Sunday, August 16, 2015

Swiftcurrent Lookout

Upward, past windblown trees, above treeline, into the clouds.  A land of boulders and screefields.  With limited visibility, I have no sense of how far I have left to get to the summit. 
There is just the cold.
How will I count mountain goats in these clouds and smoke?  I didn’t know, but Swiftcurrent Lookout is my survey site for Mountain Goat Days, an annual event for Glacier’s Citizen Science Program.  Volunteers around the park cover as many of the 37 goat survey sites over the weekend.

I brace against the wind, put raingear over my long underwear and down coat, and keep climbing.  How do mountain goats thrive on these steep, towering peaks in the middle of winter?  This is only August.

I am surprised to see someone inside the firetower.  The volunteer who mans the fire lookout takes pity on me when I tell him I am here for Mountain Goat Days.  He invites me inside, saying the weather will clear out at any moment.
Showing me how the firefinder is used to triangulate fires.
I listen as he checks in with the other firetowers up and down the continental divide.  I try to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible, but curiosity sometimes gets the better of me.  I flip through his books as a I wait, and listen to his stories, feeling very lucky to have met him.  A patch of blue sky appears only to close up the next moment. 

“Just keep waiting,” he says. 

So I wait.
Three hours later, he leaves to resupply in town after his 14 day stay at the tower.  He has been volunteering here for 7 or 8 years.  “The weather will lift at any minute,” he says as he departs, “Don’t give up on your survey.”
Waiting and watching.
I am alone on the top of the mountain in swirling clouds.  Fingers and toes succumb to the cold, growing numb as they do.  I wait another hour.
Cliff faces materialize out of the clouds. 
Being able to see forever from Swiftcurrent Lookout.  Everything is beautiful. I can count mountain goats.
How many mountain goats could be tucked away behind all these peaks and rocks?  How can I hope to see them?
On the way back down, it becomes impossible to imagine the cold of a few hours ago.  Change happens so quickly, it takes your breath away.
More information

Glacier National Park's Citizen Science Program
Swiftcurrent Lookout 


  1. Did your goat magnetism bring out the goats for you to count? Being in the clouds is spooky. Seeing clouds is exhilarating.

    1. I saw one mountain goat, way off on the side of a cliff. Love how they cling to impossible rocky mountain faces.