You Are Not a Salt Lick

Reeducating Goats and People

By Mary Terra-Berns

Three miles of trail and nearly 3,700 feet of elevation gain lay behind my husband Tony and me as we stopped for a breather at the old campsite near the edge of the tree line.

The last half-mile of talus would be a piece of cake. As we moved up through the rocks, I watched a pika with a mouthful of flowers and grass scurry into its hidden sanctuary. I scanned the terrain for the small band of mountain goats that call this place home—it was the first time on our annual trek to Scotchman Peak that the white-bearded steeplejacks were nowhere in sight. 

Scotchman Peak, the highest point in Bonner County at 7,009 feet, is located at the southern extent of the Purcell Mountains in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, five thousand feet above Lake Pend Oreille. In the early 1900s, mountain goats and pikas shared this pinnacle with a few high-altitude hermits who staffed one of Idaho’s first fire lookouts. Established in 1922 by the U.S. Forest Service, the lookout was a “rag camp,” basically a pup tent near a tree to climb to look for smoke. Four years later a sturdier, more protective cupola cabin was built. Manning a lookout back then was a dangerous profession—two of the Scotchman Peak firewatchers were struck and killed by lightning before the lookout was abandoned in the 1950s. All that remains of the building are a few boards, some hardware, and part of the lower level rock structure.

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