Hanging at Skytop Lakes

Our campsite at Skytop Lakes was invaded by 13 mountain goats

We were woken up the next morning by the same noises that had kept us awake the previous night. We had no idea how many goats had visited us the night before but this morning we had 8 of them, including 2 kids licking the ground for minerals or urine. Though it was nearly August, all of the adult goats had yet to shed their winter coats, making them appear mangy and unnattractive when compared to the cute little ones.

I decided to take my morning squirt very near Brad’s tent so I’d have a clear view from my tent of whichever goat decided to lap it up from. At the time I didn’t know how popular my urine would become, but I'd find out later that day.

Watching the little ones and the goat hierarchy was fascinating stuff, and we killed nearly 4 hours and untold memory on our cameras while doing so. Sometime during the morning a small band of five goats came down from the ridge between the Skytops and Upper Aero/Rough Lake. We wondered if this was part of the same herd or a rival band attempting to take back their turf. There were no knock down drag out fights, but you could see that there was some tension between the two groups.

So cute when they're young

The second grouping had a small one with them who stuck close to his mother for a while then decided to wander over and play with the other two kids from the original group. It was a neat thing to see the pair give the newcomer a once over then finally watching them all playing together.

At one point I was able to get up close and personal with about 6 goats up on the slab of rock behind our tents, talking softly, not making any sudden moves. I was dubbed the "Goat Whisperer" though all I really wanted to do was get a close look.

Finally, around 10:00 AM they all climbed back into the hills and did whatever mountain goats do during the day. We knew they'd be back later tonight to keep us amused and awake.

Now that the free entertainment was gone, we needed something to do besides looking at our lake, Granite Peak, Mt. Villard and Cairn Mountain. I had wanted to hike up the drainage to check out the Skytop Glacier but we were about 3 miles away and 1000' below. Getting there and back would take most of the rest of the day. With the weather situation being what it was the glacier wasn't going to happen.

We then set our sights on point 11,379 which was almost due west of our camp. It looked easy enough: not too steep, maybe 800' vertical gain and probably had some awesome views of most everything around us. Yeah, that was a good plan---one that neither Bob or Jeff wanted anything to do with, but Brad was in.

We grabbed a few things for the climb and started to climb the ridge to the west of our camp. It looked like once we climbed the 4000' to the ridge we'd be able to scramble up the remaining 600' without much of a problem.

Except the clouds were starting to move in from the west again.

Rough Lake from the Ridge above our camp site

We went anyway and got to the top of the ridge in about 20 minutes. The sweet 45* ramp up to the summit didn't look as easy as it did from our camp, however, as the talus looked large and plentiful. I announced to Canadian Dude that between the oncoming weather and the rocky dascent I was out. I didn't get an argument from Brad.

The views down to Rough Lake were pretty sweet, though it was somewhat humorous to easily see our campsite at Lone Elk Lake not even 2 miles away. I took a few photos of the drainage we'd be taking up from Fizzle Lake in a few days. The eyeball test looked as easy as it did on Google Earth.

We had to climb a little higher to get a good look at Upper Aero Lake. I took a few more photos to check out the terrain around the lake for a good spot to camp on night 7. It looked like the spot to be was between the Upper and Lower lake. I couldn't wait to get there.

We only spent a few minutes up there but it was time to start heading back down as we could see rain coming down only a few miles away. Our entire "dayhike" took us about 40 minutes but at least we were able to get high. The rain was very light, lasting only a few minutes.

Upper Aero Lake from the same ridge

Our friends the goats decided to come back while we were eating our lunch but didn't stay very long as it started to rain one more time. This time the light rain didn't let up until around 3 PM when the skies finally started to clear again. This was starting to get old. Not knowing if we'd get hammered again that evening I decided to make some supper and eat early.

I'd picked up some Enertia brand El Capitan 3 Bean chili at Sylan Peak back in Red Lodge for $5 to try and had that. I hadn't had a dehydrated meal in quite a few years but this was pretty good and not nearly as salty as the typical Mountain House fare.

Our respite would last less than 1.5 hours when we were chased into our tents again. Getting more bored with each passing moment I found myself longing for the company of the goats again.

As we were confined to our tents, which were set up in close proximity to one another, we discussed the plan for tomorrow and decided it would be best to try to get an early start to beat the inevitable afternoon showers. Early for us meant leaving about an hour earlier or about 8:00 AM.

Looking south from our camp

We really didn't have an idea of where we would end up though I originally had wanted to camp in the grassy meadows behind Dewey Lake. I'd pretty much given up on that idea earlier in the day, recognizing that our sloth-like pace was actually a quite enjoyable way to do a trip. Adding some more vertical gain to hike up from Dewey didn't seem to fit our new way of doing things. We decided that Oly Lake would be our next stop for tomorrow night. After checking the map again I had to chuckle: another day of less than 3 miles and maybe down 750'. I thought we could crawl and still make it down before lunch.

Then, the moment I was waiting for happened at about 7:30: The first of the goats returned from the cliffs. This time it was a rather smallish mother with kidgoing directly for my urinal by Brad's tent. I'd added some to the hole previous diners had excavated throughout the day so I know there was some good eating to be had.

As they were enjoying their meal a larger single male approached the two and had intentions of taking the hole for himself. Nope, not on my watch. It wasn't gonna happen. I sprung from my rock and chased the intruder away, then motioned for mama, who backed away as well, to go back to the hole. She gave me a funny look then went back to the urine feast.

Mama and kid lapping up the days urine

The intruder, however, wasn't about to give up a free meal so easily and came back. Again, I chased him off and told him to go away in my sternest fatherly voice. After his 3rd or 4th attempt I only had to get up and glare at the goat for him to back off. This happened several more times until the bully goat finally got the message that I wasn't to be messed with and left mama and kid alone. The cool thing was that the mother seemed to understand my hand gesture, motioning to her that it was OK to return to the hole. Goat Whisperer? You're damn right!

By now it was close to 8:30 and about time to hit the sack. My adopted family had licked the hole dry and disappeared behind the rock slab. What happened next is something I'll never forget. Jeff and I were sitting on the rock near our tents when the mother and youngun' came down the slab and stood about 3 feet from me---easily close enough for me to reach out and touch them. Mama gave me a long look, tilted her head a little bit and I could swear thanked me for looking out for her and child. It was a perfect way to end what had been a so-so day.

I brushed my teeth went back into the tent for the unmpteenth time and checked out the rest of the hike:

NIght 5: Oly Lake

NIght 6: Somewhere above Fizzle Lake

NIght 7: Between Upper and Lower Aero Lake

Night 8: Somewhere along Zimmer Creek or near the trail junction we'd had trouble finding

It was hard to believe we were halfway done with the hike already.

Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, 2012
The Hikers and Special Invite
The Drive West
Island Lake CG
Trip Map
Skytop Creek
Lone Elk Lake
Skytop Lakes
Skytop Lakes
Oly Lake
Fossil Lake
Fox Lake
The Hike Out
The Drive Home
Final Thoughts
Trip Photos
Back to Backcountry Trips

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