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Jeremy Harmon, Deseret Morning News
Clay Zimmerman with one of his pack goats, Goatee, at his home in Tooele.

There are pack horses, pack mules and pack llamas. But how about pack goats?

Goats are perhaps the newest trend in hiking and backpack-carrying animals, and Utah is leading the pack in their promotion.

In fact, the 2004 Rendezvous for the North American Packgoat Association will be June 24-27 at Sheep Creek Lake, near Flaming Gorge.

Clay Zimmerman of Tooele is one of the rendezvous organizers, and he also operates High Uinta Pack Goats, renting goats for public use. He started using pack goats about 10 years ago and believes their usage has quadrupled in Utah in that time. There are at least a dozen active goat packers in Utah, from Logan to St. George.

"Goats are about the friendliest animal you can get," Zimmerman said. "Some goats will even rest their head on your lap. They like people."

He said you can forgot all those stereotypes about goats being stubborn, stinky and unmanageable.

Goats are as friendly as dogs, if trained right, and he believes they make great hiking companions.

"Each goat has his own name and personality," he said of his personal herd of a dozen animals.

He said goats are mellower than llamas and do not hurt the environment.

"Goats don't destroy wilderness," Zimmerman said. "They are environmentally friendly."

Goats browse when they feed, like deer.

"You don't carry food for them," he said. "They get a bite here and a nibble there."

Zimmerman said they are also loyal animals, though they may follow other backpacking groups you encounter, if you're not careful.

Two main disadvantages to goats are that they travel less in a day than other pack animals and they can't carry as much weight.

Goats can safely carry about one-fourth of their body weight, and that usually equals 40-60 pounds of gear. From about 5 years of age on, goats can carry the heavy loads. Goats live 12-15 years and weigh 180-250 pounds.

For small children or the senior citizen who loves to hike, fish or hunt but can no longer easily backpack, goats are an option to lessen human burdens. Ask anyone what the biggest downside to backpacking is and most will probably single out heavy packs.

Zimmerman said his wife has bad knees, but thanks to goats, she has been on 100-mile backpacking trips.

And Zimmerman said they can go just about anywhere a human can go, outside of a cliff. His goats have been atop Utah's highest summit, Kings Peak, 13,528 feet above sea level. With loose rock and some scrambling required, the goats had no trouble getting there. They can go places many other pack animals can't.

Zimmerman has taken his goats up to a 14,000-foot elevation in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, so altitude doesn't affect them much, either. They can also traverse snowy terrain.

"No horse or llama has that kind of footing," he said.

How about transportation? Goats easily can be hauled in a small trailer or a pickup truck. Zimmerman said some people have even used boxes containing kitty litter in their vans to haul several goats to trailheads.

They also don't need to be tied up at night in a camp if they are properly bonded to their human group.

Some forest areas require goats be on leashes. Otherwise, Zimmerman said he has his goats' leashes tucked in, to be used as needed.

"Usually, they will never leave your side," he said, lamenting some of the privacy you may feel like you give away by having these underrated animals along.

He stressed they cost much less than other pack animals to own and maintain. He charges about $20 a day to rent his goats, with a two-goat minimum. Families and Scout groups have used his goats.

Rendezvous events include a service project with the U.S. Forest Service to improve a trail and training classes on hoof trimming, saddling and loading.

Zimmerman expects 75 to 100 people to attend the event, the first time it has been held in Utah during the organization's six-year existence. Those attending will come from all over the nation, though the western states are the group's mainstay.

• For information on High Uintas Goats, call 1-877-packgoat, or go online to www.highuintapackgoats.com. North American Packgoat Association information is available at www.napga.org.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com