Dec 13, 2006 at 8:43 pm #1220803
How do you find animal trails when off trail hiking?
Where do you look?Dec 13, 2006 at 9:58 pm #1370905
Sarah KirkconnellBPL Member
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
If in alpine it is really easy, I just stare for awhile till the trails start popping out. I have had a lot of fun following elk and deer trails. But get me in woods, and while I might see one or two, they are not obvious :-(Dec 13, 2006 at 10:02 pm #1370907
Erin McKittrickBPL Member
@mckittreLocale: Seldovia, Alaska
Depends on the animal. Some make more useful trails than others.
Caribou, for instance, seem to favor the approach of making a million minor trails on every hillside. Easy to find, useless to follow.
Much better if bears are involved. Bears are both large and smart, so they make pretty good trails. I guess I usually find them where it makes sense – along rivers and lakes, at constriction points in the landscape, etc… They usually serve to make it easier to get through the brush, but occasionally have led me on a useful shortcut or around an obstacle. They can sometimes also be good for linking up meadows, in a place with patchy meadows in brush.
Then there are the "only way" trails. These are most often mountain goat trails, in really steep areas. The mountain goats have often found the only way through that doesn't require climbing gear. Bear trails can do this too, occasionally. I once followed a bear trail that actually required a couple foot jump across a gap in the trail – and that trail was the only way across a really steep slope.
And I haven't even mentioned all the vole trails, ground squirrel trails, etc…
My animal trail thoughts mostly apply to Alaska, though. Down here in Washington even many off-trail places have relatively fewer animals and relatively more people. So a lot of the game trails follow more human rules.Dec 14, 2006 at 6:31 am #1370946
Deer trails are easy to find and as a dedicated bushwhacker I find myself on them frequently. The trails are everywhere, are narrow and vary from "can't miss it" to "am I still on it?", sometimes both in the course of 100 yards. Here in the midwest (no tricky mountain passes) they are of some limited use. Humans tend to want to get from point A to point B. Deer have a different agenda; bedding, feed, water.
They are most helpful navigating thorny patches, very thick brush and crossing swamps and swales. Deer don't mind getting their feet wet (neither do I for that matter) but, like humans, they don't like getting stuck in the muck. And in the lowest country there are some prodigious muck holes. For bushwhacking, we tend to use them to manage short, difficult stretches.Dec 14, 2006 at 8:07 am #1370958
Up in the high country it was always neat to follow goat trails across scree slopes. Over the years they've walked the same paths long enough to actually push down and flatten the scree into a level trail surface.
A particularly hairy goat trail to follow is along the Ptarmigan Wall in Glacier National Park. You start from Ahern Pass and walk/climb a goat trail to the Ptarmigan Tunnel. If anyone else has done this I'd love to trade stories. It was probably the most amazing route I've done to date.Dec 14, 2006 at 9:46 am #1370982
Sam, That sounds cool. How long is this goat trail?Dec 14, 2006 at 9:46 am #1370983
It sounds like these trails are easy to find. Once you have found one, how do you hold it? That is,, how do you keep from losing it?Dec 14, 2006 at 11:13 am #1371007
The Ptarmigan Goat Trail I refer to is easy to find because it is visible 1/4 mile away by site from one end at Ahern Pass. The other end at the Ptarmigan Tunnel is much harder to find. This particular route is decently documented in the Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park by J. Gordon Edwards as well.
Below I found some photos (hotlinked from a blog) of the Goat Trail at its scariest part. A hundred or so meters of walking along an extremely narrow shelf covered in loose rock which drops off hundreds of feet to the side. Scary and exhilarating I had to literally focus on my breathing by saying a mantra while I walked it.
* EDIT – The above link is someone's blog regarding the Ptarmigan Wall Goat TrailDec 14, 2006 at 5:54 pm #1371069
I get a "forbidden"…..when trying to access theseDec 15, 2006 at 7:02 am #1371125
Deer are creatures of habit. They tend to find safe, sheltered routes and stick with them until something changes. A well established track is easy to follow in daylight, and by night can usually be followed even using a single bulb LED.
