Mount Timpanogos – Protecting Our Wilderness Areas

Mount Timpanogos as seen from Heber City, Utah

Towering over Utah Valley and one of the tallest peaks in the Wasatch is Mount Timpanogos. One of the most majestic mountains in Utah, it is also one of the most used. With 30,000 plus college students living at it’s base and a National Monument found on its North side, Timp sees thousands of visitors each year. The views at the summit (11,749′) are amazing, and it can be seen from miles away. Whether taking a hike above Brighton Ski Resort, or hiking over 11,000 foot passes on the Highline Trail in the Uinta Mountains, “Timp” can be seen in the horizon. 
Timp for me is a place of solitude and peace. I have spent many days hiking and climbing on Timp, and it offers endless opportunities for exploring. There however is one thing that has become an issue with Timp over the years. As mentioned before, there is a lot of usage each year on this mountain. Timp has a small wilderness area that has helped to protect the mountain from over usage, but even then, the amount of people using the mountain is beginning to show more and more. 

Image Courtesy of Wilderness.net

Wilderness areas are protected in many ways from typical use areas like campgrounds and other recreation use areas. A major goal of wilderness areas is to maintain the impact and preserve the area in its original state. Think about this though. Timpanogos sees the the most use from July to August, when the summit is free of snow and temperatures are at the hottest. Imagine 500-800 people who are on the mountain from midnight to early morning hours, that are all hiking to the summit and the summit saddle to watch the sun rise over the Heber Valley to the East. Do you think that poses some dangers to the area and the preservation of it? Absolutely!
I remember a few years ago as I hiked with some friends who wanted to be at the summit for the sunrise. We drove to the parking lot at 11:30 pm to see that the parking lot was full. The trail running from Aspen Grove to the summit is a slightly shorter trail, but is a little more aggressive hiking. After several miles of hiking and passing several groups on the trail, we reached Emerald Lake. we decided to take a quick nap and start hiking again a couple hours before sunrise. As we started hiking again, walking over rocks and boulders by headlamps, I remember looking over my right shoulder to see a massive line of lights coming in from the North on the Timpooneke trial. As we made our way closer to the summit saddle, I just remember looking up and hearing what sounded like a bunch of high schoolers in the school auditorium talking over each other while waiting for an assembly to start. There were hundreds of people on the trail and just off the trail sleeping, laying down, talking, playing games, as they waited for the sun to come up. 
As we decided to make our way from the saddle to the summit, we were unable to even make it to the summit before the sun started to rise because of the line of people hiking to and coming down from the summit. It was a spectacle I never thought I would see. 
 On the saddle as we watched the sunrise, unable to get to the summit before the sunrise.

Getting down from the mountain took longer than it ever should have taken due to the amount of people on the trail. Because of that experience, I have not been back to climb Timp for a sunrise since. 
I’ve taken a lot of time since that experience thinking about how much use Timp sees each year. A friend of mine who works for the Forest Service on a trail crew has told me that some weekends see 1800-2200 people on the mountain’s trails on any given Saturday July through August. This is an obvious issue, in the sense of human caused erosion, environmental damage, human waste disposal, etc. With such a beautiful area and mountain, there really ought to be something done to manage the amount of use on one of the most amazing mountains in the western states. This is a wilderness area though, and the ability to install toilets, paved trails, or even use permits may not be an option for the amount of use the mountain sees. But do you allow people to go onto the mountain and not take care of it. I know I have now put myself onto a soap box just now, but since our backcountry areas have become more of a destination, rather than the places we live, it becomes even more important for us to take care of what is ours and ours to enjoy. 
With all that negative stuff behind, hiking Timp is one of the more gratifying hikes you could possibly do in the Wasatch. As the second tallest peak in the range, it may be one the most beautiful high elevation hikes one could do. Take the time to educate yourself on Leave No Trace principles, and backcountry ethics. Take care of the beautiful areas that we get to enjoy, that bring a smile to our face, and give us a sense of accomplishment. 
Take time to go see Stewart Falls, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Tibble Fork, and make the push to hike to the Summit of Timp and enjoy the breathtaking views. But all in all, take care of the areas that we have so freely available right in our own back yards. 
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