Here & there: Big like Timpanogos

Sunrise from the saddle of Mt. Timpanogos, Utah, Aug. 21, 2015 | Photo by Kat Dayton, St. George News

FEATURE – I recently celebrated a birthday. Number 38. It isn’t a significant number, except it put me closer to 40 and I had big plans for 40: I was going to hike to the top of Mount Timpanogos, the second highest mountain in the Wasatch Mountain Range, and watch the sunrise.

Mount Timpanogos, Utah, Sept. 29, 2011 | Photo by Brian Smith, creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons; St. George News
Mount Timpanogos, Utah, Sept. 29, 2011 | Photo by Brian Smith, creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons; St. George News

Three days before that 38th birthday, however, I had a close call on the freeway. A very close call. A doublewide-truck-changing-lanes-without-checking-its-blind-spot-and-nearly-causing-a-four-car-collision-at-70-miles-per-hour close call. I decided Timpanogos couldn’t wait.

I sat on the idea for a day. The timing wasn’t ideal. I was sick; thanks to an early-August family reunion and end of summer fun I was still battling a sinus infection.

Then there was the question of who would come with me. To see the sunrise, I would have to hike in the dark and needed at least one, ideally two, companions. But I wasn’t giving potential partners much notice. Not to mention I’d be asking them to forgo sleep to trudge up nearly 4,500 vertical feet. In the night. With hardly a moon. And smoggy conditions.

Mount Timpanogos still calling, the following day I sent out a few hopeful texts. I was stunned when two people promptly replied in the affirmative; (technically, one responded, “I can sleep when I die,” but that’s “affirmative,” right?).

With two crazy friends on board and 36 hours notice, Mount Timpanogos started taking shape.

We decided on the Timpooneke Trailhead in American Fork Canyon. Our friend Allison had hiked it earlier in the summer and could act as our guide. She made it to the saddle in slightly less than three hours during daylight with teenagers, she said, and figured three strong women could make it in three and change, even in the dark.

I awoke at 2 a.m. the day of the hike feeling tired and excited but mostly tired. My night’s sleep had been as restless as if I were 5 and it was Christmas Eve. Was I really doing this? I wondered. But with sunrise at 6:47 a.m. and an hour commute to the trailhead, we were already pushing margins and I didn’t have time to think.

By 3:30 a.m., we were at the trailhead outfitted in headlamps and daypacks. My other friend Erynn said this was either a really terrific idea or a really terrible one.

Mile after mile the three of us hiked up, mushed on by our appointed trail guide and the promise of the sunrise.

Mountain goat on Mount Timpanogos, Utah, undated | Stock image, St. George News
Mountain goat on Mount Timpanogos, Utah, undated | Stock image, St. George News

We hiked through pockets of heat where the air was smothered by the dense growth of the forest around us and alternatively through rushes of chilled air in open spaces. Always, we had vistas of the Big Dipper. Up the Grand Staircase; through the spruce trees; up and up.

Allison spent an hour around miles 4 and 5 convinced she had led us astray, she said, blinded from familiar visual clues by the darkness. But, she kept quiet until we reached “the meadow” and she was sure we weren’t lost.

I checked my phone with some alarm. It was 45 minutes until sunrise. I could spy the saddle but we were still 1.5 miles away; the distance looked significant and, what was more, it looked better suited to the four white mountain goats perched atop the incline than to people.

Allison assured me it looks harder than it is. We could still make it in time but we’d have to hustle. And so we climbed on, scampering through wildflowers, then sagebrush and finally tripping up over loose rock.

We reached the saddle with five minutes to spare, though the sky was already blushing pink. I felt electric – and that was even before one of my girlfriends revealed a salted caramel cupcake she’d smuggled up in her daypack.

Something about being on that mountaintop overwhelmed me. It wasn’t just the 11,000-plus feet of elevation at the top or the grandeur of the surroundings, although both were factors.

What really got me was standing atop a mountain with those two dear friends who said yes: Yes to me; yes to adventure.

Though we hadn’t traveled very far from home, that morning the three of us made a grand journey together. We climbed a mountain on a whim. It was tough. It was fun. And it meant something big – big like Timpanogos.

Kat Dayton is a developing columnist with St. George News.


  • The Timpooneke Trailhead is located at the Timpooneke Campground in the South Fork of American Fork Canyon, on Highway 92, the Alpine Scenic Loop.
  • The trail’s elevation gain is about 4,389 feet to the summit at 11,749 feet, by most accounts
  • U.S. Forest Service Web page
  • Hiking the Timpooneke Trailhead Web pages: | |

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1 Comment

  • LKCalifornia September 7, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Great article, beautifully written. I hope to see more from Kat soon!

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