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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Not Craft Related: Climbing Mount Timpanogos

Last Saturday, I climbed Mount Timpanogos.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you. I’ll explain a little more. I’m not what you would call athletic. In fact, I'm a Wuss, the capital W being an essential part of that.

You could also try reading my previous misadventures, Exercise: Why I Hate It or Skiing.

Since last September, I’ve been going to the gym fairly regularly. Not as much since we moved, since we’ve only had one working car for most of the duration, even though there are three cars out in our driveway. But, that’s a rant for a different day.

We are planning on hiking the Narrows later this month, so David thought we should do Timp as a warm up. I’ll call this mistake number one. Please don’t think this is a mistake on my husband’s side. No, this is a mistake on my side alone, because this gave me the impression that Timp wouldn’t be that bad. After all, we are doing the Narrows as an overnight trip.

I had this idea that I was in decent shape. This is mistake number two. After all, I could go to the gym and get on a piece of equipment and get up my heart rate up to the aerobic zone and keep it there. Sometimes for up to an hour. Cue snickering here.

I’m starting to think that my dad and my husband had a conspiracy going to keep the details from me, so that I would get on the hike and be stuck there. I was profoundly doubtful, but they kept saying I could make it. They were very sweetly trying to be encouraging and supportive. Seeing as my dad and my husband are two of the people I like and trust and love most in this world, it’s easy to see why I was an easy dupe. What I failed to factor into my calculations is that they are men. And they are much more fit than I.

My dad eats mountains sprinkled with sugar for breakfast. He goes to places like Ecuador to climb volcanoes.

My husband claims he is out of shape, but I’ve seen his legs. They ripple. There is actual rippling going on there. He doesn’t even have to move. He just stands there and there they are, his leg muscles, just rippling away, taunting my cellulite.

They didn’t tell me it was 14 miles round trip and that you gain nearly 4800 feet in elevation (this is according to our gps, so our numbers might be off a little). You end up at an elevation of 11749 feet. The highest I’ve ever been without an airplane was a little over 8000 feet and that was in the passenger seat of a car. I did not know any of this at the start, when I innocently got out of the car on Saturday morning. Mistake number three was not asking detailed questions.

So, the morning of the hike, we wake up at 5:15, and get all the gear ready. I have a bowl of Cocoa Puffs (Now More Chocolatey Taste!). I have one lone brain cell operating at 5:15, so this is mistake number four. My brain's hours of operation are strictly between the hours of 7:30am-10:00pm, no exceptions. The one brain cell awake at 5:15 thought Cocoa Puffs (Now More Chocolatey Taste!) was a great start to a 12 hour hike. After all, we were bringing one cheese stick and one yogurt and one ham and cheese sandwich a piece. How much more food would we need?

We hit the trail at about 6:30 am.

We let my dad lead.

This is mistake number five. I should have said something, but I thought I could handle it. I knew I was the weak link. On the hike was my mom, my dad, David, me, and two teenage boys that my mom and dad know who wanted to come along. My mom beats me at arm wrestling, she can beat me in any race, she lifts weights regularly, she is toned and tough and fit, and people regularly mistake us for sisters, and I've already told you about my dad and my husband. And teenage boys, well, we’ll just leave them out of the equation because that’s just depressing.

I tried to keep up, but the Cocoa Puffs (Now More Chocolatey Taste!) just weren’t enough. I had to take a lot of rests. But I bravely trudged on. Trudging on is the theme of this post.

We hit the end of the paved trail and this beautiful waterfall after hiking for a few hours. I’m looking up and realizing that we haven’t climbed all that high. There’s still a lot of mountain left. I knew that at some point on the mountain, there was a lake, called Emerald Lake, so I start the questions. Questions that should have been asked days ago.

“Dad, how far up have we gone?” I’m wheezing like an accordion that needs some oiling and wishing I had lugged up an oxygen tank.

He gets out his gps. “Well, we’ve hit 7800 feet, so we’ve climbed about 800 feet so far. And we’ve gone about a mile and a half.”

“And how long have we been hiking?” Wheeze. Wheeze. Wheeze.

He checks his watch, “Two hours.”

“How far is Emerald Lake?” I’m think it must be getting close.

“Well, it’s about ¾ up the mountain, and it sits at about 10500.”

My jaw drops open. I cannot believe how tired I already am, how nauseous I feel (curse you Cocoa Puffs (Now More Chocolatey Taste!)), how much I do not want to go any farther, and how far there is to go. I think by the look on my face, everyone thought I was about to turn around and my slightly littler butt home (it’s got to be, right? after hiking for an hour and half). I was thinking the damn lake was just around the next turn.

So, we split up. I eat some trail mix (my parents had mercy on us and share some of their snacks). I take lots of rests. I put one foot in front of the other—well, really, one foot above the other. David tells me I can rest whenever I want. I sometimes can only go ten steps before I have to rest.

At one point, I sit down. I look at that mountain, and I’m thinking, I going to get the top, collapse, cause a huge scene and they are going to have carry me down on a stretcher. I tell David this, almost start to cry, and he tells me that if I make to the top, he can carry me down himself. Which probably I would be way too freaked out to let him do, and it would be really bad for his knees, but it makes me feel a little bit better.

