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Mount Timpanogos has, for most
of this century, been the most popular mountain climbing destination
in Utah. The majestic mountain, second highest in the Wasatch
Mountains, seems to have everything-an alpine lake just below
the summit, a small glacier, waterfalls along the trail, high
alpine meadows and wildflowers, even a herd of about 200 mountain
goats that were introduced in 1981.
Until 1970 Timpanogos was the object
of an annual summer event in Provo called the Timp Hike,
which prompted many thousands of outdoorsmen to climb the well
known mountain. The celebrated Timp Hike was grudgingly discontinued
in 1970, after 59 years, when an estimated 3,500 people reached
the summit in a single day. The pressure of so many hikers on
the fragile alpine ecosystem proved to be an unmitigated environmental
disaster, and many Forest Service officials feared that the mountain
might never recover. Fortunately Mount Timpanogos did recover,
and in 1984, to insure against future misuse, it was designated
by Congress as the Mount Timpanogos Wilderness Area.
From Timpooneke Campground the
northern route up Mount Timpanogos climbs through a series of
four plateaus and meadows, collectively known as the Giant Staircase.
The last of these plateaus, is Timpanogos Basin, a well sheltered
plateau about 10,100 feet above sea level with two tiny lakes
in the southern corner. From this basin it is only another 2.1
miles to the summit, but if this is a two-day hike you should
bear left at the trail junction and proceed to Emerald Lake to
establish your camp.
Emerald Lake is a particularly
pretty high alpine lake nestled in a valley just below the summit
at the foot of Timpanogos Glacier. By most definitions, Timpanogos
Glacier is not really a glacier at all, but rather a snowfield.
However, it has been called a glacier by climbers at least since
1916, so rather than break with tradition we will continue to
call it a glacier here.
You are likely to see mountain
goats grazing on the alpine slopes above Emerald Lake, so be
sure to look for them. The majestic shaggy white creatures have
thrived on Timpanogos since their introduction 17 years ago,
and they are now so tame they occasionally venture to within
a hundred feet of campers by the lake. More often, however, you
will need a pair of binoculars to study them in detail.
If you dont want to carry
a tent with you to Emerald Lake you can sleep in the stone shelter
that was built there in 1959 during the days of the Timp Hike.
You would probably be more comfortable in a tent, though, as
the shelter is very dark and dingy inside and has a cold cement
floor. If you plan to do any cooking you should bring a camp
stove. There is very little wood at this altitude-especially
at the heavily visited Emerald Lake.
The morning of the second day is
a good time to make the final assent of Mount Timpanogos. Leaving
your packs at Emerald Lake, retrace your steps back 0.4 mile
and bear left on the shortcut trail that leads to the ridge above.
You may have trouble finding this trail, since the talus slopes
west of Emerald are very unstable and subject to occasional landslides.
If the shortcut trail has been obliterated, just angle up the
side of the ridge in a northwesterly direction for a few hundred
yards until you run into the well-marked summit trail.
Once you reach the ridge it is
a fairly easy walk on up to the top. The trail drops slightly
on the western side of the ridge, and then works its way around
the west side of a false summit to the peak. Finally, 0.7 mile
after crossing the ridge you will see the small metal shed that
marks the summit. The steel shelter was originally constructed
by surveyors who, before the days of aerial mapping, used the
peak as a triangulation point.
The normal return to Emerald Lake
is along the same trails used for the assent; however more adventurous
hikers might want to attempt the alternative route down the Timp
Glacier. The summit trail continues along the ridge for another
0.6 mile to the top of the glacier that feeds the lake. If you
know what you are doing it is only a fifteen minute slide from
the ridge to the lake, but be aware that under some conditions
the descent down the glacier can be dangerous. Many injuries
have been sustained by people sliding into rocks on the glacier,
especially late in the summer when buried boulders are often
exposed by the melting snow. There have also been cases of people
breaking legs after falling through snow bridges, and even falling
into the freezing lake at the bottom of the glacier. In my opinion,
however, the degree of danger is not great for a person with
some experience on snow and some common sense. The grade is very
steep for the first few hundred feet, but after that one can
easily walk down the snow. An ice axe is useful but thousands
of hikers make the descent every summer without one. A short,
strong stick can also be a great help in steering and braking
on the snow, but don't expect to find any sticks above Emerald
From the lake the trail winds down
the scenic Primrose Cirque for 3.7 miles to the Theatre in the
Pines Picnic Area. You will probably see more hikers along this
route. Theatre in the Pines is a mile closer to the summit than
the Timpooneke Trailhead; hence many hikers use this route for
a day hike to the top. As you begin your descent notice Roberts
Horn, a prominent peak about 0.3 mile south of the trail near
Emerald Lake. Roberts Horn was named after Eugene Timp
Roberts, the folk hero of Mount Timpanogos who started the annual
Timp Hike in 1912.