Easy tracks are well-trodden but narrow, about 8 inches wide. As the brush gets thick the tracks tend to be even more well-established, but the growth at chest height can be completely undisturbed. People tend to overestimate the shoulder height of deer. I find it useful in thick areas to look low, not just for the track, but for the clear tunnel at belt height and lower.
Some surfaces don't hold the track as well. Think dense pine needles. Here you need to be aware of faint ground compression and "tunnels" free of obstruction, again from belt height down. Droppings are also frequent along tracks. During the rut, rubs are common near tracks. Typically these are saplings rubbed raw at about 3 ft height.
If you lose a track it will be because you are on harder terrain or you are at a scatter point. If the terrain does not hold the track well and you hope to pick it up again try moving forward to softer or lusher ground and sweeping 45 degrees to the left, then right. You should pick it up.
You don't want to expect to follow a track for miles. Deer scatter to feed and bed. Movement patterns change with the weather and grazing habits. So the reality is you end up with a lot of "local streets" and not "super highways".
Deer don't like to have to fight through tough terrain any more than we do. It's inefficient. For this reason you often find the best-established tracks exactly where you need them, through the tough stuff.
PaulDec 15, 2006 at 5:04 pm #1371180
Maybe deer have smallish home ranges and do not migrate far, so following a single trail for hours is rare?Dec 15, 2006 at 5:11 pm #1371182
That's some very specific insight, Paul. Thanks for that. I like to go walking in the winter time which makes game trails really obvious. You can take what you see and assume that their habits are at least similar in the summer time (marshes, ponds, thickly vegetated terrain aside) and apply that to your summer marches.
Regarding the post I made above about the Ptarmigan Wall Goat Trail in GNP. Here is a link to a blog that describes the trail a bit.
Below is a synopsis © the Blog linked to above.
On the traverse © Out there with Tom Blog
On the traverse © Out there with Tom Blog
The notch to Iceberg Lake © Out there with Tom Blog
Below is quoted from Out there with Tom
Ptarmigan Traverse with descent through Iceberg Notch. Of all the hikes I’ve taken in the park, I consider this my favorite, the most scenic and most thrilling. It involves hiking to Ptarmigan Tunnel, leaving the trail at the tunnel and climbing on the ridgeline above it to the north where it meets a narrow goat trail that hangs in the cliffs for some four miles to Ahern Pass, where a snowfield plugs the pass and must be carefully negotiated (preferably with ice axe and crampons). Then it is a 700 foot ascent to the Iceberg Notch on the Garden Wall between Iceberg Peak and the B-7 Pillar. It is 2,000 foot straight down to Iceberg Lake on cliffs and ledges, and finally the trail and the 6 miles back to the trailhead. I was accompanied by Mark Hertenstein and Bill Labunetz of Great Falls. Hertenstein was our able route finder. Views all the way are exceptional. The goat trail hangs high above the Helen Lake Basin a couple of thousand feet below. We could watch mountain goats playing on the trail ahead of us at various points, and in the cliffs above us. We counted about 30 goats along the traverse. There are tremendous views of Mounts Merritt and Ipasha with their outstanding glaciers. I wish I could find a better word than “thrilling” to describe how it felt to negotiate this tiny trail, knowing that a slip could send you plunging thousands of feet over the cliffs. The sight of Iceberg Lake far below you from the notch is unsettling as well when you realize that’s your destination. The most frightening part of the trip for me was crossing the snowfield at Ahern Pass. I did it with an ice axe, but recommend having crampons as well for safety reasons. It took me 45 minutes to cross this field, post holing with the axe all the way. I think a slip on this field without proper self arrest would be fatal.
My experience with this traverse was in reverse and rather than coming through the Iceberg Notch I came from the trail crew cabin at Granite Park Chalet up and over Ahern pass. I still did the glacier cross (with two sharp rocks instead of an ice axe – shame on you Sam – and a very cold ass). The route down into Iceberg would be highly recommended although the walk along the Highline Trail to Granite Park, over Swiftcurrent Pass and back down to the East is also quite splendid. My apologies as none of this makes sense to anyone that hasn't been there or doesn't have a copy of the GNP map in front of them. For more detailed info send me a PM or e-mail and I'll happily expound.Dec 15, 2006 at 7:17 pm #1371193
Looks like a must-do route.
