Mountain goats on the McCullough Gulch Trail hike in Colorado

Something always stands between me and the goats. I haul all my stupid, heavy photography gear on my back for miles into thinning air, hoping I’ll spot their white fur against the rocky ridges. Then, every time I see them, something terrible happens that keeps me from them. I nearly crap my pants on Grays, or I panic in the alpine gusts on Humboldt, or otherwise.

A hint of warm alpenglow on Quandary Peak in Colorado
A hint of alpenglow at Quandary

I returned from a perfect backpacking trip to Olympic National Park a few weeks ago. Within days of re-entering civilized society, I contracted COVID for the first time and landed in urgent care to get my first-ever stitches after a kitchen knife accident. Any dreams of a 14er this year were deferred till 2024. But I had to transport my Australian friend to Colorado, and couldn’t resist a good hike while I was there.

In my recovering condition, I had no aspirations of the kind of altitude hiking it usually takes me to reach mountain goat. I was just grateful to be well enough again to hike at all. My road trip buddy and I did some light hiking earlier in the trip to scope out trails for our larger hike. The highlight was coming across a perfect little waterfall.

For our main excursion the next day, we chose the 6.4-mile round trip McCullough Gulch Trail hike in the Tenmile Range, about 10 miles south of Breckenridge. The well-maintained trail climbs to an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet. This gulch was formed by the meltwater flow from alpine glaciers, forming a route with beautiful views of Quandary Peak, White Falls, and the surrounding mountain range.

At the very end of the hike to the top, my friend spotted the mountain goats! We raced to the top of the reservoir just in time to sit with our feet over the edge of the ridge, and photograph the goats as they descended rocky bluffs a few hundred yards away. The nanny and her kid paused to rest on a ledge for a while, eyeing us warily from a safe distance. The nanny stood calm watch over their surroundings while the kid rested, until they resumed their journey and picked their way down the mountain and out of sight.

Mountain goat nanny and kid on a ridge on the McCullough Gulch Trail near Breckenridge, Colorado
Mountain goat nanny and her kid
A mountain goat descends a rocky ridge in the Tenmile Range in Colorado
The mountain goat descends

The weather was perfect when we started, but summer storms pop up fast and frequently in the summer. As storm clouds swirled around us, we followed the goats’ example and headed back down the trail, being pelted with rain for a while.

Then, the skies parted and allowed us some time on the lakeshore. Poppy waded in, and I plunged my feet into the cold water before heading down the mountain to finish our hike.

Select images from this story are available for purchase in my Zenfolio store. 50% of all art sales are donated to environmental conservation organizations.