| Chapter 6: Goated Off N. Maroon While Sexing (& more you can't unread)
Continued from Chapter 5: Volunteer - N. Maroon's NEW Trail (CFI & CMC)
Like Uncompahgre, after trail work concludes I get an alpine start the next morning around 5am. Camping near the creek at Minnehaha Gulch nicely shaves off the flatter approach of the hike so the steep stuff quickly warms me up enough to zip down my fleece.
By the rock glacier, an amber glow already fills the area.
This is the largest talus or boulder field both in size and scope I've hiked across and an occasional cairn confirms I'm more or less on track.
To a geologist, this one large rock several feet across says a lot about the history of the Bells.
Taking the trail around ridge from the field is a bit like entering the fourth world of the day -- the gulch, high glen, and glacier being the prior.
Leaving the rock glacier...
for the hip to the first gully.
I also spot some “trail cotton” at the ridge turn.
Though narrow, the footing seems good and I quickly make my way to the "first gully." How's that saying go?
Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.
On one hand, I have to pause and appreciate both the vastness and the exposure here. On the other, I got to start picking the next waypoint and soldier forth. It's a great warm up for the second gully -- steeper, higher, longer. I can't see a trail going to the top so trusting it or cairns will materialize I cross the crease, and make my way up. As I do I spot a mountain goat in repose, calmly chewing cud, gazing across toward Pyramid Peak. Is this the billy I spotted early while descending the worksite or one of the nannies?
This, folks, is what’s called ”sexing” by biologist and hunters, i.e. determining animal gender. I was pretty sure I nailed them before with the stocky billy roaming out stag from the group, and one nanny per kid sticking close to their offspring. But lying by itself I wasn’t sure.
There’s actually quite a bit of info out there on this. Think you can sex a mountain goat? Hesitant? Well luckily the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) freely provides Tips on Sexing Goats in the Field as well as Selecting Billies (larger pictures) which are great primers before testing your sexing skills with their Mountain Goat Identification Quiz. (Share you score in the comments section!)
I crouch and get my camera out before it can spook away, grab a little video,
(click photo for video)
and snap a couple photos as it turns and stares at me. Hmm, not looking away. Might be a good time to move on.
How'd you sex this one? And I'm not that close. See...?
I pack the camera away and start to continue up when it rises and starts walking on an intercept course, following the ledge above me. No biggie, I'll just hunker down out of site, let it pass, then continue on. I peek out to see it's stopped directly above me maybe 20 feet away, again, staring directly at me. I duck back down to ponder what's going on when I hear it, "Mah-ah-ah-ah. Mah-ah-ah-ah." What the deuce? I look back (ascender's left) to see more goats appear including the billy. Ok, I guess I'll wait a bit more and back out of the way.
They all cross above except the billy who starts to switchback down towards me, staring at me. Has the nanny just called for reinforcements? “Billy, I think I just saw something. Go get the baseball bat and check it out.” Each time I peak out he gets closer so I continue to down-climb off trail hoping they just want more personal space while looking for a slightly less exposed spot. He follows, at one point only about twelve feet away. At that distance, their size is impressive (especially with a Second Gulley backdrop), easily twice what some black bears weigh. (I later read this is an aggressive behavior called an "orientation threat".) I down-climb some more.
There's plenty of images (mostly from hunting sites) that give a good idea of the relative size of some of these nimble cliff-hoppers.
First, a little misnomer disambiguation is in order here:
Koala bears are not bears.
Peanuts are not nuts.
Velvet ants are not ants.
Mountain goats are not goats. (Not the petting zoo kind anyway.)
For you biologists, their genus is not Capra (true goats), rather Oreamnos (of which they are the only species) and likely came over via the Bering land bridge as they are more closely related to serow and goral found in Asia, but what European explorer in the Americas ever heard of those animals?
To make matters worse, even when I'm out of sight I can hear him, puffing steady, occasionally making what I can only describe as a groaning goat growl, and one other sound harder to place. I can't tell if if his head is lowered to present his horns or just because I'm downhill. Regardless, none of these indicate mere curiosity nor friendliness, quite the opposite. I consider the facts:
1. I'm on a very steep, eroding slope of a mountain – not my bag.
2. They (billy, two nannies, two kids) are in their element, and potentially I'm in their living room.
3. I’m outnumbered. Three of them are near or exceed twice my weight (think billiards).
4. West Point cadets take note, they have the high ground. Wise, very wise.
5. Any significant loss of traction will be hard to regain, tumbling seems almost certain. I haven't read up on them so don't know if they charge, butt (head), horn (gore), but any random impulse to my body's center of gravity will likely lead to "acceleration" as potential energy quickly converts to kinetic
6. My options for movement are minimal and slow:
a. Ascending closes with them and could be seen as aggressive and a threat to them or the kids leading to "defensive actions."
b. Traversing left or right will put me on more exposed ground making me easier to see and hit (e.g. rock fall).
c. Descending to safety is, well, let's just say there's good reason you do not cross over from the first gully at a lower elevation.
