DAY TWO - Wednesday, December 8


I’m up and out at 6:40 in 29 degrees, grateful that my little Subaru warms up so nicely.

I figure the Junctions will still be to the west, so I continue all the way to Hellroaring. The number of people here already confirms my guess. The day is cloudy with on and off snow flurries.

I doubt there is much left on the carcass but the Junctions are still here. Most are bedded a bit west of the boulder-strewn hill they were on yesterday. Several pups in the carcass area seem more interested in play and romping than eating.

Around 8:30 the alpha female is ready to go. She heads upslope followed by a single black and 3 grays. She gets about halfway up the hill and stops, realizing most of her pack is not following.

She decides to wait for them.

The wolves below her mill around near a frozen-over pond. There is a large boulder on the edge which the pups cannot resist. Up they go upon it, posing, then giving way to the next one. Two blacks chase each other around it while a gray is on top.

Eventually they leave their playground and begin to slowly follow their leader, one by one.

An elk herd is bunched below the wolves, wisely hugging the edges of the cliffs for protection. I’m sure they will be glad to see the wolves go!

Unit 50 (Doug M) calls over the radio. He’s at Elk Creek and reports howling to the north. He finds the Rescue Creek Pack, on the move to the west. Several people drive east to try to score a two-pack day.

The Junctions howl and we hear the Rescues’ distant reply.

A group of six Junctions decides to check out the elk below them instead of following the alphas. They get close enough to worry the herd enough to split it in two groups, going opposite directions. But the wolves run in circles, with no clear focus or target, and the chase quickly peters out.

The wolves give up and return to the boulder-strewn hilltop where the pack was bedded yesterday. We hear howling again, this time between the upper group and the lower group of Junctions.

John W and Jeff return from Elk Creek, reporting they got only a quick glimpse of the Rescues from there.

Soon the pack appears on the western flank of Garnet Hill, about half-way below the summit. With Jeremy’s help, I find them moving through the trees just below skyline. They stop somewhat abruptly, looking west. It sure looks to me that they are aware of the Junctions.

Nevertheless, the wolves continue west along a trail. They stop again. This time, alpha 1154F is unhappy. After a brief pause, she makes a sharp retreat, followed by a second black (likely the other female), going back east into thick forest.

Shortly after this, the Junction wolves lift their heads and begin to get up, in a clear sign that they are aware of the rival pack. After a bit of staring, they begin to move east. Both the upper adult group and the lower pup group set out at a brisk clip. Then the upper group starts running downhill, led by the alpha female with her banner of a tail flying high.

Jeremy reminds us that the Junctions have to cross the Yellowstone River first before they reach the other pack.

The Rescues huddle like a football team “what’s our next move?” To the males in the group, the Junctions are still family, but to the females, they are danger. The males move a bit further west, as if curious, interested and unafraid.

For the second time, though, 1154F and the black female turn away. This time they head upslope. They are NOT sticking around for a meeting.

By this time the upper and lower Junction groups have converged, which seems to energize them. They put on some speed as they head into the steep terrain above the river.

The Rescues seems to dilly-dally, with some even moving closer along the trail towards the unseen-but-oncoming larger pack.

Finally, they turn around and begin to follow the females upslope into steep, rocky terrain.

Suddenly the Junctions explode on the scene, running full out with tails on high. They reach the trail in an instant, roaring past the spot where 1154 first stopped. They rush eastward with intense purpose. The Rescue females are likely long gone, but I find myself worried for them, anyway.

While the Junctions run east, most of the Rescues are now well above them on the summit slope. The Junctions turn around and come rushing back, heading willy-nilly up the slope. But the route chosen by the Rescue pack is clever, as they are well above the Junctions now, and the terrain slows down their pursuers.

The Junction pack swarms the hill; some going east, others going back west on the trail. Those going uphill can no longer run, but clamber chaotically over the rocks.

The Rescue wolves reach skyline, top out and are gone.

Now the Junctions engage in frenzied sniffing. “Who’s been here? What are they up to?” the Junction alphas want to know. Seven gray Junctions find themselves bunched on a flat rock amid a talus slope. Above them is a single black, looking down at the bunched grays. It’s slightly comical since the grays seem unaware they are being spied on.

I suspect the spying black is a Rescue male, wondering why they can’t all just get along. The wolf sits on his haunches a while, staring downhill. I wonder if a favorite former sibling might be in the group of grays below, and the black misses the fun they used to have?

After a while, the alpha female sets off east again into thicker trees, and the pack follows, including the bunched grays. The wistful black quietly gets up and scales the rest of Garnet, topping out over skyline. That was exciting! I wonder how often a scenario like this has played out in the past year?

Everyone packs up and drives east. I follow Rick. He parks at Wrecker Grade and walks up a low hill to the south. He finds wolves almost immediately, bedded at the base of Garnet Hill. He says this is a spot where he’s never seen wolves before, which I find astonishing, given the thousands of days he’s been doing this.

He and I both think we are seeing the Rescues, but it turns out he found the Junctions. Apparently, the Rescue pack escaped into the river corridor. Jeremy says we are unlikely to see them again for a while.

The Junctions are now tired from their energetic pursuit, so they bed down for a nap. I stay a while longer, looking around at other areas that can be seen from here. I find several bighorn rams on the bluffs to the north.

Eventually I head back west and join Laurie & Dan at Rick’s pullout, where they have found the same Junction group from this angle. We scope and chat until around 3PM when it starts to get chilly.

On east we go to the warm hearth in Silver Gate.

Today I saw: bison, a bald eagle, a golden eagle, elk, bighorn sheep, 33 wolves including 20 Junctions and 13 Rescue Creeks, and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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