The sign said

The sign said “Camp” but what it really meant was “Goat Camp”.

When I die, I plan on returning as a trail sprite.  When I hear hikers and backpackers having conversations about becoming a licensed engineer, the trials of office politics, or bad relationships, I will sprinkle people with amnesia dust, or cast a spell so that they can’t speak, and only hear the sound of wind brushing through pine trees, birds, drumming of woodpeckers, water, and the scratching of chipmunk nails on bark. I went on this hike to only the sounds of nature, and walked out a trail becoming crowded with weekend traffic to the sound of busy people like me just not letting it all go.

With a rare midweek break, I spent a couple nights under the spell of mountain goats at Lake Ingalls in the Teanaway region of the Cascades. I posted about the goats at Ingalls Pass a couple years back, and found they are just as pervasive as they were then.  A conversation with a passing (likely retired) long-time hiking couple confirmed my impression that the advent of fearless goats at Ingalls is a recent thing.  James Luther Davis’s “The Northwest Nature Guide” is already out of date after 6 years because he describes them as fleeting and hard to view, and doesn’t identify Ingalls as a place to see them.

A veritable gang of goats at my (their) campsite

A veritable gang of goats at my (their) campsite

From my short backpack,  I have about 300 pictures of goats, and learned a lot about goat heirarchy in a herd by the time I left.  I was chased away from a pee stop twice by goats that could hear me depositing a source of salt on dirt or rock, and 12-20 roamed through my campsite whenever I appeared.  I quickly realized that shooing them away was futile, and that they were patrolling, not confronting. Trained opportunists, not wild assassins.

We developed a sort of working relationship.  This was clearly their turf. The goats had a worn circle around the tent site and eating area, and they nabbed the best dinner spot on a big flat rock for goat repose. They walked that circle meticulously, alert to what I was doing but relaxed and impassive.  I could tell they were eyeing my gear, but only a couple adolescents looked directly at it, then ran away when I rattled my poles together. One lovely camping couple said they had to guard each other during bathroom breaks because they kept hearing the clatter of hooves on rocks the minute they tried to pee.

I kept a grizzly-clean camp and took my food with me when I day hiked.  Voila, no goat or rodent raids.  A hard sided food container might also be helpful, and I saw one campsite with food hung in a tree.

I haven’t been to Lake Ingalls in snow free condition in 20 years (usually I camp on snow and snow scramble), so I don’t remember the trail at all.  The last time I was there in summer, you could camp at the lake. The final approach to the lake seems different, more of a scramble than I remember.  People were missing the easy way to the first cairn because the trail looks like it continues, then ends and if you look up, there is the cairn.  I saw a couple folks who were going straight from cairn to cairn instead of winding around on the fragments of trail (easy to do coming up- the trail is more visible looking down than up). One woman was distinctly nervous and her partner didn’t look too confident in the route. On the way out, I talked to two women, one of whom remembered the final approach as “chaotic”.

“Watch for the rock that- pardon me- looks like a monkey’s butt, with two rounded protrusions at the top,” I told them. “You’ll see dusty footprints on the ledge to the left of that rock. Head for the first cairn that way, and look for fragments of trail on the way up.”

These are crazy directions for such a popular trail.

I spent Thursday wandering the basin and scrambling around the lake. Wildflowers in the seeps and wet areas were still pretty, with exotic colored paintbrush, some lupine, and a white umbel (haven’t found it yet).  Hummingbirds buzzed my pink headwrap. In one area along Ingalls Way, I saw mountain bluebirds hovering above the greenery, flapping their wings like harriers do, then plunging. A marmot lay stretched out on a rock below, listening and watchful.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Wednesday night, the winds started up.  Lying in my sleeping bag, I felt like a witness to the gods bowling with wind gusts that screamed past the face of the Stuart Range, rattling and shaking the tent. The winds died a bit at dawn, but Thursday morning arrived cool and breezy, especially at the lake.  Washington has been historically hot and dry, so I enjoyed the weather, especially with adequate clothing to stay comfortable.

What I do remember well are the wonderful scramble rocks around the lake- nicely graded orangey slabs with friction, cracks, and occasional splashes of shiny green serpentine type coating. I do remember the routes to North and South Ingalls peaks, and the way up them, but I didn’t do that- just scrambled and then lounged like a goat on a warm slab in the cool breeze.


Friday morning was windless and warmer- and then the mosquitoes appeared. Not too many, but I’m a bug magnet, so I was glad to be leaving.

But I’ll miss my campsite goats, though they are not as wild and fleeting as they should be.   They made an impression on me even in a couple days. There was Short Horn Mom, with one stunted horn and a small baby she seemed reluctant to nurse (it pooped one morning, so it’s getting something for food). The big, robust male had a scratch down his face from fighting, and pushed other goats around (but not babies, interestingly).  The teenagers were more brash toward older goats and me, but were nimble enough to get out of the way when they pushed their limits.  All were following people around waiting for that inevitable deposition of salt.