Emblem of progress, symbol of thrift,
Reaching for sunbeams and holding the drift;A joy to behold thee, Mount of the West,
But, Oh, to ascend thee, to stand on thy crest! - Dr. George H. Brimhall
Its nicknames include the Stone One, Wonder Mountain, King of the Wasatch and the Giant of the Wasatch Range.
It has inspired countless legends, poems and songs as well as an opera, a ballet and part of a symphony. Its name is now carried by businesses, schools, hotels, religious organizations and government entities.
Thousands of people have scaled its lofty heights; some have died in the attempt. It isn't the tallest mountain in the state or even the county, but Mount Timpanogos is perhaps the most majestic and popular peak in a land full of silent stone sentinels.
After centuries of dominating Utah Valley's skyline, Timpanogos is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance as artists celebrate its beauty, climbers scale its peaks and organizations latch onto its name in unprecedented numbers.
All over Utah, and particularly in Utah Valley, the word "Timpanogos" is appearing with renewed vigor as business owners and others seek to tap into the mountain's popularity and recognizable name.
To name just a few, the Mount Timpanogos LDS Temple in American Fork recently opened its doors for public tours. Alpine School District will welcome students to the new Timpanogos High School in Orem later this month.
In July, naturalist Terry Tempest Williams and composer Kurt Bestor unveiled a 25-minute "tone poem" called "Timpanogos: A Prayer for Mountain Grace" at Abravanel Hall. The seventh annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival kicks off this month in Orem.
There was once a semiprofessional baseball team in Provo named the "Timps," and backers of a plan to bring minor league baseball back to Provo recently proposed the creation of Utah's 30th county, to be called Timpanogos, on the site of Provo's Timp Field.
But Timpanogos is more than a name. It's a living ecosystem and, for some, a sacred shrine.
The legends of Timpanogos
Part of what makes Mount Timpanogos so intriguing is the lore surrounding it.
Most of the legends involve how Timpanogos got its name and its current shape, and all the stories use as a basis the culture of American Indians who inhabited Utah Valley before whites arrived.
However, there appears to be little or no evidence the legends actually originated among the American Indians. Instead, the legends seem to have been invented by contemporary whites interested in popularizing and mystifying the mountain.
Eugene L. "Timp" Roberts, the man most often associated with the mountain, wrote a version of the legend called "The Story of Utahna and Red Eagle." It was published in the 1922 book, "Timpanogos: Wonder Mountain," by a Brigham Young University department.
In the story, Timpanogos is an angry mountain god who demands the sacrifice of a young Indian maiden. Utahna, the chief's daughter, is chosen to be sacrificed to appease the god.
While Utahna climbs toward the high cliffs of Timpanogos, a young Indian brave from a foreign tribe sees her and begins to follow secretly. Once Utahna reaches the cliffs from which she will fling herself, Red Eagle makes himself known and tells the maiden to stop.
Utahna believes the brave is the mountain god Timpanogos, and tempted by the maiden's beauty, Red Eagle perpetrates the ruse. He takes her to a cave where they live together in happiness for a time.
But Utahna discovers Red Eagle's secret and once again scales the high reaches of Mount Timpanogos, where she throws herself to her death. Red Eagle, devastated, finds her body and carries it back to the cave, where he also dies.
The mountain god then joins their hearts and raises them to the ceiling of the cave, forming what is now known as the "Great Heart of Timpanogos Cave." The "Great Heart" can still be seen today by visitors to Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
There are other versions of the legend as well. The most prominent one, recorded by Gertrude G. Murchison in "The Legend of Timpanogos," involves a brave named Timpanac who falls in love with a maiden named Oncanogos (or Ucanogos).
Oncanogos is the daughter of the tribe's chief. The chief decides to hold a contest to see which brave is worthy of marrying his daughter.
Timpanac kills a bear without any weapons and then wins a race, gaining the favor of the chief. But during the last event of the contest, Timpanac is thrown from the summit of a mountain by jealous competitors.
When Oncanogos finds her slain suitor, she dies of grief and her sleeping figure now constitutes the skyline of Mount Timpanogos, a name formed by combining Timpanac and Oncanogos.
Whether fact or fiction, such stories have been used as entertainment and explanation for decades by those who marvel at the mountain's wonders. Some contemporaries have suggested the mountain should be called "Timpanogess" because the figure of a sleeping woman is its dominant and most recognizable feature.
