Know Before You Snow

Make Snow Safety A Priority This Winter

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Safe backcountry skiing starts with weeks of weather watching. I follow the wind and the moving snow. I watch the mountain weather stations to understand what is happening where I like to ski. I take note of the observations, forecasts and advisories offered by the Utah Avalanche Center. I make my plan only after I have determined where I can ski safely.

It snowed last night. The sun is coming up and I’m high above the Heber Valley. I’m with my ski buddies, out for a backcountry ski tour. We’re on alert for avalanches today because new snow tends to bring out instabilities in the snowpack. A variety of winter activities, including snowshoeing and snowmobiling, take place in the backcountry and we’re aware that people are involved in avalanches across our local mountains every year.

The Nightmare Scenario

I often imagine what I would do in an avalanche scenario. It is something I do to prepare for such a situation. It always goes a little like this…

My buddy drops onto a backcountry slope, makes a few wonderful turns in deep, fluffy snow. In the blink of an eye, our hearts drop into our stomachs as the snowy slope above and below him breaks apart like a shattered window pane. The snow rushes down the mountain in truck-sized chunks, carrying him with it.
I lose sight of my friend.

In what feels like an instant, it is over and all I see is a huge pile of clumpy snow at the bottom of the slope.
In a state of shock, I call 911 and get help on the way. As my heart beats frantically in my chest, I ski down to the point I last saw my friend. I use my transceiver beacon to read signals emitted from his beacon. It leads me to the strongest signal location.

My other ski buddy is ready. He probes that location and strikes something that feels like a person. We have mere minutes to extract our friend in order to save his life.

It has been four minutes since the avalanche.

With our shovels we dig. We tear at the snow, begging it to release our friend. Moments pass too quickly. Hash lines on the probe reveal that my friend is one meter under the surface. With all my strength, through tears and pain, muscles cramping in my arms and back from working the cement-like snow, I continue to dig.
He can’t breathe and I can’t move the snow fast enough.

The horror of the situation doesn’t end when we finally reach him. He’s blue in the face and his ski goggles are gone. Looking at the clock, it has only been eight minutes since the slide came to rest…

Learning From Experiences

Approaching the top of my second run, I stop. There is a naked tree, wind-blown and raw, with an empty howitzer shell nailed to it. Inside the shell is a bottle of High West Double Rye, a locally-distilled whiskey. Above is a picture of a man named Craig Patterson.

Craig was an avalanche forecaster who tragically died in an slide while making observations on Kessler Peak in Big Cottonwood Canyon. It was in April 2013 and it shook the local backcountry community, even though many of us never met him.

I give the man a tribute with a moment of quiet and move on up the ridge, contemplating fallen brothers and sisters of the backcountry.

I think about another avalanche that occurred February 2014. A 21-year-old woman was snowshoeing in the Tibble Fork area. She was caught in an avalanche in sight of the parking lot.

She did not survive.

Life Or Death Education

It simply doesn’t matter how we recreate in the snow. We all have the potential to trigger an avalanche. There have been many instances of snowmobilers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers and other snow sport enthusiasts triggering slides.

The most important thing you can do this winter — for yourself and for others — is to get educated about avalanches and how to stay safe when recreating in the mountains.

What stands 11,749’ high, has a heart, a saddle, an emerald, a shack, and some goats?

If you’ve been in Heber for even a short time, you’ll know the valley’s pride lies in the great mountain that sprawls to the west where the sun settles each night. Mount Timpanogos creates a portion of the eastern wall of the Wasatch Front. Often folks claim we, here in Heber, reside on the backside of the great Timpanogos. We’d like to beg their pardon. They happen to be discombobulated, not realizing that we have the front seat to Timp’s right side. Of all the peaks in the Wasatch Mountain Range, the majestic summit is second in height only to Mt. Nebo. Each breathtaking foot is covered in alpine flora, fauna, and crag, while crystal clean water from white peaks, burbles over as falls, and meanders to rivers and streams.

Through The Year

Spring is when the falls of Timp and their gushing runoff are at their prime. Mount Timpanogos Trailhead in Aspen Grove, accessed on State Route 92, is the entry point to three sets of breathtaking waterfall hikes. Timpanogos Falls is made up of an upper and lower set of falls. Visiting both is approximately a 2.5-mile round trip hike. Stewart Falls and Scout Falls are also great options for late spring hikes.

