Good hikes in Utah are as plentiful as marshmallows in a green jello salad. (I've never actually eaten marshmallows in a green jello salad, but I'm told there are a lot...)
I'm a hiking addict and can honestly say I spend at least three early mornings in every seven trudging and trail running at high elevations. If you're like me, you're always looking for your next hike, your next adventure. In the future, I'll do a post with my top ten hikes in Utah and beyond, but for now, I'd love to focus on my experience summiting one of Utah's highest peaks: the majestic Mt. Timpanogos.
As a professional author and creative writing instructor at Utah Valley University, I'm fascinated by story structure. If I had to label one aspect of plotting that my students struggle to define in their own stories, it is definitely the "midpoint." In my nonfiction, Teen Writers Guide: Your Road Map to Writing, I refer to this plot point as "Reaching the Summit."
The "midpoint" or "summit" of a book is an event that changes the main character's perspective. Because of this impactful event, the character moves from being reactive to active, the momentum shifts, the pacing increases, and there's no turning back for the protagonist. Hiking Timp had that same impact on me. It changed me from being a recreational hiker to a full-on hiking junkie. Instead of saying "yes" whenever I was asked to go, I became an instigator. I have SO many hikes on my bucket list, and I'm looking forward to sharing them with you as I cross them off my list.
A little about Mount Timpanogos:
There are two ways to summit Timp. When accessed from American Fork Canyon and the Timpooneke Trailhead, you're in for fifteen miles (out and back) of wildflowers, crazy beautiful vistas, mountain goats, and about 4425 ft of elevation gain, bringing the ambitious hiker to summit at 11,752 feet. Because of the high elevation and Utah's snowy winters, the best time to hike the trail is July-September.
My friends and I pulled into the Timpooneke parking lot at about 4:30 am and hiked our first two hours with headlamps. Once the sun finally crested the eastern skyline, we looked back, surprised by the distance traveled in the dark. (There's a metaphor there for the soul-searcher.) We made sure to pack in a ton of water, a PBnJ, and plenty of salty snacks. Even with the high salt intake, my hands were seriously swollen by the time we made that final two-mile stretch to the peak. Can you spot the mountain goats? They look small in this picture, but are massive in person.
In life, as in storytelling, our trial to reach the summit of our stories can be daunting. I know I've spent many miles working through emotional quagmires of bitterness, anger, and feelings of inadequacy. Life is hard. Sometimes we have to trudge up mountains to reach the summit and look out at the view and realize how far we've come, how vast and beautiful life can be, how perspective really is everything. I think that's one of the joys of hiking: working for a reward.
When hiking Timp, the hardest stretch comes after passing over the "saddle" and climbing the final 1/2 mile stretch of steep rock. We had to break out our coats and gloves. My legs were jello (of the green variety, naturally) when we climbed the final switchback and reached the old shack that marks the summit. It was constructed by early surveyors who used the peak as a triangulation point. Today, hikers pack a sharpie up the 11,752 feet so they can sign their name on the iconic shack walls.
360 degree views from the summit of the beast:
How to Prepare for Timp and Other Big Hikes:
Jumping into an intense hike without building up endurance will make for a rough experience. Train with as much frequency as you're able. You should be able to hike at least 2/3 the distance of your big hike without too much difficulty before attempting your mammoth mountain.
Packing enough water is important, but is often not enough to keep you hydrated. Hydration levels depend, not just on how much we drink, but also on our body's ability to retain water. Start hydrating a few days before the trip. I recommend the Liquid I.V. hydration packets they sell at Costco. They have a higher sodium content which will help your body retain enough water for the long haul.
Baby those feet! If you go during the right time of year, you don't really need cramps or even hiking boots. In fact, the only one of us who really struggled was our friend who brought her boots. The trail is well groomed so I recommend some good trail running shoes or tennis shoes. These days I live for Hokas, thanks to my stubborn plantar fasciitis. Also, cut those toenails! If not, they'll kill you on the downhill.
Socks! The fabrics that work best for hiking socks are moisture-wicking, breathable, odor resistant, and reasonably durable. My favorite fiber blend is about 50% nylon and 50% merino wool. Avoid cotton like the plague. Polyester, Coolmax, spandex, and other synthetic fabrics are breathable, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying, which makes them excellent choices for hiking sock materials. Wool is an amazing natural fiber that’s excellent for managing moisture, evaporating odors, and keeping you warm when wet. Quality fine merino wool is soft and comfortable to most people and works exceptionally well when blended with synthetic fibers.
Download your trail before you arrive and pack a portable charger, just in case. It's always a good idea to hike with a friend and tell someone back home your planned coordinates.
Hiking poles are a great way to baby your knees. I didn't use them for this long hike, but I'd consider taking them the next time I do it.
Load your Hiking Backpack with the Following:
A small first aid kit with Band Aids or moleskin for blisters, ibuprofen, and athletic tape.
Sunscreen and chapstick
Baby powder (if you're prone to chafing)
A little environment-friendly toilet paper
At least two liters of water (I always look up the trail beforehand to see what others recommend)
Salty snacks and protein
A coat that will stuff well into a hiking backpack, gloves, hat/ear muff
Bear spray and a whistle. (I never have it with me, but now that I've written those words, I'm guessing I'll have my first bear encounter tomorrow. :D )
Have fun tackling that summit! And remember, if you ever need a hiking buddy, I'm your girl!