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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.

Knock-knock. The ranger pops his head into our lean-to at Washington Creek Campground. “There’s a nor’easter blowing in. Gale force winds on Superior,” he says. “The ferry’s coming back to get anybody with tickets to leave tomorrow—they’ve got to go tonight. Like, right now.” Luckily, we’re two of the few with permits to stay.

“Nor’easter? We have to check that out,” says Mike, an enthusiastic storm-chaser whose passion for wild weather temporarily hijacks our itinerary. (Besides, while the Chippewa pack is known to frequent some areas more than others, the wolves are also known for ranging far and wide—who knows where they might be?) So instead of trekking into Isle Royale’s interior, we devise a five-mile detour to the north shore and Huginnin Cove, where we can greet the storm head-on.

The trail climbs gently out of the evergreens into a stand of paper birch; their yellow leaves glitter like golden coins in the building wind. When we reach the cove, I cinch my hood tight and shiver in the face of the building storm. A 50-mph gust drops me to my knees. Then, a sharp snap! I look left, and a 40-foot-tall spruce splits in half right before my eyes. “Yeeeeaaaah booooy!” Mike cheers.

We huddle up at a campsite sheltered by a phalanx of spruces and make lunch. When the trees bend double, we retreat inland to Washington Creek. By dusk, the storm blows through. The sky is clear; the air still. Then, a mournful moan comes from deep in the woods: “Uugghh–AAAUUUUGGHHHH–uuuunnnnggghh!” A cow moose in heat. We listen to her desperate groan for a half hour, then hear a splashing in Washington Creek just 20 yards away. The sloshing grows louder, moving in the direction of the moan. An 800-pound suitor is answering her call. But for the total blackout of a new moon, we might have been able to glimpse the bull moose. I run to the creek and shine my light, but can only see its wake.

The next morning, we break camp and start a 10-mile hike southeast to Feldtmann Lake, which the ranger had said was good moose country with lots of marshy habitat. And where you find moose, you might just find wolves (a wolf feasts on as many as 20 moose per year). We could beeline straight to Chippewa Harbor, which the last wolf pack favors, but it’s 40 miles away via the Greenstone Trail and even there the wolves are rarely seen, since that pack roams over the entire eastern half of the island. This way, we reason, we’ll at least have moose as a possible consolation prize.

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