Summer is the best time to beat the heat and get to the heart of the mountain. Timpanogos Cave National Monument leads tours deep into the geologic Timpanogos Cave System. In the depths of the cavern is a large stalactite known as the “Great Heart” of Timpanogos. Legends tell of two hearts joined at death to become one that now lies deep in the mountain.

Summer is also a great time for ambitious hikers and trail runners to reach the peak. But don’t forget your jacket — even in the summer months, the windy summit stays nice and cool. The trek begins at either Aspen Grove or Timpooneke trail. It careens through Mount Timpanogos Wilderness Area, where you may choose to take it slower and camp overnight, remembering there are no fires permitted. Another fun choice is to depart early and squeeze the full excursion into one day. These hikes are where you’ll discover the emerald of Timp — Emerald Lake. Just as a horse’s saddle is sweeping in shape, Mount Timp’s saddle is a sweeping field of boulders where the trail to the peak converges with the ridgeline. Keep your eyes open for the mountain goats, moose, and other wildlife among the profusion of wildflower colors. Marking the summit is an old surveyor shack.

Fall brings a chill to the air, and our trees take center stage. As the bright blooms fade, the deep hues of autumn steal the show. Be sure to take a drive. Throw in a picnic and your camera to make a day of the fully-paved, 20 mile Alpine Scenic Loop. Head out before October passes and our snow closes portions of the loop for the winter.

Winter may offer the best views of Mount Timpanogos from a distance. Adventure junkies sometimes choose to summit Timp in the winter with an ice ax and crampons. If you enjoy snowmobiling or snow biking, Wasatch State Park grooms 72 miles of trail throughout the winter months. They are also home to the 2002 Olympic Site contracted by the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. This venue allows for Nordic skiing, a tubing hill, and snowshoeing at the base of Timp. Those of you who don’t feel like competing with yetis or Sherpas may choose other ways to enjoy winters with Timpanogos. Relax while you wind leisurely around the base aboard a railcar of the Heber Valley Railroad. Are you an artist? Find a perch in town to paint to your heart’s delight. Or, simply take it easy and get cozy with a warm drink while enjoying the view from your favorite place.

Whatever the season Mount Timpanogos with its high summit, heart, saddle, emerald, shack, and goats, is definitely worth visiting — even if it’s only from your front porch as you watch the sun settle behind Timps peaks.

Hikes:

Timpanogos Falls
1.9 miles |  moderate  |  dogs allowed  |  kid approved

Stewart Falls
3.4 miles |  moderate  |  dogs allowed  |  kid approved

Scout Falls
4.2 miles |  moderate  |  leashed dogs allowed

Aspen Grove Timp Summit
15.7 miles  |  difficult  |  dogs and horses allowed

Timpooneke Timp Summit
12.8 miles  |  difficult  |  dogs allowed  |  $6 fee, pay at yourpassnow.com

For kids:

The Junior Ranger Program
Available at Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Kids explore
the culture and natural history. There is an event every Saturday
at 10:00 am throughout the open season, May-early September.
Go to nps.gov/tica/learn/kidsyouth for more information.

Legend Of Timpanogos:

As with any good story, there are many variations to the Legend of Timpanogos. In fact, at least 12 recorded versions exist today. The legend is centered on the outline of a woman that can be seen in the peaks of the mountain, and the large stalactite called the “Great Heart” found inside the caves.

The legend is “Romeo and Juliet”-esque, featuring the Indian warrior Red Eagle and the beautiful Indian princess Utahna. While their exact roles and circumstances vary from version to version, the story goes that Utahna was chosen as a sacrifice to the gods to end the great drought. When she was about to jump off the cliffs, Red Eagle begged her not to end her life. Thinking Red Eagle was the great God of Timpanogos, Utahna went to the caves with him, and they fell in love.

One day, Red Eagle was injured by a wild animal — which proved he was human after all — so Utahna left to finish her sacrifice to the gods. After she jumped, Red Eagle found her and took her back to the caves, where it is believed their two hearts became one, forming the stalactite that is now called the Great Heart of Timpanogos. People say you can still see the outline of Utahna lying on top of the mountain.

(Courtesy of nationalparks.org)

For more information on Mount Timpanogos and Wasatch State Park visit https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/wasatch-mountain