Without really thinking about it nearly as much as we should have, my roommate and I up and hiked Provo Peak a couple weeks back before the snow hit too hard. This was easily the least prepared I’ve ever been for a hike(saying something…I was once woken up at 7:00AM to be informed we were heading to Timp). The trail reports we found were somewhat lean, and gave a pretty wide range of ideas as to what the hike entails. We picked the route that seemed most common between them.
This was a pretty gruelling hike, and not just because of the difficulty, but because I managed to shoot myself in the foot in several ways. As I mentioned, lack of preparation abounded. We packed almost no food and very little water. I used some boots that I’d never worn before because it sort of crossed my mind that there might be snow this late in the year…there was. However, the boots were a double edged sword…the nickel sized blisters on the back of my ankles will testify to that. In addition, I was already fatigued from two intense volleyball games, a gym visit, and a poor night’s sleep. With these factors combined, I found myself for the first time considering turning back before I got the summit(I feel dirty just typing it). Enough of that…here’s how we did it.
Near we could tell, the trailhead that starts fairly high up and allows you to climb the west ridge is the most popular one. Even getting to that point wasn’t easy. The road starts as Squaw Peak road, well paved and marked early into Provo Canyon. As you get to a t in the road you’ll go left, and continue past a campground onto a dirt road. After another stretch, another campground pulls off to the right, and a more intense dirt road is in front of you. This road is only passable with fairly high clearance vehicles…at this time of year, even my roommates fairly tough truck only took us so far. There were massive puddles and muddy ice all over. We had to stop in front of a fairly nasty dip surrounded by ice, and started walking. Thankfully a couple in a jeep grabbed us partway and took us to the trailhead, as we had a ways to go.
The beginning of the trail is similarly poorly marked, but you should be able to tell when you get there. There’s a bit of an area you could pull off into and park, and a couple trails leading away from it. You’re in a sort of low saddle between peaks, and the one roughly east of you is Provo Peak. The hike is basically a straight shot up the west ridge, so you can see this “parking” area for almost the entire hike, which is helpful in knowing where you are. In the direction of the peak from the parking area you’ll see a four-wheeler looking trail headed up that you’ll start on.
Keep an eye out for a cairn on this trail; this is where we pulled off to start heading more uphill. This is also where I become less confident in helping you identify where the trail was, as it was mostly snowy for us. We followed what we assumed was a rough trail, though it felt like it was mostly used by animals. It was basically clear of plants though, and headed uphill towards the right peak. I would say about half the hike was weaving on these loose switchbacks, and the latter half was just aiming towards the summit and moving forward. For us, the latter half was at least 6″ of snow, and was fairly brutal.The grade was pretty steady, and at one point I used a level app on my phone to get a rough estimate of the incline: around 30 degrees. In addition, there are a 2-3 false summits to try and break your spirit. Eventually the true summit, marked with what appeared to be a broken weather vane of sorts, came into sights.
Speaking of sights, they’re fantastic. It didn’t hurt at all that we went in the middle of autumn…the tallest mountains around had snow caps, just a little ways down was a beautiful canvas of green, red, yellow, and orange. The cities and lakes of Utah Valley on our west, mountains stretching out to the east. Provo Peak is definitely an under-appreciated summit. We found a peanut butter jar converted to a registry and wrote our names there and in the snow before heading down.
As tempted as I had been to quit trudging up the snowy slope, sliding down it more than compensated for the struggle. Especially towards the top where the snow was colder and deeper, we just sat and pushed our way down. This did get somewhat dangerous as we got lower; rocks poked up more, and a more careful technique had to be employed to take advantage of the slick terrain. I was once again grateful for my thick boots at this point, as it seemed as though they were impervious to the snow and sharp rocks as I rested on them to slide down.
We made a fairly bad choice on the trail down: we tried to shortcut to the road. We knew we had a fairly long walk ahead of us to my roommate’s truck, and we could see the road from above, so we aimed right for it instead of taking the same trail down to the parking area. This was mostly fine, as we had steeper paths with snow that we could slide down, but as we got to within about 200 yards of the road, the brush got extremely thick. For about 50ft it turned nearly impassable. My advice: stick to the relatively poor but overall clear trail you took up.
We did make it to the road, walked another half mile or so to the truck, and drove home cold, sore, and muddy (the snow was more melted in some areas than others!). Totally worth it.
Provo Peak isn’t a long summit hike, assuming you’re able to drive all the way to the parking area I’ve described. It is, however, very, very steep, and not terribly popular–which means the trail isn’t well defined. I couldn’t find really consistent reported data on the elevation gain in any trail reports, but through my own research it looks like you travel roughly 1.31 miles up a (11,068 – 8337 = )2,731ft elevation gain… that’s gives us a somewhat unreal average slope of 39.5%!!! This is by far the steepest hike I have done, with Olympus coming in at a far 2nd of 21%. We were able to ascend in about 3 hours, and slide down in about 1.5. The rough and snowy dirt road getting up there makes the travel time fairly long, and I think it took us a total of around 6 hours. This is probably a decent total time for those going in summer and starting from the parking area…we didn’t have these luxuries, but we also took the trail quickly, didn’t take breaks, and were able to slide much of the way down.
This was a very rewarding hike, but I’d suggest getting some amount of training in before tackling it…and don’t be as unprepared as we were!