It’s hard to imagine what thousands of tons of snow plowing down a mountain can do to the landscape … until you witness the aftermath up close.
At least for the next few weeks, weather pending (check the Utah Avalanche Center’s advisory at utahavalanchecenter.org/advisory/provo), a hike up to the massive snow slide coming off the southwest couloir of Mt. Timpanogos is a visual lesson in the power of nature.
As the weather warms, this slide will quickly recede, but since it is at least a mile long, it will take some time for it to completely disappear. Anyone in good hiking condition will enjoy this hike.
There are several ways up there, but the easiest is to start hiking via the service road (dirt/gravel) that takes off just south of the Orem Police Gun Range (see map). There is a gravel parking lot on the lower level and a paved lot up above, along with restrooms and a drinking fountain. You can also access the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST) from here, among other minor trails heading north and east into the foothills.
Hike east up the service road, which follows the contour of the foothills into Provo Canyon; the BST actually follows this road in this direction up the canyon. At about 1.3 miles from the trailhead, you will see a small pile of rocks to the left of the dirt road. This is a “cairn,” the term experienced hikers use for a trail marker. At this point you will leave the road and take this single-track trail which heads east for a few yards, and then north.
The trail will immediately fork, the right one being the more traveled route, with the left running parallel to it a little higher up the hill. Take the right fork and follow it (there are many deer trails that diverge off this route) until you reach a well-known landmark called the “stone altar” or “rock pile monument” about 2.5 miles from the trailhead.
The “altar” is nothing more than a pile of rocks 3 feet high used as a destination point for local trail runners and mountain bikers. Don’t forget to add your geological “sacrifice” to the pile … a rock. You will notice the Great Western Trail, which cuts across the meadow perpendicular to the trail you are using.
The trail continues north of the altar and climbs a bit more steeply through the thick
sagebrush and scrub oak. Follow this trail for at least another half mile. At the time of this writing, the base of the slide ends right on the trail, but as the weeks pass, I imagine it will begin to melt and start a bit east of the trail. You will have to scan the area for a large pile of snow off to your right.
Once you reach the base of the slide, put your microspikes or Yak Trax on your boots for better traction, and climb up the side to get on top of it. For better stability and safety, bring your trekking poles — you will need them as this thing gets steep.
The slide is nothing more than a wide, snow-packed road made by Mother Nature. Where the slide begins to get steep veer to the left, you will see a vacant food cache recently used by an animal (most likely a cougar) along with the remains of a recent kill … an elk.
This snow slide is actually multiple slides, some on top of others and at one point, two side by side. As the snow plowed down this drainage, its sides rose higher than the path, and you will be able to see this fascinating feature the higher you travel.
If it is safe, hike up as far as you like, but be sure to check the Utah Avalanche Center’s Advisory Report before going any higher. If you are hiking about a week after the last snowstorm, then you should be safe, especially since we are heading into spring.
Even though these are the foothills, there are bear and cougar up here, so carry some high-quality bear spray, travel in a group and make noise.
Finally, don’t forget your camera … this is a visual treat for the eye, including the views down into Utah Valley and clear to Mt. Nebo!
Tina Crowder is an avid hiker and peak bagger. If you would like to get out and discover new trails, check out her Facebook page, “Hike the Wasatch.” If you are interested in climbing the local peaks, she also has a page entitled, “Wasatch Peak Baggers.” You can contact her at email@example.com or via Facebook.