Hiking Mt Timpanogos

While returning from a hike to the summit of Mt. Timpanogos in mid-September, I met an old high school classmate who argued that early summer was his favorite time to hike on the mountain. He and his wife had identified 75 species of wildflowers during a hike earlier in the year.

However, if you like less-crowded hiking trails and cooler weather, try the mountain in the fall. The scenery here — when the scarlet oak brush and golden aspens highlight the rust-hued fields, silver limestone ledges and pink quartzite cliffs — is perhaps unsurpassed anywhere else in the state.

What appears as an impenetrable mountain wall dominating the landscape to the east of Utah Valley is, in fact, the backbone of a wilderness area encompassing about a dozen peaks and seven alpine basins. The Sleeping maiden," Timpanogos, is home to mountain goats, moose, mule deer, pikes and marmots, as well as a permanent snowfield and, at 11,750 feet, the second highest summit in the Wasatch Range. Only Mt. Nebo to the south is higher.

It is the top of Timpanogos which draws the most attention, at one time enticing several thousand hikers to trample the peak's slopes in a single day. Begun in 1912, the Annual Timp Hike became an environmental travesty. Fortunately for the mountain, this yearly event was discontinued in 1970.

The Mt. Timpanogos Wilderness Area was formally designated as part of the Utah Wilderness Act in 1984; it is now recommended that organized hikes be limited to 10 participants.

The most popular route leading to the top of the mountain is the Aspen Grove Trail. Driving from the west up Provo Canyon to Aspen Grove, find the trailhead at the Theater-in-the-Pines picnic area. This is a relatively steep route that leads past a dozen waterfalls in 8.3 miles to the summit. Horses are not allowed on this trail.

The second most popular hike on the mountain is the Timpooneke Trail, which begins at Timpooneke Campground in American Fork Canyon. Horses are allowed on this trail, which is characterized by long switchbacks leading about 9 miles to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately many hikers choose to cut these switchbacks, a practice which has resulted in numerous gashes that accelerate erosion and visually pollute the mountainside. Cutting these switchbacks severely damages the environment, and is inconsiderate to the Forest Service workers and volunteers who work hard to maintain these trails. It is also a violation of Federal law and punishable by a fine.

Although hikers in running shoes are often seen along the Timpooneke Trail, a light hiking boot will provide better foot protection over the rocky and scree-covered portions of the route.

Be sure to take extra layers of clothes with you in the fall, along with a pair of light gloves, and outerwear which will provide adequate protection from rain, snow, and wind. Even on cloudless autumn days, ridgetop winds can chill the ill prepared hiker to the bone.

The crash site (off the Timpooneke Trail) of an Air Force B-25 that went down in 1955, and Emerald Lake, near the east face of Timp, are other popular destinations. Backpacking, hiking and exploring possibilities abound in this wilderness area.

There are so many options for spending a day on Timpanogos that Utah author Michael Kelsey has written an entire guidebook on the region's history and recreational opportunities.

"Climbing and Exploring Utah's Mt. Timpanogos" is a good read and a useful resource for planning hiking alternatives which will take you away from the mountain masses. The 208-page book is available at REI.