7. I have a SOG tool (i.e. leatherman knife) in one hand and a rock in the other so I can sequentially transform an agitated goat into a bloody agitated goat into a damn angry bloody goat should it be necessary much less possible.
8. I’m a rational bipedal hominid. (Yea, finally +1 for me!)
No expletive deletives, just a pathetic grim chuckle to myself of how outmatched I am here. One bump and I'd be indistinguishable from just some out-of-state hiker who lost footing and fell off the mountain notching one more statistic for the “Deadly Bells” (save someone were to find and review my camera's SD card).
Speaking of which, at some point it dawns on me I should record some of this, ya' know, for a trip report or the coroner -- whichever comes first. Yes, lower left in first frame is "keeping all humble options open." Like a small fire, it might not do any good, but it makes you feel a little better.
(click photo for video)
So, what's my plan? A redoubt. Look among the ledges (I use that term loosely) for the broadest one with the tallest face of rock, preferably concave, that would make for the hardest or most awkward charge while simultaneously concealing myself. I consider taking off my pack to use a pad to parry away a charge to deflect some of the force and it away from the face (downhill) and me into it (uphill). No time for love, Dr. Jones.
I keep as low as possible and down-climb to a ledge to a couple feet of grass and, naturally, a thorny plant.
Might as well kill time with some water and a breakfast bar. I don’t hear anything close, then some rock fall to climber’s right. The group is moving to graze on the other side of the gully. Maybe I can climb past? One, two, three, four… Hmm, I peek up top and sure enough number five is right above, but this time farther away, alternating looking at me at the flock. Crap.
So I wait again, and then see them begin to reverse back to the ridge they came. Sweet! More waiting. I look up and there’s no more sentinel and it looks like they’re gone back so I start to climb up when I hear “MAH-AH-AH-AH” from around the ridge, and a second later, “meh-eh-eh-eh” from the shaded side of the gully. One bad place to be among wildlife I know is between is between the mother and offspring. Guess where I now happen to be? Guess who comes back around the ridge? Guess who comes with? Guess what the standard operating procedure is? Ugh. I down-climb and wait again.
They, well all but one, go and collect their kid. Can I ascend? Nope. Guess who has the high-ground directly above? Then they all double-back. So on we go with round three of sneak-a-peek-a-boo. I move over to a spot where I can better check when they’ve gone back around the ridge but see none of them.
So I look up. Talk about high-ground, guess where they’re going? Yep, right up the gully. I don’t think CFI will ever compete with the two biggest trail makers: 1. erosion that creates a naturally slope or dihedral, and 2. local game like mountain goats. Think about it. Going over the mountains, highways often follow train tracks, which follow wagon tracks, which follow mountain men trails, which follow Indian trails, which were following local game. Animals that found the good routes got to continue to eat and eventually pass on their genes while the rest, well…
Another breakfast bar, some sunscreen, some hydration… I'm getting more practice at this than I need. I peek out. Scanning, scanning, scanning, and NO GOATS! As Michael Jackson would say, “Heee, heee!” and I resume my hike for minute or two, find the trail, start to ascend looking at the rest of the route and… Holy Mary of ungodly ungulates, guess who peeks out over the ridge top? Okay, more hide and wait. Peek and now there’s three at the top, doing nothing but looking right back at me. I hide and wait some more, but nothing changes.
Let’s reassess the situation:
1. They have the high ground, REALLY high ground, and anything they knock down (as I’ve heard they’ll do) will have goodly speed upon reaching my position.
2. The slope of second gully of North Maroon is a really bad place to play dodge ball... er... rock.
3. There can’t be much grass up there, and if there was a suitable adjoining gully they’d be in it. Or maybe they’re just on the balcony waiting for me to get out of their living room. Either way, I won’t say trapped, but they don’t seem to want to venture on.
4. Continuing on up their bowling alley seems, uh, unwise.
5. We've been at this for an hour and a half (according to photo time stamps) and this détente ain't a bad spot to break it off.
