All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Days

For three or four years I used to hike up to the top of Mount Timpanogos in Utah County on Labor Day. This started one September long ago when I joined a bunch of friends who were planning to make the seven-mile hike to the top of this mountain, which is 11,752 feet above sea level.
Mount Timpanogos with Utah County cities below it. Adapted from

I had tried to hike to the top a few years before, relying on friends who said it was possible to make the hike by moonlight. A group of us started out at about 11 p.m. the end of July, singularly ill-prepared with no flashlights because—hey!—the full moon was supposed to be up. But from the trailhead where we started, the full moon was hidden by the immense mountain until we were a lot higher up, and anyway, we were still below the tree line and under the canopy of a forest! We struggled up and up, very slowly, and began to realize the cold was more intense than we were prepared for. It was a hot July down at 4,500 feet, but at 8,000 feet or even before, we encountered snow fields, and soon they were everywhere. The going became treacherously slippery, and one of our party fell about fifty feet down an icy slope in the pre-dawn darkness. 

Picture this hut covered in snow,
barely even visible in the landscape.
While the rescue was being effected, the rest of us huddled together as closely as we could—the temperatures definitely were freezing and our jackets were thin. It took an hour, and then another hour as dawn came greyly across the snowfields surrounding Emerald Lake, which we reached at sunrise. It was enough. Emerald Lake lies at the foot of a small glacier and is about 10,380 feet up. The summit trail from Emerald Lake is extremely steep, and with all the snow, it was impossible for anyone without the proper equipment to go further. We hit the floor of the little rock building at Emerald Lake and slept for two hours.

But in September a couple years later, we were far wiser, choosing to start in the early morning and reaching Emerald Lake a little after lunchtime. Here we are. I’m the one standing in back at the right end, with the long blonde hair blowing around. I’m sorry I can’t remember the names of all my friends, but at the far left is Nancy, who was one of my housemates at the time. Another housemate was Alicia, in the red sweater sitting down front at the right.

A few of us opted to go on to the top of the mountain and sign our names in the book in the “Summit hut” at the very top. Here is a view of us, I sitting with my friends Kelly and Alicia to my right and Jane to my left. 

That began a little tradition. Every labor day I’d find some people to hike to the top of the mountain with me. One year Alicia came with me and Marj. Marj and I had just returned from our summer study abroad in England. We had been training ourselves, running three miles every day before our trip, and at the Wordsworth Conference in the English Lake District we had avidly walked the three miles around Grasmere Lake every morning before breakfast, and we had also gone on all the most strenuous walks and hikes and climbs in the afternoon outings. We had even conquered Helvellyn, the highest peak in the Lake District, and although it is much lower than Timpanogos, it is quite a rugged climb, requiring a four-limb scramble up the last part to the summit. Marj and I were very fit when we climbed Timp that September with Alicia. 

Alicia, on the other hand, had been in Senegal, Africa, where her parents were working, and she was not used to the altitude of the valley, let alone the mountain. Two years before she had trounced me, practically running past me up all the trails, and I had attributed the difference in our fitness levels to the fact that she was eighteen and I was an aged twenty-five. But the reverse was true of our fitness two years later. She was huffing and puffing and having to stop every two minutes to catch her breath, while I was zooming past, needing no rest at all.

When we reached the top, we saw that a thunderstorm was hitting Utah Lake, heading our direction. So, quickly we signed the register in the summit hut, quickly we got ourselves to the top of the snowfield over the glacier, quickly we slid down to the bottom of the snowfield at Emerald Lake, and quickly we trotted off down the trail. The thunder and lightning hit when we were back below the tree line. We didn’t want to be the tallest things on that mountain! Of course we had to be wary under the trees, for the lightning could have hit anywhere that we were. But it didn’t.

The next year I climbed Timpanogos in the midst of finishing my master’s degree in English. That summer I was reading Wallace Stevens, Stanley Kunitz, and Robert Frost among other modern poets—thus my annual trip up the mountain was heavily influenced by the poetry I had been immersed in.

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround the hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.
            —Wallace Stevens, 1919

There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.
She breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of her table.
It reminded her how she had needed
A place to go to in her own direction,
How she had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked her way among clouds,
For the outlook that would be right,
Where she would be complete in an unexplained completion:
The exact rock where her inexactness
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,
Where she could lie and, gazing down at the lake,
Recognize her unique and solitary home.
—Adapted from a Wallace Stevens poem of 1952

Meike, Lin, Marj, Marci, and Andreas

It was six years later that I next hiked Timpanogos, and it turned out to be my last time. Marj and some of our friends from work decided to do the hike in mid-July, and I opted to join them. I was not in shape, and the climb was very hard. We did not go beyond Emerald Lake, although the summer wildflowers were everywhere and the clear view of the top beckoned, five hundred feet above us. But the trail up there was another mile and a half, a grueling climb. It was enough.

Labor Day challenges changed within the year: the next Labor Day found me writing a computer book in all my “spare time” and then my son’s birth completely altered my life.

This year we had a Last Barbecue of the Summer and I sat with my memories of climbing Mount Timpanogos.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own BlogEngine blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it.
    macy labor day mattress sale


Comments are welcome but don’t show up until I approve them. If they get lost (and sometimes they do), please try again!