After dark, downtown Mapleton sleeps. Not a soul is about and only the rustling of the trees and the distant whistle of a train heading toward the canyon can be heard. And yet there is a great presence, looming large—not threatening, but reassuring—above the town; a barely discernable silhouette blacker even than the dark sky during a new moon, and large enough to cast a shadow over the entire town on a moonlit night. It is the mountain.
Maple Mountain is the pride of Mapleton. Spanish explorers, who visited the valley half a century before the Mormons arrived, called it Sierra Bonita—"Mountain Beautiful." Folks from Springville like to think it's their mountain, too, while people in Spanish Fork call it Spanish Fork Peak. They have even managed to get that name put on many maps, upsetting many folks from Mapleton while others simply smile and say, "Well, we all know what the true name is." Maple Mountain's beauty is in its simplicity. It has no stark treeline or rocky crags, but is green and forested all the way to the peak. At 10,192 feet, Maple Mountain is not the highest peak around. Mt. Timpanogas, twenty miles to the north, has it beat by 1,558 feet and Mt. Nebo, twenty miles to the south is 1,685 feet higher; but where it lacks height, Maple Mountain makes up for it with beauty. My Dad says it's one of the best examples of fractil geometry in a mountain in the world. Indeed, its ridges are like a series of pyramids—some large, some small—piled side by side to form a nearly perfect symmetrical mass. Reflecting on the mountain's beauty, my grandmother Berniece Johnson Everett, who lived her entire life in Mapleton, once wrote:
"Everyone who has ever lived in Mapleton has fallen in love with the big, beautiful Mapleton Mountain. Citizens who have moved and lived in other parts of the country for many years say they still get homesick for our big, beautiful Maple Mountain. It is spread out in such a symmetrical form that those of us that live at its base have a perfect view of the changes with each season of the year. It is fascinating to watch in the springtime as the snow slowly recedes to upper elevations and the green from the foothills gradually follows all the way to the top. Beautiful autumn leaves in the fall sometimes make us wish it would stay like that forever, but there's nothing more majestic and beautiful than seeing the mountain on a cold winter day when the snow is deep and the pine trees are completely covered with frost, just before the sun goes down it often turns the upper half of the mountain to a deep, rosy pink."[i]
There is something about the mountain that stays with you— like the moral of a story. To look at it gives one a feeling of constancy. You may go away, but the mountain will always be there when you return. The mountain bespeaks security, reliability, integrity, and certitude. It is solid and immovable.
Perhaps because of its near-perfect symmetry, the top of the mountain appears closer than it actually is; many have underestimated it's height and steepness. I am told that the pyramids in Egypt are also deceptively large. At first glance, portly tourists fancy that they will just trot up to the apex, snap some photos, then jog down again to the gift shop, but upon reaching what looks like the half way point—though it is actually only a quarter of the way—they find themselves looking for a shady spot to rest and, not finding one, collapse, panting and figuring that they probably have just as good a view from that very spot.
A similar experience has happened to many hikers, including myself, who thought they could easily reach the top of Maple Mountain in a couple of hours without even getting winded. A few years ago, when my family was visiting our Grandpa Everett, my Dad took my little brother and three of his friends and me on an overnight hike. We planned to climb at least to the saddle, which afforded a view of the valley, if not to the highest peak. It was a nostalgic trip for my Dad, who hadn't climbed the mountain in thirty years. He pointed out many features, identified plants, predicted where the trail went, and was the first to spot the one deer we saw. Several times along the way, he stopped and gazed about, as if looking thirty years into the past, remembering how much easier it had been for a boy of eighteen to tackle the mountain. I had hiked it once before—when I was eighteen as a matter of fact—and had forgotten what a trek it was. I kept announcing that the lake was just around the corner and Dad kept saying, "No, we've got a ways to go yet." When we finally did reach the lake, which is actually a large pond in a clearing below the saddle, we saw that we had nearly an hour of hiking to go before we could even see the valley—let alone reach the peak. Exhausted, the six of us decided to call it a day and set up camp there by the lake.
