This Offbeat Life
New Economy Cooking
Backpacking by Bus


Resident Unnaturalist Dave McBee swings precariously from a tree branch, an uncanny metaphor for the precarious grip on his writing career here at Get Lost Magazine.

And incidentally, Dave, compensation for your story is waiting for you - on top of a rock.




by Dave "Pee" McBee

There's no nice way to say it. Eeeewwww!

The setting was a peak-ringed basin high in Washington's Cascade Range known as the Enchantment Lakes, or, locally, simply "the Enchantments." One of the premier backpacking destinations in the state, the basin lies between 6500 and 8000 feet, and is bejeweled with tiny lakes nestled between slabs of glacier-polished granite. The word that I kept blurting out while I was there was "stunning." The pictures barely do it justice. Anyway, while registering for the trip at the ranger station in nearby Leavenworth, I had been informed that, when peeing, I should do so directly onto bare rocks. Otherwise, I was told, mountain goats would dig up the fragile soils and uproot vegetation with their hooves to get at the urine. The ranger explained, "It's all just salt to them." It sounded kind of twisted, but, when in Rome....

Reaching the Enchantments isn't easy. There are two access routes (neither can fairly be called a 'trail'). The one I went in on, on the west end, starts gently enough, reaching Colchuck Lake in about five easy miles. But from that point the route gains 2500 feet in one mile. It's not a technical climb, just a butt-ugly, straight-up scramble up a boulder field (with constant, disconcerting slides tumbling ominously down a chute a few yards to one side). That one mile took me five hours and about a gallon of water - and pretty much finished me off for the day (that gallon represented eight pounds, which are usually better to have more centrally located than on one's back).

One of the advantages of camping alone is that one doesn't have to wander far from the campsite to answer those late-night calls of nature; one can simply take three steps and let fly - onto the rocks, as directed, of course.

I was awakened in the morning by a curious snuffling; I peeked out of the tent to see a goat kid about six feet away. As quickly and quietly as possible, I dug out my camera, leaned out, and snapped a off-balance shot, presuming that it would flee as soon as it figured out I was up. But no, the kid, and an adult I took to be its nanny, worked the slab of granite that I'd whizzed on all night for a good half hour, assiduously hoovering the surface. They seemed perfectly at ease being within four or five feet of where I sat. When I briefly stood up to reposition myself, the nanny shot me a stern glance which I interpreted to mean that I should sit back down. Hey - the only mountain goats I'd ever seen before had been distant white specks 500 yards away, so I decided I could stay seated as long as they wanted. The goats showed themselves to be greedy little whores for the salt: they carefully and thoroughly licked the slab, and where my pee had run into a patch of gravel at the low end, the nanny dug up that gravel and vigorously chewed it up.

And then I realized I had to pee again. I slowly stood up, causing the goats to move away twenty feet or so. I turned away, found another rock slab, whipped it out, and suddenly the nanny had moved around in front of me and was closing in.

"Oh, hell, no, you little pervert! Get the fuck away from me!"

She scooted away, but as soon as I was finished they both moved right in on the wet spot. When the kid tried to cut in front of the nanny, she'd roughly shove it out of her way.

As I would later learn, mountain goats, as well as plenty of other wild critters, crave salt seasonally if there are mineral deficiencies in their diets. They normally find those minerals in the vegetation they eat, but if the minerals are lacking in the soil, they're not in the vegetation, either. So they have to range around to find them, unless we're handy, with our salt-rich diets. Goats simply seem to be the most willing of the lot to ignore their fear of humans to satisfy their cravings; I mean, I've never had a deer or an elk bring its baby right up to me to drink my piss.

I noticed backpacks hanging from trees while I was up there: the goats will chew the sweat-salted straps right off your pack, if left unattended. And if you've left your clothes lying around, they'll eat those, too, for the same reason.

A friend of mine was backpacking in the Olympic Mountains some time ago, and camped one clear night without his tent. And he had this vivid dream of the Devil licking his face. Fanciful, eh? He awoke with a start. He face of a billy goat was inches from his face, and its huge pink tongue was licking his face. Bloodshot red eyes, sharp horns, teeth, a big snaky tongue slobbering all over his face, not to mention the goat's horrible breath - he later admitted to crapping his pants. I probably would have, too. He said he was afraid to move. There was goat saliva in his eyes, in his mouth, but he was too terrified to move until the billy was through and had moved on.

I've also heard since then of marmots crawling up into the engines of parked cars to chew through coolant lines to get at the fluid (which, sadly, also contains toxic chemicals). Another favorite of mountain goats are the rubber seals around the edge of auto windshields (wiper fluid, along with whatever salt had been used to salt winter roads). Deer and elk will lick up spilled engine fluids from down the middle of mountain roads.

But at the time I knew none of that, so I continued to snap off picture after picture, carrying on a one-sided conversation with these two goats:

"You sick little fucks! Don't you realize that there are guys in my neighborhood who'd pay to be on either end of this transaction? And there are others who'd pay to watch! And they probably all have their own website! And they probably get more hits than the one I write for! And they probably actually PAY their correspondents!"



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