Thousands of feet above Glacier National Park, I had one of those moments when what I was looking for had been almost exactly under my nose. The wind was blowing me like a drunk across the trail, while I held my double garbage bag covered cast high above my head in an attempt to keep it dry. We had come here in search of mountain goats, but now that we were in a hailstorm, we couldn’t see much through the mist, and didn’t want to see much of anything other than the thick tree line we walked through on our way to the top of Red Pass. Somewhere within the 5 minutes we had been at the top, we had practically walked through a family of mountain goats without seeing them.
It was our second day by Elizabeth Lake. The weather forecast had called for a pretty mild day, but a local guide who we found prepping coffee for his group in the light but sunless morning, assured us that weather predictions meant little to nothing in Glacier. It had been raining in our glacial basin campsite the day before, and had been pretty tolerable. I reasoned that the worst thing that would happen anyways is getting a little wet. I put a full package of garbage bags in my daypack, and got into a tee shirt.
The sun was making patterns on the mountains surrounding the lake. Red Pass was glowing in the sunlight under a large blue sky. Breakfast was a neat replica of the beans, potato’s and hot dogs we had enjoyed the previous night. It was warmer already. It was looking as though the weatherman would beat the guide. But when we got close to the top a heavy wind began driving through us, and we watched the heavy gallop of a rain storm making its way across the valley. We had just enough time to throw on a light rain coat before the rain joined the freezing cold winds blasting over the pass.
An hour later we were sitting on a ledge overlooking the valley from a clearing just below the tree line. It was sunny, and our jackets were drying beside us as we ate trail mix. A hiking couple came walking down the trail. I had seen them walking down Red Pass behind us, but it had been too cold and wet for us to want to stop and chat with them.
Now on our sunny ledge where we felt comfortably like we were hanging out in a postcard, we shared stories with the couple about how awful the pass had been above us. The pass was now bathing in sunlight, looking like a wonderful and inviting place.
“You saw the goats right?” the lady asked. “They must have been right next to you. I looked up and saw a pack of goats standing next to some guy, and when I looked back up from getting my camera, the guy was gone. I thought my mind was playing tricks and I had seen just goats.”
Mountain goats aren’t exactly a rarity in Glacier, but it is always nice to get close to the animal, rather than just see it through a telescope. We had all but ran into a group of goats, but failed to notice because the conditions had been so uninviting.
The news would have been a lot more upsetting if we weren’t then perched on a warm and comfortable ledge overlooking the basin, eating trail mix and drying off. I would have taken the place we were now, over a mountain goat eating out of my hand and playing a flute. Even though I had really wanted to see a goat, I probably would have turned around in less than a minute after seeing them.