I'm out at 6 this morning. The gauge reads 30 but it doesn't feel that cold. The sky is crystal clear, with endless stars and a bright moon.
My first stop is with Laurie at Mid-point. She tells me Rick has signals for the Lamar Canyon Pack somewhere to the north.
We stand in the cold morning and scope the hills and ridge-tops, often turning around to scope the flats behind us. The only movement we find is a small band of elk, slightly bunched, but still grazing.
After about a half hour, we have not heard from Rick, so we figure he's gone on to Slough. We head that direction but when we see Rick's car acoss from the Institute, we join him here.
His intent demeanor indicates that he has something promising so we set up to help him. We find a group of elk on the skyline and realize they are probably the same ones we saw from mid-point. Only now they are not grazing and are tightly bunched. Hmmm.
The herd consists of a 5x5 bull, four cows and a calf. In another moment I see they are all looking in the same direction. My pulse quickens.
Jake arrives just in time to see the elk disappear to the north. But then they suddenly appear again, running. Instantly we know we are watching a chase! Don't watch the elk, I say to myself, watch behind them. Sure enough, just that quickly I find a black, then another!
Next I see a running gray wolf but before I can say "it's the 06" I see another gray and another and another! Four gray wolves run down the slope with tails high. Good grief, it's the pups!
I've lost the blacks for the moment, so I stay with the pups. But they stop and then I see the blacks coming back up from below. No one sees The 06 and we joke that she has probably already killed an elk and is halfway through it!
Then Laurie shows me where the elk are. They are safe for the time being, having taken refuge on a rocky knob of a cliff, tightly bunched. Then I catch a glimpse of a gray wolf heading back up the slope. Aha, there she is, The 06. It looks like she has given up.
She trots back to her family. The elk escape this time.
I scan back and see the pups sitting on the edge of the hill, two on their haunches, one lying down and one still up on all fours, still eager to go and do something. The black males walk up the hill ahead of the alpha female and past the pups. The pups look down at the elk, perhaps not sure what their next step is to be. When mom beds, the pups follow suit.
For the moment the excitement is over. Laurie says this is the first time the Lamar Canyon pups have been seen away from home, so I feel very proud to have witnessed such an event.
The break in the drama is especially fortuitous for me - because if Jake and I are going to join the Fall Color Hike this morning, we need to get going. So I bid adieu to the wolf-watchers and the wolves and head west.
On the way to Mammoth we have to stop for a bear jam at Elk Creek - a large black bear roaming around in the deadfall. But the rest of the way presents no obstacles.
In the lobby of the Mammoth Hotel I hook up with Ballpark Frank and meet his girlfriend Jayne, to whom I take an instant liking. She is smart and friendly and quite an accomplished woman. Bison and JJ are here, too, as is Frank Auwingwalker, Dave from PA and, Jake.
There are numerous elk in Mammoth, including several bellowing bulls. In fact, we have to delay the start of our hike due to a young bull who marches regally down the very trail we intend to head up. We give him a wide berth and he goes on about his business.
Once we get up the hill, we pay a visit to Allison - the closest I've been to her actual resting spot since we helped get her here. It's nice to remember our dear friend in this sunny, windswept spot.
Then Frank leads us up a steep hill, high above the Beaver Ponds Loop Trail. At a certain point we then double back to the southeast, bushwhacking our way over some windswept, lightly-timbered hills.
One one of them we find a strange arrangement of wood and wire, some sort of corral, perhaps. It's tucked back behind some trees, as if whomever made it meant to hide it in some way. But we can't really figure out what it's for or how old it might be.
The day warms considerably and I shed layers and stuff them in my pack. We discover several beautiful pockets of refuge used by elk, full of lush, green grass and hidden by a rim of tall pines and golden aspen. We find numerous shed antlers and hear elk bugling in the distance.
We head down a slope and across a little creek and suddenly find ourselves in a particularly lovely stand of mature aspen and high grass. I name it Peaceful Grove and it's where we stop for lunch. There are numerous logs on which to sit or lean and golden leaves all around.
After a nice break, we explore a bit more, then head uphill through thicker and thicker forest. We come out on a high ridge and Frank points out a view I don't expect: it's Wraith Falls, visible in the far distance.
Later we take another stop in a shaded area near a rock pile and we are visited by a cute little weasel. It's very small, with a tawny back and a white belly; white feet and a sweet face. It's short tail has a black tip. I think it is a least weasle.
It amuses us all by dashing in and out of tiny crevices in the rock, popping out here and there like a cartoon character.
We continue down the hill and end up in Clematis Gulch and then work our way down to the road. Jayne and I pay a visit to the million dollar bathroom and then join the others at a picnic table outside the General Store. We all get ice-cream and sit in the sun, jabbering and telling stories. We all thank Frank for leading a great hike.
I never like saying goodbye, but the time has come. Jake is off on his next adventure and I am heading back to the wolves. It's always good to hike with Loons and I look forward to the next one.
The day has warmed all the way to 76 so I get out of my hot boots and into my tevas. Ahhhh! That feels good. On my way back up the hill beyond the high bridge, I run into another bear jam. Unfortunately, there is really no place to pull over so cars are just stopped.
The bear is on the right side of the road, behind a tree, barely six feet from the pavement, ripping open a rotten log. People are out of their cars, standing on the center line and all over the road, snapping photos. Most are way too close, but I am also concerned about how easily an rear-end accident could occur, especially to cars coming down the hill, having to stop suddenly on a winding road.
I keep my patience and just get past the jam in one piece. When I reach the Undine lot I call Mammoth, but can't get through. So I dial Frank's number and luckily he and Jayne are still in the lobby so he agrees to report the jam to the front desk.
I stop at Slough but find it empty of people and wolves. I stop at the Institute and search all the areas where we usually see wolves. Still no luck, and no bird activity, either.
Next I stop at Footbridge and chat with a few folks there. Then just as I am heading out, Rick pulls in, so I chat with him a while. We move down to Hitching Post with Gerry and Sian because Rick does have good signals from that direction.
But by this time the light is to dim for me so I call it a night.
On my way east, coming around a curve somewhere beyond the Thunderer picnic area I have to slam on the brakes to avoid a bull bison in the road. Everything on my front seat goes flying to the floor. The only thing that saves him and me is that I am only going about 35. Whew!
The damned bison doesn't even flinch. He just walks on. I pull over to the side of the road to catch my breath and when I see lights coming from behind, I pump my brake lights as a warning, because the bison is still in the road. That car slows down and passes safely and only then does the bison move to the shoulder.
I get passed him and make it to Laurie's safe and sound just a few minutes after 8PM. We have a nice chat and then it's off to sleep.
Today I saw: 2 black bears, bison, coyotes, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, 1 least weasel, 7 wolves (the Lamar
Canyon Pack, including the 06 female, 755M, 754M and their 4 pups, 7 Loons and the spirit of Allison