At Ellen Wilson, unwelcome guests

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  • A goat eats the flowers off a fireweed. Notice it has no upper teeth — which was good for my sleeping bag later that evening.

  • 1

    Shrouded in smoke, mountain goats look over Lake Ellen Wilson from the Gunsight Pass Trail. (Chris Peterson photo)

  • 2

    Twin kids survey from a rock on the Gunsight Pass Trail.

  • 3

    A young billy in a sea of flowers above camp.

  • 4

    A goat lurks outside of camp in the morning.

  • A goat eats the flowers off a fireweed. Notice it has no upper teeth — which was good for my sleeping bag later that evening.

  • 1

    Shrouded in smoke, mountain goats look over Lake Ellen Wilson from the Gunsight Pass Trail. (Chris Peterson photo)

  • 2

    Twin kids survey from a rock on the Gunsight Pass Trail.

  • 3

    A young billy in a sea of flowers above camp.

  • 4

    A goat lurks outside of camp in the morning.

I came around the corner and there was a my tent, torn from its stakes, sorta slumped over and crooked.

My sleeping bag looked worse yet, all bunched up and thoroughly soaked with goat saliva.

The mountain goats scattered when I gave a yell.

I should have known better.

When I got the permit for Lake Ellen Wilson, they warned about the goats. I saw them high in the cliffs on the way in. Ellen Wilson is a fine camp, one of the best in the Park. Just off the Gunsight Pass Trail, it’s surrounded by mountains — normally one of glacier’s gems.

But with all the smoke and haze from the Howe Ridge Fire burning a drainage away, it was empty and dark.

We had the place to ourselves and for good reason. It looked like the end of the world. The wind was howling. There was ash in the air and the sky was a sickly yellow, mixed with gray.

And then there were the mountain goats. Craving salt, they had managed to stick their noses under the not-quite-closed flap of my tent and had grabbed my sleeping bag.

It had survived a thorough “mouthing” — goats don’t have top teeth in the front of their mouths, which saved the bag from being shredded. But it didn’t exactly look like something I wanted to crawl into anytime soon, either.

The problem was someone before us had peed in the tent site. It was obvious because my tent had been shoved out of the way and the goats were digging the dirt underneath it. Goats crave salt and human urine is loaded with it. So are old sleeping bags, shirts, shoes, socks, you name it, they’ll chew it up.

There was a half dozen goats milling around our camp, all after that old sleeping bag and someone’s previous pee. They stayed the night, running in and out of the camp. I threw dirt at them, yelled at them, nothing worked until I waited until they were pawing at the tent and I whacked a couple as they pawed the fabric.

That seemed to work, but by then it was 1 a.m.

Ellen Wilson typically this time of year has a couple of grizzly bears roaming around as well, eating berries on the lush slopes nearby. For whatever reason, they weren’t around. If they had been, the goats certainly wouldn’t have been in camp, particularly at night, because the nearest escape cliff is a good quarter-mile or so away.

It may have been the first time in my life that I wished a griz was roaming close by.

The next morning, the goats were still lurking, but at least they had learned to keep their distance. The moral, of course, is to never pee in your campsite, not only for your own good, but for the good of the guy behind you.

Salt, in the world of the mountain goat, is, as they say, good as gold.

Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News. His column appears frequently in the newspaper.

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