I think of how awesome it would be to point out Timpanogos to the kids and tell them that I stood on the top of it. Plus, I really wanted bragging rights on Facebook and the blog. It’s true.

That and the beautiful scenery and wildflowers everywhere. Everywhere! We didn't bring the SLR, just our little point and shoot.

Every so often we would see my mom and dad ahead of us, and they really hadn’t gained all that much ground on us, which was really encouraging. I had David track how far we went with the gps, which sometimes helped and sometimes made me want to throw it down on some unsuspecting hikers. I can just see it. "Look Dad, it's raining gps devices!"

There was this one awful rock field we had to cross, when I almost gave up and turned back around. The rocks were malevolent. They would sometime seem to rise up towards me a little, and then sometimes slip away. It was horrible. David told me about four times through that section to slow down, but I hated it so much I just wanted to get through it. And then afterward, there was this nice rock to sit on, and some plants and a little stream, and I sat on the rock, and I ate some ham. We had brought the whole package of ham to make our sandwiches for lunch, and I had about three slices of it, and it was the best stuff ever. That rock was magical.

Sitting on my magical rock:

After that, I felt so much better.

So we climb and rest and climb and rest and trudge and rest and climb some more. I tell David that he has to talk to me, because I keep thinking of cheesy life-to-climbing-a-mountain metaphors and it’s driving me crazy.

And we hit the elevation where the lake is supposed to be and while the scenery is stunning, there is no lake.

I’m starting to think this lake is mythical.

I’m starting to think I needed a pair of ruby slippers and a dog named Toto and to come across a tin man to ever make it to this lake. After all, it is named Emerald Lake. And I’m not wearing blue or carrying a picnic basket and so this is just a lost cause. I keep going anyway.

Finally, we get to the lake. My mom and dad only beat us there by 15 minutes. I don’t think they expected to see me and not that soon. We were resting a lot, but they were really short rests. We eat lunch (no Cocoa Puffs (Now More Chocolatey Taste!) in sight), and I’m feeling pretty good.

The goats near the lake:

I knew if I could get to the lake, I could get to the summit.

After a little rest, we set off again. People coming down give us encouragement, which helps a lot. There’s a shack on the summit and I see it come closer and closer each time I look up, but it still feels impossibly far.

My mom is wearing a pink shirt, and I can see her on the summit. When I make it, I almost don’t realize it. For some reason, I thought the shack was bit below the summit. Then I realize I have made it, and I know I’m grinning from ear to ear. The view from the top is incredible. We snap a few pictures, then decide to head down.

Look! That's me! On the summit! Yes! I'm on the summit! I made it!
Some of the trail we just came up to get the summit.

We don’t go down the way we came. Instead, we go along a ridge on the front of the mountain, intending to slide down the glacier, which, quite frankly, scares the bacteria out of my colon.

I’m none too fond of heights, but I wasn’t frightened the whole day, until we started walking along the ridge and my mom was letting out little squeaks of fear. And this is freaking me out. I’m an adult, but not that much of an adult that seeing my mom frightened isn’t another instance where the bacteria would be fleeing my colon.

So, I said, “Mom, I scared of heights too, and you’re making it worse. Sometimes when you’re the mom, you have to be brave for your children!” And she said she would try, and she was much better after that.

Nearing the glacier. This was the wide part. That's my mom in the pink shirt.

We get the glacier, take off our Camelbacks and prepare to basically sled down on them. This time of year a lot of the glacier has melted off, so there isn’t that much to slide down. I was prepared for a lot worse. I used my heels to slow me down and my hands as a rough rudder to help my direction when I needed it. Not too nice on the hands, but it worked. If I did it again, I would use some trekking poles like my parents or at the very least, take some gloves.

I also find it hilarious that I sat on my ham and crackers.

On my slide down, I lost my trail mix out of my pocket which my mom gave to me at the summit, and my nice expensive sun glasses off the top of my hat, which is a total duh moment, and constitutes mistake number six.

Most people who get hurt climbing Timp do it sliding down the glacier. If you’re going to attempt it, always go with someone who knows what conditions to look for and always do a controlled slide.

I felt really bad for the girl behind us. Her boyfriend/husband was so patient with her. She was freaking out all the way down the ridge. Then she was freaking out as they were preparing to slide. Then she was freaking out, screaming and crying as they stopped. She was wearing shortish shorts and they didn’t sit on their packs, and there were some rocks in the snow, but I’m still confused on what she wanted him to do. She was past the point of no return (cue Phantom music here). You just have to suck it up.

This was a lesson I was about to have hammered into my head with the subtly of an Acme anvil with the next kabillion steps down the mountain.

Getting to the top is one thing. Getting down is quite another.

After our little slide, we had to walk down on a lot of snow. In running shoes. I held onto David for dear life. He only slipped a tiny bit. I slipped with every step.

Emerald Lake looking back towards the glacier. It's not mythical after all.

