Why We (Re)Created Summit Badges

Timp Badges fascinated me.

Not so much for what they were -- small little pins with amateur artwork -- but what they represented.

Mount Timpanogos was no easy hike. It wasn't Everest or Denali, but it took serious effort (especially if you weren't used to longer hikes). Standing at 11,753 feet tall (with an elevation gain of about 5,000 feet), it takes about 12-14 hours for the average hiker to reach the summit.

But it was much more than just elevation. You saw things you didn't see in everyday life -- breathtaking vistas and wildflowers and waterfalls. Even mountain goats!

You pushed yourself. You shared things with people outside the strictures of everyday life. You experienced something meaningful. Why not have something tangible to commemorate the experience?

I also loved the history. Timp Badges were first created and awarded to people at a time (the early 1900s) when hiking was still somewhat of a novelty, especially in the United States. To our pragmatic ancestors, walking for hours in nature or ascending mountains "for fun" seemed a bit strange.

But it caught on.

From 1900-1920, hiking exploded in the US. Hiking clubs emerged from New England to Berkley. People wrote vivid accounts of their adventures, some poetic, some triumphant. Certain favorite mountains rose to prominence -- Mount Washington, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Denali. 

While less nationally renowned, Mount Timpanogos became Utah's most iconic mountain around this same time. 

This was in no small part due to the efforts of a rather colorful, charismatic athletic director from BYU named Eugene "Timp" Roberts

The "Timp" nickname was earned. Roberts dedicated a substantial portion of his life to Mount Timpanogos. Born in Provo (when the population was just over 5,000), he'd traveled and scaled mountains across the globe. But he believed there was something unique about his hometown mountain. His ambition was to "sell Timpanogos to the world."

Roberts came up with the idea of a sort of organized pilgrimage to the top of Mount Timpanogos in 1912. He was inspired by similar mountain ascents he took part in while serving a Mormon mission in the Swiss Alps. He saw it as both a communal ritual and a spiritual experience. 

When he pitched the idea, many people thought he was crazy. As one native recalled:

Utah had no tradition of mountain climbing...Provo citizens couldn't imagine climbing a mountain for fun.

It took a lot of convincing to get administrators at BYU on board.

But it happened. 

In 1912, about twenty hikers joined Roberts on the first organized summit to the top of Mount Timpanogos. It was the first Annual Timp Hike. Back then it took multiple days. Trails were not yet established. But for those twenty people, it was an exciting and invigorating challenge, and word began to spread. 

By the next year, Roberts' group of hikers had doubled. The ritual continued to grow every year after that with more and more people experiencing the magic of what Roberts referred to as "Wonder Mountain."

1930 was the first year Timp Badges were handed out, a tradition that continued for four decades.

When we re-started the tradition in 2023 at Timpanogos Hiking Co., several people that hiked in that era reached out to us and brought their collections to our store. It was humbling and beautiful -- hearing their stories, their memories; seeing their pictures.

There's so much history in that mountain, a history that goes back centuries before the Spanish traders arrived from the south and Mormon pioneers arrived from the east in the 1800s. The Timpanogos Tribe once hunted there. Dozens of famous explorers, botanists, and geologists have traversed its terrain. A World War II-era B25 bomber crashed up there in 1955. Some of the remains can still be found up near the ridge line.

The mountain has inspired legends and myths, passed on from generation to generation. It is now home to a national monument (The Timpanogos Cave National Monument) and once of the most beautiful resorts in the United States (Sundance Mountain Resort). 

I loved looking at the old badges. It was clear they meant a great deal to the people that kept them. One man had the entire collection, from 1930 to 1971.

The Timp Badge tradition was abandoned in 1971 at the same time as the Annual Timp Hike. By that time, thousands of people were ascending the mountain on a single day. It was being "loved to death," as one person put it. It wasn't sustainable. So in the interest of preserving the mountain, the tradition was ended.

So why summit badges now -- over five decades later?

There was no real reason to ever abandon the badges. It was simply a casualty of sacrifcing the Annual Timp Hike. 

Tens of thousands of people continue to hike Mount Timpanogos every year. That's a good thing -- as long as they're spaced out and respect the mountain.

Mount Timpanogos is special to me -- and to many others. But there are many other incredible mountains to explore and experience. Which is why, beginning in 2024, we plan to create summit badges for other peaks along the Wasatch Front -- and eventually across America.

We need what the mountains offer now more than ever. We live in a time of overwhelming tech saturation, anxiety, depression, obesity, malaise.

Hiking offers an alternative.

Our motto at Timpanogos Hiking Co.: escape the noise. Get outside, leave your stresses behind for a while. Reconnect with nature. Reconnect with yourself. 

That's what the summit badges symbolize, though the particulars are unique to every person who earns one.

"The mountains are calling," as the adventurist John Muir famously put it, and there's a different kind of reward at the summits.