A Goatly Encounter

Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.

Bob Bitchin

When goats get curious it’s time to get serious

This wasn’t the view I planned to have of Ladyslipper today, a sparkling azure mountain lake cradled against the bare, rocky and snow-patched Cathedral Rim, but this is definitely one of the most majestic backdrops I have seen in a long time. It made my ordeal during the last hour and a half worth it and I’m not referring to the difficulty level of the trail. As a matter of fact, the reason I am sitting here now, on a grassy hill overlooking Ladyslipper Lake with this particular view of it, is because I had to detour off the trail.

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Originally, I had set out on the trail towards Ladyslipper from my camp at Quiniscoe Lake. It’s not the most popular route to the Cathedral Rim since it’s a long and gradual climb through a larch and spruce forest with a small reprieve around Ladyslipper Lake before continuing up a gradually more laborious climb to the Rim, the last bit on a narrow trail leading up a loose shale slide before reaching the moon-scaped summit.

The view is what keeps me hiking this route each time I come here. Hiking towards the jagged and menacing Grimface, Matriarch and Macabre mountains are worth the extra effort as opposed to having them at my back on the descent.

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But no, my ordeal wasn’t about the difficulty level of the trail. My ordeal was more of a goatly kind.

Because I chose to hike the less popular way, I have been hiking alone all morning. That’s the way I planned it anyway. This is a solo trip for me partly because I wanted the experience of it, but partly to see some of my favourite places before I take off on my worldly adventure next month. What a perfect weekend for it. The skies are clear and the temperatures were already warm early this morning.

It was a tranquil walk through the woods. The alpine forest beyond the trail edge is sprinkled with purple lupin, yellow daisy-like wildflowers and bits of red Indian paintbrush. Silver deadfall adds such a lovely contrast to the colourful display of wildflowers.

Another masterpiece by Mother Nature only her brush tip colours all the senses. As I climbed up through the forest the light breeze carried the sweet, subtle fragrance of lupin and the melodious warble of alpine birds as they flitted from tree to tree. The young larch needles, so lush and green right now won’t be come autumn when they turn golden and drop. A squirrel found a prize and huddled on a rock eating it. Ahhh, such peace. It didn’t cross my mind that Mother Nature could possibly add an element of unease to this peaceful picture.

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A bright snowfield gleamed through the trees up ahead and as I got closer to it I could see a herd of approximately a dozen mountain goats cooling off in the snow. It was my lucky day! Or so I thought.

Their coats were quite shabby looking. Patches of thick winter fur still clung to their bodies. Often along the trails, you see tufts of white fur stuck to branches as goats brush by shedding their winter layer.

A small clearing at the bottom of the snowfield, a safe distance away, provided a perfect spot to drop my pack, take some photos and lay out a picnic snack consisting of a baguette with pepper salami and smoked Gouda cheese. The only thing missing was a crisp glass of pinot gris, but that would come later back at camp with the jalapeno stuffed olives that I brought along. The wine bottle is chilling in the lake right now actually! As I sat and savoured the flavour of the pepper salami and smoked Gouda combination, I felt as content as the goats looked dozing in the snow on the hill above with their eyes half-closed.

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So engrossed in my experience, and so far removed from my regular daily thoughts, I didn’t notice a young goat sneak up behind me until I heard him grunt. Turning quickly to my right I saw him through the trees. He was difficult to miss standing only 10 feet or so from me. He startled me and, in my surprise, I startled him. “Oh hello”, I said to him. He stood looking at me. I snapped a shot of him through the branches from where I sat. He took a step forward – a little too curious for my liking.

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They say mountain goats are harmless, but I know better after hearing a story about a rambunctious goat a couple of summers ago. Somewhere in British Columbia a man had been impaled by those pointy black horns while he was trying to walk past a goat on the trail. The goat, a territorial male, took the man’s approach as a challenge or threat and charged him. Unfortunately, the man didn’t survive.

So, as I sat there in a staring match with the young, gleamy-eyed, pointy-horned goat, I thought it best that I move away from my stuff.

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Our stand-off must have got the attention of the others because the rest of the herd was now staring down at us, their dark eyes big and round now. Next thing you know three more goats stood up and ventured down off the snowfield towards me. One of them was a big billy goat, probably the leader of the pack. Yikes!

