At the trailhead, I didn't even pause at the “caution grizzly bears… don’t hike alone” sign. I’ve gotten some internet advice from a bad-ass hiker who did many solo miles in grizzly country, and I’m feeling tough. My bear spray feels less awkward at my hip, and my “hey bear” shouts up the empty trail are confident.
I’m in my element. Lungs full of the sweet scent of the dense cedar forest. After a month in Montana, I already I know the names of all the blooming wildflowers: the nine-leaved desert parsley, utah honeysuckle, calypso orchids, and glacier lilies. Montana is feeling more like home.
“Seeking backpacking companion for two day trips in northwestern Montana. Must be an early riser. Must like plants or be able to tolerate excessive oooing and ahhing over wildflowers/ big trees. Must like bushwhacking and exploring, and value solitude and wilderness. Introverts preferred, but extroverts that don’t talk nonstop OK. 15-25 miles a day at a 2-3 mph pace, with snack breaks ever two hours, but willing to compromise on pace and mileage if you have a high clearance vehicle to get us to trailheads down FS roads.”
A girl can dream, right? Of course I would never post that! Sheesh it’s not like I’m desperate! I can hike solo just fine. I can handle anything!
When the trail climbs up into the snow, I slip into my microspikes. Lake McDonald, where I started, is so far below, I can hardly believe I just started down there. I feel like I could climb forever.
|Lake McDonald, far below.|
|What are you looking at, Mountain Goat?|
I let them go past me and I follow close behind. The woman gives a few authoritative shouts, and the goat scampers off. The couple goes ahead of me and I fall behind, taking photos and taking my time as the trail gets steeper and steeper in the deep snow.
|Views into Glacier.|
|Fewer tracks up here.|
Stay back, I yell. But he doesn’t.
Rocks are not easy to find in deep snow. I locate a bare spot in a tree well, and fill my pockets with as many rocks as I can find. When he gets closer, I start throwing them. I don't aim at him, of course, but close enough. He finally gets the message, and scampers uphill, as I pass below him and then continue on down the trail, looking over my shoulder ever few minutes.
I hurry down the trail. I can see how his mountain goat footprints followed my own. Why was this mountain goat following me?
I get down past the snow, into the cedar forest, into the land of wildflowers. Yay plants! Plants don’t follow you, you don’t need to carry bear spray because of them, you don’t have to throw rocks at them. I love plants!
When I get back to cell phone range, I ask on facebook about mountain goat behavior, and another hiker tells me that goats sometimes follow hikers looking for salt. They will leave you alone if you go pee.
When I talk to my neighbor about it the next day, she thinks that mountain goat was trying to give me a message. She believes things like that about animals. But what do mountain goats have to say?
Perhaps, "Let’s go for a hike! We'd make a great team- you supply the salt and I'll not talk your ear off. I like plants too..."
For more about Glacier's habituated mountain goats, see this video.
|Are you potentially dangerous, Mr. Mountain Goat?|