My day begins nicely with a bright-eyed mule deer who greets me at the end of the campground road. I whisper "hello" to her and turn right, heading hopefully toward a morning filled with Agate action. Then my headlights pick up a pair of eyes; a coyote trots down the road towards me. I slow down and he crosses, disappearing into the gully.
In the high meadows, elk look up from their grazing as I pass.
As I arrive at the top I see that Calvin and Lynnette are here ahead of me, again, and they already have Agates in view. We sip our morning coffee and watch them as the light grows.
I am delighted to see both alphas this morning. Now, I have seen all the Agate wolves, or rather, all the adults. There are supposedly between 6 and 8 pups back at the den!
When it gets a little lighter I focus on the carcass area. As expected, it looks different in morning light and I find it interesting to see features I did not notice yesterday. It is still very much the center of activity for the wolves today, which indicates there is still a lot of meat left.
Gerry arrives, and Laurie and Rick come up, too. Apparently there are no wolf sightings in all of Lamar or Little America. We have a wonderful morning watching the big dogs. 113M comes out from the deadfall area with an absolutely HUGE chunk of red meat, still dripping blood. We speculate that he might have an internal organ, like a liver or heart or lung or something. It‘s creepy to describe, I know, but it makes sense to see such a thing in this setting. He is, after all, simply a father providing for his family.
113 carries his prize over to the little stream and leaps over it. Not exactly gracefully, but he gets the job done! He moves much more slowly than the others and all us “over-40” humans find ourselves sympathizing with his (likely) stiff joints. He crosses the flats at a slow but steady trot, heading for the den, no side trips, no distractions, no goofing off. I keep expecting him to stop and cache the meat but he doesn’t. He goes all the way across past “Agate rock”, the “bear trees” and “Calvin’s Cluster” and finally disappears near Becky’s Island.
472F and 383M are still in the area, and soon 472 comes out from the deadfall carrying her own good-sized present for the pups. She follows the same route across the flats as did her mate but when she gets just beyond Calvin’s Cluster she puts her head down and caches the meat. Then she picks up a stick (or perhaps a bone) and continues her journey. We all love seeing the wolves do this because we consider it a sign of “good parenting skills” as they care for their pups. And also, I think the gesture is a fond reminder of 21M, whom we so often saw bringing a “toy” like this home to his pups.
There is a coyote on the back side of the blow down area, clearly interested in the carcass but too wary to venture too close. I see it suddenly run away, tail- tucked, stop and look back again. I know 383 is in there and perhaps one of the other Agates is, too. One of them probably bluff-charged the coyote.
The coyote finally gives up and trots back uphill and into another set of trees.
After a little while, 383 comes out from the deadfall. He, too has a bloody chunk of meat and his paws are quite muddy. However instead of heading back to the den he plops down to eat his.
I especially appreciate the Agates’ putting on such a nice early show because I have plans for a hike and need to be at Dunraven Pass at 9:30. So I leave the Agate watching to Lynnette and Calvin and head up the road. I am joining Loons Ken D and his dad, Sam, for a hike up Mt. Washburn, and since I know Gerry is an avid hiker, I invite him, too.
I’ve never hiked up Mt. Washburn before, but since I know so many people do it, I figure I can, too. Ken’s advice is to go ‘early‘ in order to reach the 10,243 foot summit during the best chance for clear weather. Not only does this increase the chance of good views, but also of getting back down before an afternoon storm might blow in. Ken has been told by several folks who were up here recently that there are two sections of the trail still snow-covered but the rest is clear, although slightly muddy.
We begin in high spirits and I find the gradually rising trail very manageable. But then we encounter our first stretch of snow I have to learn a few tricks to walk confidently upon such an uneven, slippery surface. No problem, though. My boots and hiking poles make it fairly easy to do.
Of course, snow on the ground yields a variety of tracks so we stop to look and try to figure out what made them. We see ground squirrel and rabbit tracks, deer, elk and bison tracks and a few that look like human butts sliding down the snow as shortcuts between switchbacks.
We’ve picked a good day, as it is clear and cool, with a very nice breeze. When we stop for a breather (which Sam and I need frequently) if there is a lull in the breeze, we start to hear buzzing, but mostly the breeze spares us from any real bug problem.
For a while the trail is clear and we have nice, steady going, but when it curves northeast, the whole thing becomes snow-covered again. The clear sections become fewer and fewer and soon Ken realizes he was given bogus information. I don‘t blame him of course, and assure him I’m game to continue, snow or not.
