• Matt Dirksen

The Kings of the Mountain

I spent this weekend on Mount Evans at an altitude of 14,130 feet with one subject in mind. Mountain Goats. That's because I’m working through adding all of Colorado’s megafauna to my portfolio. Some are easier to find than others, some are more photogenic but they’re all on the list.

This weekend saw the opening of North America’s highest paved roadway. Beginning at the exit in Idaho Springs, one winds around until you reach Echo Lake. Once you reach Echo Lake, you begin the trip up to the summit. You’ll cross through a few unique ecosystems on the way the top. The Mt Goliath Natural Area boast an incredibly photogenic bristle cone pine are that is worth a blog in an of itself. Once you pass the Mt Goliath Natural Area, you’ll really begin the climb. The road is two lane and has bikers and runners along the way. I should also mention, it has no guardrail and the edge of the road in some places is a little closer than you wish…

I got up at sunrise on Saturday but didn’t find anything. The wind was blowing about 50mph with some of the gusts exceeding that. After a few hours, I bagged it and decided to make a return trip in the morning. I’m glad I did as I was able to see a good amount of alpine wildlife.

I immediately saw marmot everywhere.

They were out getting their morning sunshine in an attempt to warm up. They’re pretty active and they’ll creep up behind you on a rock if you aren’t paying attention too!

I probably saw more Marmot than anything else on the trip. They’re no stranger to anyone who has visited alpine areas and are also known as “Whistle Pigs” for the sound they make when on alert.

After searching up and down the road for a while, I thought I was going to get skunked for a second day in a row. I returned to the summit and as I was headed back up, I saw a group of bighorn ewes and 4 new offspring. They were moving pretty quickly so they didn’t stick around long for me but they stayed on the summit near the parking lot for a while and grazed near the observatory area. They took off later after a couple of dogs in the area started barking like crazy.

After heading back up to the summit, I found the stars of the show. I found two mountain goats licking salt minerals off the side of the road. They grazed around the summit for a while before heading over to the cliffs and lounging for around an hour.

This biggest hope this weekend was to be able to shoot the goats with a number of different backdrops, lighting scenarios and focal lengths to boost up some of the images in my archive. I didn’t fair too bad although I really wish they were more active in the predawn to first light hours like moose and elk. It’s really hard to beat the light you get in that time of the morning. So there is always next time! I was glad I had my 400/2.8 with me though as for the most of the morning everything was at quite a distance away and the snow/ice made it difficult for me to move around in places. Later in the morning I was treated to a few close up encounters that yielded some great portrait opportunities. By the time this happened, the summit and the road were beginning to become pretty heavy with tourist traffic so I decided to call it day. All in all, a successful one at that!

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