Rick Hobbs Photography

Wildlife/Nature/Outdoor Photography

Photo Tips

Photographing the Mt. Goats on Mt. Evans, Colorado

Kathy and I recently returned from a photo adventure to photograph Mountain Goats on Mt. Evans, Colorado - about 2 hours west of Denver. I decided to go for three days Aug. 30th, 31st and Sept 1st., 2010 because they close the road after Labor Day and I wanted to go during the week to avoid the crowds on the weekend. I also wanted to wait until as late as possible so most of the goats summer shed would be gone and their winter coats would be looking great. This years kids would also look good and it seemed like the best time to be there.

Tip #1 pick the best time to be on location for the desired subject(s).

Adult Mountain Goat, Mt. Evans Colorado

Living in Colorado we were able to drop off Summit and Timber (our Golden Retrievers) at doggy camp early in the morning and we were on the mountain setting up for our first photos of the Mountain Goats around 10:00 am. First lets cover the logistics. We decided to stay at the Quality Suites in Evergreen so that was our base. From there we were 1-1/2 hours from the goats. So pack a lunch and plenty of water then take I-70 west to the 2nd exit at Idaho Springs (marked Mt. Evans). There are limited motels in Idaho Springs but it only would save about 5-10 minutes at most.

From I-70 follow CO 103 for about 13 miles (30-45mph) to Echo Lake. Turn right onto CO 5 at the gift shop and the pay station will be a few yards up the road. $10 for a three day car pass (the best $10 I've ever spent). After leaving the pay station you are on the only road and it takes you to the summit of Mt. Evans at 14,130 feet. The summit will be 14 miles ahead, the road is 20mph with switchbacks but paved all the way to the top - sweet. You will be at 14,130 feet at the top so the temp was 30F and the wind chill was -2F, the wind was always blowing as well so bring the right clothes.

Tip #2 - know how long it takes to get on location so you can be there when you want.

Tip #3 - know what to expect for weather conditions so you can dress comfortably and stay out all day.

Adult Mountain Goat, Mt. Evans Colorado

The subjects found were Mountain Goats, Bighorn Sheep, Pika, Marmot, Ptarmigan and Weasel. After leaving the pay station look for the old twisted bristlecone trees before going above treeline. At mile marker 6 we saw some goats but the access is much better at the top so we kept driving and decided to work the better opportunities for great images by putting ourselves in the place of most potential.

The Mountain Goats like to stay between Summit Lake near mile marker 10 and the summit at mile marker 14. The majority of them were found between mile marker 11 and mile marker 14. Also, an important note: the restrooms are at Summit Lake and at the summit - 4 miles apart max. - so that is sweet as well. Since this is the stretch you will be working all day.

Tip #4 - Put yourself in the place of most potential.

Adult Mountain Goat, Mt. Evans Colorado

Good technique and pre-visualization are also important. Good technique is required to get sharp images with a long lens in a very windy environment. Some days were just breezy to windy but other days it was a steady 40-50 mph wind driving small gravel particles into you when working near the edge. The wind made it hard to even stand at some times but thankfully not all the time - it happens. We also sat through moments of rain/sleet/snow mix in the wind - a good time for lunch. But at that elevation the weather was changing constantly so whatever you had did not last for long. Just be patient and wait it out - it is worth it. Of course, lightning would have sent us down the mountain, until it passed, but that did not happen.

Tip #5 - Good technique and patience.

A herd of Mountain Goats, Mt. Evans Colorado

Pre-visualization is also important to know what you are looking for and keep looking for the special shots while being thankful for whatever opportunities are in front of you. Keep working the opportunities as long as possible switching lens and changing your position to get more out of any given opportunity. I put a 70-200 on one set of legs and the 600 on the other tripod so both were handy. While I used both, surprisingly more than 50% of the photos were shot with the 70-200.

Before leaving the house I told Kathy I was looking for images of the goats on the edge of the mountain, some with mountains for a background and some with blue sky as a background. I also wanted to get an adult and young laying together snuggling. As you can see - I got the shots I was looking for, in addition I shot 2,500 frames in the 3 days and after editing I had 350 remaining. If I can spend 3 days and come away with 350 different, high quality images I consider that to be extremely productive. Quite honestly, the opportunities far exceeded my expectations and that does not happen often.

