July 7, 2009
Mount Timpanogos is rather full of itself these days. Waterfalls are shooting out of it like one of those boats they use to fight fires on ocean liners. And, although the larger snowfields are slowly shrinking due to the heat of summer, it’s not as if they won’t be fathering the process whereby water morphs from its solid state into liquid for many more weeks to come.
Stewart Falls is a perfect example. The rush of water off the lower falls is such that the mist cloud created by its thunderous arrival at the bottom pool greets the hiker well before the falls themselves come into view for the final time.
The initial sighting along the trail is the full macrocosm of Stewart Falls which includes the broad expanse of Cascade Cirque and the ever descending tributary falls which culminate in the series of postcard-like alpine drops known as the "upper falls."
This view, with its billowy-white cloudscape against a bluebird sky and the immense amount of water washing over the rock in every direction, has been known to produce euphoria among those so inclined. Do not try this at home!
Timpanogos, to be sure, is a geologic work in progress. Not that the 300-million-year-old exposed limestone and dolomite erodes at a rate one can visually detect, but, when surrounded by it all, it’s not difficult to feel its pulse.
Keeping in touch with the seasonal changes evolving upon that rather immense snowfield near North Peak has become a favorite annual ritual. This is the peak that forms the feet of the silhouetted reclining Indian princess of mythology that so strikingly sets off the view west from the Heber Valley.
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The current status of the horse-head profile, which takes shape as the snow first arrives and then melts away from the large rock-scree canvas on the side of the peak, often dominates the discussion with those no longer living in the valley. "What’s happening with the horse?" is a question that has become a mantra.
At the moment, the horse’s head is firmly in what I have come to call its "Rocinante" period. As the melting snow begins to subtract from the completely filled-in profile that always follows a series of snowstorms, the anatomical structure of the once-proud steed begins to deteriorate.
Rocinante, Don Quixote’s trusted mount in the famous 1604 novel by Miguel Cervantes, is frequently depicted in cartoon-like sketches as displaying an almost skeletal quality. And it would be in a similar state that we now find the ever-changing horse head on Timpanogos. Proud though!
As a sidebar, Rocinante is also the name author John Steinbeck bestowed upon that truck he drove across the United States back in 1960, a trip he later recounted in his bestselling "Travels with Charley." Come to think of it, there was much in that account that also fell like water from a cliff.
But meanwhile, back on the rock massif they call Timpanogos, a couple of hikers who recently returned from a jaunt up the Aspen Grove trail reported the most waterfall-rich environment they had ever encountered, including one spot where you could only reconnect with the trail after going behind the waterfall itself.
There were also snow bridges aplenty to cross if one desired to continue up-trail to Hidden Lake and Emerald Lake and loop around to the Timpanooke Trail as per their original plan. As it turned out, they opted for discretion being the better part of valor and didn’t press their luck.
This time of year, trail status changes on an almost daily basis — both for good and not-so-good. Thin snow bridges can melt away almost overnight while the thicker, more stable models can become dangerously fragile due to loss of mass in a very short time frame.
There is an onus hikers carry with them during spring and early summer and, this year anyway, even midsummer, when they stalk the visual glories of Mount Timpanogos. And that is to be continually wary of the undercutting of deeply-drifted snow by streams forming above and flowing beneath the drifts.
It seldom really matters where one chooses to terminate such explorations, however, in that each turn of the trail is a reward unto itself and, wherever you end up, well, there you are. It’s all about the journey.
Mountains haven’t always spoken to me, other than to let me know immediately if I’m totally out of my element. And when they do, they seldom raise their voice. For the most part they’re a friendly sort. Even when, like Timpanogos, they’re rather full of themselves.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.