Shortly after marrying Sytha Brown in 1906, Eugene L. Roberts and his newlywed bride decided to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Swiss Alps. One evening, near Einsiedeln, Switzerland, Roberts watched as 5,000 worshipers, reverently holding candles in the darkness, made their way to a mountainside shrine. Roberts, who had been born in Provo in the shadow of Mount Timpanogos, observed the procession and envisioned a similar event for his hometown. After returning from Europe, Roberts organized the Timpanogos Hike in the summer of 1912.
In the hike’s first year, 19 students and faculty reached the 11,750-foot summit. In July 1918, the Department of Physical Education initiated an annual moonlight hike, and as the event grew, other institutions became involved, including the University of Utah, the Utah Agricultural College (known today as Utah State University), and the Wasatch Mountain Club. One historian noted that the “Timp hike was a ritual event, Provo’s town festival.” Roberts would have agreed. He wrote that the outing’s purpose was to climb the “Wasatch Giant under wholesome conditions, both physical and social.” He wanted the hike to be synonymous with a spiritual experience and hoped that it would elevate climbers’ spirits as they yielded themselves to mighty Mount Timpanogos. In 1957, four years after Roberts’s death, 1,297 hikers summited the mountain, a feat that attracted the attention of Sports Illustrated, which hailed Roberts’s pioneering vision. The writer stated Roberts “felt the Lord reveals himself to man powerfully in nature and that a stern climb in utter beauty would be spiritually good for anyone.”
Over time, the annual Timpanogos hike—as a result of its popularity among locals and out-of-towners—became harder to organize and was more taxing on the environment. In 1970, the Forest Service asked the university to discontinue the annual hike, but in 1984, Congress designated Mount Timpanogos as a wilderness area - a designation which limits hiking groups to a maximum of 15 individuals. Unfortunately, many groups violate this rule each hiking season. Known by many as “the best hike in Utah,” the mountain is still summited by many hikers, both young and old alike—albeit in smaller groups. They are captivated by its beauty, as was George H. Brimhall, the president of BYU who offered Roberts a job, and wrote in a poem:
Child of the earthquake featured by time
King of the Wasatch, majestic sublime;
Chieftain of Nature calling to art,
Boundless the raptures thy glories impart.
Emblem of progress, symbol of thrift,
Reaching for sunbeams and holding the drift;
A joy to behold thee, Mount of the West—
But, O, to ascend thee! to stand on thy crest!