High Altitude Goats–or Escape from a Slippery Slope
In Glacier one summer solstice. I had 2 days to see the park before a conference in Kalispell, so I was doing 2 long trail runs a day into the more remote areas of the park. On the first day, in the southeast section, I hit Dawson Pass at around 10am and had planned to traverse around a mountain to Cut Bank and Pitamakan Passes into Dry Fork valley that would take me back to the car, but I couldn’t find the trail for all of the snow.
I started following what looked like a trail on a shelf, and what I thought were human footprints. Pretty quickly I realized that these were mountain goat* tracks and the shelf ended. I knew from the map that I was headed in the general direction so I kept going. As I rounded the next high alpine ridge two things happened, the slope got a lot steeper and I saw the maker of the footprints about 100 yards ahead of me—a very large, male goat that looked back at me as if to say, “this way, dummy.” Walking on hard pack snow with hiking boots on the flats is one thing, but running shoes and 50 degree slopes without ice axes is another thing entirely.
It seemed like I had made it through most of the really steep stuff, though, and the guy with 4 cloven hooves just kept moseying along with the occasional toss of the head to me to keep moving. Had I fallen, what was left of me, 4000 feet below, probably wouldn’t have been found for years, as no one knew where I was, and no one was expecting me anywhere for a couple of days (this sort of situation helps to focus the mind…….) But the goat was right, as I rounded another ridge, the pass was right up ahead. He wondered onto a grassy ledge above and watched me head down the valley. I nodded my thanks.
*Turns out the Mountain Goat isn’t a goat at all–but rather a relative of the asian antelope family. Truly a beautiful and unique species.