I hiked the Herman Gulch Trail 2.85 miles and 1640' to Herman Lake. The weather was cool around 45 degrees with a nearly cloud free sky. Once above the Divide though, there was a cold, wind gusting out of the west. Little did I know the exceptional day I was about to experience. As I neared the Lake, I noticed two very distinct white shapes across the cirque near each of the twin summits of The Citadel. I couldn't make out if it was a person or persons, but the distinct white color made it seem unlikely it was other climbers. After watching for a few minutes and not noticing any movement, I dismissed the "sighting" and proceeded high above the Lake ascending on grassy slopes to the summit of Pettingell Peak. At the west saddle just below Pettingell, I was amazed by a white apparition which was close and moving toward me - a beautiful, white mountain goat with two spike horns, elegant in its full winter coat. It had probably been watching my progress and was wandering down fr! om the summit on the ridge toward me. It turned off from the ridge about 100 feet above me and headed down the slopes toward the Lake to where it lazily grazed on the meadow grasses. Could those have been two white mountain goats on The Citadel earlier? - Nahhh. Just the good fortune of seeing one "up close and friendly" was unique.
From the summit of Pettingell, I proceeded down the class 2 ridge toward the rugged 13,418' closed contour west of Herman Lake. I'd mistaken this for the summit of Pettingell a few weeks earlier, but the exposed, class 4/5 traverse required to get out onto the summit of this contour is much more fun than the class 2 walkup to Pettingell. Highly recommended if you're climbing Pettingell - it's only about 20 minutes SW and then south from Pettingell along the ridge. Now the fun began - I was traversing the increasingly difficult ridge toward the Citadel and had absolutely no beta on the route. The ridge run was primarily class 2/3 with little exposure until you are confronted at about 13,050' and 0.25 mile from the Citadel by the huge summit block. The nearly sheer rock wall would require around 200 feet of mid-class 5 technical climbing with a belay, assuming the rock was solid enough for reliable pro. I worked my way around to the left of the wall and the rock only became more vertical and difficult. Around to the right, it looked possibly easier but would still require a technical rock climb. As I debated whether to retrace the ridge route and descend back to Herman Lake, another beautiful white mountain goat appeared from around the right side of the rock wall. It was walking up a steep, narrow gully. I'm not sure who was the most surprised - this "ghost" had seemed to levitate up from below. The goat stopped and looked at me briefly as I said something totally stupid like "Wow! Was that you I saw earlier on the summit of Citadel?" It turned a quick 180 degrees and descended back down the gully - gracefully floating over the loose scree and talus. After a brief reflection, I decided "Why not, the goat knows the way!" Worse case, I'd have to reclimb that loose mess - which would be a very undesirable choice of last resort. It probably took me a half hour to work my way about 200' down the loose gully when class 3-4 terrain came into view on the left side. The best climbing was from here to the summit. I did a line with ledges and some solid rock until the crest of the ridge came into view. I worked my way slowly along the ridge - highly exposed in some spots but not exceeding class 4 - until I popped up just a few feet to the north of the North Summit pinnacle of the twin summit Citadel. I'd been here many times and was ecstatic I'd managed to find a route along the ridge.
I took a short break in the alcove below the tiny summit block and then descended around the rock face that guards the base of the Citadel. After connecting with the east ridge route to The Citadel from Herman Gulch, I followed the faint climbers trail back down toward the stream that runs through the Gulch. At around 12000' I was amazed for the fourth time. Another bright white mountain goat, also with spike horns, was standing on a small rock cliff overlooking the stream. I stopped about 50 feet away, kept quiet, and simply admired for a few minutes the regal animal which appeared so comfortable in its familiar environment. I couldn't help but wonder if this was the same goat that had pointed out the route down the gully for me earlier. Or maybe it was another goat that had been on the summit of The Citadel earlier that morning. I like to think it was the same goat that had "shown me the way" and it was hanging out like a guardian angel to check my safe departure from the wonderful climb!
The round trip from the Herman Gulch trailhead to Pettingell, the ridge run to The Citadel, and return to the trailhead took me 9 hours. TOPO! shows the route as 9.4 miles and 3724'. My GPS recorded 11.2 miles for the day, and my Suunto recorded 5140'. Next time, I'm looking forward to trying the traverse by starting from The Citadel. It will be interesting, as some "exciting" downclimbing will be required to traverse around the rock face at 13,050' - or maybe a rappel would work assuming you could stay high on the rugged, exposed ridgeline. A rope, diaper sling/harness, and helmet are recommended if you explore this challenging route.
Paul Wilson adds:
Great report I will save it. Its amazing what the critter knew and the climber was doubtful of. There is no way you could have known that the route would not dead end in a bad place without the guidance of the goat. How many times have we all passed up these steep gullies??
Reminds me of a solo climb near Cameron pass (maybe Iron?). I had done 4 peaks on a big circle trip and this was my last one and it was late in the day in winter and I needed to get down fairly soon. I was searching for a way to get down some rotten cliffs to easy slopes below. I came around a rock block and stumbled on a female goat with two kids. They took off thru a passage in the rocks and down a steep gully to reach the lower slopes. Sure made me feel good to find a way down to the canal route instead of bush whacking in deep snow down to the highway (probably 2 miles). My descent probably took an hour and the goats die it in minutes! I finished with a short snowshoe post hole trek down a gully. It was a quick descent from the easy slope to the trail. Some day I will head for Cit or Pett and find your route.
Debra Beasley adds:
I also enjoyed your great report. It reminded me of a hike up Spaulding (13,800') where we saw about 50 of these beautiful white mountain goats just grazing casually near the top....it was indeed special! I too was in this area yesterday...skiing on artificial snow at Loveland. It was freezing rain and drizzle all the way to the Floyd Hill (and back from there)...but a beautiful day in the mountains...and the snow was adequate....
Steve Bonowski adds:
You've kept us highly entertained recently with your several reports, and I too want to thank you. I will have the CMC-Aconcagua group on Pettingell on the 9th, as a replacement for Squaretop/Argentine. Pettingell seems to pop in as a conditioner on just about every big peak I lead these days. I will definitely look over towards your route. We won't head over there, however, due to time constraints. Still sorry you had to drop off the Acon trip.