Feeling like an old goat

A mountain goat stands high on the cliff walls along the Palisades Creek Trail during the spring of 2017. There were goats in the same area on Saturday, but the absent-minded columnist left his camera behind. (Jerry Painter photo)

I dug through my pack Saturday looking for my camera — I knew it was in there — but couldn’t find it. There was a mountain goat sitting high on a ledge watching the hikers go by along the Palisades Creek Trail. I found my camera later that day in a bag I’d packed but left behind. Oh well.

Mountain goats can often be seen along the rocky cliffs before you arrive at the Lower Palisades Lake. They remind me of grumpy old bearded men with smallish horns.

This is the time of year when they begin to shed their winter coats. I remember once hiking to the top of Mount Baird — a peak a few miles south of Palisades Creek in the same range — and seeing tufts of white mountain goat hair clinging to the bushes at the summit.

My method of spotting mountain goats along the cliffs is simple: Look for spots of white. This time of year, the patches of snow are generally above 8,000 feet, the goats will be much lower. If you see spots of white along the cliffs, it’s probably goats. If the spots of white are moving around, you know they are goats.

After seeing a few goats far above the trail, I wished I’d packed binoculars. After we reached the Lower Lake, about 4 miles from the trailhead parking lot, we wished again for binoculars. I heard the telltale sign of an eagle, and after pausing and searching the far side of the lake, we saw high above the lake on the southeast side, a huge nest resting on top of a fir tree. Sitting in the nest was a bald eagle. My wife Julie and I hiked off the trail and sat on a log eating snacks and drinking while we watched the nest.

“I think it’s complaining that its mate is taking its time to return. Must have babies to tend to,” I said.

“What if something happened to its mate?” Julie said.

“I think it’s just a wife complaining that the husband is staying out too long,” I said.

On the hike back we spotted wildlife that is easier to see without binoculars: A 2-foot-long garter snake that slithered across the trail. It was in a hurry to be gone. Seeing snakes is a sure sign of warmer weather.

Of course the critter we saw most was other people who were out in force enjoying this stellar trail.

The creek is in full spring runoff, roaring down the canyon and flooding a few sections of trail. It would be nearly impossible to cross without the several bridges along the way.

Other nearby trails worth checking out include Little Elk Creek, Sheep Creek Peak trail, Big Elk Creek, Indian Creek and the side trail (route) from Little Elk Creek to Mount Baird. Expect snow on top of Mount Baird — it tops out at 10,000 feet. If you don’t mind the snow, Mount Baldy is also a challenging hike. I like to take the route up the ridge starting from near the Palisades Creek trailhead parking lot.

I have seen more than a dozen mountain goats on the slopes of Mount Baldy. Don’t forget your camera.

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A worthy fun-run event coming up June 23 is the Targhee Hill Climb — Wrun for Wray. This 3-mile run starts at the Dreamcatcher chairlift at Grand Targhee Resort and climbs to the top of Fred’s Mountain. Competitors can ride the chairlift back down after the race.

Cost is $30 online and $40 the day of. Proceeds benefit the Wray Landon Legacy Fund. To register, go to https://wrunforwray.athlete360.com/. For more information about the race, go to https://bit.ly/2IJceZ5.