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I backed towards a pile of boulders while the four goats craned their necks and sniffed around my things. Great! Then I realized, as I was backing away, that I was also moving closer to the snow bank where the rest of the herd was lounging. ‘Probably not a good idea,’ I thought as the goats looked on. This is surely how a bear must feel after being spotted by a bunch of overly curious tourists. It’s not a comforting feeling especially when I didn’t understand the thought process going on behind those black, gleamy eyes.

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The big billy goat took a couple of steps in my direction and continued to eyeball me. Eek! Did he view me as a threat? Maybe to him, I was equivalent to a predator like a cougar – and no, not because I’m a single 45-year-old woman. Or, was he just curious? Maybe because I was just one small human the goats felt brave around me and were just wanting to check me out? Whatever the reason I did not like the attention and thought I had better make my way back to the trail through the forest. It wasn’t far away, but when I got there I turned and the big billy goat was still pursuing me. I had no other choice, but to leave my things laying there and book it down the trail.

After about five minutes I stopped and stood quietly on the trail, scanning the forest for any sign of my pursuer. When I felt comfortable that I was alone again I began thinking about my next plan of action. Do I walk the hour or so back to camp and snag some strapping man to come up here with me to scare the goats away? Or, do I figure my way out of this myself? After all, this would be good practice for a woman ready to brave the world on her own, right? Things may go sideways at some point on my journey. So, I decided it would be best to put my brave face on and get myself out of this predicament myself.

Slowly, I stepped back up the trail as quietly as I could. My boots creaked with each step. I peered as far as I could through the trees in an effort to spot any of those shabby-coated goats before I got so close that I couldn’t make a dash for it if I needed to. I could see the snow through the trees again. Dang! The goats were still there, but luckily my stuff was closer to me than it was to them. I snuck over and began grabbing my things and stuffing them into my pack as fast as I could. It drew the attention of the goats again though.

Being quiet wasn’t going to do me any good now, so I decided to talk really loudly to them. I shouted, “Hey goats! Just packing up my stuff. Putting things away! Don’t worry about me. I’ll just take all this and move along. I’ll be out’a here in just a minute.” I even tried changing the tone of my voice so it was deep in order to make it sound like there were other hikers around than just me. To top off my act I began singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow in a higher pitched voice. Silly maybe? At the time I was trying to be clever, however, if there were any other hikers witnessing the display I’m sure they would have had a good laugh about it.

Finally, with my pack secured to my back again, I was ready to continue. The goats were on the trail up ahead though. Great! It was beginning to look like I wouldn’t get to the Cathedral Rim today unless someone came along to save the day. I could be waiting a while for that to happen and I didn’t come here, to one of my favourite places, to be hung up by a bunch of mountain goats. So, I veered off the trail to the left. There were some big boulders leading down to an avalanche chute. I could see the jagged mountains and also the Giant Cleft in the distance.

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That’s where I needed to go, so I scrambled down and around a steep bank with some trees on it. Part of me was expecting to see the big billy goat appear through the trees and bound down onto the boulders in front of me for another stand-off. He was out to get me I was sure.

As I continued climbing down the big boulders, some really huge ones balancing precariously on top of others, I kept repeating the mantra, “God, just get me out of this safely” and I added, “God, I would really be ok with not seeing another goat today.”

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Once across the avalanche chute I scrambled up the slope and collapsed amongst some larches. What a relief! I unbuckled my pack, let it slide off my shoulders onto the bank behind me and then dug through it for my chocolate hazelnut bar. Those ones are the best – dark chocolate with the perfectly light crunchy texture of hazelnuts. There’s nothing like chocolate to combat a little anxiety!

Re-energized after my chocolate fix, I packed up and made my way up the hill hoping to reconnect with the trail again. I didn’t know where I was until I came out at this spot, but as I sit here on the grassy hill above Ladyslipper Lake writing in my notebook I have spotted another young goat sauntering down the hill towards the lake about 50 yards from me. He has stopped and noticed me – his tail flipped up in alert. Great and as I scan the meadow to my right I wonder to myself, ‘Where are the others?’

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Cathedral Lakes Provincial Park is located outside of Keremeos, British Columbia at an elevation of 6,000 – 7,000 feet. It is a protected area comprised of jagged peaks, challenging hiking trails, wildflower meadows, azure mountain lakes and abundant wildlife…a true mountain experience for the adventurous.

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