July 26, 2006
Crossing snowfields that cross trails can give one pause up on Mount Timpanogos this time of year. Many of them you can scout as you would whitewater rapids prior to choosing a route. In fact, where streams flow beneath what have eroded into snow-bridges of ever diminishing thickness, you can actually check them out from below.
It’s a timing issue. Depending on the particular day, prudent decisions driven by safety alone can be difficult to come by. The wildflowers along the Timpooneke trail are once again bonkers and no way do you want to end the trek before its time. You also have no wish to end up "catawampus" down in the runoff stream after falling through one of the "bridges."
So you take your time and route-find to the best of your ability, while attempting to reach the trail on the other side without negotiating the section that is little more than a luge track that water and sun have worked on from above and below. You figure if you pass over those areas that are only inches thick quickly enough that you won’t fall through.
Pushing the quiet terror — how these mental and physical challenges will be dealt with on the way down the mountain — into the back of a mind already cluttered with various denials is no mean feat. But hey, up is the only option for the truly eco-blissed on a perfectly glorious hiking day on the perfectly wondrous "river of rock" that is Timpanogos.
As mentioned, as is their wont this time of year, the wildflowers of the Wasatch are peaking. They are stunning. Stopping repeatedly along Timpooneke to marvel at hillsides dense with brilliant color is a must, not an option. And, of course, if you find yourself gulping a bit of air while reducing your pulse-rate during one of these momentary raptures, well, no one’s the wiser.
The joint is jumpin’ with bistorts and buttercups, paintbrush and primrose, lupine and locoweed and larkspur. Turn a corner and you become awash in bluebells and black-eyed Susans. Wild rose and penstemon dance with Queen Anne’s lace and thimbleberry. And mosh-pits of monkshoods and morning glories and mule’s ears throb to the season’s pulse.
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And then there are those mossy shrine-like springs that dot the trail on the way to Middle Basin like so many hanging gardens. Timpanogos is so "feng shui." Its yin and yang are in balance and, have no doubt about it, its chi flows.
And, as you ascend from forest to subalpine to alpine, the hits just keep on coming. Waterfalls decorate the visual and aural landscapes of the walls connecting one basin with the next while the large conifers make busy, manipulating the sunlight passing through.
It should be mentioned, however, that there are many hillsides where "scree," not the wildflower, lords over the trail. These slopes of loose rock debris dominate their neighborhoods and, while providing variety of scenery, grow old in a hurry. Ankles have been known to turn in such environments.
The upside is that these stone fields demonstrate in a quite resounding way that Timpanogos is very much a work-in-progress. You’ll find yourself "idylling" mid-trek and hear the fabric rip as a boulder tears loose from the opposite cliffside. It lands with a crunch upon the top of the scree-slope and begins its long and loud, yet somewhat languid, roll in search of its proper place.
Random clumping, of course, is at play here, but there is also this overwhelming sense of a zen garden — as if, following proper meditation, each rock has been placed purposefully to fill a spiritual void.
Soon the trail encroaches upon basin and sub-basin ecosystems. For the most part, these are habitats where moose and yellow-bellied marmots roam and the mule deer and golden-mantled ground squirrels play.
It will be up-and-over the rampart separating Timpanogos Basin from the Aspen Grove side, however, where the crown jewels of "Timp" are on display. And they would be "Emerald Lake," fed by the semi-permanent snowfield known as the "glacier" and that wonderfully enigmatic and quirky example of vertebrate zoology known as the Rocky Mountain goat.
These cute little hoofed creatures with the bearded chins, long slightly-curved, sharp black horns, and thick, pure-white coats are not actually goats but are of the same clan as "cattle," of all things. So what they damnsure look like goats. Especially the couple of herds that hang about Emerald Lake.
This particular mid-week encounter with the goats, however, will more than likely be the most memorable ever. On past hikes in the area they would mostly keep their distance with the "nannies" prodding the "kids" away from the human element. This day would be much different.
Upon crossing into the sub-basin, you immediately found yourself in the middle of a herd, one that numbered somewhere in the mid-forties. Although many stared directly at the interlopers, they continued to methodically graze upon whatever stunted vegetation the above-timberline environment offered.
Coupling a heightened awareness with a, seemingly, total absence of panic, the mothers appeared to be almost introducing their young to the most powerful species to share their ecosystem — a behavior somewhat akin to that of the gray whales in the birthing lagoons of Baja California.
Profound intimacies flowed effortlessly between diverse life-forms. The aura was of a highly natural and sacred space. The collective consciousness expanded — you couldn’t hide from it if you wished. From flora to fauna to rockform, all was aglow and all was one.
Then, ever so gently, in a most subtle and nuanced motion, the herd began to mosey up to the nearest snowfield for the partaking of moisture. This, while allowing the hikers to continue on to Emerald Lake and the slab of rock outside the "shelter" where they would lunch, nap, and reflect.
Returning to the "real" world below proved difficult as it most often does. And it wasn’t just the crux-moves across the snow bridges or the wear and tear of prolonged downhill hiking. It was the always-nearby fear of losing whatever spiritual depth was gained through encounters with the wild.
Glancing up at the summit wall for one last interaction before the final drop-off into Timpanogos Basin, there was eye contact between one old goat and another. Practical epiphanies and unconditional love rained down from the minute footholds upon which some lifeforms take up space. "It’s not about you," it seemed to say. The journey continued with a lightened load.