When British climber George Mallory was asked about his reason for climbing Mt. Everest, he famously quipped “Because it’s there”. Mt. Everest is quite literally the tallest mountain in the world and for many, they will never step foot anywhere near it. For others though, the mountains have an unquestionable magnetism. Some might attempt Everest and a small percentage will stand on top of it. When you live near the mountains, your mind might wander to thoughts of summiting one. If you are the adventurous type, you may even attempt to climb one. I fall into the latter category and since January 2021, I’ve lived in the shadow of the 2nd tallest mountain in the Wasatch Range, Mount Timpanogos. That whole time, I knew there was a trail to the top and that whole time, I wondered if I’d have an opportunity to hike it. In October 2022, I made the decision to cross that summit off my bucket list. What follows is an account of that hike, what went into it, and what was taken away from it.
Mt. Timpanogos’ summit stands at 11,753’. The trails to the summit (From Aspen Grove and Timpooneke)are approximately 13.9 miles and at this time of year, the weather is predictably cold in the morning and warm throughout the day. I didn’t want to take preparation for this hike lightly. This hike is an out-and-back meaning the same trail you take up is the trail you take back. I’ve hiked further but this one would test my New England acclimatization. I also knew this hike would take hours and most likely, the better portion of the day. I looked up the sunrise on October 6th, 2022, and learned it would be at 7:28 am. It’s easier to hike in cooler weather and I didn’t want the sun glaring down on me all morning and day. I looked into the phase of the moon and the amount of light it would offer and decided an early A.M. start would be best. I was pleased to see the moon wasn’t quite full but it would have enough lum to make it easier to spot cairns along the way. I wanted to give myself a minimum of 5 to 6 hours to hit the summit. This meant I would be at the trailhead by 330am or 4 am at the latest. The morning of, I was up at 0100, unable to sleep, and decided not to wait a couple of hours. I left at 0115 and was at the trailhead by 0200.
Prior to the hike, I printed out a map and recorded information about the hike to include in the margins of my map. I wanted to know what features I could expect to see after certain distances covered. I checked the weather and noticed the conditions expected on Thursday would be similar to those on Tuesday and Wednesday. Before the hike, I checked in with the ranger at the gate to the forest and asked how the trail and summit conditions were. I also drove to where the trailhead is to know exactly what it would look like instead of trying to find it in the middle of the early morning. Too much information isn’t a bad thing to have when you’re attempting something you haven’t done before.
Part of planning is selecting the right gear. I wanted to keep my pack light for the day’s hike. Just like we preach in all the courses we teach at Fieldcraft Survival, I wanted to balance packing for what is both possible and probable. I packed the essentials like extra layers, extra water in collapsible bladders, my map/compass/ Garmin Foretrex GPS, Glock 17 in my Blackpoint Tactical Outback chest rig, Montana Knife Company/Fieldcraft EDC blade, some basic safety kit and a few keto-friendly snacks. Since I would be leaving in the dark, my Petzl Tactikka headlamp was given a fresh set of batteries and my Surefire Stiletto was charged the night before. One would be used for navigation and the brighter of the two would be used to help me find trail markers. I packed these in my Kifaru Shape Charge pack and distributed the weight evenly. Normally, I’d pack my usual EDC bag on a shorter hike but I wanted the ability to distribute the weight between my shoulder straps and waist belt. It is easy to overpack on a hike like this. When I was younger, I packed a full complement of survival gear with me when the reality of an emergency on a hike would be a crew carrying me off the mountain instead of me attempting to catch a chipmunk or fish for food. Of course, there is a possibility of survival off the land but it doesn’t have a serious probability of happening. What is more possible and probable is running low on water making the use of water treatment a reality.
A good habit before any long-distance trek is making sure you have plenty of rest the evening before as well as ample hydration. Sometimes this is a problem as pre hydration usually means waking up at some point in the middle of the night or morning for a bathroom break. Additionally, sometimes the anticipation makes it difficult to go back to sleep. I started consuming more H20 as soon as I woke up to the point that my urine was the faintest tinge of yellow. Prior to the hike, I turned in around 830-9 pm. If you think you can operate on less sleep or power chug water with the same results, you’re wrong. Our bodies need rest and hydration and there is no way to force either of those into a more narrow window of time.
