Timp path began hike to popularity 85 years ago

Published: Monday, July 14 1997 12:00 a.m. MDT

If mountains can have birthdays, Utah County's Mount Timpanogos - or at least the popularity of hiking it - turns 85 years old this month.

Of course, the mountain is actually millions of years older than that. But it was exactly 85 years ago that Eugene L. Roberts, director of physical education at Brigham Young University, introduced Timpanogos to the world.In July 1912, Roberts led a group of 22 BYU students and teachers on a three-day excursion that took them to the summit of the 11,750-foot peak. The Timpanogos Hike became an annual event that drew thousands of hikers from around the globe.

Today, Roberts' legacy thrives in connection with the mountain he loved. Thousands of hikers each summer - although no longer on a single day - continue to make the pilgrimage to the great outdoor shrine.

The man who would take on the nickname "Timp" recalled that the original hike was " . . . enthusiastically received by everybody except those who were frankly skeptical about its safety and also its social value."

Despite the doubters, Roberts and 21 others piled their provisions and themselves into two wagons for the daylong trip from Provo to the area of present-day Sundance Resort in the north fork of Provo Canyon.

"From this point the First Annual Timpanogos Hike began the following day," Roberts later wrote. "It required nearly eight hours to reach (the summit) since there were no real trails up themountain side, and much of the distance led through dense underbrush."

Roberts later introduced a campfire program, fireworks, Timpanogos songs, surprise stunts along the trail and open-air dramatic performances in connection with the annual hike. Although his hopes for a Passion Play-like mountain pageant never came to fruition and the hike was discontinued in 1970, Roberts was remarkably prescient.

"There is no way of predicting (the hike's) future, but one thing is sure, it is worthwhile, and has contributed and will continue to contribute much toward the richness of Utah community recreational life," he said before his death in 1953.

A plaque on a stone marker at the Aspen Grove trail head notes that Roberts was the one who popularized the mountain. And a peak north of the Timpanogos summit, called Roberts' Horn, bears the name of the BYU athletic in-struc-tor.

Mount Timpanogos' popularity can be traced to a 1908 religious pilgrimage in Einseideln, Swit-zer-land.

Roberts got the idea for a community hike after seeing the pilgrimage while serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Europe. In June 1908, Roberts witnessed a procession of 5,000 Catholics marching to worship at a shrine at the top of a hill in the Swiss Alps.

"In his mind, (Roberts) projected a mountain climb on Timpanogos, the huge `sleeping woman in Utah County,' which should take on some of the religious character of the Swiss pilgrimages," according to a 1952 University of Utah master's thesis by Marva Hodson Gregory.

Four years after his moving experience in the Alps, Roberts' vision became reality. As the culmination of BYU's summer hiking program, Roberts led his first group to the summit of Timpanogos.

Roberts wasn't solely responsible for making the Timpanogos Hike what it became. Others had scaled the mountain before him, and there have been many since. But Roberts' relentlessness and originality in drawing people to Timpanogos stands out in the long history of what he called "Wonder Mountain."

Besides being an outdoorsman, Roberts was a basketball, football, gymnastics and track coach, poet, journalist, professor, orator and lover of jokes.

He sandwiched nearly two decades of coaching and teaching at BYU between a short stint at Yale University and a distinguished career at the University of Southern California. The same month Roberts started the Timpanogos Hike, July 1912, a high jumper trained by Roberts, Alma Richards, won an Olympic gold medal in Stockholm, Sweden.

Although he was successful in a wide range of activities, Roberts will always be remembered most for his love affair with Timpanogos. He never deviated from his original aim to make hiking Timpanogos a religious experience.

Before one of the annual Timpanogos hikes, Roberts advised hikers, "Prepare to remain on the mountain until late afternoon. Many people hurry up and then hurry back. This is a mistake. When going through heaven, take it easy."

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