In continuation of my prior post about one of the more unique and spectacular backpack trips I’ve ever done here in Colorado.  After being dropped off by the train at the Needleton Trailhead, eight backpackers of varying ages struggled into their weighty packs and began the long, slow, steep ascent up to Chicago Basin.  Though the trail at no point felt incredibly steep, there were several stretches of unrelenting uphill along the creek.  After about 3 hours, we started to see some tents pitched in the woods along the creek, and encountered other people besides the folks who rode the train with us.  But they didn’t look anything like your typical backpacker outfitted in REI gear…

Turns out we had entered Chicago Basin during the first day of a 2-month long mountain goat hunting season, and the two guys we encountered dressed in camo were there to hunt goats.  They were carrying high-powered bows, and claimed that all the goats had left the basin, so they had no luck.  This got to be a standing joke with Bryon and me over the next several days…  The hunters told us they had waited ten years to get a goat-hunting license, so were very disappointed with their luck so far.  This got me thinking, what exactly do they do with the goat if they are able to kill it?  Do they cut up the parts right there in the wild?  Do they mount the goat’s head to the top of their backpack?  The only way to get stuff in and out of the basin is by walking and packing it out.  Interesting questions indeed.

FullSizeRender (5)Once we cleared the wooded areas, we broke out into a wide open valley with soaring peaks on all sides of us, ranging from 13,000 to 14,000 feet.  It’s hard to put into words how immense the peaks feel, and how incredibly majestic the scenery is there.  It’s not hard to understand how it got its name of Chicago Basin, and all these spires and rocky-topped peaks are very reminiscent of a big city skyline, that is without all the people.  Even though we know there are probably 30-40 people camping in the basin, it doesn’t feel like it.  In fact, over the next several days, we saw many more living things on four legs than of the two-legged variety.  And it didn’t take long…

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Mountain goats at our campsite

Almost as soon as we set up our tent, and got our packs unpacked, we had visitors. Bryon was filtering water for us to use for cooking and spied some mountain goats coming down the hillside, saying “Oh, there’s some goats!”  It seemed like moments later, we were being invaded by a herd of goats, with goats circling around us and our campsite.  There had to be at least ten of them, and while they didn’t seem particularly aggressive, they also didn’t seem to fear us either, walking within a few feet of us, turning occasionally to give us the eye.  Several kid goats were in the herd, running on occasion, never straying too far from the moms, and making small bleating noises every now and then.  This went on for about 15-20 minutes until they finally wearied of our company, and headed back up the hill.

The mountain goats apparently frequent the areas where the backpacker camp because of the urine.  They crave the salt and will lick at the ground where people have urinated.  Because they more you go, they more it seems to attract the goats, we started to go farther away from the camp and use big rocks to do our business instead of on the grass.  This proved fairly effective as we didn’t see the goats around our campsite for the next couple of days after that.

It’s amazing to watch the goats head up the steep cliffs and hillsides.  You’ve heard the expression about climbing like a goat, and now I understand why.  Though they don’t appear particularly graceful while walking around our camp, they navigate the rocky cliffs with the greatest of ease.  Every night, they would leave the basin, climbing thousands of feet up to the passes in seemingly no time at all, making quick work of the steep ascent.  Then in the mornings, they work their way down back to the valley all over again.  I would reflect on this the next day as I made my own climb, and wish I had the skill and agility of a goat on those mountains.

Stories of scaling the Basin fourteeners in the next post — to be continued….