Goat got your Tongue? My Montana Wildlife Trek

By October 8, 2014Wildlife Blog
Sleepy Mountain Goat - Logan's Pass, Montana

Sleepy Mountain Goat – Logan Pass, Montana

While it didn’t last long, I was momentarily speechless when I saw a goat sleeping peacefully on the grassy mountain slope. Along with Mr. Sleepy was a kid and a larger goat (probably mom), also having a snooze about 30 feet away from the hiking path. This was the closest I had ever been to mountain goats and I was pretty darn excited. The chance of seeing goats up close was the reason I pushed myself to do the hike to Hidden Lake Lookout, despite being somewhat unprepared.

This was on the long weekend of September in 2014. I had a trip planned to visit family in Montana, and thought I would take this opportunity to drive one of the most beautiful mountain passes in the world: the Going to the Sun Road (the summit is Logan Pass). As usual, when I’m heading out of my typical territory, I’m thinking about what creatures can be found. Mountain goats popped into my mind. I had been on this stretch many times through out my life and remember seeing goats as a child, so I knew it was potentially a good spot.

A google seach for a term like ‘finding mountain goats logan pass’ brought me to a blog post by Ghost Bear Photography. This is exactly what I was looking for – specific information on where to find mountain goats at Logan Pass! Not only was this post very helpful in my quest, I’ve become a huge fan of the photographers/authors of this blog: Simon and Jill. I recommend following their blog and taking a look through their amazing images: Ghost Bear Photography.

Mountain Goat Kid - Logan's Pass, Montana

Mountain Goat Kid – Logan Pass, Montana

I reached the pass at about 8:30am and decided to start with the pull off with the metal walk way that the Ghost Bear blog recommends. I did see about 10 goats in the distance, but they were not much more than goat-shaped blobs, even zoomed in to my max 500mm. I was hoping to get closer, so I went to the hiking path that starts behind the Logan Pass visitor center.

I wasn’t planning on doing the whole hike, so I left my water and jacket in the car. I figured all I’d have to do was walk 30 feet up the path and there would be goat after goat lining up to have their photo taken in the picturesque mountain meadow. I should have known better. Thirty feet turned to 60, then 100, then a kilometer, then another kilometer – I kept thinking after the next rise I would find the goats, but all I could see was that same group of 10 blobs way off in the distance.

Mountain Goat - Logan's Pass, Montana

Mountain Goat – Logan Pass, Montana

The hike to the Hidden Lake lookout point is only 3.5 kilometers (7 or so round trip), but I wasn’t really dressed for the coolness of the higher elevation, and didn’t bother to bring water. So, I turned around and went back down, thinking I would give the metal path pull out another try. I had my lens fixed on a far off hoary marmot when a lady passed me and said something to the effect of, ‘there’s lots of marmots at the top and you should see the amazing shots I got of a mom goat and a kid!’

D’oh! Why am I always so unprepared for the elements? I continued heading down, thinking I’d suffer severe dehydration if I forced myself to push my physical boundaries  – and the mom and kid could have moved on already.

I had descended about another half of a kilometer or so when a man with a camera passed me, spotted my camera and large lens, and asked if I got some good shots of the goats at the top. ‘No, I didn’t make it all the way,’ I replied, ‘I wasn’t really prepared for a long hike.’ He continued down – I paused for a moment then headed back up. I could not  let my unpreparedness get in the way of the possibility of goats – they were, after all, my target species for the entire trip. And it’s not like I was climbing Everest without oxygen, I only had about 3 kilometers to go. Plus, there were tons of people on the trail – someone would surely spare some water or a jacket if my physical condition deteriorated!

Long-tailed Weasel - Logan Pass, Montana

Long-tailed Weasel – Logan Pass, Montana

I chose wisely. What a beautiful hike! As I got near the top, I caught a glimpse of a white ball of fluff – I rounded the corner and there was Mr. Sleepy, mom and a kid catching some zzzs. This alone made the trek worth it, but I continued along the path to a rocky slope where a male goat was munching on grass about 20 feet from the trail. As I was watching him, slight movement among the rocks made its way into my peripheral vision. I refocused my camera, zoomed in and there was a long-tailed weasel! I love weasels! I forgot about the goat momentarily and tried to follow the weasel as it scurried across the rocks. I didn’t get very close, but managed a long distance mid-jump shot that I was pretty happy about.

Hoary Marmot - Logan Pass, Montana

Hoary Marmot – Logan Pass, Montana

The Hoary marmots were everywhere, and a lot more tolerant than Alberta marmots. In fact, I had one basically walk right up to me. It was cool to be so close to a marmot, but the reason for his brazen-ness is not cool – he was likely looking for a handout. I watched a number of  marmots sunbath on the rocks and munch on the vegetation. I turned around to head back down and the lone male goat was making his way across the hiking path. I photographed him for a bit, then continued another 50 feet or so to find Mr. Sleepy, mom and the little one awake and grazing on the slope.

What a treat! I had a chance to photograph a new-to-my-lens species in great light in a beautiful mountain setting. My only complaint is many of the goats were sporting some significant hardware – large collars with big antennae sticking out of the back. However, tracking and studying wildlife in mountain parks is important to conservation efforts. I appreciate that so I really can’t complain.

Until next time, continue loving life and all things wild 🙂

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