Tales from the trails

You meet some interesting people when you’re hitting the trails in Scotchman Peaks.

That’s true for everyone. But perhaps it applies the most to the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness’ Trail Ambassadors volunteers. It’s their job to get out and tell their fellow hikers about safety on the trails. And the biggest part of staying safe and keeping our wild backyard wild is keeping a safe distance from the animals.

Mountain goats in particular are curious creatures, and they are drawn to the salty sweat most hikers are covered in by the time they reach the Scotchman Peaks summit. It might seem charming when the goats approach human groups, but it’s actually cause for concern. For one thing, it habituates them to creatures that aren’t a normal part of their habitat. For another, goats are wild and unpredictable, and when encounters with human go bad, people can wind up with serious injuries. In fact, the Scotchman Peaks trail had to be shut down temporarily after a particularly nasty biting incident.

“They aren’t approaching you because they’re friendly,”

Photo by volunteer Trail Ambassador, Howard Shay.

“They aren’t approaching you because they’re friendly,” longtime Trail Ambassador Mark Cochran said. “They’re approaching you because they’re habituated. In reality, they’re scared of humans, but their craving for salt overpowers their fear.”

“They’re approaching you because they’re habituated. In reality, they’re scared of humans, but their craving for salt overpowers their fear.”

Enter the Trail Ambassadors. This volunteer program gets folks out on the trails to remind people about the dos and don’ts of Scotchman Peaks hiking. It’s an important safety service, and it gets volunteers out doing what they’d be doing normally — hiking!

Mark has had his fair share of interesting meetings on the trails. He makes a point of asking people where they’re from, and sometimes, they come up with some fascinating answers.

Usually, hikers are coming from the Inland Northwest, Mark said. But not always. One time, he ran into a group of former fraternity brothers who regularly met for new adventures, and that year, they happened to choose Scotchman Peaks. Another time, he met a pair of doctors visiting the wild Scotchmans from India.

That’s what makes the Trail Ambassadors so important. Most visitors aren’t going to intuitively know it’s best to keep their distance from the goats. And those goats can be persistent. Mark remembers an incident when a group of teenage boys were sunbathing at the summit. One persistent goat kept approaching, keen on getting to that salty sweat, and each time, they tossed rocks in her direction, prompting her to run away. When they picked themselves up to leave, the goat beelined to where they’d been lying, eager to lick the salt away from where their bare skin touched rock.

“Its really illuminating how much they crave that salt and what lengths they’ll go to get it,”

“Its really illuminating how much they crave that salt and what lengths they’ll go to get it,” Mark said.


Interested in becoming an Ambassador? Get more info here or email info@scotchmanpeaks.org

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About The Author:

Cameron Rasmusson is a writer and journalist who grew up in Scotchmans territory. While he now calls Sandpoint home, he spent his formative years in the natural beauty of Libby, Montana. From elementary to high school, he enjoyed the outdoor experiences that mountain towns provide.

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