Mt Nebo at sunrise.

At nearly 12,000 feet, Mt. Nebo towers gallantly above the floor of Utah Valley, taller and prouder than any other mountain in the Wasatch Range. He may not be as scenic, or convenient as his siblings to the north, but the fact remains: Nebo is King. You might as well pull out that trusty topo map, and scribble in a bulls-eye on its summit.

Nebo has a little bit of everything, but it isn’t your typical Wasatch peak. While the northern Wasatch peaks seem to be full of alpine cirques and basins of wildflowers, Nebo takes on scenery more typical of the desert. The landscape is dotted with sagebrush, bristlecone pines and red soil. But what it lacks in graceful flowery beauty, it makes up for with rugged ridge climbs, massive peaks and sheer scale.

The best (easiest? fastest?) route begins near the parking lot for the Monument Trailhead. This is also where the Mona Pole Road intersects the scenic byway. Instead of parking here in the developed site, take a quick right out of the lot onto the dirt road. After about .4 miles, parking for the trailhead will be obvious on your left. Some will consider the long drive to the trailhead a bear, but consider it a blessing; the trail starts at more than 9,000 feet, leaving you under 3,000 vertical feet to reach the summit. Suddenly a two-hour drive from Salt Lake doesn’t seem so bad. This trail is in great shape as well. No signs of horses, and it seems like it hasn’t been popularized yet, so expect some solitude.

The trailhead. Feels more like the desert than an alpine peak.

But don’t be fooled by this 4.5 mile, 3,000 foot elevation gaining romp. There is still some serious effort required to reach the summit. The trail is three legs long, each getting a little more difficult. The first mile or so to the bottom of the Gibson Creek drainage is a nice little walk that undulates over hills and through forested areas. After you reach this small drainage, there is a ridge that has to be gained on the right looking up canyon. This is the first strenuous section, although fairly short. This puts you at about 10,400 feet.

Looking south, where the trail crosses what I am calling the Gibson Creek drainage. The snowfield to glissade on the way back is at the top middle of the picture. The trail ascends the ridge well to the right.

The second leg is the traverse under the summit of North Peak to Wolf Pass. Early in the season, this can prove to be the most difficult section. It is relatively flat, but there are multiple snowfields that are difficult to cross. I encountered two or three that I couldn’t kick steps into because the ice was so dense. I chose to go around. Later in the season, this would be no problem. The views of the summit from this section are incredible. It is the first time on the trail that you really see what you are up against. The symmetrical summit cone towers just a couple miles to the south.

Atop the ridge from Gibson Creek. North Peak (not the north summit of Nebo) is visible. The Wolf Pass trail cuts right midway up the ridge from here.

The third leg is where all the work is done. Wolf Pass is about 10,600 in elevation, so that leaves around 1200 to get to the summit, in under a mile. Snow was still covering a fair amount of the trail on the ridge in late May, but it was easily bypassed in all but a few places. Give it a few weeks, and this will be significantly easier as well. From Wolf Pass, only the “Li’l Nebo” summit is visible, but the real summit is a half mile passed the li’l guy. Pretty straightforward here, just follow the ridge and the path of least resistance. There are a few second class moves, and if you get yourself in some interesting places, maybe a 3rd class move.

The first glimpse of Nebo, from the Gibson ridge. Notice the small summit, and the true summit behind.

Doing my best Michael Kelsey impression, with the self-portrait. Enjoying the view from Wolf Pass, and eating some lunch. The snowfields behind can be glissaded on the way down.

The last leg to the summit. The views are excellent all along this ridge, with quite a bit of air on both sides.

I gained the summit in a little under 4 hours, at a very relaxed pace. There was a stiff wind at the top, so I didn’t stay long. The register is in what looks like an industrial strength mailbox a few feet under the summit. Bring your own pencil, what’s up there is no longer useable.

On the summit at 11,928 feet. Mona Lake to the left. Lone peak in the very far distance (with some snow), Box Elder to the right, and Timp to the far right.

360 degree pano from the summit. Mona Lake is in the middle. (click for high resolution)

The descent down took about 2 1/2 hours. There is a couple of places that yield to glissades, and cut off some nice chunks of walking. The most convenient one is the top of the Gibson Creek drainage, near the cut off for North Peak’s summit, and the trail from Wolf Pass. I’d roughly estimate it at 400-600 yards. Probably saved 20 minutes of walking, but it tore my seat up. This snowfield will probably hold snow for a few more weeks, at least. After that, just follow the trail back. I was on the trail by 7:15 a.m., and back in my car by 1:45.

The glissade of the year so far.

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