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We freeze. The goats freeze. After several minutes, the goats finally make their way down the trail toward us, the more brazen of the two barely giving us a chance to step off to one side. His partner takes a more discreet route above the trail through the krummholz. Jason and I exhale, and I'm pleased at myself. The wild beast encounter is just what I'd hoped for.
A few more strides carry us to the summit; we've made it in a little over two hours. The payoff is amazing. We sit and relax on some rocky outcroppings and chatter about the views, noting the alluvial fan of the Clark Fork emptying into Lake Pend Oreille. A cool breeze dries our sweat-soaked clothes. The topic drifts back to the encounter with the mountain goats.
As if sensing the turn in our conversation, a goat suddenly peeks around the edge of a stacked shale shelter. He studies us for a moment, ducks from view, and then reappears... behind me. I sit down to ease any apprehension on his part. I start making tsk-tsking sounds to get his attention. The goat tilts his head and steps toward me. I close my mouth. He continues advancing. Four feet ... three ... two ... is this really happening? A flash of fear surges through me as he steps even closer. He stops, and we lock eyes, heads cocked in opposite directions. Then he blinks, gives a last curious look, and turns and saunters away.
"He was so close! That was so cool!" I'm almost breathless.
"I know!" Jason replies, totally thrilled. He'd been just as excited and nervous as I'd been.
The elation buoys us on the trek down until the angle of descent pushes away the good feeling, replacing it with burning quads.
A couple of hours later, our tired legs eventually find the truck and we head for the nearest town. A cold Fat Tire and dripping Philly cheese-steak sandwich for Jason and a Moose Drool and deliciously greasy Reuben for me at the Cabinet Mountain Bar and Grill in Clark Fork provide the perfect ending to our first hike together.
We drive the half hour to the Big Eddy campground, about three miles west of the junction of Highway 200 and Highway 56. As we set up the tent, we agree that spending the next day on a leisurely walk through the Ross Creek Cedars—a grove of giant trees, many over 200 years old—sounds better than another summit climb.
Early morning light filters through the cedars the next day as we hike along the cool, dark trail through the grove. Unfortunately, massive amounts of deadfall stop us from reaching the waterfall at the trail's end, but the stroll provides a nice respite from the steep, sunny slopes of Scotchman.
We start the drive back to Missoula by afternoon. As the scenery flashes by, I sort through my thoughts, replaying the weekend's highlights. It's an adventure to visit such a rugged place, I realize, but the true adventure had been sharing it with Jason. The trip with him was hilarious, light-hearted, serious, mellow and even a bit scary (thanks, goats). The clinking of our beer glasses, our silly antics along the trail, his firm, but good-natured instructions to help me blast my truck through a muddy spot of road (and his amused "Yeah—something like that" after my slippery, fish-tailing success)—these were the things that stuck out in my mind. Maybe we both had questions in the end that we never got answered, but that was part of the thrill.
Sometimes the adventure isn't about where you're going. Sometimes it's about who's there with you.