Anymore must-do routes out there — must do animal trail routes that is?Dec 16, 2006 at 9:57 am #1371224
Mule Deer are a different beast and can be found in tough desert and alpine conditions.
Mule deer are less wedded to a small area and can and do travel through difficult country. The presense of Elk tends to drive them out of the mountains but where the elk are few Mule deer can be found at high altitudes and in deep snow.Dec 17, 2006 at 3:26 pm #1371363
I did fail to make the distinction. Yes, whitetail. My only experience with "Mulies" was at Royal Gorge, Colorado many years ago. They were technically wild but ate right out of our hands. Not exactly an insightful experience.
In northern LP of Michigan there is a population of about 1000 elk. I am not aware of any significant bullying for territory. But water is plentiful, grazing is plentiful. Whitetail here don't have to work too hard for 3 seasons. Here we harvest about 250,000 per year, cars kill another 60,000 or so. Starvation is usually not severe except when snow gets particularly deep, more often in the Upper Peninsula.
Based on your description mulies and whitetails probably live quite different lives. I'm sure that there are even distinctly different behaviors among one species based on regional variances.
PaulDec 17, 2006 at 3:31 pm #1371364
Oh and Sam,
Thanks for the great pics. Really is worth a thousand words. For this flatlander it looks a little hairy. What's the goosebump quotient?Dec 19, 2006 at 11:19 pm #1371670
Aaron SorensenBPL Member
@awsorensenLocale: South of Forester Pass
I did a trail in the high sierras last year that went from the end of HWY 180 up Bubbs Creek to the JMT, over Forester and then west over Colby Pass, then finished off over Avalanche Pass, then back to Bubbs
The Ranger told me that he knew of only 1 other person that year that had gone over Colby Pass, and he went the opposite way I did.
When I got past the Kern River going up towards Colby, it became clear that the trail may have started off as a human made trail, but was obvious that 99.9% of what traveled on the trail was game.
I actually saw the footprints from the other person, but not a sign of anything else.
When I got within a few hundred feet from the top of Colby Pass, there was no trail but huge 3-8 feet boulders to climb through.
You could not tell what so ever where the trail was but you could see the way the few brave game went over, (poo).
It ended up being the wrong way and was steeeeepppp, (like 60-70 degree steep) going down.
There are some brave deer out there.
The coolest thing was after hitting the snow and now only a 40-50 degree angle came an awesome 1/4 mile butt slide.
The snow was perfect for the butt sliding and I had an ice ax. Although going the wrong way was the scariest part of the trip, it was also the most memorable part.
The lesson learned. Game trail can take you any where, maybe even where you don't want to be.Jan 20, 2007 at 1:00 pm #1374996
Mulies, bighorns and elk will often create trails that dead end/cliff out in canyons.
They like the security of knowing they only need to watch one direction when they bed down.
I've followed some promising looking trails that left me backtracking after considerable effort.Nov 19, 2007 at 12:30 pm #1409549
I'm digging up an old thread here. I was perusing summitpost.org the other day looking at some routes I'd taken and found some excellent photos of one of the most terrifying off-trail traverses I've ever done (of which I spoke earlier in this thread).
These photos are originally from Summit Post which has a nice route description of the traverse.Nov 21, 2007 at 3:47 pm #1409834
@ryan_hutchinsLocale: Somewhere out there
My wife says that reminds here of some stuff in the Dirty Devil in Utah.
That traverse is out there for sure. I love following game trails, they often pick great routes through gnarly terrain, and can be used to find water in some places as well.Nov 23, 2007 at 4:08 pm #1409974
Michael MartinBPL Member
@mikemartinLocale: North Idaho
Sam, please don't let Ryan see those photos or he might get some ideas for the next Wilderness Trekking III course. ;-)Nov 23, 2007 at 6:39 pm #1410000
That route certainly isn't for everyone. When I solo'ed it in 2005 I literally had to recite a mantra to myself while I was walking the most dangerous sections to help keep myself focused and breathing.
Interestingly enough the route isn't really all that much of a wilderness – at least not by my definition. While on the Ptarmigan Wall you can always look down into the valley and see a trail and when you're up on top of the ridge you can see all the way down valley to the little store and former lodge.
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