6. Earlier cirrus clouds seem to be going cumulus and darker. Chances of summiting and returning to stable and less exposed ground while dry (even if the goats cooperate) seems to be shrinking.
7. North Maroon Peak will still be here tomorrow.
8. There is no eight. I just think it's a cool looking number.
Ok, down we go. If you've ever turned back, you know the feeling.
Coming out of the first gulley, I come across a father (presumably) and his three kids (two girls and a boy) who look to be in grade or middle school at most. Shorts, shades, t-shirts, a camel-back or two, and a video camera secured across the elder's chest straps -- no helmets, sun gear, rain gear, nor packs that I could see. I tell them about the goats and receive an incredulous look so I offer to show them what I have on my camera. The boy checks them out. Father says they intend to summit, saying he's hiked it before and has a topo map. They continue on with him saying they'll see how far they get, that they might turn around later. I wish them a good hike (hoping the weather doesn't turn, for the kids' sake -- the two-legged ones).
Later I come across someone who saw them coming up the trail talking about going for the peak and asked the boy where all their gear was. He said his dad was carrying it all, but looking at it's small size couldn't see how it could possibly be holding that much. He hopes the group doesn't get caught unprepared as well.
At least the rest of the wildlife on the way down is more pleasant.
Low on food, I decide to pack down some of my gear to my bike and go into town (Aspen). The crowds at Maroon Lake are a ga-ga over a cow moose and I can't help but snap a few shots myself. If you're wondering what a moose is doing around the edge of a lake, it very likely it's trying to supplement its diet just as mountain goats do (read below) albeit in a more palatable way.
In the distance, the Bells are growing fainter behind curtains of rain heard roaring up-valley.
Bells re-emerging as the rain moves in on the lake.
Maroon Water Snake. (Click photo for video)
Snake's source. (Click photo for video)
I don my rain gear and ride into Aspen, where McDonalds dollar value menu items are $1.50. After getting something hot to eat, I hit the local grocery where I ask a clerk about a bag for what I bought. "Plastic bags are illegal in Aspen," she says.
"Illegal? I can't go out to my bike and bring one in?"
"They're IL-LE-GAL! You can buy a paper sack or reusable bag."
Ugh, where's a mountain goat when I need one? "So you mean they're just banned or not permitted to sell?"
"THEY... ARE... IL-LE-GAL!" she bollers again before huffing off.
Wow. Where I come from we've learned how to RE-USE and RE-CY-CLE. And what's that?! What is did that other customer just set down on the scanner, used to keep her respective fruits and vegetables separate and clean after weighing them in the produce aisle? Heavens to Murgatroyd, it couldn't be! Not in this store! Somebody call the police because she's using store-provided...
I get some coffee and hit the inter-web-tubes for some info on mountain goats and find:
Mountain goat kills man in Olympic National Park (17-Oct-2010)
Ranger kills persistent mountain goat in Olympic National Park (7-Sep-2011)
and some of the links used above in this TR. More recently in the news there's:
'Goat man' in Utah mountains identified as hunter (24-Jul-2012) (which fellow trail workers mentioned the read about)
Olympic park 'killer goat' lawsuit mostly dismissed (22-Aug-2012)
Guidelines posted for hiking near mountain goats (22-Aug-2012)
How would you handle this coming at you? Would terrain make a difference? (photo hot-linked from above article)
I also read about how some believe that Mountain Dew contains mountain goat urine and related slang. The converse is true, mountain goats like human urine! Oh the irony...
One more important thing I do while in town is check the forecast. Tuesday calls for rain around noon -- suboptimal. Wednesday looks clear all day with more rain later in the week, so I plan my second attempt for that fair weather window. After a bar and much needed trip to the laundromat, I ride back into the Bells and walk up the trail in the dark around 2 or 3 in the morning.
As a rest day, I sleep in a bit, hang my laundry I washed earlier out to dry, wash up in the creek (no soap), filter more water, make my summit pack for Wednesday, pack some gear up to hasten breaking camp on my return, and read a small magazine I got on ultralight hiking I got from VOC. Having been so active recently, I actually have trouble just basically lounging and relaxing (though the mag does induce a brief nap). When rotating clothes, eating, or such, I keep looking up at North Maroon thinking about tomorrow, and can often hear the RMYC working the trail.