Tip #6 - Be looking for multiple shots and move around to get the most out of the opportunities.

Adult and young Mountain Goat, Mt. Evans Colorado

Adult and young Mountain Goat, Mt. Evans Colorado

Adult and young Mountain Goat, Mt. Evans Colorado

A young Mountain Goat, Mt. Evans Colorado

Young Mountain Goats, Mt. Evans Colorado

Patience is required to drive back and forth all day waiting for the goats to show up (or get up) and do something. When you do find an opportunity be sure to read their behavior and anticipate where they want to go so you can put yourself in position to take advantage of the situation. If you need to move - move.

Your working style and mine may vary so your opportunities may vary as well, for example Kathy was only shooting near me about 50% of the time so while she shot some great photos as well - our total opportunities were very different.

Tip #7 Read their behavior and anticipate where they want to go so you can put yourself in position.

Pika, Mt. Evans Colorado

When we were getting bored and not finding the mountain goats - or waiting for them to get up from resting - we filled in the time by photographing some mountain scenes or pika and marmots that were plentiful.

Tip #8 Patience, Patience, Patience - the hardest part for most photographers.

Pika telling everyone I was there, Mt. Evans Colorado

Marmot, Mt. Evans Colorado

Marmot, Mt. Evans Colorado

Finally,

Tip #9 Be very careful !!!

The mountain goats were not the problem - in fact - if you held still, at times the young, curious goats would come within arms length.

First of all, do not go alone - bring a "buddy" for safety.

The is NO cell phone service anywhere in the area.

You will be spending the entire day between 12,000 and 14,000 feet of elevation. If you have issues with the altitude your trip is over. When walking with the 600mm lens on a heavy tripod OR a bottle of water up the road or up the side of the mountain you will be breathing hard so stop frequently and catch your breath - remember to not breathe to shallow. I had to stop several times to catch my breath when walking uphill and I live at 8,500 feet.

Remember it will be different where you will spend the day - at the pay station it was 55 degrees, at the summit it was 33 degrees with the wind chill at -2 (very different) - bring clothes, hats, gloves.

Bring food and water - there will be none.

At elevation, the road has no guard rails and steep drop-offs so our rules are: stay on the inside away from the edge (at least put the center of the vehicle right on the yellow line unless there is oncoming traffic so if you blow a tire or catch a big gust of wind it does not send you over the edge. I'm not trying to scare you - just trying to help keep you safe. Use a lower gear when going down the mountain to help save your brakes.

Wear good hiking boots and PAY ATTENTION to where you step.

The brim of Rick's hat prolonged his life

First of all, realize you are walking on the tundra so try and stay on the rocks as much as possible. Second, always pay attention to where you step and don't lose your focus.

I can not tell you how many hours I spent out of the vehicle during the three days, however, ONE time I was distracted when walking and my boot slipped off the rock and sent me tumbling forward. As I was crashing I reached out to break my fall and it helped but I ended up with a bruised knee and a broken little finger then I could see I was not going to stop before crashing my face into a boulder so I ducked my head and braced for impact. The brim of my hat prolonged my life. Unfortunately you can not appreciate just how deep the gouges are in my hat. I still had several abrasions on my forehead from the inside of the brim being forced into my head but that is much better than having the deep gouges in my forehead instead of my hat.

When I was able to get up and saw Kathy I asked if my head was split open and she said no just marks and swelling - no blood - so I went back to shooting some more. Had it been worse the nearest hospital was at least 2 hours away and I would not have made it so BE CAREFUL all the time when walking out there.

This was in the afternoon of day two so the rest of that day and day three was tough working with a broken finger and a headache that is hard to describe, not to mention the sore neck and shoulders. But it was worth it - I think???

So like I said in the beginning do not go alone - take a "buddy" just in case.

If you decide to go I hope you find this information helpful. I know, for the most part, we had a great time and created many wonderful photographs. The best part, however, was that we were able to spend hours and hours being close to the spectacular Mountain Goats on Mt. Evans.

Many of the photos from this trip will be in my next book "Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep" coming out soon.


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