There was a time when I was compelled to stand atop each and every mountain, to satisfy my curiosity, and find out what it looked like from up there. Of course, there are more mountains and then more mountaintops than there are days. It took me a while to
catch on to this. I remember the day when I learned this lesson.
I backpacked deep into a remote wild area of west central Montana- high in the Rocky Mountains. I planned on gaining a summit after a long approach hike and returning home in less than three days. The hike in went well. The second day saw me to the summit
just after noon. I sat and rested, surrounded by more mountaintops than I could ever stand atop. While I enjoyed the lofty view, clouds rolled in. I started down and it started to rain. I was no longer able to see the route down. Despite map and compass, I
kept dead-ending above sheer rock cliffs. Several of these I attempted to down climb, but they were either too wet or too steep. The afternoon wore on and night was now just hours away. The rain did not let up. The temperature began to drop. If I could not
find my way soon, it would be a long cold night on the mountain. I thought about my dry tent and warm sleeping bag in the green meadow below.
I scrambled down another narrow rock gulley. It ended at another cliff face, but I had gotten lower this time. I could glimpse my tent. Gazing around I saw a mountain goat. The North American mountain goat, Oreamnos americanus, is about one meter at the
shoulder, stocky, shaggy, near all white, and considered the best climber in these mountains. I stared at the animal and he stared at me. “How do I get out of here?” I asked. The black horned shiny-eyed goat turned and clambered up the gulley I just came down.
I followed back up.
At the top of the gulley, I looked around. The shaggy wet goat was standing near the end of an east running ridge. I was certain the ridge would not lead down, but trailed after the goat anyway. I had nothing to lose. When I made it to the end of the
ridge, the goat was gone. I stared into the swirling clouds around me, but could see nothing due to the relentless rain and gathering dusk. Some rocks clattered down the mountain to my left. I glanced and thought I saw a shaggy white rump. I scrambled to the
spot. It appeared familiar. Despite the full conditions, I now remembered how to get down. I was where I needed to be. I was lucky. In less than two hours, I was in my tent, happy, dry, and eating dinner.
Sometimes events take on a meaning, which is beyond commonplace. The name of the mountain I summited on that three day trip was Scapegoat Mountain!
( Photograph of the North American mountain goat, Oreamnos americanus by
Derrick Ditchburn )