Before dinner, and a little stir crazy, I decide to take a small pre-dinner hike up towards the pass. Not enough time to make it and be back before dusk, so I find a good scenic turn around point and am kept company on the hike back by a gal who's been hiking 14ers since at least the '80s. I miss my fork, wish her a good hike, and double back for dinner then bed. The weather has been good all day so I kind of regret not making a go for it, but the rest and hygiene are good. Oh, one more thing...
Alarm goes off at 3:00am but 800-fill down encourages me to hit "snooze." I'm persuaded. It's in the 40s inside the tent. I add water to my SS mug I pre-filled with crushed ramen and seasoning the evening before and set it on my Esbit stove (also pre-staged) just outside my tent's storm flap. Guessing the solid fuel absorbed a bit of moisture sitting out all night cause it's a hair more stubborn to light, but still gets going heating breakfast as I wrap my foot and gear up. I hit trail a little after 4:00am.
Dawn's spectrum as hike up a talus field.
And later up the mountain...
North Maroon gulleys. (click photo for larger)
Looks like this is where the first gulley would join the second if you topped it out versus the standard lower crossover...
and a zoom in on the marking cairn.
Higher in the second gulley.
Cliffbands atop the second gulley. (Click photo of larger panorama.)
Looking out from atop the bands. (Click photo for video)
Sleeping Sexton with the rippled rock of Rock Glacier below. (Click photo of larger panorama.)
Here I spot the goats, again, but lucky me they're over grazing towards Sexton. I've got the mountain to myself!!!
Not today, my friends. Not today.
Viewing the area from the "plank" of the precipice. The chimney to it is a lot smaller and easier than the pictures I saw made it look. (Click photo for video)
Can you smell the summit?
Finally up top for my third 14er! Man, that traverse looks awfully tempting. I down hike looking at some ways off and down to it, and can hear the voices of hikers leaving the summit of Maroon coming the other way. Tempting as it is, I've got to return a helmet I borrowed, don't have the best beta for this direction (photos downloaded to phone are all S-to-N), and well, I can always leave something for next time like when I hike Maroon Peak.
North Maroon summit cairn with the traverse and Maroon Peak in background.
Saw a couple hikers on Maroon Peak who started down the traverse after a bit.
Summit 360 video. (Click photo for video)
Precipice below the summit of North Maroon. (click photo for larger)
So, how many 14ers do you think I have left in these boots?
By the way, this IS the good boot. Other is smoother as you usually put your left foot down at a stop when riding (right holds the rear brake).
I start down following the slope but it doesn't look familiar. While just Class 3 and something I could likely traverse over to or around the cliff, I go back up to a cairn to spot another to keep on trail.
This might be the Class 3 way around the chimney.
Not bad on the way down either. Just take my time.
Gives you an idea...
of hiking back down into the second gulley. If the exposure gets to you, simply focus on the trail and or your next 20 feet of hiking.
There's even this little bit of fun on the descent as well. If you look close you can see some more "trail cotton."
Hey! I can see my house (tent) from here! It's the yellow dot below the trail and to the upper right of the talus field.
As clockwork as the hike went, the Bells have one last trick, well kind of. Read on.
I run into some young day-hiking (shorts, t-shirt, no gear) coming to Rock Glacier. Give 'em a little beta so they know the scope of what lies ahead. Like the father with his kids, they say they'll just see how it goes. I wish them well and scurry down trail to return the helmet, break down camp and boogey down trail.
Kind of an odd looking pack mule with duffel, small backpack and gas tank panniers, I can tell I'm getting the eye from those I pass (up or down) so I cheerfully say, "Looks a lot more appropriate back on the motorcycle."
"We were kind of wondering," is the usual chuckled response. I want to make it back to my steed and get over to Minturn (Holy Cross) to pick up a benchmark pin from the ranger station before they close at 4:00pm before heading home. That coupled with a summiter's glee keeps me at a brisk pace down to the bus stop.
I get there in time for the bus, but it's running late, and more and more people (many of whom I passed coming down) are lining up. When it arrives, it's quickly S.R.O. and the driver cajoles everyone standing to scrunch so we all can fit... barely. Even though I'm standing at the front of the bus, six people have to get off temporarily before I can. I start over to the parking lot, up to my bike, and... CRAP! I grabbed all my gear off the bus but my mesh riding jacket, and it has my keys and wallet!
Shortly thereafter, an overheating bus going the other way stops. I ask if he can radio the other but he says he can only receive up here and cell phones won't work. Another bus comes to take it's passengers up and I wait for the next descending vehicle hoping to catch a ride down to the terminal about eight miles away. Driver hollers that he was able to make contact and they'll send it on the next bus up.
