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I Got Your Goat

Making friends with mountain goats in the mountains


For months, weekly calls to the Stanley Ranger Station were answered with "snow and the trails are closed up high."

Now that summer has arrived, I decided to bring my wife, Jan, to a trail I originally hiked in the late '70s. Back then it was a rarely used route following Warm Springs Creek, from Bull Trout Lake to the Bonneville Hot Springs. The trail is in better shape now and is regularly maintained. We planned on a three-day mid-week trip, hoping to have the trail to ourselves.

Wednesday morning we hit the road by 10 a.m. and reached the trail by afternoon. We weren't planning on doing the entire trail--just looking to stretch our legs, get the feel of the pack again, camp, read and otherwise enjoy.

Right out of the gate, the trail climbs past the Warm Springs airstrip and tops out high above the river canyon. I could tell that the effort was taking a toll on Jan, so we stopped to take a break at the top. The temps were cool, and we were hit by a few scattered raindrops. The forest was green and breathtakingly alive from the wet spring. I let Jan lead, and she moved along slowly but steadily.

After a couple of miles the trail led down to the river again where we found an elk camp with stumps for stools and a chain-sawn table. We decided not to pass up this luxury and took advantage of the primitive accommodations.

A small hot springs was at the water's edge and across the creek another seep's steam rose into the air. The night was clear, and we slept late into the next morning when the sun finally drove us from the tent.

After breakfast, I headed down to the river to rinse dishes, and movement caught my eye.

"Jan, come here quick!" I whispered.

Across the river was a mountain goat. He was looking at us, and we stood staring back. A few rocks rolled down and we scanned the hillside. More goats. We quietly slid behind a rock at the creek's edge and watched as six mountains goats came down the mountainside. It looked like two nannies with their babies--both fat and bright white--a yearling and a billy, who acted like the ringleader, his coat shabby and shedding its winter thickness.

For the next hour, we watched them nibble and graze around the hot spring seep. Finally sated, the group slowly walked back up the sheer canyon sides and disappeared from view.

As we walked out two days later, passing by the elk camp where we spent that first night, we relived our encounter with the goats. We drove home, watching the constant stream of holiday campers, knowing that this would be a hard trip to top.

Silva is the author of Get Lost!: Adventure Tours in the Owyhee Desert.