Mountain Goats

On a recent hike I had the luck to run into this guy and the rest of the herd at about 12,500 feet. It’s hard to believe they can live up that high, eating only alpine grasses and plants – adult males can weigh up to 300 pounds! Somehow they find enough to eat though, and staying up that high keeps them safe from predators (though they do drop lower in the wintertime).

Interestingly, mountain goats are not goats at all. Instead they are more closely related to antelope and gazelles, though they clearly are much woolier than their cousins. You can see that this guy was still losing his thick winter coat. Both male and female adults have the horns, which can be as long as 12 inches, and both have the neat goatee (pun intended). Yet perhaps the most interesting thing about mountain goats cannot be directly observed when you cross paths with them but marveled at when they hop acrobatically from rock to rock. All mountain goats have specialized hooves that allow them to grip the rocks. The hooves have a hard outer margin and a flexible, grippy inner pad. In addition to being nimble climbers, mountain goats are powerful and can jump up to 12 feet in a single bound!

We kept our distance and they kept theirs. And by the time we came back down, the herd had disappeared. Not sure where they went on that terrain, but then again…the hooves. They could’ve gone anywhere!