Nature Notes

Vol. III December 1st, 1925 No. 13


Between two and three hundred White Mountain Goat live upon the shoulders of Mount Rainier within the boundaries of the National Park.

Park visitors however, rarely see one of the great shaggy beasts.

Here in the very southwest corner of their former extensive range the goat are wary and they inhabit much rugged, inaccessible country that it requires some experience and considerable mountaineering ability to approach near to them except by chance.

Surprisingly nimble of foot for so heavy-bodied and clumsy-appearing an animal, he is able to negotiate ice and rock cliffs of unbelievable steepness. His size, sure-footedness, herding instinct, and habits of posting lookouts when feeding and of climbing to high vantage points when resting, make the Mountain Goat without question one of the most interesting animals of the country.

Living amid glaciers, rocky crags, precipitous cliffs, and pumice fields, he has a habitat on Mount Rainier the superior of which in scenic grandeur would be very hard to find. This he shares only with such intrepid mountaineers as the Hoary Marmot, the White-tailed Ptarmigan and the Rosy Finch.

Such a wilderness pasture is beauty itself in the summer time. Myriads of wild flowers, whose delicate blossoms weave tapestry patterns over the small grassy meadows above timber-line and form patches of brilliant color here and there among the rocks, grow right up to the very edge of the grinding ice.

But in winter this same pleasant garden becomes a barren waste. Snow lies many feet deep in sheltered areas and raging gales whine over the bleak exposed ridges with arctic ferocity. The White Mountain Goat, however, do not leave their range.

On milder days he climbs to the wind-swept ridges, finds a few lichens and some wisps of dry grass and feeds, but when the storm rages anew he returns to the matted growth of trees at timber-line or on down into the upper edge of the dense forest and there finds some protection from the cold.

In July and August I have repeatedly found goat or sign of goat as high as nine thousand feet, and I know of several instances where they have climbed as high as ten thousand feet, and ten thousand feet above the sea on Mount Rainier is well into the artic-alpine life zone and usually two or three miles over fields of ice and snow beyond the nearest stunted tree growth.

One of these was that of a single old Billy who one day last summer casually wandered out on Anvil Rock and looked through the window of the Fire Lookout Station there upon a much surprised Forest Ranger. The next day I saw tracks where he had crossed the all but uncrossable upper reaches of the Nisqually Glacier, headed straight over the snow-covered Muir Icefields for Anvil Rock and then, after his curiosity had been satisfied, gone down again to normal goat range at seven thousand feet elevation on Stevens Ridge.

In summer I have never found goat lower than six thousand feet on the major peak, but occasionally as low as five thousand feet on isolated Mount Wow to the south.

And the winter range is barely one thousand feet lower. This same band of goats winter at about five thousand feet on Mount Wow, several small bands range between five thousand and five thousand five hundred feet on Satulick. For years an old Billy and one or two Nannies, usually with their half-grown kids, have spent the winter on the dome of Cougar Rock at four thousand feet elevation but this is the lowest I have ever seen Mountain Goat even during the most severe winter weather.

The reason, no doubt, why the Goat clings to this rugged alpine range of his, is its freedom from preditory animals. Here he has almost no enemies. Eagles and coyotes occasionally take toll of the young kids, and sometimes a wolf in winter, or in summer, a wandering Mountain Lion driven by hunger to hunt the high country, harass the bands of goat more or less, but never do they suffer such losses as do the deer in the forests below.

In November I saw where a lone wolf had driven a band of goat pell-mell across a small meadow at five thousand feet elevation. There was no sign of a 'kill' to bee seen, however, and the rocks were only a hundred yards away so there is every likelihood that the goat escaped, for altho a wolf or coyote could quickly distance in open country neither would have much chance in rough going, for it is such a country that the Mountain Goat is at his best.

I believe the chief reason, however, for the choice of rugged mountainous range is that a Goat would not be happy in any other sort of habitat, for this big uncouth animal is as much a creature of the high country as the fleet antelope is a creature of the open plains.

sketch of mountain goat

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