Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Men Who Stare at Goats: Mt Ellinor Trip Report and Mountain Goat Report

Forest Service watching goats
If I could type in the Movie Preview man’s voice, I would do that and say “For three months, the trail had been closed to the public. Barriers were put up; police and Forest Service rangers were put on notice to not allow anyone in the area. For three month, aggressive mountain goats were running amok, after attacking, charging and once, even killing a tourist. They had taken one life, would they take more. For three months, one man summited the mountain on a daily basis, hoping to rid the area of the problem. For three months, he was ‘The Man Who Stared at Mountain Goats”

I would say that because, for the first time in 3 months, the trail up Mt Ellinor is open. For the most part, closing on account of numerous reports of aggressive Mountain Goats is a good idea, especially since a man a few years ago was gored in his femoral artery and was killed by a goat on the North side of the Olympic National Park. Deaths in a park are never good, and putting the area on high alert was a great decision. Mt. Ellinor is by far the most popular peak on the Olympic Peninsula. It is used as a training run for Cross Country teams, a winter wonderland for new climbers and a great day hike for thousands each month. At 1.6 miles long and an elevation gain of over 2,400 feet from the upper parking lot trailhead, this is a short but strenuous trail.

With Port-A-Potties located at the parking lot, the issue of the goats could become better, as mountain goats are attracted to salt, and, well, urine is quite salty. The restroom had been removed the year before because of budget allotment.  With the winter snow not melting off for over a year, the goats’ salt from rocks and lichen were not as available, so the salts from the bathroom in the parking lot became a new destination. The goats were reportedly following people down the trails, taking food from their hands. As I was talking about this with Forest Service Rangers, a fellow hiking from Ballard was expressing his sadness for not “being able to feed the goats lunch anymore.”

Follow all signs
 Because of interaction with some hikers, who tended to view wildlife as tame and safe, the mountain goats got used to human contact. Just like with bears, deer, elk and even chipmunks, too much contact between animals and humans can cause problems. The mountain goats got too used to people and with their ability to cause fatal injuries; something had to be done with the Mt. Ellinor area goats. This is when the Forest Service sent up an employee to scare away and create a natural fear between goats and humans. The employee, who shall remain nameless at his request, used a myriad of methods to scare away the goats. From Bear Spray to throwing rocks and shooting paint balls at mountain goats, he tried practically everything he could think of to scare them away. For the most part though, the goats left him alone. Discussing this with him, we agreed that if people realized they were wild animals, and treated them as they would treat coming up on a bear during a hike, they never would have become a problem. Another hiker, listening in to our discussion, chimed in with a rule that is somewhat appropriate for the situation.
This is Mountain Goat Country

He said that “Hikers need to be respectful of nature and understand her, and stop being dicks and ignoring rules.” I mention this because his comment shows the dichotomy of hiking. To balance nature with human activity is nearly impossible. We impact nature with just our mere presence.  We are no different to these goats when we encroach on them as wolves are while hunting a herd of elk. They act differently when their world is disturbed, and we need to, as hikers, climbers and stewards of nature need to continue to be respectful. Enjoying nature is easy, follow all signage, follow common sense and be smart.

Keep on eye out for these guys
All of that had to be said, in order to tell you this: Mt Ellinor is open to hiking and climbing. It is a beautiful, short but strenuous trail that is broken up in to 3 parts. From loose rocks, called scree, wide trail with vistas that are easy to walk, to switchbacks through lush green and brown forests, this trail has it all.

Lake Cushman and Mt Ellinor (Right)
Location and Directions: About 60 miles from Olympia take Highway 101 to Hoodsport. Turn left and follow signs to Lake Cushman and Staircase. Follow road until you reach a T where you can go to Staircase to the left or Mt Ellinor to the right, turn right. After about 4 miles, turn left to go uphill. Signs are visible. Follow road up for about 5 miles. Take another left after giant pile of rocks and sign for Mt Ellinor. Trailhead is near Port-A-Potties

Level: Strenuous at time- Bring Walking sticks and plenty of water

Distance: 1.6 miles from upper parking lot

Elevation gain: 2400ft (3500-5900ft)

Bathrooms: Available at Trailhead. If you need to expel waste, do so 50 feet from the trail and on a rock or snow patch.

Trail Breakdown: 3 main sections
                -Section 1: .30 miles of a straight up trail in a dense forest and well-marked trail. Elevation gain is 400ft.
                - Section 2: .70 miles of switchbacks through a forest. Rest benches are available, as you gain 600 feet. Loose pebbles and dirt can cause spots where the trail is loose. Great views are available at the top of this section.
Take a break, enjoy the view
                - Section 3: .60 miles of scree and steps carved into rock. This has an elevation gain of over 1400ft, so take your time. In some areas, the rock is a little loose, so test your steps before you commit. Despite the difficulty, amazing views unfold nearly every step. Mountain Goat encounters in this section are possible, so keep an eye out.
An average view from the summit

- Summit: From here on a clear day, it is possible to see more than just the city of Seattle, Mt Olympus, Mt Baker, Mt Rainier, Mt Adams and Saint Helens, the Capitol Dome in Olympia, Hood Canal and the Puget Sound. Hawks, birds, goats and chipmunks are also frequently seen. As usual, keep all trash in your bag, and keep it zipped; the chipmunks know what is inside.

Join us on Mt Ellinor!
Final Thought: You MUST hike/climb this sometime. It is difficult, but hikers of all levels can do this. Sure, you might be a little tired or have small muscle aches, but the views from the top and the feeling of accomplishment make up for everything.

Call us today to come hike this trail with us. (360)350-8938

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