According to the Holy Bible, Moses first caught sight of the Promised Land from a peak in Jordan known as Mount Nebo. From the summit of this ridge, he was able to see a vast panorama of the Holy Land, including the valley of the River Jordan; the city of Jerusalem; and the West Bank of Jericho. It is fitting, then, that the Mormon’s who settled Utah chose to name this southernmost peak in the Wasatch Range after its biblical sister — with such fantastic views completely unobscured by other peaks or buildings, one could easily understand how Moses may have felt looking over Israel.
Standing at 11,929 feet above sea level, Mount Nebo in Utah is actually the tallest peak in the entire Wasatch Range. Locals will likely tell you that Mount Timpanogas is the highest, but this is a common misconception. I’ve had my eyes set on Mount Nebo for at least two years, but every plan to summit ended up falling through for a variety of reasons. When I realized that I had the chance to take a solo trip, I jumped on the opportunity.
Mt. Nebo can be summited in a day. The trail is short enough that many hikers choose to start in the morning and make it back by mid to late afternoon. However, I wanted to try my hand at taking some timelapse video of the stars and I wanted to try and reach the top in time to watch the sun rise, so I decided to do an overnight trip. Leaving right after work on Friday evening, I arrived at the trailhead just as the sun was setting.
I’m not going to lie, hiking alone in the dark is actually a terrifying experience. I wasn’t anticipating feeling fearful at all, but after a couple of hikers nearly gave me a heart attack I couldn’t help but feel like many eyes were watching me in the dark. This is cougar country! For all I knew I was being stalked by a massive predator! Looking back, I really shouldn’t have been so freaked out; I highly doubt there is anything looking to hurt people at that elevation.
Roughly two miles in, I reached my destination — the ghostly remnants of a once magnificent tree, holding on to the edge of a cliff with charred roots, its branches drooping towards the darkness over 400 feet below. Basically, really neat.
I was a bit dismayed to discover that there was not really any flat ground for my tent. I ended up pitching it in the flattest area I could find, which happened to be about 10 inches from the edge of the cliff on what was still a considerable incline. I desperately wanted this shot of the stars, and I was willing to sacrifice a lot of comfort to get it.
It was getting late, so I quickly set up my camera, tripod, and lights and hit the hay. Here’s the final result:
Pretty neat, right!?
After a rough night on a rocky hill, I woke up a little later than I meant to. I knew I wasn’t going to reach the summit by sunrise as I had originally hoped, but I still grabbed my day pack and headed off as early as possible – around 5:30 AM. Honestly, I’m glad I started when I did; it was great to watch the sun come over the mountains in the east, slowly illuminating the peaks ahead and casting dramatic shadows to the west.
The final stretch on this hike is rough. Really rough. Immediately upon passing through Wolf Pass, the trail begins climbing steep enough to turn the hike into more of a scramble. There was still some snow up there, which was a bit treacherous to cross. I thought it really added to the adventure. I was sure to take plenty of ill-framed selfies on the way. See:
Unfortunately, Mt. Nebo has a false summit — you get a lot of false hope as you approach what you are sure is the top. However, you eventually realize that the trail goes down, crosses a knife-edge ridge, and then once again proceeds to climb to the true summit. It was at this point that I started singing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, for reasons completely unbeknownst to me.
The view from the crown of Mt. Nebo is absolutely stunning. Towering over the small rural town of Mona, one can easily see miles upon miles in every direction from the summit. I had the good fortune of summiting on a relatively clear day pretty early in the morning and as a result the visibility seemed almost endless, limited only by the curve of the earth.
I spent an hour and a half at the summit. As I sat and ate my string cheese, looking over Utah County to the north and Juab County to the south, cars began to stream more steadily along I-15. Being able to see everything from Mt. Timpanogas and the massive Utah Lake bordering Provo all the way down to Nephi and beyond was absolutely incredible. Pictures and even ‘photospheres’ do not, and cannot, do the view any sort of justice.
Much to my delight, the summit of Mt. Nebo is somehow serviced by 4G LTE. I used this opportunity to brag to the world about where I was at 8 AM on a Saturday morning. And yes, I called my mom. Solitude may be bliss, but I wanted to share my experience with everyone and it was awesome to be able to do so from what felt like the top of the world. I’m also a bit of an attention whore.
Going down was less strenuous than the trip up (obviously), but the sun was heating things up crazy fast. The first signs of other people came on the descent, and I’ve got to say that I am so glad I didn’t try to summit this beast in the blistering heat. Finally getting back to the car around noon was an incredible relief.
Overall, I am ecstatic that I finally bagged Mt. Nebo. It’s a formidable peak, and its stature as the tallest in the Wasatch range made it an impressive hike. I was consistently amazed at the stunning vistas the trail provided, and time and again the mountain reminded me of how beautiful Utah really is.