The night before the hike, I double-checked my kit and packed my backpack. I ate an extra large dinner for plenty of energy in the morning and tried to sleep early. Like anything exciting, sleep the night before is hard to come by. I was up earlier than I expected and decided it was time. With my bag packed, I walked to my car and headed out. At the trailhead that was about 25 minutes away, I triple-checked my kit. For some reason, the batteries in my headlamp that I just changed were running low. I searched around some and luckily I had spare batteries for my GPS to swap. With a click of my key fob, my vehicle was locked and I was off on the trail.
As expected, the moon provided a lot of brightness for the hike. I ran my Petzl Tactikka on low for the duration of darkness. When I needed to get an idea of what the terrain looked like at a distance, I lit it up with the Surefire Stiletto. Hiking in the dark isn’t for everyone. Some folks let their minds get to them. For these folks, a squirrel’s rustle in the bushes could be a mountain lion and this idea paralyzes their action. When you hike in the dark, it is easy to miss sharp switchbacks and cairns. You have to move slower. On my hike, the mountains were backlit by the moon and it was incredibly peaceful as I was the only one on the trail for 3 hours.
I looked at my map and counted the switchbacks. I anticipated crossing Hidden Lake around 4.5 miles in but I didn’t see it. It lived up to its name. The first noticeable feature I recognized was actually Emerald Lake and the nearby shelter. I spent a good amount of time here getting more water in me and having a Keto Crisp bar for a bit of energy. As I sat in this shelter, I looked eastward and noticed the horizon brightening. Shortly after leaving that shelter, I made it to a large rock field with unstable footing for a mile or so. This section proved the most difficult to navigate as the rocks shifted and caused my knees and ankles to hate me. At this point, the sun popped up behind me and I was met by the first person to “overtake” me on the trail. This gentleman was one of those ultralight speed guys and he was haulin’.
After the rock field, hikers can expect to reach the saddle where the other popular trail, the Timpooneke, meets up. Around this point, you’ll see the shelter on the top of the summit which is approximately a mile away and about 700’ more elevation. This section of the saddle takes you to the West face of the ridge and you’ll be shielded from the sun as you approach the summit. You may also encounter mountain goats just off the trail much as I did. This section gets steep as you approach the summit. There are a few precarious drop-offs I would avoid if you are squeamish about heights. Once you reach the summit, you’ll find the summit hut that has a log book as well as plenty of hiker tags in Sharpie marker. Take it all in when you’re here. You clearly see Heber Valley and so much of the Salt Lake City valley. You can look down to Emerald Lake or search the Timpanogos Valley for signs of hikers still on their way up to the summit. I took the time to reflect on the time I’ve had here in UT as well as what I should be thankful for. The total time it took me to hike to the summit was 7 hours including a 30-minute break and about a half dozen 5-minute water stops.
Hiking down from the summit, I was able to see everything that the darkness covered up on my way up. I made a better pace with the assistance of gravity and stopped only so long to remove my canteen from my pack and consume some water. As I hiked down, I could focus more on the scenery than my breathing. My mind had moments of recalling passing objects in the trail wondering what the nearby area looked like on the way up and I matched those with my well-lit reality. Just like the hike up, I was pretty much all by myself on the way down. I could take in the huge expanses and the fall colors. I took my time heading down and didn’t want to injure myself. 14 miles is 14 miles even if the second half of the trip was noticeably easier than the way up. Somehow, along the way, I definitely tweaked my knee and favored it a bit. Despite the pain, I made it down to my vehicle 4.5 hours after leaving the summit.
I can’t imagine what I would have thought about Mount Timpanogos if I had left Utah for North Carolina without hiking it. All those days seeing that tall mountain while commuting on my way to work I wondered what it would be like to reach the summit. I couldn’t imagine coming back to the area, seeing it, and knowing I had the opportunity but failed to act on it. My chances of doing it would have decreased significantly if I let it go. I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer. I don’t believe in hesitation before deliberate action and waiting so long is not like me. Sometimes it is better not to think too much about what needs to be done but rather just get it done. Sometimes, the conditions look right and you just have to go. That’s what I did and I am very thankful I did it with, of course, the right amount of safety and prep.
I won’t claim the hike was easy although there are plenty of folks who will just wing it and do it with far less prep. It’s always a blow to the ego to see the trail runner sprint past you in a running tank top shorts and nothing more than a water bottle. I also won’t say it is for everyone. Some activities are simply beyond the physical capability of some. What it boils down to is the willingness to find out. I think that is the reason why I love heading to the hills. They test you and how you perform is up to you. I love a good challenge and testing my preparedness mentally and physically. This was a great test and I’m glad I did it because it was there.