Mount Timpanogos: What Makes a Mountain Special?

Mount Timpanogos: What Makes a Mountain Special?

By Tyler Marshall

Why are some mountains special?

Why are some places in nature special? Is it simply due to their beauty? Is it proportional to the physical cost to arrive at the summit? Could it have to do with the memories we make in these places? 

I’m not sure.

Sometimes it just seems that the air in one place is different, special, unique. There's something intangible.

I can’t tell if these feelings come from the mountain (or area) itself, or from within myself. My baseline assumption would be that these feelings are something I impose on an area from within myself. However, over the years I’ve explored mountains all over the western United States, a few on the eastern side, and a couple in South America. I would argue that each mountain is inherently different. In a way I can’t explain, each mountain I’ve explored has its own unique feel.

Perhaps, this stems from a connection between me, and a place, perhaps similar to the way that I just sort of click with some people, and not with others. At this point, I believe that some places simply are special to me.

Does the “why” matter at all? Again, I don’t know. I think that what is important is to identify the places that are special to me, pursue that connection, and to enjoy the joy of that process.

*****

Jefferson and I were 6,200 feet up a special mountain when we both started grinning. The summit of Mount Timpanogos was a mere 100 feet of elevation gain away…

The last time we attempted the mountain together was the fall of 2023. That morning was odd --nothing quite felt right. A laborious two and a half miles of running brought us to three moose: A bull in rut, a large calf, and a grumpy cow. She had a lot on her plate. We tried to give them space. After a 30 minute pause of our activity, we were running low on time and patience.

We bailed.

I’m grateful we didn’t disturb the moose that day. However, I lament missing the meadow, the saddle, and the summit of Mt. Timpanogos that day. The feelings this mountain inspires within me are a powerful mix of humility, spirituality, and pure ol’ fashioned stoke. My experiences on this mountain fuel feelings that make me lust for life.

I can only assume Jefferson maintains similar sentiments. In the summer of 2022 he ran the 14.2 mile summit five times in five days, Monday through Friday. He then ran it twice on Saturday. He was a different dude after that week of Timps.

I wrote about my last attempt on Timpanogos on this platform a couple of months ago. The results of that trip left me feeling like something was left undone.

Now, Jefferson and I were at the top of the ridgeline, 100 feet below the summit. I felt giddy. We’d battled mixed terrain, several 12 foot free climbs, and fatigue.

We conquered each piece one step at a time.

I breathed in, and then out.

The views up top are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. We traversed the ⅓ of a mile to the north, and arrived unceremoniously at the famous shack.

It is a rare occurrence to arrive at this structure alone. We bumped fists, and grinned. We’d summited.

Climbing mountains is strange. After 6,400 feet of climbing in five and a half miles, we received nothing.

There was no fanfare. No paycheck. No medal. Not even a high five from an excited stranger. I sat on a rock, and ate some food. The wind blew in a steady stream --  the only perceptible noise.

The solitude was special. Was that what made this mountain special?

No. I reflected on my first trip up this mountain. My buddy Adam and I took the Timpooneke trail on a Saturday, and I vowed I’d never do it again. There was a single file line of people from the parking lot to the summit. This made it frustrating to run. Dozens of people squeezed into the area around the shack that time. Yet, the mountain was still special. I smiled wryly, and pored through the memories of that day with surprisingly fond feelings.

I looked around at the clear skies that Jefferson and I enjoyed. I thought of a moody, foggy day in which Bobby, Kodi and I raced for the imperceptible sky on this mountain. I hung with the two on the climb, only for Kodi to drop us at the start of the meadow. She pushed upward with a strength and grace that made me shake my head. Before long, Bobby dropped me too. I arrived at the shack in the fastest I had ever done, gasping for air at almost 12,000 feet above sea level.

Maybe that was it. Maybe this mountain is special because it tests physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual limits. I think that this is a component of it.

I looked around again, returning to the present. I smiled. The views up top on this day were spectacular. But so are the views on almost every summit. That can’t be it either.

Jefferson and I tore away. We had a long way in front of us down the snow covered Timpooneke trail. On our way to the saddle, we traversed four sketchy snowfields. The saddle then greeted us ominously: Large cornices sat exactly where we wanted to descend. They blocked our path with proud indifference.

We spied a spot we hoped we could use to drop in. I was stressed. I did not want to return the way we came -- the snowfields sat behind, filling me with dread. We traversed to the designated spot, and found it was doable. I took two deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out.

Then I dropped into a 70° slope. 

I was falling so fast all I could hear was the wind ripping past my ears. I howled with delight. Shortly, I was caught by a sluff from behind me. It carried me as far as I wanted to go. It was special.

On the rest of our descent, we battled more mixed terrain, different types of snow, glissades, wetness, cold and heat. (Spring mountain days are just like that!) I leant Jefferson an extra pair of dry socks. He leant me pep.

At the bottom of the mountain I grinned again. We cheered.

I guess what makes a mountain special is all that we we bring to it -- and all that it give us back. In that way it's as ineffable and mysterious as the person with whom we fall in love. 

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