"She lies looking up into the hovering blue. . . . Her nose is sharp and pointed, inclined to be pugged. . . . She is in an excellent stage of preservation, due, no doubt to the great altitude which prevents decay," said a 1922 BYU booklet called "On the Trail to Timpanogos."
The stone one
No one is sure who first scaled the 11,750-foot mountain. Perhaps it was some ancient inhabitant or maybe it was a 19th-century sheepherder. But it seems the mountain has always held some mystery and even religious significance for those who have dwelt in its shadow or climbed to its summit.
The first mention in the modern historical record of Timpanogos and the valley it overlooks is found in the maps of Spanish cartographer Don Bernardo Miera y Pacheco. The map maker accompanied Fray Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez on their 1776 attempt to find a route from Santa Fe, N.M., to Monterey, Calif.
Although the expedition never made it to Monterey, it got as far as present-day Utah Valley, where the Spaniards made friends with the Lake Indians of the Timpanogotzis. The Spanish friars appreciated the beauty and potential of the valley surrounded by mountains and a huge lake.
The Spaniards apparently never set foot on Mount Timpanogos but saw it from a distance and dubbed it "La Sierra Blanca de los Timpanogotzis." The next white to see Timpanogos was probably John C. Fremont or perhaps Jedediah Smith, and then the Mormons who arrived in Utah Valley after 1847.
Many believe the word "timpanogos" means sleeping woman in a American Indian language; however, a more likely origin of the mountain's name is "timpanoquint," meaning water running over rocks or rocky stream bed. The name may have originally applied to the Provo River but later could have been transferred to the nearby mountain.
There is some evidence Mount Timpanogos was known to at least some American Indians as "Paakaret" or "Paakaret Karb," meaning very high mountain. Others, including perhaps the members of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition, interpreted the mountain's name to mean "The Stone One."
But whatever the name, the mountain formed by a faulted block of the Earth's crust being raised while the valley was being depressed seems to impress nearly all who see it.
Michael R. Kelsey, a Provo geologist, hiker and outdoor guidebook author, published a book in 1989 called "Climbing and Exploring Utah's Mt. Timpanogos." Kelsey's book has proven one of the most popular and useful volumes for those studying about or planning to hike the mountain.
Kelsey says Timpanogos is made up primarily of limestone rocks that originated at the bottom of ancient seas in the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian ages. Most of the rocks that make up the mountain are about 300 million years old, and ancient marine fossils sometimes can be found in the limestone.
The second most common type of rock on Timpanogos is quartzite, followed by dolomite, sandstone and shale. The oldest rocks on the mountain are found at the bottom of American Fork Canyon, while the youngest rocks are at the summit of Mount Timpanogos, Kelsey says.
One of the reasons Timpanogos has been so recognizable for decades is that it seems to stand alone among Wasatch Front mountains. The Provo and American Fork rivers have cut canyons to the east and west of the mountain, making Timpanogos a lone, dominating figure.
Most of the major land configurations, called cirques, on Timpanogos' north side were formed by glaciation. Currently, one large ice sheet remains on the mountain and is known to most hikers as the "Timp Glacier." However, the snow field is actually not a glacier because it moves very little and has no crevasses, Kelsey says.
Many things make hiking Timpanogos popular, including numerous waterfalls along the trail and beautiful high-mountain basins filled with colorful flowers.
In an effort to preserve Mount Timpanogos' pristine beauty, the mountain was designated wilderness by the federal government in 1984. Currently, the Mount Timpanogos Wilderness Area encompasses 10,750 acres of National Forest land.
Along with the wilderness designation, Timpanogos has some special rules administered by the Forest Service. Among the rules are no open campfires, no bicycles on trails, no shortcutting trails and no groups of more than 15 people.
The Timpanogos hike
Perhaps more than any other, the event that made Timpanogos famous was the annual hike started by a group of BYU students and faculty in 1912. Despite its small size in the beginning, the hike grew until it attracted thousands of hikers from all over the country each year. It was discontinued in 1970.
The idea for a community hike to the summit of Mount Timpanogos was conceived by Provo resident Eugene Lusk Roberts while serving a mission in Switzerland for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1907. Roberts saw 5,000 Catholics march in line to the top of a hill to worship at a shrine.
Roberts envisioned a similar pilgrimage by Utah residents to the top of Mount Timpanogos to gain appreciation for God's creations and perhaps worship at the great outdoor shrine. As a BYU athletic coach and head of the physical education department in 1912, Roberts saw his vision come to fruition.
