The urge to take a hard, long hike, to raise a few blisters, aggravate muscles and uplift the soul, is all but lost in this easy age of beguiling television, body-contoured chairs and rocket-tailed motor cars. Yet the finest American tradition in the diminishing sport of hiking, a tradition that began 45 years ago and has survived all the temptations of easier fun, will be perpetuated again about the middle of this month in a grove of aspen trees, in the natural beauty of the American Fork Canyon of north central Utah. This traditional, annual hike in Utah is open to any who want to come and, while there is the theoretical possibility that next to no one will show up, the mass hike this year will probably, if it continues to run true to form, attract over 2,000 hikers. Some will be out for the first time, but many will be coming back for their fifth or 10th climb up the wooded flanks and past the timber line to the 12,000-foot summit of Mount Timpanogos, highest peak of the Wasatch Range.
The "Timp Hike," as it is called by veterans, attracts thousands of enthusiasts every good year but, the evening before the hike has begun, faced with the prospect of rising at 4 in the morning, some change their minds and stay snug in bed. Nonetheless, as many as 1,700, gathered from over 30, U.S. states and half a dozen foreign countries, have in past years risen early and climbed Timpanogos, a feat which, though it might not require the unerring skill of a Himalayan veteran, is unexpectedly taxing on feet, legs, hearts and lungs. Some sexagenarians make the top, and robust teen-agers often give out along the way, overestimating their power with a fast and foolish early pace. Those who go all the way are awarded badges, and there are special awards for the oldest, the youngest and for the largest family making the climb. The chief aim of the mass hike up Timpanogos, however, has never been to make the top, but to enjoy thoroughly what lies along the way.
In the climb of 12,000 feet, each hiker figuratively travels from Utah to the Arctic Circle. The trail, deceptively easy at first in the vigor of early morning, passes through typical western flora and on to steeper trails through Engelmann spruce, white balsam and alpine fir, around, about, in and out of a tumbling series of waterfalls, at elevations of 6,500 to 10,000 feet, which, botanically speaking, are known as the Montane and Hudsonian zones. The hikers who still have wind for it at 10,000 feet cross the timber line, past a glass-clear lake called Emerald and then, either by working their way up a glacier or by zigzagging through swatches of snow, reach the summit.
The Timp Hike began 45 years ago as a very wholesome idea in the mind of a Brigham Young University instructor, Eugene Roberts, who led the first dozen hikers to the top in 1912. Roberts felt the Lord reveals himself to man powerfully in nature and that a stern climb in utter beauty would be spiritually good for anyone. He proclaimed that the annual hike would be open to anyone with the physical, mental and spiritual desire to climb. As if this might not be incentive enough, Roberts also invented an Indian legend about the place. At a distance, to anyone with a fleck of imagination, Mount Timpanogos looks like a giant sleeping Indian. The hiker who reaches the summit today, then, has alternate satisfaction from looking down at the small world below—a spiritual uplift and perhaps some pagan pride at having conquered the largest sleeping Indian in the world. The man with absolutely no imagination can still get a whale of a thrill by sitting at the top of the glacier and, using his pants as a toboggan, whizzing 1,500 feet back down the mountain.
Above the Timber Line
Five hundred feet from the summit of Mount Timpanogos, the vanguard of the mass hike make their way up a zigzag trail which bypasses the slicker, steeper route over a 1,500-foot glacier.
Ten thousand feet up, hikers are strung out following a trail over rubble and swatches of snow on their way to Emerald Lake.
The trail up Timpanogos winds past some 100 cascades, a few of which are cleared most easily by walking behind the falls.
Cooking up Legends
Around a bonfire, a tradition and highlight of the weekend, the hikers sing and concoct "Indian legends" about Timpanogos.