Hiking in Utah
Adventures in Camping, Backpacking, Trail Running, and Canyoneering

Pika Cirque and Woolly Hole Basins
American Fork Canyon, Utah


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Trailhead and Map | Distance and Difficulty
Hiking Time | Trail Description | What to Bring

GPS Trailhead and Map

The Timpooneke Trailhead (N 40.25.885, W 111.38.365) is located about seven miles up American Fork Canyon following Highway 92. The trail begins on the south side of the parking lot. Be aware that the Great Western Trail (#151) crosses the Timpooneke trail right at the start, so be sure you are on the right trail. If you find the small ranger station and login area, then you know you are on the right path.

Timpooneke Campground, USGS Timpanogos Cave (UT). Click HERE to view the approximate starting coordinates and map.

Distance and Difficulty

About 5 miles over some strenuous terrain for a loop that will return you back to your starting point. You might encounter a lot of loose rock, scree, some exposure, and bushwhacking along the way. Because the hike will take you to seldom-traveled areas, I definitely do NOT suggest doing this alone. If you are injured, no one will find you along the way.

Hiking Time

About 6-9 hours one way depending on weather conditions and exploring.

Trail Description

Date: October 2006

"Hey, are you sure where you're going?" -- Duncan at bottom of picture entering Pika Cirque
Having considered this hike for months (and with winter looming), I called my friend, Duncan, to do this adventure together. I also thought it would be fun (and less intensive in summer heat) to try it in the snow.

We started at the trailhead sometime after 8:00 a.m., leaving the car in the empty parking lot, and headed up the trail in the brisk winter-like weather. Recent snow draped many of the trees, and the peaceful surroundings (without the throngs of people of the trail on a normal summer day) make it a pleasurable ascent. We stopped here and there to look for geocaches placed on long the way until we reach the point where we needed to leave the trail at N 40.24.675, W 111.38.975 ascend to what I call Pika Pass.

Avalanche chute
"Oh, where is an elevator when you need it?" -- Duncan ascending the chute to Pika Pass
Heading up west in this avalanche chute for the next .52 miles was one of the hardest part of the hike, not only due to the vertical we gained, but the somewhat slushy snow we had to trudge through to get to the top. It was slow going for me until Duncan saw my struggles and lent me one of his poles. In dry conditions, this climb shouldn't be too taxing as it was this day. I was hoping to see more wildlife, but the only thing that crossed our path today was a lone doe midway up this climb.

Things got warm due to the direct sun and our exertion, and I was considering removing another layer down to a t-shirt. However, with the end in sight near the top, I knew we would get a blast of cold air on the ridge, which proved to be true.

Once at the ridge, we were amazed at the magnitude of the whole view into Pika Cirque, but we initially surmised that entering into the cirque might be more than we expected in the present weather conditions. However, searching briefly revealed a way to make a steep, but safe descent along the upper part the bowl. However, because we both were unsure what lay ahead in getting from Pika Cirque down into Woolly Hole, we made sure that we could retreat out of Pika in case we couldn't make a safe descent into Woolly. After a brief energy food break, Duncan headed down first as I followed behind.

"Down the slope we go!" -- Footprints of our route down from Pika Pass
Perhaps the trickiest part of the hike was finding a route down into Woolly Hole. We first looked at two snow-covered gullies starting from the east lip, but they looked far too precarious in the snow. Both of us, being more conservative hikers and wanting to be sure to make it back for dinner, easily decided to against those routes. We were seriously considering returning back the same way we entered when we decided to give one more westerly gully a look. We had read about such an approach, but with the snow, we thought it might not be even a choice.

"Sit down and enjoy the slide" -- Entering the snowy chute to Woolly Hole Cirque Basin
At first glance at the chute (N 40.24.886, W 111.39.635), we were both concerned that although it look easier to descend, we could only tell that there appeared to be some drop beyond the trees near the bottom of the first section. Furthermore, if we descended to that point and saw no way to continue, we would have to make the ascent out of the gully back to Pika Pass. We saw some lonely deer tracks going down the gully, but just because a deer can do it gave us no more confidence we could do it too. Debating back and forth as to who would make the decision, I sat myself down and slid cautiously down the chute into the unknown. (With the snow cover, it was an enjoyable and easy descent, but I can only guess that the scree it covered might be a challenge in dry, hot conditions.)

"Man, what a view!" -- View of Woolly Hole Cirque Basin from the upper end.
I followed the natural depression down a couple hundred feet, gradually turning to the left to the north. However, I came to a 10-foot drop off that couldn't be descended safely without some gear. I retreated back up the hill to the east where I met Duncan coming down. At that point, we found a safe way get down the top area of Woolly Hole.

As we headed north, descending from the upper end, you quickly notice that you wouldn't want to be in the basin during an avalanche. Old tree trucks lay spewn all across the landscape, and it was hard to imagine what the area would look like in the summer. As we approached the lower end, there was a more wooded area to the east, which might make a nice place to camp, but we headed to the western rim to find an easier way to descend the basin.

We did some route finding and decided to descend into the lower basin at N 40.25.594, W 111.39.589 and did some serious bushwhacking for a .5 of a mile down to the western tip of the Timpooneke. There are several gullies you might be able to use to descend from Woolly Hole, but be prepared to fight some brush along the way. Once down, we followed the road east back to the Timpooneke trailhead parking lot.

Summary: This is a great hike well away from the crowds of the normal Timp hike, and it can be done in either direction. You can even turn this trip into a backpacking adventure, stopping over in either Woolly Hole or Pika Cirque for the night. Just keep in mind of the potential dangers of avalanches in the winter.

"Slippery sliding down the hill." -- Route taken from Pika Cirque down into Woolly Hole
What to Bring

Commonsense, a lot of water, and food for the day. Having trecking poles can be of great use on some of the rough terrain.

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