OUTDOORS: Climbing Mt. Nebo

Written by Tristan Higbee on . Posted in Sports

Everyone has heard of Mt. Timpanogos, but few are aware that it’s not the tallest mountain around. That honor is given to Mt. Nebo, a peak that lies about 30 miles south of Timp. With an elevation of 11,928, Nebo is 179 feet taller than its more famous brother to the north. While Timp dominates the skyline of much of Utah Valley, Nebo is the hazy giant off in the distance beyond Payson and Spanish Fork.

The trail to the top of Mt. Nebo is a little bit steeper than the trails to the top of Mt. Timpanogos, but Nebo’s  is shorter (five miles versus Timp’s seven) and requires less elevation gain (3,400 feet from the parking lot; Timp’s Aspen Grove Trail climbs up 4,900 vertical feet.) Nebo is also less crowded. I hiked Timp a few weeks ago on a Thursday afternoon and saw at least 30 other people on the trail. Last Friday on Nebo, I shared the mountain with only two other hikers.

Before you start, you need to know what you’re getting into. Climbing mountains is hard work, but is extremely rewarding! Take lots of water (I’d recommend at least four liters on a hot day) and food. Wear comfortable shoes that won’t give you blisters. And remember that getting to the top is only half of the work! Make sure you’ve got enough food and water to make it down too. Since the weather can change rapidly in the mountains, bringing a jacket is always a good idea. Since UV rays are more intense at higher elevations, sunscreen is a must. A hat and sunglasses help with the sun, too.

There are several trails that go up Mt. Nebo. Here I’ll describe the quickest and easiest way to the top, the North Ridge route. Access to the trailhead is provided by the Nebo Scenic Loop Byway. Even if you’re not into climbing mountains, following this road makes for a beautiful and relaxing Sunday drive. To get to the Nebo Scenic Loop, take Payson’s exit 250 from I-15. Head south through town for about 0.8 miles and turn left on 100 N. After 0.2 miles, turn right onto 600 E. Follow this road for about 25 miles through some beautiful mountain terrain. After the 25 miles, you’ll see a sign on your right for Monument Trailhead. Turn right there, and then take the next right onto Mona Pole Road (there will be a sign for this dirt road.) Drive along this road for 0.3 miles until you drive over a cattleguard. Park in a pullout/parking area on the left side just after the cattleguard.

From the parking area, the trail parallels a fence. Follow the trail up and down some minor bumps. The well-defined trail eventually goes through shaded stands of trees and then starts climbing up the left side of an open valley. Halfway up the valley, the trail cuts sharply to the right and then gets a bit steeper. It switchbacks in and out of trees and eventually you’ll get to the top of a ridge with great views off into the Utah Valley. Take a rest here; you’re at about 10,000 feet and halfway (about 2.5 miles) there!

The trail continues up the ridge to the south and will eventually cut right across the west face of the mountain. This will take you to a pass called Wolf Pass at about 10,600 feet. The trail continues steeply up the slope to the south (the trail is obvious) and to the top of a sub-peak. The way to the top is clear from here. Catch your breath and keep following the trail (though it gets faint in spots, it’s usually easy to find again; just continue along the ridge crest) to the top. The top is marked by a small metal box with the summit register in it. Sign your name and enjoy your views from the top of the mountains!

Tristan Higbee is an outdoors correspondent for Rhombus.

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