Tag Archive: Mountain goats

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  James Luther Davis’s “The Northwest Nature Guide” is already out of date after 6 years because he describes them as fleeting and hard to view, and doesn’t identify Ingalls as a place to see them.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.

Mountain goat and baby, Ingalls Pass, copyright Monica Van der Vieren

Remember, fellow hikers~ a fed goat is a dead goat. While these mountain goats and their eight compadres were highly entertaining, they had clearly been fed or allowed to lick people for the salt in sweat. Ignore them as they patrol for your lunch and let them avoid getting in trouble that will inevitably get them “removed” by the services.

So would the Forest Service be mad if I posted a giant sign at the trailhead saying, “A FED GOAT IS A DEAD GOAT”? There is a sign at the trailhead warning people about dangerous goats with their lethal pointy horns, but no sign posted saying why the goats have gotten so aggressive. That would be us, my friends. More on goats later.

We decided to try Lake Ingalls on a day with promise of views of Mt. Stuart. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen Stuart, and been up it on a clear day, but every time I’ve brought someone else, it’s been cloudy at the top. Not so today.

The parking lot was very full, but surprisingly, there were few people on the Lake Ingalls trail. Perhaps most were headed for Esmeralda Basin. The hike up was easy most of the way, crossing softening avalanche fans a couple miles up. There is a profusion of spring beauty flowers and some glacier lilies, meaning the real flower show is yet to come. It was a perfect day temperature wise, with a light wind to keep us cool.

Past the intersection with Longs Pass, the trail cuts into a basin that was snow covered for the most part. We picked our way up and stopped for views, only to have a goat leap past us and then circle around to a rocky outcrop. Two guys had just come down over the rocks, and three folks were on their way up, so we figured they had spooked the goat.

Then we got up to the camp area below the pass and there was an adolescent goat checking out four unoccupied tents. Another adult was wandering the snowfields. We proceeded up to the pass on snow to the area where people like to picnic and decided to stop and enjoy the highly unusual solitude and lovely views of Mt. Stuart and the basin.

Drop that granola bar!Suddenly, we saw a herd of 10 goats start up from Headlight Basin toward our locale. We were thrilled as they formed a line and ascended the slopes – and surprised as they came over the rocks toward us- and then we were scrambling to pick up our lunch as they streamed over the ridge right past us, pinning us to the edge. Two woolly babies bleated in protest throughout the promenade past us, but their mothers looked pretty determined to make us drop our granola bars.

Yes, they're cute, but their mamas have giant horns.

Yes, they’re cute, but their mamas have giant horns.

The goats made patrols and passes for over an hour, sometimes hovering on the rocks above. Clearly, they associate people with food. I have never seen this behavior, but after reading the warning from the Park Service about NOT LETTING THE GOATS LICK PEOPLE’S HANDS AND ARMS at Mt. Ellinor, I figured these goats had been corrupted like the red foxes at Mt. Rainier that get too many balogna sandwiches and then get smashed on the road hanging out for more handouts. We ignored the goats and they eventually dispersed, leaving us to rest in the sun and enjoy a light nap until- BAAA! There was a goat baby and mom right above us. Yikes. We watched some scramblers coming down the gully between South and North Ingalls peaks and finally shook ourselves out of our pleasant little spot, which not another person had visited in over two hours.

 So Ingalls Pass  is an excellent place to see mountains and  mountain goats, but please please please don’t feed them or let them lick your arms. Wildlife always pays the price for human indulgence in the end.