And then began the true work of getting down. Miles and miles of trudging down the mountain you just climbed up.

Have I mentioned the biggest mistake of the day yet? I don’t think I have. My shoes were unequivocally the Wrong Shoes. Let’s call mistakes number seven, eight and nine. Because I didn't have any hiking shoes, David told me to wear my most comfortable, broken-in pair of running shoes, which I did.

The only thing is shoes don’t like me and never have.

When I get a new pair of shoes, I expect blisters. Then, I develop calluses to that pair of shoes so I can usually wear them for any reasonable distance. (Pssst, 14 miles is not a reasonable distance.)

I’m not sure what is up with my feet. I do know that finding a good fit is hard. I have wide feet. When I was a baby, my mom could never get shoes with straps, because they would not go over the tops of my feet. So, to get a pair of shoes that fits comfortably width wise, I they are usually too long. I do look for wide widths, but they aren’t usually easy to find and I haven’t found that they fit all that much better.

So, my shoes were pretty ok going up. We stopped a few times and put on moleskin to avoid blisters, but they were nearly useless coming down. I could feel my feet sliding around in them and my toes hitting the ends.

My balance was worsening.

I was starting to wear out. My muscles did not like going down. I was stumbling more. The last three miles were torture. At one point, I hit my right big toe on a hidden rock. It felt like I had blisters on the entire bottom of my feet.

I don’t think I complained all that much, but each step hurt. I don’t know how I made it, except that I wanted off that mountain and back home where I could stop walking and take off the shoes. Sometimes I walked behind David and held onto the handle of his backpack so I could get a little more balance.

And then, finally, we made it to the car, 11.5 hours after we started. I sat down and took my shoes. My feet were not in good shape. Both big toes were black and blue (the right one was way worse), I had blisters, the bottom of my feet were tender and you could see slight bruising in places.

Yeah, not fun.

But on the plus side, I was safely down, and I had made it all the way up and back down in one piece. No broken anythings. I didn't even fall down once.

I honestly don’t know how I made it. I’m so proud of myself for hanging in there. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically besides giving birth (and I had the help of an epidural with those and did not have to go 14 miles or up 4800 feet and then back down 4800 feet).

I also had to go to the doctor to get holes put in my toenails to relieve some of the pressure. My toes got all wrapped in big green bandages. I couldn’t walk properly for a few days. I took it easy for a while, and did some stretching and had a massage, and I’m feeling nearly normal again. Just a little sore in the legs still.

I went home and started writing this post and I was really mad to discover I’d only climbed the 2nd highest peak on the Wasatch front.

Apparently Mt. Nebo is the highest peak.

That really ticks me off.

I’m seeing a nice, expensive pair of hiking boots, weeks of training and a trip up Mt. Nebo in my future. My dad says he knows the quick way up. Hopefully that means the quick way up, minus any death and destruction, and that I get to keep all my toenails.
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  1. Oh my gosh! I laughed out loud several times, and I suppose I should apologize for laughing at your pain. Sorry! I am sure you are a great crafter, this is my first visit to your sight, but please keep on writing. You have a beautiful gift! I'm at

  2. Loved the story and good for you!

  3. Totally awesome trip report. So, you are now a real mountaineer. You summited, even though you went through difficulty. You overcame your fear. You helped others overcome their fear. You realize not everyone that goes up has the same attitude, and that attitude is one of the things that makes a difference in life. You also realize that getting to the summit is only half the climb, and getting down safely is the other half. You know it takes a lot of fuel and water, and good-fitting boots trump everything. I couldn't be prouder of you. As you said, so many life lessons. The Zen of mountaineering. Love, Dad

  4. Oh my - I'm lmao!! Hope your toes get better soon - and a great big CONGRATULATIONS!!!! to you - you deserve it!

    And you write really, really well!

  5. Awesome! Great job on this story. And absolutely great job on the climb and descent. I love how you told your mom she had to be brave for you.

  6. Yeah! And thanks for taking pictures- now I'll NEVER have to attempt it. When I met my Hubs, he had just ridden the Alpine Loop on his bike from Provo, up over the top, and down to AF. He'd have a cardiac event within the first 2 miles now. Sigh.

    Proud of you!

  7. You are awesome! And you should be very proud of yourself. Thanks for the very entertaining play-by-play of your climb.

    My husband and I love to hike, but I have to tell you that I would have been in the same boat. I don't do mountains well. But that doesn't mean I don't do them. Because the thrill of completing the challenge makes it all worth the effort.



  8. I climbed that thing in 1996, and I still curl up in the fetal position just thinking about it.

    I would totally go again...when they get a tram.

  9. I have to admit that I laugh too over the way you look at things, you really have a gift and I love to read your blogs (yea, sorry too for laughing) your husband is so good and supportive and then your dad's comment....truth is I got teary in your dad's comment he seems so loving and wise, you have a great supportive family, congratulations on both, the hike and your family.

  10. I remember you posting about this on FB, but it's been awhile since I read my google reader, so just getting the full story now. I love your writing... mistake #1, #2, #3....I totally would have turned back. And you're going to do another one again? You're crazy, lol!


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