Flip-flops and Mountain Goats

Yeo Won Yarnell’s essay was the best of the 2019 FSPW Scholarship Competition.

I was raised in a household that highly values doing outdoor activities like hiking, biking and skiing.  My parents first took me backpacking when I was 2 years old and ever since I have fallen in love with being in the wilderness. My father has a huge passion for backpacking and is one of the reasons I love it so much. He has many stories from all his travels like his 30-day backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington. Backpacking has always been something we did as a family and through these adventures I have gained many skills and knowledge. One of my most memorable trips was backpacking to Rock Lake when I was 9 years old.

Rock Lake is part of the Kootenai National Forest in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness of Montana. The trail is about 5 miles long, fairly rocky and steep. With my father, mother and little sister, we cheerfully hiked up to the lake singing songs all the way. My father told us that being loud would help keep the bears away so it became a tradition that my little sister and I sang every time we hiked to keep our family safe. My father taught us many things on that trip, such as how to use a compass, set up a tent, build a fire and filter water. I was getting to the age where I could help set up camp and carry more weight. This trip was a huge learning curve where I saw how much work needed to be done to backpack safely.

That night while we were sleeping, my dad heard movement in our camp. He saw the shadow of an animal as it knocked over one of our cups. He grabbed his gun and cocked it, which woke up my mother. He peeked out and saw that it was just a mountain goat. He safely put away the gun and went back to bed. The next morning when we woke up, we saw the footprints the mountain goat had left. My father had hung our food in the tree so the mountain goat didn’t eat any food. However, I had forgotten to put my flip flops in my tent the night before. When I went to put them on, one was missing and the other had a giant bite mark in it. The mountain goat had eaten my flip flop! I learned a very important lesson that day – never leave your flip flops outside!

The trip to Rock Lake is a memory I will always treasure because of the lessons I learned and the connections it created with my family. That trip was a pivotal learning experience and I acquired many new skills, including how to use a compass and start a fire with a flint. The moments I shared with my father, who taught me those skills, and singing along with my mom and little sister are irreplaceable. Even getting my flip flop eaten by a mountain goat is something I’ll always look back on and laugh at. This particular trip was special, but all of the wilderness adventures I have gone on have taught me so much. I have a huge appreciation and passion for nature given to me by my father. I hope one day I will be able to pass it onto my kids and go on more crazy adventures.

Yeo’s story is a reminder about what mountain goats will do for salt. Remember to keep your distance and don’t feed the goats!

Yeo, a 2019 graduate from Sandpoint High School, is the 2019 winner of a Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness scholarship for the best essay overall written on the theme, “A most memorable wilderness experience.” She received a certificate and $500 for her essay. Watch for more entries from Sanders, Lincoln and Bonner Counties in “Voices in the Wilderness.”

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