The snow has a pretty good crust on top, but every once in a while one leg or the other finds a soft spot and unexpected slush underneath. I seem especially gifted in finding these spots and one time I sink down all the way to my butt and have to be “hauled” out. LOL
But the views and the company and the conversation make it a pleasant trip. About 1/3 of the way up, while we are taking a rest in the shade of tall trees, Sam announces that he doesn’t feel up to going much further. We discuss things a bit and he and Ken confer privately. In the end Sam gives us his blessing to go on without him. He knows he can get himself back to the car and wants us to stick to the plan.
So that’s what we do. In the forest we enjoy birdsong and the scent of pine, and in the open we enjoy the amazing views. We see circling hawks, an osprey, and several Clark’s nutcrackers. We stop to say hello to a friendly golden-mantled ground squirrel, whom we suspect has come for handouts. He gets none from us, but we do take his picture.
On we go. Every once in a while we get to a tricky spot that involves climbing up an exposed snow bank at the edge of a drop-off. I do my best but these spots really freak me out, and I begin to worry there will be worse to come. However the views are truly amazing. I can follow the line of the Yellowstone River, and see the huge, green expanse of Hayden Valley. And I see the “mountains of Lamar” to the east that I love so well.
We cross a few other scary spots that seem like snow bridges between two points of land where I force myself to not look right or left, just straight ahead. We have been catching glimpses of the summit every now and then, and I am encouraged that it is really getting closer, but I am also getting concerned about getting back down in these tricky spots when I’m tired.
We are now above tree line and have met no one else on the trail. Then we see a lone hiker heading down to us. We chat with him and ask about trail conditions for the remaining mile to the top. He confesses that he didn’t make the summit. He chose to turn around rather than risk a spot that he didn’t trust. He said if he had not been alone he would probably have tried it but he was concerned that he might be walking on a cornice and didn‘t know if it might collapse beneath him.
Hmmm. I confess that hearing his concern doubles my own. We tell him he can join us if he wants to try again but he says thanks, he went far enough and now he’s going down.
On we go and soon reach an open, exposed ridge, with a few rocky outcrops here and there. There is little vegetation here except lichen and a scraggly pine or two. The snow has melted from all but the most sheltered areas and the trail is gravelly. I look back and see an astonishing view to the south, which includes, to my great delight, the beautiful Tetons and the Lake. This makes all my efforts worthwhile!
Plus, we are now in clear sight of the Fire Tower and have only a few hundred feet to go. But then the wind kicks up and although I see no sign of rain or snow, the gusts are extremely strong. We come to another narrow bridge of snow and as I start to cross, the wind blows upward fiercely, affecting my balance. Yikes!
The trail is straight but both sides drop off so abruptly that I can’t see beyond them. I would have trouble here if the ground were dry and flat, but with a slushy uneven surface and a gusty wind, it is too much.
Ken and Gerry know me well enough not to argue and I assure them I am fine with them going on. I carefully back-track off the snow bridge to more solid ground and watch them until they disappear around the far side of the rocky knob upon which the fire-tower is built
The sun feels wonderful and I nestle into a sunny spot next to a protective rock wall. I manage to elevate my feet, a trick that really helps me on long or steep hikes. After I have a little lunch I see they have made it to the tower and we wave happily from afar.
I look for bears and wolves on the distant hills and pikas nearer at hand, and above all, I enjoy the views. I try to follow the Yellowstone Canyon and see if I can figure out where Fairyland is - or Broad and Shallow Creek, but I can’t say I was successful. Mostly I look northeast towards Lamar, trying to figure out the connections between the landmarks most familiar to me.
When Ken and Gerry get back they both say I made the right decision not to continue. Ken says although I may have made it across this first bridge, I would have turned back once I saw the spot where they presume the other guy turned around. He says when he first tried it, he slid part of the way!
We hang out for a while, taking a few more photos and having snacks. And we make a call to the Oldtymers! It’s great fun to talk to a beloved Original Loon from such a place. Then we shoulder our packs for the trek down. Hiking downhill is definitely easier!
I still find it really scary in some spots but I manage it. The lower we get, however, the more slush we encounter. Then sun has had three hours to soften the snow and she has done a bang up job! We have to maintain a slow pace to deal with it. The temperature rises and the breeze is less consistent, so I try to cool off by rubbing snow on my head.
But all in all it’s a great hike, and I’m very glad to have done it. I’d like to get all the way to the top, but I think I’ll wait for a snow-free trail!
We pass a few more hikers headed up as we are coming down, including people without hiking poles or day packs, and some in tennis shoes. I worry that they are ill-equipped but I’m sure they look at us like we’re geeky gear-heads!
Finally we hike down the last slope and find Sam relaxing in the car. We re-cap our adventures to him and I try to interest him and Ken in going somewhere for a meal. But they have made other plans for the evening and we must say our goodbyes. Thanks KenD! So long Sam!
Gerry and I are both hungry, so we carpool down to Canyon and stop at the new diner-type restaurant inside one of the huge gift shops. (It looks new to me, but I don’t know Canyon that well). We talk about going out to see the Hayden wolves but in the end we are both anxious to see what next might be happening with the Agates.
It looks like Lynnette and Calvin have been here all day!
I get set up and Lynette helps me find two bedded wolves, a gray (not sure if it was 524F or 383M) and the un-collared gray. Not a lot is happening at first, just sleeping wolves flicking an ear or stretching a leg. 472 is here, as well but it takes me forever to see her as she is sleeping at the base of a tree and blends perfectly into the scenery.
Then we see 113 heading this direction from across the flats. He comes all the way in and stops at the creek to take a drink. Now he heads for the carcass. He walks right past the sleeping 472 as if he doesn’t notice her! He disappears into the deadfall and presumably, begins to chow down.
Upon coming out again, he walks over toward the stream and beds in the grass near some conifers. I bet it’s cool right there. Next the un-collared gray walks into the deadfall to have his turn. He brings out a piece of a leg, with light brown fur visible on it. Calvin remarks that it looks like elk to him. The gray plops down and chews on the bone.
The sleeping wolf near the un-collared gray gets up and heads to the carcass area. 113 rises and stretches and starts the trek back to the den. When he is half-way across, we see two other wolves coming in the opposite direction; both wolves can be seen with the naked eye. One is black 525F and the other is the distinctive light gray 471. They move steadily across the green, headed for the carcass. I can’t believe they are still hungry, after all the eating they’ve been doing!
Again, this sighting becomes a magnet for visitors and more and more people stop to look. We share our scopes over and over. People are really excited to see wolves this close and I feel that everyone is respectful. The wolves are far enough away not to be bothered by us and there is activity for a long while, allowing hundreds of people the chance to see them and take pictures of them.
471 leaps gracefully over the little creek and moves into the deadfall area. 525 has a little tussle with the un-collared gray and comes away with the leg bone. 525 trots off and beds to chew on it, but first tosses it up a few times to show off.
Now the Agate queen, 472, rouses herself. Hooray! She gives me a nice view of her as she stretches and walks around a bit in the open. I get to see her light sides and graying face. She is a perfect mix of 21 and 42. Now she heads into the deadfall by a different path than the others took.
Meanwhile, 525 continues to play with the elk leg, tossing it in the air in a delightful way. Eventually she takes her prize in her teeth and heads east with it, only to plop down in another spot to gnaw on it, looking as happy as a dog with a bone. 8~)
Then 472 re-emerges, carrying a huge slab of meat. She breaks into a determined trot and I realize she aims to carry this slab back to the den. She crosses the stream, and heads across the flats, following 113’s route.
525 sees her and decides to accompany her. She is charming to watch, running joyfully across the meadow with the leg bone in her mouth. 472 is all business, moving steadily onward while 525 by contrast is playing and romping. She sits down to have another gnaw on her bone. Just as she does this, 472 changes course, apparently to avoid a small herd of elk blocking the straight route. She moves far to the right and over a little hill. When 525 looks up from her toy she suddenly can’t see where Mom went! She jumps up and races off to catch up with her, leaving her bone behind. I can almost hear her calling, “Hey Ma! Wait for me!“
The wind kicks up and with most of the wolves gone, the crowd begins to thin out. By the time 471 finally comes out with re-muddied paws the only ones left are we few nutty wolfers in our winter coats, hats and boots.
471 starts back to the den. She finds the leg bone abandoned by 525 and stops to sit and gnaw on it.
The light is failing but still we stay to watch. 471 gets up again and moves on, heading for Calvin’s cluster. She finds something in the grass, stops to chew on it, then trots on, her light-gray shape not much more than a ghost in the meadow.
What a great day for seeing wolves! Thanks Calvin and Lynnette!
I bid goodnight to my friends and hop back in Golda for the short drive down to Tower, but before I get there I have one final sighting for the day - a cinnamon black bear roaming in the tall grass, all by his lonesome.
Today I saw: antelope, 1 cinnamon black bear, bison, 2 coyotes, mule deer, elk, hawks, magpies, 2 Clark’s nutcrackers, an osprey, ravens, a golden-mantled ground squirrel, 7 wolves (all the adults of the Agate Pack), 10 Loons and the spirit of Allison