So I wait. I flag the next one who says he heard but it should be on the next bus. Next one doesn't have it either. Next two don't stop despite signaling and give a wave then both hands in the air "can't stop" motion. Next two don't have it either which perplexes a driver who says I should have gotten it back by now as she heard the boss radio another driver to take it up complete with instructions of where to stop and who to look for. She takes me up to the visitor center to check another bus, just happens to be the same driver I left it with. No dice, he gave it to a Bells-bound driver per the boss much earlier.
First, yes, my fault for leaving it in my haste to disembark and free space for others. Second, major kudos to this driver for taking the initiative to help get it back for me. Even the original driver is surprised I don't have it back yet. So she takes me back down to their terminal about eight miles away at the Aspen Highlands where they use a ski shop for their Lost & Found. Back and forth she talks with control. Turns out the driver given the jacket, never stopped (either direction), then took the bus back to the station in Aspen (even farther), and clocked out to go home. "So WHERE'S THE JACKET?" she asks, God love her.
Boss gets involved. They find the driver... and the jacket. I get the scent that the driver who skipped me is in for a "chat." Even though I first boarded around 2:00pm, the last bus has already gone up for the 5:00pm pick up at the Bells so they say I'll have to come into Aspen to get my jacket now. "HOW'S HE SUPPOSED TO GET BACK TO HIS MOTORCYCLE?" she prods, "He's been waiting for HOURS." Again, God love her. You're a peach and a saint!
Ok, I can't get a lift to my bike, but another supervisor is going to bring it up from Aspen to Aspen Highlands for me. Best she can do she says. I thank her. Now I just have to wait (notice I'm getting very good at this by now, after the goats and all) and hike the road the eight miles back to my bike, but at least not farther had it been from Aspen.
Sup' shows up saying everything appears to still be in the jacket (it is). I give him a hearty thank you and then he has to go and get back in town. I go into the ski shop (Lost & Found) to give them the good news I've got it back and only have to hike eight miles or hitchhike.
About then a guy walks in asking about the Bells, the attraction, what you can do, fees, etc. as he's thinking he'll take his daughters up there. Off to the side, the gal at the counter goes wide eyed, looks at me, at him, and back at me with that kind of "aren't you going to ask her to dance?" look. My thought's exactly.
I introduce myself, explain my situation, and happily agrees to help. He's also a midwester (Ohio I believe), a nice plus. We meet up with the rest of his girls and he tells them to make room. He's unsure about a pass he's been given and isn't jazzed about paying $10 just to park to look at the Bells (none want to do any hiking). Some beta about the area, easy strolling by Maroon Lake, and how parking goes is mixed in with small talk. I encourage him to just give the ranger the pass and let him decide -- he gets in and pleased. The driver (daughter) misses my lot, but it's only a short hike from the Day Parking one by the lake. I thank them, get to my bike, pack and make for Aspen about four hours since I first got off the bus. I gear up, mount up, and fire up the bike -- it's good to be home.
Too late for Minturn, I hang out in Aspen for the night before riding back to Kansas City, picking up the benchmark pin the following morning. It's been a long saga of sorts that started when I first spotted an photo of Mount of Holy Cross on an image search back in February (was trying to get the pass names and elevations that I rode through on I-70 while snowing days earlier). I can't encapsulate these past chapters in a sentence other than to say it was worth the experience and that "an adventure begins when you depart the planned path" and it's certainly been that!
Back home at 1,000' where BBQ is awesome and the oxygen is gloriously abundant. Thanks to all who've read and been following!
* Unplanned addition. See Chapter 7 below.
Not sure if I'll do more 14ers. The trip reports are too tiring.
Good read? Nice pics? Want more? Here are the previous chapters:
* Unplanned addition. See Chapter 7 below.
Chapter 1: Noob Backdooring Holy Cross?
Chapter 2: My 1st 14er! (Halo Loop by Night w/ Peak Bivouac)
Chapter 3: Volunteering on Uncompahgre Peak (CFI & VOC Trail Restoration)
Chapter 4: Volunteers' Reward (360° w/ Hi's & Lo's)
Chapter 5: Volunteer - N. Maroon's NEW Trail (CFI & CMC)
Chapter 6: Goated Off N. Maroon While ... Hey, didn't you just read this?
And an unplanned addition
Chapter 7: Sparks, DUI, Dark Pyramid, Fall Gathering, Aspen Castle
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):