Nineteen students and faculty members were able to wend their way to the summit of Timpanogos that year, although there was no trail at that time. The hike grew in popularity over the years and began to attract not only BYU students, but also University of Utah students and members of the community, as well as travelers from across the United States and around the world.
By 1957, the number of hikers who reached the top together had grown to 1,297. That year, construction began on a shelter at Emerald Lake to protect mountaineers from the elements, and a Sports Illustrated article hailed the pioneering work of "Timp" Roberts.
"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," the article said.
"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."
Some years, midsummer ski races on the "Timp Glacier" were held in connection with the annual hike. The annual Timpanogos hike also included a prehike program, usually held the night before the ascent.
By 1970, the annual hike had grown to 3,500 summiteers and became unwieldy for organizers and destructive for the mountain. Because of the large number of hikers, organizers from BYU, the U.S. Forest Service and various community groups voted to discontinue the hike in order to save the mountain's beauty.
But Roberts' goal of a community pilgrimage to the top of the sacred mountain achieved its goal: thousands of people were introduced to the mountain, trails were constructed, stories were written and the love of hiking was kindled among an entire people.
Although the annual group hike was discontinued more than a quarter-century ago, thousands of hikers continue to travel the trails of Timpanogos. The hike is a favorite for students, Boy Scout groups and families.
On a recent trip to the summit, a Salt Lake woman and several teenage boys nearly collapsed as they reached the tin shelter marking the 11,750-foot point.
"I have never been here before," the woman said between gasps for breath in the high-altitude atmosphere. "Now I have been here and done this. I'll probably never come back."
While the hike is a once-in-a-lifetime event for some, it's a regular activity for many. Kelsey estimates he has climbed the mountain 25 times, including once in 1967 in just 90 minutes to the summit. That was a record at the time.
The late Alfred Pace of Provo is believed to be the only man who participated in the annual Timpanogos hike every year commemorative badges were given out, which spanned 41 years from 1930-1971.
Although Pace died several years ago, his family still has the collection of badges intact. There's no official record for number of times a single person has hiked the mountain, and perhaps someone has bettered Pace's mark of 42.
The Timpanogos hoax
Roberts, born in Provo in 1880, was a college athlete, journalist, schoolteacher and coach. But he is probably best known for mountaineering, particularly on Mount Timpanogos.
Besides starting the annual Timpanogos hike, Roberts employed other methods to promote the mountain he loved and encourage others to appreciate its mystery, majesty and beauty. To accomplish this goal, Roberts used his status as athletic coach and physical education instructor at Brigham Young University as well as his part-time hobby of journalism.
In 1926, Roberts pulled one of the most unusual hoaxes in Utah County journalism history. Although his hoax angered the editors of a Provo newspaper and embarrassed the city's mayor, Roberts would later write, "The ends justified the means." When it came to helping Utahns appreciate their own Mount Timpanogos and Timpanogos Cave, Roberts' enthusiasm knew no bounds.
In the summer of 1926, Roberts told the editors of a Provo daily newspaper two famous Eastern journalists were in town to recover from illnesses and enjoy the area's beautiful scenery.
Roberts eventually began submitting articles to the newspaper in the name of "Harry Davison Kemp," one of the fictitious Eastern journalists. Part of Roberts' purpose in conducting the ruse was to awaken Provoans to what he believed was one of the world's greatest wonders, Mount Timpanogos.
In one of his articles, "Mr. Kemp" wrote of a trip he took in his car over the Alpine Loop to get a look at Timpanogos. In glowing terms, he described its beauty and told Provoans they didn't appreciate what they had right in their own back yards.
"Nature did a good bit of creative work when she carved away at the eastern face of your Timpanogos," Roberts wrote. "She worked out of the solid stone figures of earth and miniature sky-line valleys such as the traveler sees in but a few places."
In another article, "Mr. Kemp" told of seeing photographs and reading about the annual Timpanogos hike in a newspaper in his home state of Massachusetts. Actually, Roberts had received the clips from friends serving missions for the LDS Church in the Eastern United States.
Roberts' advertisements, disguised as observations of "Mr. Kemp," apparently made quite a stir in Provo and caused Mayor O.K. Hansen as well as many citizens to begin campaigns of nature appreciation and city beautification throughout Provo.
However, the editors of the Provo newspaper eventually discovered Roberts' secret. But Roberts later said he accomplished what he set out to do, which was to stimulate Utah County residents to appreciate their surroundings; to show that an outsider's opinions are more highly regarded than those of a local; and to demonstrate "there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so."
There are numerous ways to reach the summit of Timpanogos, and all of them involve strenuous hiking. Most of the routes, however, can be traveled from June to October without the aid of crampons, ice axes or special climbing gear.
Virtually every hiker who gains the summit must reach deep down to find the energy and will to continue placing one foot in front of the other. But in turn, nearly all climbers are rewarded for their efforts by learning firsthand the beauty and majesty of the mountain.
Every hiker who attempts to climb Mount Timpanogos should carry plenty of water and food. Hiking boots or strong-soled shoes are also a must, and a jacket or sweatshirt and gloves can make the trip more enjoyable in the face of stiff winds or when crossing snow patches.
The route perhaps most well-traveled begins in the north fork of Provo Canyon at Aspen Grove. This is the route used for all of Eugene Roberts' annual Timpanogos hikes.
The trail from Aspen Grove is about 51/2 miles to Emerald Lake and another three miles to the summit. As one begins hiking from Aspen Grove, the imposing peak straight ahead is Roberts Horn, named after Roberts.
The trail switches back several times beneath Roberts Horn before cutting to the south and rising to the level of Emerald Lake, approximately 10,360 feet above sea level. From there, the trail goes west through a grassy basin before ascending to the highest ridges of Timpanogos.
The Timpooneke trail, which begins in the south fork of American Fork Canyon, is nearly as well-used as the trail from Aspen Grove. The trail from the Timpooneke Campground is about the same distance to the top as the trail from Aspen Grove, although it may be a bit longer and less steep.
Along the Timpooneke trail, hikers are likely to see Rocky Mountain goats in the upper cliffs just below the Timpanogos ridge. Officials say the herd, once large but depleted by hunting, is growing again. On a recent hike, more than 100 goats could be seen, some balancing precariously on the treacherous cliffs.
There are several little-used routes to the top of Timpanogos from the "front" side or the side facing Utah Valley. Trails begin at Battle Creek, Grove Creek and Dry canyons. Once behind the lower mountains in front of Timpanogos, hikers must follow faint trails formed by animals and some humans or simply pick their own way to the top.
For those who want to hike on Timpanogos but who are not interested in reaching the summit, there are several interesting routes. Among the routes are trails that lead to Stewarts Falls, the Big Provo Hole, Cascade and Woolly Hole cirques and Mahogany or Baldy mountains, among others.
Anyone attempting to climb the mountain should be careful, officials say, because the cliffs and snowbanks often bring serious injury or death. The Utah County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team is frequently called in to assist fallen hikers.
A volunteer group called the Timpanogos Emergency Response Team positions rescuers at the trailheads and near Emerald Lake on weekends. However, officials encourage hikers to be self-sufficient and avoid pitfalls that might require the aid of rescuers.
One man's view of the mountain
Perhaps no one, other than Roberts, knows Timpanogos like Joe Hilton of Pleasant Grove.
Hilton, 71, has been exploring the mountain for about six decades, and he doesn't plan to stop anytime soon. Hilton was raised in the shadow of Timpanogos, in the section of Pleasant Grove known as "Monkey Town."
Hilton spent several weeks each year on the mountain maintaining the feeder pipeline for Utah Power & Light's hydroelectric plant at Battle Creek before it closed in 1957. He has hunted deer and skied on the mountain for as long as he can remember. He still likes to hike the northwest peaks of Mount Timpanogos whenever he gets the chance.
Hilton has plenty of stories to tell about Timpanogos, including one about a pair of convicted criminals who made a unique deal with prosecutors to get out of jail time. Instead of sitting behind bars, the pair opted to attempt to dig a tunnel all the way through Mount Timpanogos to allow Pleasant Grove to tap into the waters of Emerald Lake.
The pair carried on the arduous task until they had tunneled about 100 yards into the limestone of Timpanogos, Hilton says. Apparently, Provo City found out about Pleasant Grove's plan and caused a stir that resulted in the discontinuation of the project.
But the "Pleasant Grove Tunnel" can still be found on the west face of Timpanogos by those who know where to look. Hilton has marked the spot with a large piece of timber. For Hilton, exploring things like the tunnel or the old sites where he used to work is therapeutic.
"It's solitude," he said. "It's good medicine for me and I like to look at the scenery. I don't take the same route every time so it's always different. I also enjoy the animals."