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. Upon re-entering civilized society and immediately contracting COVID for the first time, I found myself in urgent care getting my first-ever stitches after a kitchen knife accident. Any dreams of a 14er this year were deferred till 2024, But I still needed to get my friend to Colorado and couldn’t pass up good hikes while I was there.

In my recovering condition, I had no aspirations of the kind of hiking it usually takes me to reach mountain goats, but I was thrilled 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 flow of meltwater from alpine glaciers, forming a route with beautiful views of Quandary Peak, White Falls, and the surrounding mountain range.

My friend spotted the goats near the end of the hike! 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 mountain goats. A nanny and her kid rested on a ledge for a while, eyeing us warily from a distance. Then, 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 here. We turned around and headed back down the trail, getting 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.