In spite of being the tallest peak in the Utah’s Wasatch Mountains at 11,928 ft, Mt Nebo remains less popular than other peaks. Why that is, I’m not entirely sure but it’s definitely one that should be on more people’s radar. At the southern edge of the Wasatch Range, Mt Nebo is markedly more arid and does require intermediate technical abilities and good fitness if you want to enjoy the hike.
How to get there
The route we chose was the north route and is accessed off the Nebo Scenic Byway. Roughly 24 miles from Payson you’ll find the Nebo Bench Trailhead. It offers ample parking and pit toilets but no water. You can start there for the south or north routes, but I’d recommend driving 0.3 mile on Mona Pole Rd that’s accessible at that trailhead. There is a second trailhead that can accommodate 10-15 cars and puts you right at the beginning of the trail.
The first 0,25 miles of the trail gives you just a taste of what you’re in for — steep pitches. But, that initial pitch alongside a barbed wire fence is surrounded by tall wildflowers and takes you into some beautiful aspen and pine glades for the first 2.7 miles. The last bit of that has you ascending a beautiful meadow that still had a trickle of snow melt and a couple of small patches of snow on July 21. Outside of those snow patches, there remained a bit of the cornices left once we got to the ridgeline, but don’t count on any water sources along the way.
Once atop the ridge, the approach to Mt Nebo really comes into view. It was there, below the flanks of North Peak that the steep pitches ahead started sinking in. After having nursed the slower group until just below the ridge, my plan was to put on the jets and make it to the top with the fast group.
Traversing below the North Peak, you will drop into Wolf Pass which offers great views and some flat spots for ambitious campers should you choose to spend the night up there. Keep an eye out for a herd of mountain goats as they are typically spotted wandering the eastern side of Mt Nebo. We saw 5 of them hanging out in the middle of a large snowfield.
From Wolf Pass, you can’t see the actual summit, but the approach to the false summit is daunting. We’re talking unyielding steep and rocky stuff that will zap your energy in a hurry. This portion of trail is a mixture of loose rocks and actual dirt trail until you approach the top. From there, the scrambling begins in earnest with the rest of the way being on a variety of “climber’s trails” that all take you to the summit.
Pick and choose your way through the rocks on the way up and take care not to cut your hands or legs on the razor-sharp rocks. I considered bringing gloves, but decided against it at the trailhead thinking I didn’t need that extra bulk. Oh how I wished I had them as I reached and held onto razor-sharp rock after razor-sharp rock on the way up. Looking at he summit, the most obvious approach is to climb the ridge until a rock band that veers left about 200 ft from the top. Taking that route proved a good choice with only a couple of sections of serious scrambling.
Once at the summit, the views were outstanding with a clear understanding of Nebo’s prominence to the west. Looking down onto I-15 and the small towns to the west, it really gives you a sense of the near 12,000 ft of elevation. Adventurous climbers will continue to the shorter South Peak and could even have hiked the North Peak on the way up, but we were just hitting the summit. I looked around for a marker or a register but found nothing on the actual summit.
On the descent, scrambling skills will come in handy as you’ll crawl your way down in places. What’s do-able on the way up can be downright sketchy on the way down. Luckily, I had great shoe grip and I was able to keep my hands from being gored by the sharp rocks. In all, the descent wasn’t too bad, but a pair of trekking poles might have helped soften the blow.
I’ve had much worse (think loose shale fields) descents from other peaks in the Wasatch, so my expectations were more extreme than the reality. Once to Wolf Pass, my thighs thanked me and the remainder of the hike out is quite enjoyable. I was able to grab a fistful of snow and melt it on my head and neck to cool things down. That said, we were lucky as the temperatures weren’t so hot and the breeze further cooled things off.
Total moving time was 4 hrs 32 min with a 6 hrs 20 min total elapsed time (yeah, took a few breaks). If you’re out for a quick adventure and you’re in stellar shape, you could easily nab it out-and-back in 5 hrs.
More Info: View Strava Log