Often it’s the movement that catches your eye.
When looking for mountain goats on the cliffs above Lake Pend Oreille, just looking for a pale splotch isn’t enough.
“They’re not as white as the white rocks,” said Farragut State Park interpreter Kris Buchler as she floated Sunday in a kayak below Bernard Peak. A small flotilla of the colorful craft made its way across the southern end of the lake for a “Goat and Boat” educational outing. The two three-hour trips Sunday had the park joining forces with Full Spectrum Kayaks for the first time.
People from as far away as Arizona and British Columbia paid $35 for the tour. Spokane teenager Ken Zigler left his family behind in the campground to go kayaking for the first time.
“I like goats, that’s why I came,” said Zigler, explaining that he has pictures of them decorating his room but never spotted one in the wild. “I hope we see a goat.”
Wind whipped the waves as the kayakers crossed the lake from a boat launch on the west shore to cliffs on the east. The group quickly reached the foot of Bernard Peak, a chunk of granite that deflected glaciers as they carved the dramatic landscape.
After a half-hour of rubbernecking, all eyes on the partially wooded cliffs, someone spotted a goat.
He was napping behind a pine. His rear end could’ve been a big rock, for all the shape it had. But his distinctive head turned to take a peek at the visitors.
Soon, everyone was spotting goats much higher up.
“See him jumping way up there, to the left? … Look, way, way up, two of them. A mom and baby.”
If the weather gets really hot, Buchler said, the goats will come down to the lake to drink.
After awhile, the kayakers were silent. They lifted their binoculars for the umpteenth time, or simply soaked up the sun and the sound of waves lapping at the rock.
In May, Buchler counted 22 goats - the most she’s seen at one time in her three years at the park.
There are about 60 goats in the herd. It dates back to the 1960s when the Idaho Department of Fish and Game transplanted goats here from another Idaho mountain.
Hunting isn’t allowed, and the creatures seem tolerant of boaters, Buchler said.
Of course, a human would have to be unnaturally nimble to get close.
Explaining the goats’ agility, Buchler said: “Their short legs and compact bodies give them a low center of gravity.”
Baby mountain goats are able to scramble over cliffs within six hours of birth, she said.
But they do fall. In July 1995, a boater picked up a young goat that had fallen.
“We thought maybe he’d been frightened by the fireworks at Bayview the night before,” said park staffer Cynthia Langlitz.
The goat died during the trip across the lake. It was mounted and is on display at the park visitor center.
Although this is the first time the kayak company cooperated with the park, it began offering “Goat and Boat” outings on its own earlier in the summer.
“This is something we really enjoy and want to do more of,” said Full Spectrum owner Josie Merithew.
Merithew gave a Saturday night campground talk about kayaking. The night before, Buchler spoke to park visitors about goats, a presentation that’s become a park tradition.
“People like the goats,” Buchler said. “It’s one form of wildlife they can almost be sure of seeing.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo