Of goats and men

Scotchman’s Peak is the tallest in the Idaho portion of the Cabinet Mountains, and yesterday I trekked up it for the first time ever, with my boyfriend Cole and his two daughters, Ada (age 15) and Lina (age 10). Note: their actual names have been changed for reasons that may soon become apparent.

It is blisteringly hot, and slow going due to the steepness of the trail. Only four miles up and four miles down, but not what you’d call easy. The girls provide entertainment, however, by informing us of their various hiking-induced woes, which range from being too hot to not being allowed to listen to their iPods. “I got a text!” Ada announces triumphantly. “I want a text!” says Lina. “Daddy, text me! Nobody ever texts me!”

In short order, their socks soaked in sweat, they both get blisters and resort to hiking in their socks or shuffling along with the heels of their tennis shoes turned down. “I’m pretty sure you could get arrested for child torture,” Lina tells Cole darkly. Cole makes her drink extra water and we take plenty of stops; Lina has a small pack full of candy and chocolate and organic beef jerky she’s been allowed to get at the store, and she doles these out to herself in the shade. I’m stoked on the stops and pick huckleberries from the surrounding bushes, shoving them into my mouth like I’m some kind of rare white spirit bear on the verge of extinction. Neither am I beneath wheedling candy from Lina.

hikingThree hours into the trip, we emerge into the shale fields and rocky outcroppings of the high alpine. We spot a mountain goat immediately. Ada and I think it’s cute until it starts to follow us, and then we scamper away after Cole and Lina. “Maybe it can smell the salt on our skin,” I say.

Cole says we shouldn’t be afraid of them. “Hikers come up here all the time,” he says “the goats know what we are.”

“Yeah,” I add “human salt blocks.”

It takes forever to reach the summit, another hour at least. We’re picking our way through shale and the sun is unrelenting. There’s a breeze, but I’m worried that my shoulders are frying. I left my sunscreen in the truck. Also, there are more mountain goats. We’re 50 feet below the summit, and one steps forward, right on the peak, and looks down on us. His chest is massive, and his white fur blows lush and gentle in the mountain air. His black horns curve up pointed, lethal, above his giant skull. “He’s huge!” says Cole “Look at him! He’s the real deal!”

“Dad,” says Lina “I am not going up there.” Ada and I agree: we sit down in the shade of a shrub, and get out our assorted treats. Cole advances upwards, skirting the goat slightly. He stops on the ridge, and turns to face the goat. Outlined against the blue sky, with cliffs a few feet on either side, we see a man and a goat sizing each other up. The goat’s head looks nearly level with Cole’s, or at least his horns end somewhere around Cole’s brain. The goat steps towards Cole. The three of us don’t like this, and start yelling helpful things at Cole:

“Dad! Get down from there! I’m serious!”

“Babe, if that thing butts you, he’ll knock you off the cliff! And you’ll die!”

“Dad, Dad, I’m serious! He’s an alpha male!”

“He’s fine,” says Cole “He’s just hot. Look at him. He’s curious.”

The alpha male apparently decides he’s going to check out this trio of screaming women, and starts taking the path downwards towards us. “Dad!” Lina yells “I don’t like this!”

“He’s just checking you out,” says Cole “Get up and go around him.”

goatLina jumps up and starts crying in fright: the goat is still coming. It’s substantially bigger than she is. I take her hand and lead her behind the shrub, telling her the goat can’t charge us that way and we’ll just go around the tree if he tries to get us. Ring around the rosie with an enormous horned animal, like a fun little game. But Lina is too scared for this game: she tries to run back down the trail, but I stop her and take her a different way, higher up, since I’m hoping the goat just wants to use the trail we’re on — or possibly investigate Ada’s shoes, abandoned in her own flight. But he starts heading towards us again instead. Lina is sobbing by this time: obviously the goat wants to get us. It lumbers along, panting in the heat, its expert hooves picking across the shale. “You’re scaring her!” Cole yells at me from the ridge. “Just go around him!”

“I’m helping her!” I yell back. “That’s what we’re doing!” I make Lina go back down towards the tree again, and then up the ridge towards her father, and Lina calms down. Of course, the goat comes back up again and stares at us, but after awhile he turns around and goes away. There are two more goats on the ridge, just hanging out in the breeze. But they are smaller and they stay where they are.

We take some photos on our iPhones and then we walk back down. I discover I’m getting a migraine, probably from dehydration, since I’ve been rationing my water and since my skin is dusky pink by this time. I charge down the trail, half-running, hoping to beat the migraine before my vision goes black, sucking water from my camel back, yanking berries from the bushes as I fly past for electrolytes. I only twist my ankle twice. In the truck, I wrap my eyes in a shirt and blast the AC on my skin. I fall asleep in this unlikely position, and then further cure my headache with ice water and salted steak.

Once my headache is cured, Cole tells me: “I’ve been called a goat before.”

“That makes sense,” I say “you’re stubborn, and you’re a Capricorn.”

3 thoughts on “Of goats and men

  1. I guess I won’t feel so bad that my husband’s not an outdoorsman. 🙂 But that looks like some beautiful scenery. I’m glad everything turned out okay.

      1. Your experience reminds me of the fear I felt while walking alone along Hadrian’s wall in Northern England back in 1988. I was walking along a lane one day when a famer let some sheep out and I felt like I was about to get trampled. They filled the entire lane, from the fence on one side to the fence on the other, and I quickly decided to jump one of the fences. But I imagine they’d have just gone around me — not knocked me down and walked over me.

        I was also really scared the first time I came face to face with a real cow. They’re so much bigger, including their faces and eyes, than they look from the distance on the highway. But totally peaceful — at least the ones I encountered on that trip. A woman at the hostel actually got chased by a bull, though, so I guess it pays to stay alert and careful.

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