Mike Godfrey, At Home in Wild Spaces

Why legendary Mount Timpanogos is Utah's 'Everest'

By Mike Godfrey, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Oct 17th, 2019 @ 7:32pm


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LINDON — As home to dozens of mountain ranges, Utah represents an extremely crowded field of high-elevation splendor. But Mount Timpanogos in Utah County rises above all other (some taller) peaks as Utah's Mount Everest.

In terms of physical stature, Timpanogos is no Everest. You would need 2 1/2 Timps — each about 11,750 feet — stacked one on top of the other to barely outrank the world’s highest peak.

Timpanogos is also a far cry from Utah’s tallest peak, coming in at nearly 2,000 vertical feet lower than the state’s highest point: Kings Peak in Duchesne County.

So, how is it that Mount Timpanogos, one peak in thousands, is deserving of the title Utah’s Everest? Here are a few reasons:

Fame

In addition to being the world’s tallest peak, Everest is likely the world’s most famous. Where Timpanogos falls short of Utah’s or the Wasatch Range's tallest peak, it’s likely the state’s most famous mountain.

Seen daily by residents of Utah, Salt Lake and Heber valleys, Timpanogos towers over the state’s main population centers as well as several less populated regions. Its impact on our collective consciousness is apparent, which leads to the second reason.

Cultural significance

Like Everest, the cultural impact of Timpanogos is impossible to deny. Highways, businesses, hospitals, schools and even a Latter-day Saint temple bear its name. As arguably the most dominant mountain in the Wasatch Range, Utah’s infatuation with “Timp” is alive and well.

Beginning in 1912 in the form of an annual summit pilgrimage, climbing “Timp” has become a rite of passage for many Utahns, including university students. According to trail and wilderness manager for the Wasatch National Forest Cheryl Butler, around 65,000 people use the Timpanogos trail system between June and September, “far [exceeding] normal trail use.” The total annual visitation is likely significantly higher.

To say hiking Timpanogos is popular doesn’t really capture the mountain’s significance in Utah culture.

Gods and legends

It’s not uncommon for majestic peaks and natural features to inspire or serve as the setting for legends and spiritual explanations for the world we occupy or our relationship with it.

The legend of Timpanogos, the god of the mountain, as shared in the above video and on tours through Timpanogos Cave, echoes the narratives associated with peaks like Sinai, Olympus and, of course, Everest. Popularized during the annual Timpanogos pilgrimages of the 20th century, the legend firmly places Utah’s Mount Timpanogos among these other legendary mountains.

In Tibet, the Sherpa people hold Everest in special reverence as Chomolungma, “Goddess Mother of the world.” Tibetan prayer flags believed to spread prayers, mantras and goodwill to the world on the wind are ever-present on the slopes and summits of the Himalayas. The flags are considered holy by Tibetan Buddhists and serve as reminders to travelers to be respectful of the mountains and the greater powers they embody.

Prayer flags can also be found in the summit hut atop Timpanogos.

Everest-like terrain

The Aspen Grove and Timpooneke trails combined with the Timpanogos Summit trail are the main routes up Timpanogos, but they are not the only ones. Among the more technical approaches is The Everest Ridge, a route used by a team of climbers while training for their bid to summit Everest. While Timpanogos in no way competes with Mount Everest in scale, the mountain’s terrain, especially in winter, has served as a useful analog for Himalayan conditions.

On a clear day from Timp’s summit, you can see 100+ miles in each direction, effectively glimpsing one side of the state to the other. If there’s one takeaway from this awe-inspiring view, it’s that Utah has no shortage of stunning mountains to explore and discover.

Advice for hiking Timpanogos

When you venture out to summit a peak like Timanogos, take the time to connect with the mountains, their history and our relationship with them. Even the most familiar peaks can surprise you.

No mountain or summit should be underestimated. Each trail or mountaineering route you attempt should match your level of experience and skill level. Timpanogos is an iconic mountain and well worth the requisite preparation and effort. Know your limits, prepare appropriately and remain wary of summit fever. Reaching any peak is only half the journey. Returning safely, rather than reaching the summit, is the priority.

There is no substitute for situational awareness in the mountains. During summer weekends, the Timpanogos Emergency Response team monitors the trail and stands ready to assist in the event of an emergency. But if you visit during the week or off-season, you won’t benefit from that safety net.

You’ll need a plan should you get stranded or injured. Cellphone service is generally available along the Timpanogos saddle and summits, but it’s unreliable elsewhere on the mountain. Don’t rely on your phone. At a minimum, inform family or friends of your plans and location and know how to respond in an emergency should an injury or accident occur.

Preserving the mountain

Historically, groups of thousands participated in the annual organized pilgrimage to the summit of Timpanogos. The practice was discontinued in 1970 because of the damage such groups had inflicted on the landscape. Today there is a 15-individual limit on parties entering the Timpanogos Wilderness Area.

This regulation, like others, is meant to maintain the public’s access while preserving the wilderness and the wilderness experience. In addition to limiting the size of your party, rules for hiking the mountain include a ban on building fires, flying drones, picking flowers, shortcutting trails, and damaging any natural, historical or official structures.

This includes the Emerald Lake Shelter (built 1957-59) and the Summit Hut (built 1929). Both structures are unique in the state and among the most popular sites in the Timpanogos wilderness. Unfortunately, both structures continue to suffer from misuse and vandalism.

The final and moderately indelicate regulation has to do with waste, specifically human waste. You’ll need to put a lot of miles behind you if you plan to reach the summit of Timpanogos. Bring biodegradable toiletries and a lightweight device for digging a 6-8 inch cathole. Do not leave home without these crucial implements and the will to use them responsibly.

For more information on guidelines and regulations within the Mount Timpanogos Wilderness visit Wilderness Connect.

Final tips

Timpanogos, especially during summer weekends, is extremely popular. If you’re late to the party, or the parking lot on a busy weekend, you may have to add as much as 2 miles to your Timpanogos hike.

That might not seem like much, but you’re looking at 15+ miles up and down close to a vertical mile. Hiking Timpanogos is strenuous; don’t be surprised if an extra mile or two feels like a lot more. Plan ahead and carpool if at all possible.

Finally, if your schedule allows, consider planning your hike on a weekday rather than on weekends, holidays and school breaks; or consider a different trail or peak. Timpanogos, though indisputably beautiful, is far from the only mountain around.

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About the Author: Mike Godfrey \------------------------------

Mike Godfrey is a graduate of BYU and along with his wife Michelle, the manager of At Home in Wild Spaces, an outdoor recreation website, blog and community, dedicated to sharing national parks, wilderness areas, hiking/biking trails, and more.

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