I get a surprise this morning as I go out to warm up the car. The plow comes through, heading to Cooke City. It’s 22 and snowing pretty hard, with about an inch already on the car.
I follow fox tracks for a while, crisscrossing the road repeatedly.
The snow continues past Round Prairie, then tapers off at Footbridge. Visibility is good through Lamar and Slough but the snow returns when I get to Curve.
I arrive at Hellroaring around 7:45 and find it packed with cars, despite the terrible visibility. Apparently, signals are very good here, but nothing can be seen through the snow cloud. I set up but quickly realize my extender is no help; in fact it just magnifies the whiteout. So, I remove it, with a little help from Jeff and Jeremy. Laurie does the same.
There is a degree of anxiety with us today, which the poor visibility only exacerbates. I learn from the crew that three more wolves were taken in the hunt yesterday and we fear they could all have been Junctions.
It’s just heartbreaking.
And it makes us all the more eager to get our eyes on the pack. Jeremy explains that signals are best in the area around Coyote Creek, which is a high tributary to the east of Hellroaring Creek. I can just make out the trees that line that drainage.
For a frustrating half hour, the snow waxes and wanes. Each time it clears enough for me to see individual trees, I realize the wolves must still be hidden behind a hill or further left in the thicker trees.
During one of the semi-clearances, I say to Jeff, “this is our chance to find them, so let’s try our hardest.” Moments later he calls out “I have them”. I see them emerge like ghosts through the snow-curtain, moving in a gap between trees at the top of the drainage.
Everyone gets back to their scopes, happy to finally see wolves as they proceed slowly onto the open slope. I count 12 before the thickening snow swallows them up again.
After an anxious 10 minutes, the snow lifts again. Jeremy finds them half-way across the open slope. They are bedded in two groups above a bison herd.
Luckily, visibility continues to improve. One wolf decides to trot down and test the bison herd. The bison push back, challenging the wolf. The wolf retreats and the pack gets up, moving further east. My count rises to 17; nine blacks and eight grays. It looks like this is the “new normal”.
Slowly we are able to ID the wolves we know the best, to see who is still alive. The alphas are here, and one by one each collared wolf is identified. But we are indeed missing three uncollared wolves: two grays and a black.
As the pack travels east, I note the lack of play among the youngsters. Visibility continues to go in and out but it’s better than before.
I ask Jeremy about Wapiti 1234M. He confirms this wolf’s signal is still in the area, so he may remain interested in wooing some of the females. He tells me that towards the end of the day yesterday, they saw the Wapiti wolf near the Junctions. They witnessed flirting behavior between him and both 1276F and 1228F, until 1048M had enough and chased him off. This makes me smile.
The pack moves higher on the slope and stops to bed again. The snow returns, testing our skill and patience.
Around 12:30, with the Junctions still bedded and very poor visibility, Laurie & Dan and I decide to call it a day and head back east.
We have falling snow the whole way back, but at least there is no wind, making it a pretty easy drive. And the landscape looks gorgeous.
Back in Silver Gate I watch the snow continue all day long, which is a welcome relief. The Park needs it desperately. We decide to stay in where it’s cozy and comfortable.
Today I saw: bison, elk, 17 wolves (including the alphas, 907F, 1048M, 1228F, 1229F, 1276F plus 10 others)
and the spirits of Allison and Richard.