We were eating our nooday lunch Ranger Macy and I, on the sunny side of a huge boulder near the top of Satulick Point. It was late autumn in the high country and the sun sure felt good. Above us and near at hand the great white bulk of Rainier looked down upon us, and away to the south Mount Adams, Mount Hood and St. Helens stood out with camio-like distinctness against the deep blue of the sky.
Just then however we were more interested in ham sandwiches. Presently Macy took the field glasses from the pack at his side and focused them on a tiny white spot which showed distinctly on the brown grass covered slope of Mount Ararat two miles away.
Ben Longmire, veteran guide and trail-blazer of Mount Rainier National Park, slashed the first white-mans trail into Indian Henry's Hunting Ground some thirty years ago. On the flat topped peak to the south of Indian Henry's, Ben found the stump of an old tree that had been cut off. Near its base was a ring such as might have been worn by the chaffing of a ships hawser. It was not likely that any modern ship had tied up there but "maybe old Noah had tied his ark there", so Ben named the peak Ararat and it has stuck.
"What is it", I asked, as Macy gave an exclamation of pleased surprise. He handed me the glasses.
In the open meadow below Ararat a white mountain goat mother with two kids was feeding.
Now the thing I have been hunting hardest during the last few years is a good picture of wild mountain goat kids. So far as I have been able to learn none are in existance, or were, up until that time.
Fortunately I had my camera along. I usually carry it when on game patrol - it is far more useful and productive than a gun, so we lost no time in finishing our lunch and striking across the meadows to Ararat.
The country is far from level and we had no difficulty in keeping out of sight. When within what we judged to be a quarter of a mile of the point where we had last seen the three we circled a hill to the right. This would place us in better position as regards the wind and bring us within sight of our quarry.
Presently I walked out into the open and dodged back below the crest. The goats were feeding only a hundred yards away. Fortunately they had not seen me when I broke cover.
Turning to the left up a small depression we crept silently toward a clump of trees that stood opposite the goats and about a hundred feet from them. With camera poised and hardly daring to move I peeped cautiously through the branches of a dense Alpine Fire that had covered us.
No goats were in sight. When we last saw them they were still feeding unalarmed. We had spent not more than three minutes stalking them. Save for a dense clump of trees a little above there was no cover near, but during those three minutes or less the goat had disappeared as completely as if they had evaporated. "Thye must be in that clump of trees". Macy circled to the right, I to the left determined to shoot upon sight. Cautiously I approached the cover. At twenty feet I noted a patch of white under the trees. It moved slightly. I held my breath and fingered the release on my camera. The a deer walked out into the open. I had seen her white tail.
I entered the clump of trees but no goat were there. How they had gone so quickly and without being seen I don't know but they were not in sight. I had heard - although I don't believe it, that goat when frightened always go up if possible. I thought they had more sense than to go up if some other direction was better. Later we found that these had rounded the hillside to the left. They must have moved fast for it was a long way to cover in that direction.
At the time however we decided they had gone up to the crest of Ararat so moving as swiftly as silence and the steep slope would permit we climed to the fringe of trees at the summit. Two hundred yards to the left a patch of white told me that there were goat among the dense timberline trees there. I dropped out of sight to circle and approach them from the rear. Macy held his ground to prevent their retreat.
As I crossed the meadow below them I chanced to look toward the mountain. There only a few hundred feet away was another mother goat and a kid feeding in the open meadow. Behind them Rainier covered with new snow towered some ten thousand feet above us. It would make a wonderful picture. Dodging back into a small stream bed I was able to run to within less than a hundred feet of them without being seen. Then I slowly raised my head above the crest. They were feeding, but between almost every step the mother looked up for possible danger.
For fully five minutes she started at me. Finally I could hold the stiff pose no longer. She was suspecious but had not yet determined what I was. I decided to shoot although their legs were still hid by the depression. Slowly I raised the camera. At the first move they turned and ran for the edge of the cliff, the kid in the lead. I was not set for action but I snapped them on the jump. Then I followed to the edge of the cliff. I crept out on a projecting spur of rock and looked down. It was a thousand feet to the edge of the forest that filled the valley of Tahoma Creek below and it appeared to be straight down. I heard stones rattling directly below me and the shrill bleat of a kid. Then a hundred yards to the left and two hundred feet below where I lay I saw an old Billy on a spur of rock. Presently the mother and her kid scrambled up below him.
He as in the sun but the mother and kid were in the dense shadow of the spur of rock. I took another snap as they looked up at me. Then I decided to frighten them a little in the hope that they would climb up alongside the Billy. I "bahhed" like a sheep. They continued to stare at me in mild wonder, I waved my hand, then my hat, but they did not move. I called to them, I jumped up and down on the rock and made queer sounds. They only stared. Finally I heaved a stone in their direction. It fell short and went clattering down the cliff starting other stones as it went. Those goat knew when they were safe and they would not move. Macy came up then, and we tried ever way possible to frighten them. We could not climb down to them, we could not reach them with stones. They were safe there, they knew it, and they were intelligent enough to stay there. Finally we left them there.
Back on the far cliff we found another band of ten goat. They saw us first. We remained still for a long time as they watched us. The wind was against us, no doubt they had our scent. We were in plain sight and they were suspecious but they held their ground so long as we remained still. At our first move however, they dissappeared over the cliff in a bend. They knew where they were safe.
In searching for a place to climb down we came suddenly upon a small kid dozing in the sun between two alpine trees. He looked up as he heard us, mildly interested. I snapped him at a hundred feet, then by moving very slowly I approached within thirty feet of him. He had never known fear. He watched us sharply when we moved and dozed when we remained still.
Finally I wanted to photograph him head-on so I "bahhed" to attract his attention. Much to our surprise a full grown Mammy with splendid horns stuck her head from behind one of the trees. She had become curious to know what the noise was about. For a time she stared, then my feet slipped on the slick grass. In a few jumps she had led her offspring down over the brink of the cliff and joined the others.
During the day we counted twenty four goat in the vicinity, and for hours played a little game of hide and seek with them. Always we observed the same behavior. When in the open and unprotected by nature they were shy and suspicious. They paid little attention to sound or scent but they caught the first movement and lost no time gaining the nearest rocks, whether they were above or below. On the face of a perpendicular cliff where no enemy without wings could reach them they felt safe and were at ease. They watched our wild antics with interest but they refused to be disturbed by them. I doubt if anything short of an avalanche would have moved them. We decided the white mountain goat are not as dumb as they look.
|<<< Previous||> Cover <|