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Hunting Goats in the High Country

August 25, 2014

 Summer is waning and that’s ok with me. I’ve spent ample time on the trail, ridden many miles in beautiful places, and spent more hours on the water than I can count. My brain is longing for cyclocross and snowboarding and cozy scarves and Frye boots and a good excuse to generally hunker down a bit.

But being ready for fall doesn’t mean letting summer go down without a fight.

Still left on my to-do list for the summer (along with a paddle on Leadville’s high and mighty Turqouoise Lake) was a quick trip up to Mt Evans to photograph the mountain goats that tend to hang out near the summit. With the road closing in a few weeks (yes, I took the easy route to the top, having already hiked Mt. Evans several years ago) I knew I’d have to act fast if I wanted to get this one in before the snow started to fly. So when I found myself caught up on work and with some child-free time on my hands on Monday morning I knew that it was now or never.

14,240 foot Mount Evans is home to the highest paved road in North America. The narrow and winding path is not for nervous passengers or the faint of heart but it’s a great way to get a taste of what it feels like to be way, way above treeline. Driving to the top of a mountain is certainly not as much fun as getting their under your own power but it’s still not a bad way to spend a morning, especially if you’re like me and have a thing for mountain goats and the tendency to lug around a heavy camera.I

I hit the road at the base of the mountain just as the sun was coming over the nearby peaks, sending searing rays of sunlight deep into my retinas. The glare from the sun coupled with the icy patches on the road (in August!) made the drive feel a little more treacherous than it should have on this quiet weekday morning but once I neared the top it was clear that it was worth it. These things always are, aren’t they?

I found this group of goats hanging out just below the summit. I’d guess that there was around twenty of them and they paid absolutely no attention to the crazy lady with the camera. They just did their thing. They milled around, munched on the sparse vegetation at 14,000 feet, scratched their butts on rocks, and balanced precariously on the ledges above my head. There were baby goats and big goats and goats still shedding their heavy winter coats and I could have watched them all damn day.

To say that I have a thing for mountain goats would be an understatement. I love that, while they look cute and cuddly, they make their home in an incredibly hostile environment. They live in places with very little food, water, or oxygen and they confidently hang out on the side of cliffs like they couldn’t possibly fall. They look small and sweet but under that soft exterior they are bona fide badasses. I like to think that the mountain goat is my spirit animal. Or that it could be.

When the dark clouds started rolling in and my fingers were sufficiently frozen I headed back to town where I warmed up over a cup of coffee and the thought that I was still squeezing every last drop of awesomeness out of summer.

Winter is coming and my inner mountain goat is ready.