Timpanogos Peak

Date: August 2, 2014
Miles: 14.2
Elevation Gain: 5,500 ft
Start Time: 6:00 am
Duration: 8:47 hours

Aspen Grove to Timpanogos Peak Trail
Aspen Grove to Timpanogos Peak Trail

The Timpanogos Peak trail has two different trailheads: from the Timpooneke Campground on the Alpine Loop from the north or from where we started at Aspen Grove near Sundance Ski Resort.  We got to the parking lot just as it was getting light and there were only a few parking spots left.  We had hiked this trail several years earlier but we only went a few miles up.

Lower Timpanogos Falls
Lower Timpanogos Falls

The trail starts by following the Timpanogos River through the trees. After a few switchbacks we continue to walk through the trees for about a mile until we come to Lower Timpanogos Falls. We have to climb down a steep embankment in order to get a photo of the falls.

We then follow another set of switchbacks up the hill until the trail heads straight into Upper Timpanogos Falls. This waterfall is more impressive than its lower sibling because it’s bigger and set back into a small cove that creates a cool, mossy retreat into its own mini ecosystem. It’s like a little waterfall sanctuary.

Upper Timpanogos Falls
Upper Timpanogos Falls

Now it’s just a matter of climbing up some long switchbacks. Occasionally we are treated with a view of the valley below as well as small streams that come into the trail. After the first switchback we go through a thick area, where I remember from the last time we were here there was a nice clearing coming up showing off the mountains above us.  As I readied the camera I stepped through some brush overhanging the trail and then remember the sound of the lens cover on my camera hitting a rock followed quickly with the sound of a man in distress. As my eyes tried to focus a few seconds later I couldn’t understand what I was looking at until I realized that it was my crotch. The oddest thing about my crotch at this particular moment was that it was facing upward and stuck in a bush with the rest of me.

Water Feature Next to Trail
Water Feature Next to Trail

I had managed to wedge my foot in a root on the trail that was hidden under overhanging brush and completed a perfect somersault off the side of the trail and down a steep embankment into a large bush. I was facing away from the trail as I heard a young female voice from behind me which was followed with the appearance of a young female hand in my peripheral vision.  She was obviously not a physics major. Although I was tempted to go ahead and pull her down into the bush with me as a learning experience for her I opted for an unceremonious wiggle/squirm move until I righted myself inside the bush and then did the crawl of shame back onto the trail. I quickly assured the hoards (it felt like hoards but I didn’t make eye contact so who knows) of people on the trail that nothing was hurt but my pride and then gave them the instruction to move along, nothing to see here.

I managed to convert my crawl of shame into a walk of shame as I continued up the trail while being just a little bit more than pissed at myself.  After walking mad for a few hundred yards it occurred to me that I didn’t have my hat any more. Sandy, quickly sensing that she didn’t want to be around me anyway, said, “I’ll get it” and then she was gone. I sat on the side of the trail for about 30 seconds inspecting my camera which was unscathed except of a small dent on the the lens cover. It was good to sit for a bit because it helped me get my wits about me enough to realize I was no longer wearing glasses either.

I made it back to Sandy just as she was triumphantly returning to the trail with hat in hand. She was a real trooper for heading right back down into the bushes after my glasses. She found them in the bush quick enough and in good condition. We spent the rest of the hike pointing out areas that would have been much worse to do a somersault off of.

Nearing the Top of the First Canyon
Nearing the Top of the First Canyon

The trail from here moves up the mountain on the right side of the canyon where it traverses toward the end of the canyon for about a mile.  Near the end of the valley the trail ascends several switchbacks through the rocks and then through the trees and then through rocks…  It was a pretty tough climb getting over the first section. We kept running into people with day packs coming down but it was still very early in the morning. We asked them when they started and it ranged from midnight to three in the morning.  They hiked up with headlamps and watched the sunrise from the peak.

Just Arriving to Middle Valley
Just Arriving to Middle Valley
Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake Below Mt Timpanogos Hut

The second section of the hike levels off slightly into a large green meadow loaded with wildflowers. We walked down to Emerald Lake which was a small lake near the bottom of a very long snow field up that led up the ridge to the south.  From here we could see the hut on the top of Timpanogos to our southeast. It really looked like a long way away still.

Open Basin to the North
Open Basin to the North
Rocky Section of Trail
Rocky Section of Trail

After the lakes we crested a hill that went by a small shelter that is likely used in winter. From here would could see people attempting to scale the snowfield which lead most of the way up the back of the eastern slope of Mt Timpanogos. Then we hiked a short distance that took us to the edge of a cliff overlooking a large basin to the north where the alternate trail feeds into.  From there we go left into the northern face of Timpanogos.  This section goes over a boulder field where the trail is difficult to follow.  The boulders slowly decrease in size as we head west until we are walking on a very rocky trail that is quite hard on the feet.  We can see the trail ahead of us goes straight up the side of the hill to intersect with the northern trail up on the ridge.

