Biking Utah's Mount Timpanogos
|Try not to look at the 100-foot drop to the right...|
Theoretically, the Great Western Trail runs along the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. There are spurs, side trips, paved sections, and ATV tracks all along the route. But the good stuff—I mean the really good stuff—is the singletrack. And the GWT has lots and lots of primo singletrack. The Utah portion of the GWT, in particular, has some grade A singletrack. And one of those grade A sections just happens to be in my backyard, right on Mount Timpanogos.
Mount Timpanogos rises about 7,000 feet above the valley floor in Utah County to a height of 11,750 feet. Easily the most dramatic (although not quite the highest) of mountains in the Wasatch Front, "Timp," as it's called locally, is literally surrounded with pristine, lung-busting singletrack. While the upper reaches of the mountain (pretty much everything above 9,000 feet) are out of bounds to bikes, the Great Western Trail lies conveniently just to the lower side of the Mount Timpanogos Wilderness Area. In fact, the GWT interrupts its meandering route from Brighton and Alta in the north to split at Timp—traversing both front and back of the mountain before rejoining itself to continue its journey south through the southern portion of the Wasatch Range and on towards Mexico.
The paved Alpine Loop road, an exceptionally beautiful and challenging road ride, circumnavigates Timp over about 40 miles of excellent pavement, incorporating an elevation gain of about 4,000 feet in 15 miles, topping out at just over 8,000 feet. But that's for roadies. You can do the same loop—about the same distance but almost twice the climbing—by sticking to the Timp portion of the Great Western Trail, which lies mostly within the Alpine Loop, rising and falling many times as it makes its way around the mountain.
Though you can ride around Timp in either direction, we opted to begin at the mouth of Provo Canyon near the southwest corner of the mountain (the southeast part requires about 10 miles of pavement—see map and practicalities). We proceeded around the face of Timp and the back of 11,300 foot North Peak, finishing the ride with a 10-mile pavement cool-down past Sundance (of film festival fame) and back to Provo Canyon: 40 miles total riding, 30 of it singletrack, with about 7,000 total feet of elevation gain. Of course, you lose 7,000 feet, too. And remember, we're not talking about climbing 7,000 feet on fireroads, or even jeep roads. This is 7,000 feet of climbing on steep, technical singletrack, littered with roots, rocks, and logs.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication