The temperature today is minus 16! Yikes! Only when I get to Moose Meadow does my car finally feel warm.
There is a lovely fog in Lamar, and the temp dips to minus 22!
There is a beautiful sunrise behind me.
I start at Slough, expecting to see wolves around a carcass. I pass Taylor on the hike out to Bob’s. She’s going back for better gloves. She says “still alive!” I just about fall over.
When I get out to Bob’s I see the elk in the exact same place. There are many fewer wolves bedded around her – but I soon see a troop of them returning from a jaunt to the southwest.
Another group of wolves are bedded further east, on the high berm above the creek. My count is 23 but I think there are more I haven’t found yet.
The elk now has tiny icicles hanging from her belly fur. Ice is “growing” up her legs. She has ice on her face and neck. Her wound is pink now, not red, meaning even the blood has frozen.
But somehow, she’s made it through the night.
Several pups begin to stir and start to play on a snowy slope, creating snowballs and chasing them downhill, sledding down on their sides and romping together.
The group of wolves that journeyed south are now bedded in two groups on the cut bank. Around 9:30 the elk does her stealth move, climbing quietly onto the bank for a brief browse. A couple of wolves raise their heads. One stands. That’s enough to send the elk back to the water.
The situation has become heartbreaking. We are all now firmly on the elk’s side.
The next time the elk sneaks out, it’s the former alpha female who gets up and moves across the ice, worrying the elk back into the water. The former alpha wanders in a circle, coming up behind the elk, walking in the area where she’s been browsing. She harasses the elk from this vantage point. The elk remains undaunted, stomping fiercely at the wolf.
The former alpha walks back across the ice and re-beds.
At 10:30 I take a warm-up break by driving into Lamar. I find steam rising from the winding channels of Rose Creek to the south. It looks so pretty on this bright sunny day.
At noon, the temp rises all the way to 2 degrees above.
I return to Bob’s just after noon. Everything is the same. Taylor and I marvel that the elk has now been in the cold, cold water for 26 hours.
About an hour later, the wolf crew notice a person, perhaps innocently, perhaps intentionally, walking towards the wolves from the south with a camera in hand. This is not someone who has been on the overlook hill with us but likely approached the area from the road.
Where the person came from, none of us know, but he suddenly seems to notice all of us and stops where he is.
Moments later, the bedded wolves suddenly get up. The ones closest to the person strike off to the west. Others, including 907F, begin to howl. They have a mini-rally and then set off after the others.
Taylor is obliged to follow the wolves so she leaves, while Cameron and I (and two other visitors) stay with the elk. We want to know what she’s gonna do.
Three wolves remain in the area; 907F, a black and a gray. By 1:30, one by one, these three get up and follow the pack, using the trail behind the Southern Round Tree.
We call to the elk, quietly, “they’re gone!”
She stays in the water, nearly motionless, looking, listening, smelling the air. You can almost hear her mind working. She is so cautious, perhaps it’s a trick? Maybe they are circling behind her?
10 minutes slowly tick by. She takes a hesitant step towards the bank. Two more steps and she’s out of the water. We applaud her softly with our gloved hands. She browses the area for 20 minutes, moving only a foot or two from her safe place, raising her head constantly, sniffing, looking, listening.
It takes a full 45 minutes from the time the last wolf left before she makes her first truly bold move. She climbs up a hill, giving her a wider view, while still allowing her to rush back to her sanctuary quickly.
She looks in every direction as if she cannot believe her incredible luck. She starts to trot north.
What amazes me is how steady she seems to be on her cold, cold legs.
She passes below our hill and reaches the campground road, which offers her the easiest route back to safety. She breaks into a run and only now do I notice a slight hitch in her wounded leg.
But she is free.
She has been extraordinarily strong-willed. She never panicked, never felt sorry for herself. She held out, she made all those wolves afraid of her, kept them second guessing themselves. And she did it long enough for fate to step in to save her.
As she disappears from view, we send our best wishes that she soon find the company of family and friends and better food to eat.
What a lesson for us all.
I drive west and find the crew at Boulder. They have the Junctions in view from here, traveling west through the Buffalo Ford.
I scope from the road right next to my car. The leaders are already out of sight but I still see half the pack make its way up the slope that leads to Junction Lake.
We move to Elk Creek and find them once more running out of the forest that hugs the east side of the lake. I count maybe six wolves running swiftly downslope and out of sight.
We are quite chilled, so we call it an early night.
When we are back in the warmth of Laurie’s house, we chat about what we saw the last two days. I still can’t get over what happened with the elk. I feel so bad for writing her off, thinking she’d only last a few hours. Wow.
We compare notes about which wolves we saw, and Laurie confirms that 1048 was not with the group yesterday or today. She thinks he might be prepared to disperse, reasoning that if 907 is now alpha or co-alpha of the Junctions, then his chance to mate with her come February might be lost, since the alpha male will prevent it. She says she would not be surprised it he ends up with Mollies.
I like her theory, but I think 907 has always preferred 1048, so I wonder what she’ll do without him? I guess only time will tell.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, the bravest elk in the world, bighorn sheep, 23 Junction wolves and
the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff