Every year the scouting group I belong to embarks on a hardcore camping trip for the varsity age scouts. Last year in 2013 I had the opportunity to accompany them to Idaho’s highest alpine lake. With this group I’ve now hit multiple alpine lakes with obscure names that can only be seen on detailed topographical maps. This particular lake is called Goat Lake, which one of our senior advisors had heard about on an outdoorsman show and drew his interest. While up there we didn’t see any mountain goats or sheep, but we found clumps of wool on rocks and plenty of fresh tracks and droppings.
There are two Goat Lakes in Idaho, and probably more; if you google photos and see trees, it is the wrong lake, as this one is substantially above the tree line. The lake we hit is in the Pioneer Mountains. Accessing the trail head takes you on a drive through Copper Basin and up Trail Creek Road. The trail isn’t much more than 5 miles on a map but has some great elevation gain over the latter part of the trip and a fair number of steep switchbacks. The trails in the Idaho wilderness are typically well maintained and marked, and this was no exception; aside from a few water logged locations that were overgrown with vegetation. The better camping location is actually the lower Baptie Lake which takes you down into the tree line providing timber for fire and shelter.
If you have little experience at these altitudes, expect to encounter snowpack year round and partial ice lake coverage well into July. I prefer hitting these places in August because the trails seem to be the most accessible and temperatures most pleasant. From what I can gather the lake sits at about 10,800 feet; which means your high enough to hit up a little altitude sickness. As far as elevation goes, some guys swear by mountain dew as the best remedy for altitude sickness. One of our youth had the idea to load his camel back with soda for his trip up, and he ended up hurting pretty bad pretty quick. You don’t need to pack a lot of water because you frequently come across water, as long as you have a way to filter it. We used a little backpacking hand pump water filter which served us just fine.
The fishing at Goat Lake was decent, although Babtie had the better fish; they just refused to take any of our bait, fly or reel. That was a shame because they were massive for mountain fish, and plentiful; but the Goat Lake fish were phenomenal rubbed down with lemon pepper, wrapped in foil, and cooked in the embers. One thing I enjoyed was seeing those tall mountain tops at the trail head, level off to your eyesight when you reach the lake. Temperature can be extreme and unpredictable so wear layers and pack for cold wet temperatures. As a personal note, I have a preference for being armed anytime I go into the wilderness because you never know what you might encounter.