At 76 years old, Ben Woolsey plans to hike Mount Timpanogos for the thousandth time this summer.
Currently known as “that guy,” Woolsey has 45 more treks to go until he reaches his goal of one thousand. However, when first starting out, Woolsey started off small. At the age of 50, he had completed 190 hikes up to the top. After retiring from the post office at age 62, he wondered how many he could do in one year. His goal was 50, which he met, and then decided to continue making yearly goals after that. When he turned 72, his goal was 72 hikes. When he turned 73, his goal was 73 hikes. Now, in the last few years of his 70s, he’s completed about 330 hikes.
His Timp travels haven’t always been completely smooth. After some hip complications and a torn meniscus in 2010 that resulted in surgery, doctors told him that he would probably never hike recreationally like that again. He proved them wrong in every way.
“Hiking saved my life,” Woolsey says. On one of his treks up the mountain, he ran into a man who turned out to be a doctor and the man told Ben that he might have a cancerous mole that needed to be checked out. Woolsey attributes getting it removed to hiking, saying he never would have known about the problem if it hadn’t been for that day on that trail.
When asked what Woolsey’s motivation is, he says, “don’t sit in a rocking chair when you retire. Find some kind of hobby to keep you busy.” He explains that hiking makes him feel good, and he couldn’t be mad at anyone while he is on the mountain.
Anyone who has been to the top of Timp has seen the little shelter housing a logbook that finishers can sign after they have accomplished the peak. Since 1991, Woolsey has kept track of the completed logs. He took this up because sometimes the books got ruined by rain, got burned by travelers, or just disappeared, and he wanted to have a safe place for them. Woolsey currently keeps the books at his home, and while he’s open to sharing them, has only ever been contacted once by someone to see if their name was in it.
Most of his hikes he only carries a sandwich, which he rarely ever eats, a few granola bars, some berries if he can get them, and maybe a banana. These supplies last him about eight hours, which is plenty, because his fastest round trip time is only three hours and 19 minutes; a fraction of the time it takes most people. It makes for a perfect combo when he does double hikes. In 2016 Woolsey did 10 double hikes to the top, accomplishing 27 hikes in 17 days. Now, he usually does about 16-17 double hikes a year. Ben also brings a ton of water, and leaves it at different mile markers to use for the next day. Part of his reputation as “that guy” comes from the fact that he always carries extra supplies for other hikers he finds on the trail: flashlights for those he knows won’t make it down by dark, extra water, first aid supplies, and always extra granola bars.
Woolsey even has some advice for beginning hikers: “Find someone you can go with who has been there before. Don’t be afraid of the last mile up the saddle. Everyone thinks that’s the worst and scariest spot, but actually, what you just climbed to get there was even worse. Be positive! Put your foot here, and then there, lean against the hill, and embrace yourself. It’s in your mind.”
In addition, for those who have never hiked the Timpooneke trail, Woolsey says, “If you can’t talk, you’re hiking too fast. If you can sing, you’re hiking too slow. If you can talk to your friends hiking around you, then you’re going the right speed.”
Woolsey usually starts hiking the end of July, and continues on to the fall. He likes to be on the trail around 4 a.m., starting his day the way he wants to, and avoiding crowds. Keep an eye open for this Timpanogos Lorax the next time you plant your boots on the mountain.
(Update: As of October 2nd, Woolsey has absolutely beaten this goal- story was realized early summer time in the University of Utah summer handout, is just now being released online)