Huge Field of Lupine
Huge Field of Lupine

We pass a large field of lupine before we get to the bottom of the ridge. The trail was even more steep than we thought.  It was tough climbing that required the use of our hands in places and there were several washed out sections where idiots likely slid down.  Once we got up to the trail junction we turned south for a short distance until we reached the saddle that gave us our first view into the Provo/Orem valley.  There were several people resting there and after taking a few photos we started up the next section of the hike.

The Saddle Looking Down at Provo
The Saddle Looking Down at Provo
Climb Up Narrow Notch
Climb Up Narrow Notch
Narrow Ridgeline Above Saddle
Narrow Ridgeline Above Notch

This last section stays on the west facing slope of Timpanogos overlooking Provo. The slope of the mountainside is more steep as the trail cuts through the rock and spans some area that is more exposed. Not far after leaving the saddle we found ourselves in a narrow notch that managed to have switchbacks only a few feet long as it climbed straight up through the notch.  After that we hiked right along the ridgeline that separated the valley we came up from the one that faced Provo.

Along the Provo Side of the Trail
Along the Provo Side of the Trail
Just Under Timpanogos Peak
Just Under Timpanogos Peak
Hut on Timpanogos Peak
Hut on Timpanogos Peak

Then it was a matter of climbing up the last few switchbacks. We could see that we were gaining on the hut on top of the hill. We could also now see that there was a lot of movement up there. We approached the peak from the west and saw that the trail continued down the southern ridge. Now it we just needed to climb up the rock to the hut. The hut was a simple structure covered in graffiti. Most of the graffiti took the form of either BYU or U of U sucking in some capacity or another. The peak itself was quite narrow and extended to the north from the hut a short distance. Every square inch of that area was covered by people sitting on their claim that consisted of about one square feet of rock. It reminded me of a nature film where sea lions covered every square inch of space on a rocky formation on volcanic beach, only if they were wearing hiking shorts and each had a small backpack.

Timpanogos Peak Looking Back East
Timpanogos Peak Looking Back East
Timpanogos Peak Looking East
Timpanogos Peak Looking East

We took some quick photos and gently pushed our way through a pack of four sea lions wearing BYU shirts and made our escape to the open freedom of the ridge below the peak that we came up on. The amount of people on this trail was insane. Easily one of the most crowded trails we have ever been on especially given its length. It didn’t help that it was a Saturday. I guess there is some rite of passage that all BYU students are supposed to hike to Timpanogos Peak. I was very proud at this moment to have graduated from Utah State.

When we got back down to just above saddle there was an older woman waiting for us to come through a narrow area.  She told us her age and we were totally blown away. Unfortunately, I’ve reach the age where I can’t remember what she said but I do remember Sandy and I being very impressed.

Rocky Foot-Killing Trail
Rocky Foot-Killing Trail
Open Basin to the North
Open Basin to the North

As we slowly made our way down the steep washed out part of the trail past the saddle my knees were really starting to get sore. The next mile was pretty rough going on our feet walking through the rocks.  The following mile through the meadow and lakes was the last pleasant memory that I have of the hike.  Once we started down the final section of the trail my knees were really slowing us down.  By the time we reached the last two miles my left knee was totally shot and my right hip would not let me do anything but stand straight over the top of it.

Middle Valley Near Lakes
Middle Valley Near Lakes

There were hundreds of places on the trail where you had to step down over a rock and drop one to two feet which is odd because there weren’t any of these drop offs on the way up. Each time we got to a new drop I would have Sandy stand beneath me and grab her shoulder as I did a perfectly vertical deep knee bend with my right leg and land softly while not bending my left knee.  Then I would rest, while definitely not crying, for a short time before moving on to the next drop. This took forever, of course, and it was pretty tough letting all those people pass us up.

We eventually made it down to the flatter section near the bottom and being able to walk while not bending my knee made the final half mile go by at about normal speed.  I was really wiped out when we got to the car but it didn’t really catch up to me until we were driving on the freeway around Roy and my right quadricep muscles cramped up bad.  Now that my leg was extended fully and I was yelling it seemed my only options would be to slam on the gas or slam on the brakes. I ended up letting the care slow naturally and relied on the kindness of strangers as I merged into them and found the next exit.

Sandy drove home from there after giving her a short moment to overcome the trauma of having helplessly watched her driver go through what I described in the previous paragraph.  After stretching out in Roy I didn’t have another relapse of cramps but I couldn’t hike for three more weeks because of my knees and the hiking I did for the rest of the season were marred by the events of this day.

I’ve learned some powerful lessons from this hike.  I have not gone on one hike since Timpanogos without hiking poles and I always wear knee support once my knees feel even the slightest soreness.  Fortunately due to taking these efforts and falling apart in other ways my knees have fallen to number three or four on my show-stopper injury list.