Dad and I managed to set up my two-man tent before it got dark; the boys hadn't brought a tent, choosing to sleep under the stars. They paid for their lack of preparedness when a storm rolled in during the night and dumped torrents of rain on us followed by a fog so thick that when the boys shined their flashlight, it didn't spotlight anything, but diffused its light in all directions so that it looked like aliens had landed. The boys were shivering and exclaiming things like, "Oh, my heck! My back's soaked!" And, "Well, I'm laying in two inches of water!" Dad and I were at a loss for what to do, but finally we all agreed that the only way to save the boys from hypothermia was to invite them into our little tent. Try and imagine four boys stacked like Lincoln Logs over my Dad and me—when one moved, we all ended up getting jabbed and after about an hour of shifting, changing positions, and giggling, we finally fell asleep. I had somebody's feet on my chest, a head on my stomach, and another resting on my shins. At least we were warm.
During the night we heard some loud thumping like the heavy footfalls of some animal. Dad said it sounded like a moose or an elk, but the next morning we found a bear track—an usual sight these days in Utah, but that track was perfectly imprinted in the mud on the pond's shore—there was no mistaking it. After breakfast, we were anxious to get home. Boy, were we glad to see Grandpa waiting for us at the bottom of the trail. We had told him to not bother coming—that we'd just hike on down the canyon and on home. But Grandpa is a worrier. Around one he got to wondering when we were going to show up, so he hopped in his truck and drove as far as he could up Maple Canyon. When he got out, he saw a couple of girls who had just come down from the trail and asked if they had seen six guys coming down. They said they sure had and that we were up soaking our feet in the creek. Grandpa laughed and walked the 100 meters up to greet us. I don't think I have ever been so happy to see Grandpa; and Grandpa has never tired of telling the story.
Another group of young hikers, among whom was my grandmother's sister Lois, also thought they could easily handle Maple Mountain's steep climb. After an exhausting climb up, they reached the top and looked down and marveled at the view of the great valley below. My Grandma wrote:
"They were able to pick out certain landmarks, the church, the school, their homes and highways . . . . Looking down at Mapleton from their lofty perch, it seemed that their homes were a hop, skip and a jump away. Although one or two objected, it was decided to come down the face. It soon became painfully evident to them why people use the long trail at the back of the mountain. The ridges were so steep they couldn't keep their feet under them and the ravines were so full of brush and trees it was almost impossible to get through. They came to cliffs where they had to help one another down, or climb back up and find another way. It was long after dark when they finally made it to the foothills, where anxious parents were waiting. It was a pitiful sight of dirty kids, with torn clothes, scratches all over, blisters on their feet and tear-stained faces."[ii]
This experience didn't end the love those kids had for Maple Mountain, but caused them to respect it more and to never again underestimate it.
Many of the newer residents living beneath Maple Mountain don't know that every ridge and hollow on the mountain has a name. If anyone ever knew a place like the back of his hand, my Grandpa Everett knew this one. I once asked him the names of those hollows and he was more than happy to tell me.
"See that last high ridge?" he asked, pointing at the extreme right side of the mountain.
"This side—that hollow there—that's Ramrod." Moving his arm a little to the left, he said, "And this next little hollow is Coyote. And then that big hollow—that's Crowd and then the next one over is Big Slide and the next one over is Middle Slide and then next one over is Little Slide."
The ridges bear some of the same names as the hollows. From left to right to left they are Ramrod, Coyote, Crowd, Brunt, and Sunday. The highest point is called Monument Peak and the lower peak to the left is called Needle Peak.[iii] Grandpa has tracked and shot deer and elk and carried them on horseback up and down every one of those ridges and hollows. He didn't climb the mountain much unless he was hunting, but he did have Grandma up there once on horseback. They went clear up to the saddle and looked down over the valley.
From the top of the mountain, Mapleton is virtually invisible at night. Ninety-five percent of Mapleton is residential and in spite of recent growth, Mapleton still doesn't have a single traffic light, and only a handful of stop signs. When Grandma and Grandpa looked down from the saddle atop Maple Mountain, they would have easily been able to count all of the houses in Mapleton and name most of the families who lived in them. Today, there are too many houses to count, yet Mapleton still has retained much of its small-town feel. I have always considered Mapleton my hometown, even though it was my Dad and Grandpa, not me, who grew up here. Now in my thirties, I have realized a dream in purchasing a home here. There is no more peaceful feeling than to stand in my back yard under a brilliant starry sky with my hair blowing in the cool canyon breeze as I gaze up at my favorite mountain in the moonlight.
[i]. Berniece Johnson Everett, quoted by Everett Predmore at the funeral services for Berniece, February 23, 1990.
[ii]. Berniece J. Everett, "Maple Mountain Stories," Springville Herald, July 20, 1988.
[iii]. Everett, "Maple Mountain Stories."