At the beginning of January 2010, to celebrate the New Year, a partner and I were busting through knee-deep snow toward the summit of 12,441 foot Kataka Mountain. Feeling a bit less lion-hearted this New Year, I settled for the East Ridge of Goat Mountain. Gaining only 2,300 feet to top out at 7,797 would be, I figured, a cake walk. After all, the summit elevation of this peak is less than 200 feet higher than that of my home. Besides, I’d been rather lazy in the mountains lately, opting for easy strolls and short days. I saw no need to engage in a death march.
Early in the Day
The first mile of roadway was packed with walkers and bicyclists braving the icy surface conditions up Waterton Canyon. I could not wait to get away to the peace and quiet of the East Ridge of Goat Mountain. After marching just over a mile up the roadbed, I began looking for the two giant pipes mentioned in the SummitPost route description, which my GPS coordinates confirmed was the right place to turn off. Two walkers gave me the universal “WTF?” face as I donned gators and stomped off into the snow, but wished me good luck and I wished them a nice walk in return.
I was stunned that I was the first human on this route since the snow fall a few days prior. As I gained the ridge I could see most of my route before me. Wow. A long, undulating ridge awaited me to reach the top of Goat Mountain. The day was surprisingly warm and clear, though sunset would still come early this time of year. This day would be quite a better bargain than I’d originally anticipated.
I soon fell into a familiar pattern of tromping through the snow up one hump, down the other side, up another…only to find the summit never seemed to get closer. Leaving behind the rolling hills of the eastern parts of the path, the terrain became rougher requiring more and more attention. Traveling alone on snow-covered rocks demanded that I be cautious. With no partner for a back-up, it was “all me.”
Pushing on to the Summit & Beginning my Return Trip
At one point, my GPS seemed frozen on “0.8#” mile to the summit. Seriously, is this thing broken or am I moving so darn slow the GPS doesn’t even register my progress? I soon was faced by the surprisingly sheer wall of the second-to-last (and most onerous) of the false summits. Mid-day was pushing into early afternoon and I was solo and began to have some doubts. I dug around for the path of least resistance and made my way up some boulders on the north side of the wall before re-gaining the eastern aspect to the top. From there I could see that not only did I still have a lot of work to do to reach the summit, but that there was one more small hump between me and the final push.
Descending the western side of “onerous false summit,” I encountered a Class 3+ or even Class 4 descent. Two different sources assured me there was “nothing higher than Class 2+” on this ridge, but I saw no alternative – so down I went. Working my way through the notch between these two outcrops, I surmounted the final false summit of the day.
Entering Gamble Oak scrub on the eastern aspect of the summit hump, I did my best to stay un-entangled by the pesky oak branches. I could smell wood smoke coming from one of the houses in the private land to the west of the peak and knew I was close. Pushing onto the summit plateau, I could finally see the boulder heap comprising the summit, with a metal rod poking out of the jumble for good measure. At the summit I grabbed a quick “one arm” photo, ate some snacks, took note that the weather was holding but that the sun was getting lower in the sky, and descended as quickly as I could without losing my purchase on the snow-covered rocks.
Racing the Sun and Avoiding the Lions
I took a slightly different, re-ascent up “onerous false summit.” Though only a few feet over from my descent route, this was definitely no Class 2+ step. I can only assume that somewhere under the snow is hidden this Class 2+ easy scramble. I knew at least a couple miles of ups and downs stood between me and the fast out-walk on the road. The shadows cast by the low winter sun grew longer and longer, and the light deepened to orange. I recalled an email from a fellow climber telling me about “lots of cats” in this area, and I knew he didn’t mean the “house cat” variety. It was time to cruise.
At last overcoming the last of the snow-slicked difficulties, I hit the less rocky rolling terrain, and hit the gas. I could see a few walkers below in the canyon, which boosted my confidence a bit that I wouldn’t be the sole puma bait in the canyon that evening. I descended the steep ridge to the gully, and popped out from the snow onto the road between the pipes. There I met a couple walking the roadway who seemed a bit put-off to encounter some crazy mountain lady bursting from a snow-filled gully. I got my gear and pack re-settled, overtook the strolling couple and wished them a Happy New Year (and secretly hoped they seemed more savory to any Waterton mountain lions than did I) and sped up the snow-packed road to my Jeep.
New Year's Lessons Learned
I looked up one last time toward Goat Mountain, bathed in evening light, as I loaded my gear and drove away. I’ll be damned if that little peak didn’t just give me a run for my money. I laughed out-loud to myself. Every year the mountains teach me numerous lessons to carry over into work and lift. Here, from humble little Goat Mountain, I had my first few lessons of 2011:
• Sometimes the best adventures reside not in far-away lands but sit right under your nose.
• The mountains will humble you when and where you least expect them to.
• Don’t under estimate in any way challenges that appear small, for good things really do come in small packages.
Happy New Year!