Sean Jansen

The Mountain Keepers

Sean Jansen

I slowly unzipped and peeled back the rain fly of my tent after hearing chewing and crunching noises for an alarm clock in the Sky Top Basin of the Beartooth Mountains. I knew it wasn’t a bear.But also knew it wasn’t a deer sitting at an elevation of around11,000 feet. As I slowly peeled back the tent flap, the view of Granite Peak was illuminated with gorgeous sunrise light. But the mountain goats five feet from my tent sifting through the alpine rock environment stole the morning show.

Granite Peak in South Central Montana’s Beartooth Mountains is the tallest peak in the state. Sitting at 12,799 feet, it stands far from alone with alpine lakes and 32 of the other highest peaks in the state. Though the grandeur of the peak sparkles with morning glow amongst its other granite relatives, few inhabitants call the area home, and for good reason.

It’s an inhospitable landscape. Unforgiving even within a moments notice. The beautiful sunshine of a gorgeous summer day can turn to death defying arrays of violence only summoned from the wraths of god. Snow at any moment, lightening for hours amongst a treeless landscape, and bitter cold. Among the iceberg laden lakes with the occasional salmonid, the pika and marmot squeaking from the shelter of eroded granite blocks, and the occasional passing bird of prey cruising the skyline waiting for something to emerge, the landscape is virtually lifeless. But among those the thick furred, horned and hoofed mountain goats seem to cherish the far from friendly environment and call this place home.

Constantly scouring the basin of the mighty surrounding peaks scratching, licking, and smelling for any sort of greenery, these creatures are the perfect adaptation to any alpine scenario. With an incredible thick and white coat, they can with stand even the most bitter of winds that sweep down from the highest elevations all the while blending in wonderfully to the snowy landscape in case any predatory creature come looking. Their hooves are the biggest asset they poses. As they are surefooted with two toes that are spread wide and evenly to provide the greatest balance range of any other hoofed creature in the states. Along with the most gripped as any climbing shoe on the market.

Though incredibly curious as I found out mere feet away while I drank my coffee from the shelter of my tent, they can indeed be aggressive depending on their kids and territory. They move constantly as the lack of any sort of green they ingest is limited. So they climb and search any and all areas where food may grow.

Humans have indeed successfully climbed and hiked Granite Peak as a token to say one has indeed reached the roof of Montana. However none of us possess the skills that these creatures utlize on a daily and annual basis. Our time in the Beartooth Mountains in and around Granite peak is very short and seasonal while they simply watch us for two months a year and enjoy the rest to themselves. A lifestyle, I’m sure they are just fine with.