A few weeks ago my buddy Dan mentioned wanting to camp/summit Timp, so we set a date and did it last week. Timp is easily the most popular summit hike in Utah; you’re likely to see many other groups along the trail literally any time, day or night. Some try to get the sunset, some the sunrise, and everything in-between.
We went for the, hike at night, camp, and try for the sunset method. There’s more than one trail that leads to the summit…one in American Fork canyon(the Timpooneke trail), and one through Provo canyon(begins in Aspen Grove campground). I’m sure there are differences between them, but I’ve only done Timpooneke(as odd as that name sounds…I can’t even pronounce it), and won’t try to compare them until I have done both.
The trailhead is easy to get to, find your way into American Fork canyon(you’ll have to pay I think $6 to enter the National Park) and look for signs leading to it. There’s a decent size parking lot with a water fountain and bathroom. From trailhead to summit, you’re looking at about 8 miles up…should you go directly there. We did not. There were four of us + dog in our group, but another friend decided to join in last minute. Despite us pleading with him to take the the Timpooneke trail as we did, he chose to go through Provo canyon, saying something about making it faster. This did not make things faster for us.
We got a bit of a late start, hitting the trail at about 8:15PM, camping packs in tow. We’d hoped to camp in the valley portion of the hike. It’s about 6 miles in, plenty of open, flat spaces, and where many camp for the night. However, with our 5th party member approaching from the other direction, we agreed to meet up at Emerald Lake. Emerald is in sort of a basin at a higher ridgeline than the rest of the valley, and at the base of Utah’s only true glacier. As you enter the valley, you’ll see a wooden sign indicating that you should continue south if you wish to go to the lake(the summit is directly south of you at this point; however, the trail to get there goes west). This is where things were less fun for us….we could’ve camped right there in the valley had our 5th taken our advice of trail, but continuing to Emerald lake consisted of about another hour and half of hiking, up a rocky trail, detouring east from the direct trail to the summit. Not fun, and not recommended.
I understand that it’s a tricky trail, but you can come down from the summit towards Emerald Lake. This trail crosses the glacier and I’ve heard can be very fun. However, we were told going up that way isn’t feasible. So we headed east about a mile out of our way to camp at night, and had to double back that distance west to the summit trail in the morning. Moral of the story: if you’re planning on camping partway up, take Provo canyon for Emerald Lake, and American Fork canyon to just camp in the valley.
Other tips: camping in a full moon, while handy in some ways(taking the unfamiliar and rocky trail towards Emerald at night was much easier with how much light there was), isn’t conducive to sleeping. Nor is a dog that chooses defense mode, instead of sleep, at night. We found that restraining him did calm him down, but only discovered this about half an hour before we intended to get up anyway.
After only a few hours of sleep(we reached our decided spot by about 1:00AM and got up at about 4:30AM), we headed back towards the valley and the summit trail. Coming from Emerald Lake you’ll take a much rockier path almost directly uphill to the ‘saddle,’ which is a lower point with still rather great views. It’s also terribly windy and cold this early in the morning. We miscalculated the sunrise time (around 6:15), and ended up in the saddle as it was the most picture-worthy. For 3 of 5 of us, the road ended there. Our 5th was pooped and said he needed to get to work anyway; another was feeling pain in his ankles/legs from previous injuries, and another started to get breathing problems from the elevation and cold(I realize this makes the trip sound like a major survival struggle…it’s not. There may have been a bit of lack of preparation/training/experience in some members of our group, however, and camping added to the difficulty overall, I believe). After grabbing some pictures and food(and dropping off our heaviest camping gear in a rather dangerous spot), Dan and I continued to the summit, accompanied only by his dog Jake.
We reached the summit from the saddle in only about 20 minutes. It was overcast at this point, the wind got worse, and it was very cold. But we signed the ledger and chilled in the small shelter that was somehow erected up there. One guy even gave us some pre-cooked bacon he’d brought along. I’d show you the picture of Dan and I we had taken, but we made some positioning oversights, and it ended up looking very much like some creepy engagement photo.
We returned to our remaining two friends and started down. We hoped that leaving our packs off the trail while we hiked the summit would be nice, but we made things a bit difficult…the steepness of the spot we choose resulted in Dan getting his hand smashed by a rock that came down as I climbed up. We otherwise remained injury free on the trip down, however, besides some sore hips and ankles. As usual, the descent tends to just wear into your joints as you move downward.
I’d say Timp is overall a moderate difficulty hike, but it is important to be properly prepared. Of course, lots of water and some good food, but bug spray, sunscreen, jackets, some first aid, etc, can all come in handy. Dan was grateful Nicole had brought along some band aids after his hand met that rock.
The direct trip is about 7.5 miles both ways(close to 15 total), but I think we ran our ascent close to 9 or so with the detour from the Timpooneke trail to Emerald Lake. From the Timpooneke trailhead to Emerald Lake took us about 4.5 hours; Emerald Lake to the summit around 3, and after meeting our friends at the saddle to the base took about 4 hours. This was with a decent but not excessive number of breaks.
I’ve been thinking of how hike difficulty might better be represented, and decided a figure that represents both the horizontal and vertical distance traveled is informative. Sometimes on hilly highways the ‘grade’ is given as a percentage. For example, on a 6% grade highway, for every 100 feet you travel horizontally, you travel 6 feet vertically.
The Timpanooke trail is about 7.5 miles, or 39,600 feet from trailhead to summit horizontally. The trailhead is at 7,360ft above sea level, and the peak at 11,752(disclaimer: the internet sources I found on these numbers varied a trivial amount). Ascending 11,752 – 7,360 = 4,392ft vertically over 39,600ft horizontally gives 4,392/39,600 = 0.11, or an average 11% grade. This certainly isn’t the steepest hike around, and some very steep portions (upwards of 30%, from what I understand) are balanced out with some flat portions towards the beginning and in the valley. In comparison, Mt. Nebo averages a 16% grade, and Mt. Olympus almost 21%.
PS. I also hiked Timp in 2012, but rather than go over anything in detail again, I’ll just say a few things I learned from that experience: don’t start the hike even as late as 8:30AM, give yourself a little preparation/training, and for goodness sake, wear sunscreen.