Mountain Goat Encounters on Mount Ellinor
This weekend’s adventure involved mountain goats, lakeside camping, and a sky full of stars. But that is a terrible beginning filled with only spoilers and no story. Rewind. It began like all of my trips, two backpacks to cover both day-trips and overnight hiking, a car ride filled with audiobooks, getting lost and arriving well later than I anticipated… But what truly made this hike unique was the company along the way. I was startled awake by a rare nightmare at four in the morning and finding that I could not fall back to sleep, I decided to get a headstart on my hike up Mount Ellinor. All was going well until I cleared the trees and entered into an expansive meadow. Here, I met my first company, a very large mountain goat who had decided to take up residence in the middle of the trail.
An important note: mountain goats are not small, cuddly creatures and while they generally leave people alone, there have been instances in the past few years where hikers have been gored and bled out from goats gone wild. To better prepare myself I’d spent much of the previous day researching how to deal with goat encounters and thoroughly terrified myself in the process. Mostly, I was nervous about how Nym would react. Would she bark and be aggressive? Would she try to run away? Would the goat see her as a threat and become aggressive?
So, I waited for the goat to leave. It was a difficult wait, I sipped hot chocolate while watching the sun rise over rolling hills with Mount Rainier, Adams, and St. Helen’s in the backdrop. When at last the goat finished grazing and moved further up the mountain, she had decided to keep to the human trail. This sparked a two hour series of peek-a-boo. I would slowly approach the next turn in the trail with no visibility of what lay ahead and just when I thought the coast was clear she would pop her head up and give me a very significant stare.
It made for slow progress but built the anticipation of the top up just that much more. There were instances when if she had decided to get aggressive, I would’ve had no where to go. There were times when I thought, “I can see enough of a view from here, maybe I should just head back down.” But as always, my muleheaded desire to cross another summit off my list prevailed.
When I finally arrived near the top, the goat’s intentions became clear: she was a nanny goat and had a baby at the top that she was determined to keep protected from Nym and I. AWE! By this time a couple who had started well after me had caught up, and we approached the summit together with the security that can only be afforded by power in numbers.
The 360 degree views of the Olympics, several of the before mentioned volcanic mountains, and winding rivers and lakes were a fantastic payoff to a long morning. The transcending power of a mother’s love had humanized the goats for me and made the previous day’s gore stories lose a bit of their horns. We were surrounded by goats on all sides but they seemed much more interested in standing precariously on ledges than attacking a bunch of boring humans.
As for Nym, she was much more interested in playing with the chipmunks at the summit than with the goats. She wouldn’t let them show her up for most photogenic of the day (I think she thinks she’s part mountain goat).
Further trip tips:
Girl’s Cafe near Hoodsport is delicious. It makes a great pitstop on your way back down from Mount Ellinor if you take the route by Lake Cushman. Pros: They were nice enough to make me an omelet even though their breakfast hours had ended a half hour before I arrived. They had ice cream, which Nym thought was quite tasty and a great treat for a hot day. Con: Their coffee does not come with endless refills making the magical bottomless diner mug lose some of its appeal.
If you want to make a weekend out of this trip since it is a long drive from most cities in Washington, camp at Lena Lake one of the nights. It is an easy 6 mile round-trip stroll through a very lovely wooded forest. Though it is a very popular hike and busy, there is plenty of room to camp and enough area to spread out. We had our own private beach, so Nym was able to get some fetch accomplished. There is also a campground at the trailhead if you’d rather not carry an overnight pack into the lake. The view of the night sky over the lake is well worth the effort though! I woke up at midnight and spent a good hour watching for shooting stars.
Have you ever had an interesting mountain goat experience? I’d love to hear about it!