There are some inherent benefits to living in a small valley with gorgeous mountains just minutes away. Sure the view is nice, but more than just the view it means trail running everyday. Since moving to Utah I have only ran on the road on two occasions. Every morning I am able to get up early, drive 10 or 15 minutes and wind my way through canyon trails or to the top of summits in the southern Wasatch front. Road running has become a painful and laborious idea when compared to the pristine beauty of the trail and naturally I have wanted to push myself to do more on the trail.
That drive to push myself has had me starring at Mt. Timpanogos for about three weeks now. I have been dying to adjust to living at about 5,000 ft so that I could make the run without dropping a lung in the process and last Saturday I decided it was the day to go for it.
Mt. Timpanogos is the second tallest peak in the Wasatch Range and stands at 11,749 ft which isn’t terribly high, yet it’s a gargantuan mountain in it’s sheer mass and size. It dominates the Utah Valley landscape and has become one of the most popular peaks in the Wasatach Range, and arguably, the state. There are two trail to the summit, the Aspen Grove Trail (from Provo Canyon) and the Timpooneke Trail (from American Fork Canyon). The more popular route is the Timpooneke Trail and the trail I ultimately decided to take for my summit run of Mt. Timpanogos. The trail sees about 4,700 ft of elevation gain in the 7 mile climb to the summit.
Hiking guides say to give about 10 to 12 hours to make the round trip to the summit of Mt. Timpanogos and back. The last time I hiked Mt. Timpanogos I had done it in about 6.5 hours. Not really knowing where I would land as far as time I decided I wanted to at least be under 5 hours.
I got the the Timpooneke trailhead at 4:30am and already the parking lot was nearly full. It was a cold cloudless morning and the stars shown brightly above the dark aspen forest. I got myself ready and set out at 4:51am. I climbed slowly yet easily paying close attention to every step. The predawn darkness was suffocating and it took total concentration to avoid tripping on a rock or root, or rolling my ankle as I ran. I had forgotten how technical the trail to Mt. Timpanogos’ summit was and as I ran I realized my splits coordinated perfectly to how technical each split section was.
After what felt like just a few minutes I had climbed up to the first meadow area and I could make out the flash of a few headlamps cutting through the darkness across the meadow on the mountainside above me. Whether hikers or runners they were at least a mile a head of me, but I wanted to catch them. The trail winds across the meadow then away from the eventual Mt. Timpanogos summit and the headlamps I was watching, before switching back and climbing upwards towards the basin below the summit saddle.
I tried to speed my pace slightly without emptying my tank to early, my competitive nature painfully apparent with every labored breath. Soon their headlamps disappeared around the mountainside, but I worked to maintain my pace. Then, rounding a corner I was met by a flood of headlamps shinning brightly into my eyes, “Whoa, runner! Move over!” the lead voice called to those coming down behind him, “way to go man, you’re flying!” he encouraged as I ran past.
Startled by the sudden appearance of a descending group I had accelerated past them and had to slow drastically to catch my breathe. Looking up I once again saw the dancing lights above me on the mountain. I had made up significant ground, I would be able to beat them to the summit of Mt. Timpanogos with just a couple of more miles left.
I hopped my way through the rocky trail that marks the climb to the summit basin eager to catch my faceless competition. Within just a couple minutes I ran passed a group of three moving very slowly even on the flatter meadow area, “that couldn’t be the group I was after, could it?” I contemplated. I looked ahead and saw another group of three headlamps just a bit further, “that must be them” I reasoned. I slowed to take a quick glance around me without having to worry about tripping on an unseen rock and was amazed what I saw. Countless flickering headlights marked the trail from the basin and up to the saddle before they disappeared around the other side of the mountain only to reappear at the summit. After running for 5 miles in solidarity I would now likely be passing dozens and dozens of people on my way to the summit.
I focused back on the trail and soon called out, “can I get past y’all on the right?”
“Yeah of course,” came the answer followed by a realization, “so that’s how you caught us!”
The group, shrouded in darkness, seemed to realize instantly that I had been running, not hiking. I pushed myself past them towards the finally climb as the first bits of pre sunrise light began to illuminate the trail. I stopped to put my headlamp away before I began the climb to the saddle, caught my breath then set out. Soon I was passing group after group. The final climb steepens and turns very rocky which seemed to create a traffic slow down. As soon as I reached the saddle I witnessed another major traffic slow down. Strewn across the saddle were about 50 people, all sitting and staring eastward waiting for the sunrise reds and yellows to turn into an actual sun.
I ran past the large group and continued toward the final summit scramble. I continued to pass people, but not as quickly, as much of the final climb is a slower scramble. This is about the time I started hearing comments about my attire as people realized I wasn’t just hiking. I heard things like, “aren’t you cold?” or “nice shorts…” I continued without stopping to give answers about why I was wearing split shorts and an ultra light running jacket at 11k feet while everyone else had on hiking boots, pants and down jackets.
I got to the summit just as the sun was coming up and checked my watch: 2:09:31 to the summit (splits listed at the end). Without even registering the time pulled out a homemade rice cake (thanks to Skratch Labs) and munched down a few bites. I spent about 5 minutes on the summit eating and watching the sunrise along with about 100 people all on the summit, then packed up and headed down. I continued to hear comments about my lack of clothing as I hopped my way down the steep ridge of Mount Timpanogos.
I picked my way down the summit ridge and saddle carefully passing people I had passed just minutes before on my way up. As I reached the summit basin and was able to run on less technical terrain for a bit I began to process things. I had reached the summit in just over 2 hours, that meant I had a real chance at breaking 4 hours from car-to-car. I began working to accelerate the best I could on the less technical parts of the trail. I tried my hardest to keep myself locked-in and focused on each step.
I checked my splits again after a couple of miles only to realize that I wasn’t on schedule to run Mt. Timpanogos in sub 4 hour car-to-car time, but I was actually on schedule to run it in 3.5 hours. I continued down the mountain hoping to break the 3.5 hour mark, even if just by seconds. I had gas left in the tank, but it didn’t feel like a ton, I was hungry but couldn’t eat. I had tried to suck down some Justin’s Almond Maple Butter without any success, I had given up and continued on. However, as I continued to descend I pushed through it and felt better and I felt faster. Pretty soon I realized I had just over a mile left to the car and just under 10 minutes to get there in time.
I accelerated pushing hard on the now easy dirt trail. I yelled ahead at hikers, “coming down, can I get past?!” They would step aside and I would barrel past them checking my watch. I knew I was close, I could feel it and I knew I was going to do it. I could feel the drained excitement of breaking my own expectations as the parking lot came into view. I jogged the last 25 feet and stopped my watch: 3:28:37; I had done it and I was stoked! I took off my hydration pack and shoes and ran a couple of barefoot cool down laps around the parking lot as I began contemplating a back to back Mt. Timpanogos summit run; back to back summits, almost 30 miles and about 8,500 feet of elevation gain. “Yeah” I resigned within myself, “I would be back to do a double…”
Splits: (Follow on STRAVA)
Mile Time Elevation Gain
1 14:51 517ft
2 17:14 523ft
3 14:45 403ft
4 16:51 606ft
5 18:37 691ft
6 15:25 526ft
7 21:35 747ft
7.4 SUMM IT 2:09:31
8 22:07 -225ft
9 10:56 -688ft
10 9:24 -484ft
11 10:24 -678ft
12 9:53 -617ft
13 10:57 -455ft
14 10:42 -581ft
.06 7:46 (pace) -283ft
14.6 RT 3:28:37