One of the "ultra-prominent peaks" in the lower 48 states, this excellent hike treks through blankets of wildflowers, up a steep slope and across a long, thin ridge to the summit of the Wasatch Range's highest peak.
Fred walking over Wolf Pass Peak, with Mount Nebo behind him. Actual summit is just behind the high point in the photo.
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Maps and Apps: Trails Illustrated Wasatch Front South #701, AllTrails track.
Weather forecast: mountain-forecast.com
Date Hiked: July 6, 2022.
Directions to trailhead from Nephi, Utah: From the town of Nephi, take UT 132 (I-15 exit 225) east. Drive 4.8 miles from I-15 to Mount Nebo Scenic Loop Road (FR 015), take a left. Drive 13.4 miles to junction of Mona Pole Road (FR 160), at Monument Trailhead. Take Mona Pole road - drive 0.4 miles on good dirt road to parking area on left.
Geology: Mount Nebo is comprised of the Oquirrh Formation: interbedded limestone and sandstone.
Mount Nebo, a towering bare hunk of tilted limestone, is aptly named to mean "Sentinel of God" by early Mormon pioneers. You can't miss this impressive-looking mountain that dominates the Nephi (pronounced NEE-fy) skyline, close to Utah's I-15. Some people think Mt. Timpanogos, another impressive peak near Provo, is the highest in the Wasatch range; however it is 179 feet lower than Mount Nebo. I was advised by a sales associate at The Desert Rat, St. George's outdoor specialty store to NOT summit Nebo via the southern route, Nebo Peak Trail. After telling me to hike the North Peak Trail, its trailhead north of Mount Nebo, he said, "You should probably see some great wildflowers." He was right on both accounts: the trail was great and profuse wildflowers of every color covered the forest understory.
The trailhead is at 9,254 feet and the summit is 11,928 feet. However, you lose elevation on the way to the summit and gain elevation on the way back, making the cumulative gain 3,700 feet. The trail passes over Wolf Pass Peak (Point 11,440') first before it tackles the great pyramid-shaped Mount Nebo. There's a really steep pitch on Wolf Pass Peak's northeast slope. It's short switchbacks make for a heart-pounding climb of over 800 feet in just 0.4 miles. Glad I had my hiking pole for the way down! We hiked Nebo on a weekday and ran into four other parties. I imagine this is a busy trail on weekends. But that would not deter me - this hike is fantastic!
Mount Nebo is #39 out of 57 ultra-prominence peaks in the lower 48 states. To qualify as"ultra-prominence", the summit of a peak has to rise at least 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) above its key saddle, which is the lowest contour that encircles it, and no other peak.
North Peak Trailhead to Wolf Pass: Miles 0 - 3.5 with a 1,350' gain
We began our hike at 7:20 a.m. to ensure we would be off the most exposed part of the peak around noon. The North Peak Trail ascends through a lush forest with lots of wildflowers and vegetation spilling over to arrive at a bare avalanche area where we crossed a small snow field and continued steeply up to a saddle on North Peak's north ridge for the first incredible view of Mount Nebo. You also get a great view of Juab Valley and Mona Reservoir to the west. From here, the trail splits in 0.2 miles to the left to summit North Mountain. Keep right on the main trail to traverse North Mountain's shady west flank to arrive at Wolf Pass, just south of North Mountain. Here's a place with great views to both the west and the east, and an opportunity to rest a bit before tackling Wolf Pass Peak.
Wolf Pass to Mount Nebo summit: Miles 3.5 - 4.5 with a 1,300' gain
I felt quite small standing on Wolf Pass, an immediate 800 feet of climbing staring me in the face. We put our heads down and used a modified rest-step to get up this steep and rocky pitch efficiently. We use this technique for long, steep pitches, especially at elevation to save energy: use momentum to kick your foot forward while keeping back knee straight - rest a second and repeat with other leg, going in a measured, rhythmical gait, not over-using your quads or glutes.
Before topping off on Wolf Pass Peak, we followed a trail going left, traversing just under the summit for a short distance. We had to scramble back up to the ridge just after the summit. We avoided that on the way back and just stayed on the ridge over Wolf Pass Peak. The walk on the ridge to Mount Nebo's summit was divine. A feeling of being on the top of everything else in the region with steep basins and canyons with names like Hell Hole, Middle, North and South Basin dropping for a long way on both sides. Occasional scant stands of scraggly trees line a few steep couloirs. The ridge trail is wide and stable enough so it doesn't feel precarious or scary.
As soon as we reached what we thought was the summit, suddenly there was the "true" summit just behind it, only about 40 feet higher. The summit is narrow and long, a trail leads to the next high point to the south, Nebo Middle and then after that, Mount Nebo South Peak. The summit register consisted of a glass mason jar stuffed with sticky notes with lots of names, dates, and comments.
A couple of things were remarkable about the descent. The first was Wolf Pass Peak's steep, rocky pitch - it reminded me of a short version of Mt. Borah's (the highest peak in Idaho) descent - steep and slippery. The second was the abundant wildflowers, reminding me of Colorado hikes. We didn't know that Utah's high country could be so beautiful. Our adventure possibilities have just expanded - again. Wouldn't it be great if the years of our lives expanded accordingly? I guess the key is in living in the moment and fully appreciating that we have the ability to get to the "top of the world" and see Indian paintbrush splash the forest with magenta.
"So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. To struggle and to understand. Never the last without the first. That is the law."
- George Mallory, mountaineer who climbed with the first three British expeditions to Mt. Everest in the 1920's.
Keep on Moving! Keep on Exploring!
Google Earth image of our tracks heading from North Peak Trailhead west to ridge, then south to Mount Nebo summit on the right. Mount Nebo Scenic Loop road (015) approaches trailhead upper left. South points to the upper right.
View of Mount Nebo from Mount Nebo Scenic Loop Road.
On Mount Nebo's summit looking east.
Heading back - trail goes over the top of Wolf Pass Peak (Point 11,440').
Some cool stuff on the trail.
On the way down
North Mountain from near the trailhead.
Our GPS tracks and elevation profile for Mount Nebo.
About this blog
Exploration documentaries – "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
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