Anyone who has hiked with me to Crater Lake or Mount Sopris or up a fourteener has heard me spout some fun facts about pikas.

These itty-bitty mammals, whose chirping calls announce that you’ve made it into the highest of the high country amid the talus and tundra, are fascinating little creatures. They’re among the highest-living mammals on Earth, making their homes up there year-round, building underground lairs where they stay – far beneath the snow and rock – through the long winters. Those short whistling calls? They’re for mating and for warning others of danger (that’s why they pipe up when we hike by). Try not to startle them, because they’re prone to heart attacks. Global warming poses a unique threat to these guys, because they need cold alpine temperatures, can only go as high as the mountains go and can easily die from overheating.

I don’t know a ton about pikas, but I know enough to have made some good conversation on hikes over many years and enough to gain a slightly fuller understanding of the complex ecosystem of the mountains around us.

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