In July 2003, my friend John and I went on a an overnight trip to Spray Park, a flowery alpine area on the northwest flank of Mount Rainier. We went for the wildflowers, the glaciers and the beautiful landscape. Little did I know it would bring me face to face with mortal danger!
The hike in was wonderful. Clear skies and pleasant temperatures made the strenuous ascent a little easier. We passed up through the treeline, past waterfalls and alpine glory.
Eventually, we broke through the trees and found ourselves on the glaciated flanks of Mount Rainier. We were lucky to find a perfect campsite adjoining the glacier. We had a clear, flat area and access to water. We spent the evening shooting photos, playing songs on our kalimbas and watching the golden hour of sunset pass over the top of the world.
The night went by without incident, but John was taken ill. He caught some kind of nasty cold. The next morning, he put down some coffee and biscuits but informed me had no energy to continue up the mountain. There was a plaque at the top of Observation Rock (the rock jutting up on the right in the above photo). The exact elevation at that point is 8,364 feet and I thought it would be a cool idea to climb up there and see if my fancy new altimeter wristwatch was really accurate.
I would have to do it alone.
My plan was to head straight out of camp, then hug the glaciated area along the base of Echo Rock. I would then follow the gently rising slope in the upper center of this photo to Observation Rock. I wanted to hug Echo Rock because the ascent was easier and the shadowed area had firmer snow on it. Up I went.
Once I got to the shadowed area at the base of Echo Rock, they appeared…
A herd of mountain goats appeared over the scree above Observation Rock and headed right toward me! The digital zoom on my lousy camera could not do justice to the apprehensive atmosphere they created. They were marching right toward me!
Like most city folk, I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for dealing with mountain goats in the wild. Do you run? Do you puff out your chest and make noise? Do you climb a tree? What? I had no idea. So I just kept my mouth shut and hoped they’d walk past me. They didn’t.
They crossed the glacier and moved just above me. Here you can see the Alpha Goat regarding me with disdain. It was at this point things got really weird. The Alpha Goat bellowed to his flock: “Follow me! We will destroy this intruder!”
And so began the onslaught. These enormous beasts sidled past me and climbed up the scree above me on Echo Rock. At first I thought they would simply climb up and away from me. I was wrong.
Once the entire herd had mounted the scree, they started kicking rocks down onto me! I had to side step, duck and leap like a running back. Huge rocks bounced up all around me, many nearly clipping my head. I had nowhere to run. I backed off, but that’s where the rocks seemed to be landing. If I stayed forward, they mostly bounced over my head. And besides, I was afraid the whole herd would rush me if I ran.
I was unable to capture photos of the actual rocks flying at me because:
- I was busy leaping, ducking and sidestepping.
- I was in fear for my life.
- Fuck the camera! I had bigger problems.
But I did pull out my camera a couple times to get fast, lousy photos of the goats. My hands were trembling, which didn’t help. However, I got a few more shots off. This one was the most shocking:
Most of the goats – about 15 of them – were kicking rocks down at me. But the baby mountain goat refused to engage in the cruelty. I continually moved below the baby goat because it was the safest place to be. Then, one of the goats ambled over to the baby and started head-butting it and bleating loudly at it. He was saying “Kick rocks at the human or consequences will be severe!”
To my horror, the baby goat complied and kicked a few small rocks at me! The rotten turncoat bastard!
The cavalcade of scree started to slow down. I had evaded their reign of terror. The goats now knew I was made of sterner stuff than they had expected. As the rock attack abated, I got off one more “angry goat” photo and started backing away slowly.
To my relief, the herd dismounted the scree just above me and started back up the glacier, curving out and around Echo Rock.
I took some very long breaths that morning as the goats gave up and headed back up the glacier. I didn’t know it, but far below my friend John was watching the whole thing from his telephoto lens. He was prepared to mount up and haul me off if I had gotten beaned by a big rock. I was in good shape back in 2003 and my 20-mile-a-week jogging habit had served me well. The five aspects of fitness: strength-endurance-speed-balance-flexibity. You need all five at times like these!
After they were gone, I took a few minutes to collect myself. I was uninjured, but I was still a bit shaky. I sat down on a rock and looked across the glacier. Just ahead was Observation Rock. The whole damn point was to climb up that stupid rock and I wasn’t about to turn around now. Not after all this shit.
I decided to get my act together and scamper up the rock.
The hike across the glacier and up the rock was uneventful. But once at the top, I found I was not alone. Two Irishmen – Fergil and Tim – who were touring the North Cascades had been up there for some time. They offered me hot tea and snacks, which I greedily consumed.
I didn’t mention anything about the recent incident. Instead, I mentioned my cool new altimeter watch. I needed to see the plaque and see if the numbers matched. We jumped over to the plaque and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my watch was only off by about 10 feet. My sea-level calibrations had proved accurate!
We all sat down and quietly enjoyed the day when Fergil finally mentioned, with typical Irish understatement, “Bit o’ goat trouble back there, eh?”
I smiled. “Yeah”.
Then we all broke up laughing. They had watched the whole thing from Observation Rock. Apparently, I looked like a real fool jumping, ducking and sidestepping the goat rock attack. Yeah, laugh it up. It’s different when it’s your ass on the line against an enraged baby goat!
The boys and I loaded up. They were heading around the west of the mountain and I was heading down. They took a photo of me and we went our separate ways.
John was glad to see me back at camp. I told him everything that happened. I think he found the whole thing adventurous and was sorry he wasn’t there, but I put his mind at ease and assured him it was much uncooler than it looked and sounded.
We broke camp and headed back down to civilization. On the way I got a few nice photos.
In the end, adventure can be sought but sometimes it is thrust upon you. Be ready!