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Backpacker Magazine – September 2012

Going, Going...Gone?

Wolf howls have echoed across Isle Royale National Park for decades. But with the once-widespread predators down to a single pack, the time to go hear--and maybe spot--them is now.

by: Gustave Axelson

Feldtmann Lake Trail (Layne Kennedy)
Feldtmann Lake Trail (Layne Kennedy)
Feldtmann Lake Timber Wolf (Layne Kennedy)
Feldtmann Lake Timber Wolf (Layne Kennedy)
Northern Lights Above Feldtmann Lake (Layne Kennedy)
Northern Lights Above Feldtmann Lake (Layne Kennedy)
 On the West Huginnin Cove Trail (Layne Kennedy)
On the West Huginnin Cove Trail (Layne Kennedy)

Dawn, and the lake is shrouded in gossamer wisps of fog. Howls erupt again, this time on either side of our camp. I am moments out of the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag, rubbing sleep out of my eyes. Then in a jolt, I am alert. A yipping just to the north of camp crescendos into a distressed wail.

Three full-throated howls answer from the south. The wolves exchange calls back and forth, drawing closer to our camp each time. My mind shorts out, unable to decide whether this is good or bad.

Again to the south, three howls explode. Closer still. Then a crashing in the brush. Along the trail leading to our site, a gray wolf appears and flashes into an opening. I catch a glimpse broadside in full trot, a ghostly gray streak, ears perked and broad snout pointing forward. It vanishes. Then dead silence. We’ve just witnessed a rendezvous of four of the island’s last wolves.

We decide to hike five hours back to Windigo to tell the rangers; I gleefully fill out the wolf encounter report. Our observation will be relayed to the scientists, contributing one important tidbit to the research. The rangers are shocked to hear that we saw wolves exhibiting social behavior so far from the Chippewa Harbor pack’s historic territory. Were they extending their claim? Were some wolves breaking to form a rival pack?

The answer, I realize later, is both wonderful and sad: We may never know.


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READERS COMMENTS

coco
Oct 04, 2012

Lijiang is located in the upper reaches of the Jinsha River, has a long history, beautiful scenery, majestic natural environment, the descendants of the ancient Qiang, Naxi hometown.
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Old Town of Lijiang 2,400 meters above sea level, is the center of the city of Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County, is one of the historical and cultural city, is a national key scenic spots.
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John
Sep 23, 2012

except for biologists; perhaps we should stay the hell off the island!!

David Douglas
Sep 22, 2012

I had the privilege of seeing a wolf pack at Hidden Lake in 2008. We came upon the pack while they were feeding on a moose in the water. One was standing on the dead moose, it appeared to be a small island. The wolves swam to the opposite end of the lake and lay down waiting for us to be on our way. We got some great pics! It was my 10th time to the Island and my first seeing wolves! A truly memorable experience. Since that sighting I have seen two lone wolves on other trips. Here's hoping the best for the wolf population on Isle Royale. Nothing like hearing that lonely call in the middle of the night.

Steve
Sep 21, 2012

Keith, your comment is filled with ignorance - sounds like a sound bite from the NRA or Farm Bureau.

Ronin
Sep 20, 2012

Any talk of transplanting a pack or two from Canada or elsewhere?

Karen
Sep 20, 2012

I just returned from a week and a half on the island. The wolves are, indeed, only 9 in number, but from Candy Petersen - there are 6 males comprising the Chippewa Harbor pack, a male/female pair near the northern shore - generally east of McCargo Cove, and a lone male north of the Greenstone and generally west of Mc Cargo cove. As of the first of Sept - it is unknown whether the pair has reproduces, and this female represents the tipping point of the wolves on the island - she is the only female, and if she does not breed, (or the lake does not re-freeze) the only way the wolves can survive is an introduction of new wolves.

If you're on the island - a visit to the Petersen Cabin is a great afternoon. They welcome visitors and are eager to share their experiences and wisdom. Take the Sandy tour to Rock Harbor Lighthouse, or rent a canoe or beg a ride - there are no trails that lead to the Petersens. (I suppose you could bushwhack from Moskey Basin to there, but that's REALLY hard going.

What this article doesn't mention is that the mystery of the three wolves who "vanished" has been solved. They were located, drowned, in an ancient (Native American) mineshaft (previously unknown to exist) this spring. One female and two males were found. It's a tragedy. (read here for more : http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1112609175/isle-royale-wolf-pack-decimated-by-deaths-of-three-wolves/

As for the trip itself - it's a WONDERFUL place to go. If you go durring the summer, the mosquitos and black flies can be crazy-making - repellant isn't enough - you need a head net. Go in the fall - see the colors, and be bug free. Bonus - there's WAY fewer people after labor day.

One other word - while this is a National Park, the "trails" that exist are barely maintained. And for some the going is seriously hard. Many of the trails are hardscrabble and slick-rock marked by infrequent cairns. Pack your trekking poles and be sure you have good, well-broken-in boots. My little one (8) and I have hiked many National Parks, and the trails here were WAY harder than we anticipated. Only a good attitude, and great preparation in terms of conditioning saved us.

Anonymous
Sep 20, 2012

The one and only time I've seen a wolf in the wild was on Isle Royale. It was late afternoon on our second day in and we were pushing ourselves to get to the next campsite. Tired, slogging, and feeling a little stressed, I glanced up the trail and there was a wolf about 100 feet ahead of us just standing there watching us. I had to blink to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. I alerted my companion and whoosh there it went. My hiking partner only caught a glimpse of the tail. It was the most magical moment in all my hiking experiences. A-mazing.

keith
Sep 20, 2012

Well come to the west where there is an over abundance of wolves!! Eating all the wildlife, farmers cattle, etc. Or go up to Canada and Alaska if you want to see them in their so called "wilder state"!!

Steve Hammontree
Sep 20, 2012

Great article! What month in the fall were you there? My wife and I have got to get up there!

John Locke
Sep 20, 2012

If you would like to hear wolves, come to
Algonquin Park in Ontario. No shortage of them
there.

Joe Rossi
Sep 13, 2012

Very nicely written. Its not often I have the patience to read an entire article online! Well done!

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