigham and I were up the trail.
The trail for the first mile is paved, but still narrow single-track. It slowly meanders up the mountain to the Lower Falls. These falls are part of a stream we would cross several times on the trail, and the water was running quite well, despite the last several dry years the mountain has had. After the falls, the trail turns north along the side of the Primrose Cirque. At this point the vegitation is pretty thick, but there aren't that many trees, mainly smaller plants. We saw several small squirrel-like creatures on the trail.
The Aspen Grove trail is famous for its switchbacks, and there are many, as the trail climbs out of the Primrose Cirque and into the Hidden Lakes Cirque. We crossed a few patches of scree, as well as a small snow field or two. The hidden lakes are really just a couple of clear pools which the trail skirts on its way to Emerald Lake. We saw a couple of tents down by them, and I imagine that the area would be a great place to stay for an overnight camp. We approached Emerald Lake, and chatted with a few people at the shelter near there. The summit was clearly visible on top of a thousand-foot shear wall, but the trail was another couple of miles to reach it.
After passing Emerald Lake, we continued almost due West toward the Timp saddle, where the trail crosses from the east side of the mountain to the west side. The trail follows along the upper portions of the Timpanogos Basin, and there was still a fair amount of snow when we crossed it in mid-July. In past years, I've climbed to the saddle coming from the opposite direction, and there has been quite a bit of snow as well. The substantial winds we encountered at Emerald Lake were almost non-existent in the Basin, but as we crossed over the saddle, the wind picked right back up, dropping the ambient temperature by 15-20 degrees. I had only brought a fleece, and was wishing that I had my windbreaker with me as well.
The climb to the summit of Timp has often been described as climbing a stairway into the sky, which isn't too far from the truth. The trail from the saddle is steep and often feels like climbing a very long set of stairs. It was slow going, but eventually we got to the summit, where the view was incredible! The sky was clear, and we could see 60+ miles in many directions, including peaks such as Deseret Peak and the Oquirrhs to the west, Mount Nebo to the south, the High Uintas to the east and Lone Peak to the north. We stayed and ate lunch for about a half-hour before continuing south on the ridge trail.
One of the more popular ways of getting down from the summit is to slide down the famous "Timp Glacier", which is actually more a semi-permanent snowfield than a glacier. It is a really fun experience, but one that needs to happen early in the season. The rocks beneath the snow are really sharp, and contribute to the majority of the accidents on the mountain. The snowfield was really barren this year because of the drought, but still had enough snow to slide at least part way down. We just walked on snow and rocks the rest of the way down to Emerald Lake, and retrieved the bag we had left at the shelter there before we climbed the summit.
The hike back down was pretty uneventful, and a bit quicker than the climb up. It was mid-afternoon by this time, and we quickly shed our jackets after we got out of the wind at Emerald Lake. The temperature continued to climb as we dropped in elevation, and we got back to the trailhead around 3:30pm.
The trip back home was pretty uneventful. We enjoyed the beautiful drive through Provo Canyon back to my apartment. Overall, the hike was great, there weren't too many people (I had heard over the radio that about 150 people approached from each trailhead), and we were able to escape from the valley for a day. Timpanogos remains one of the premier hikes on Utah, and one which I would highly recommend.