DAY FOUR - Monday, July 3

HELPFUL HUNTER

Good morning! Itís 5:10 at 39 degrees.

This morning I come the closest yet to killing a robin swooping past my car, but it survives. Whew!

I guess I should mention that one of the reasons for the lack of wolf sightings is that neither the Lamar pack nor the Junction Pack is raising pups this year, so the usual pup-centered semi-predictable activity is just not happening. Both packs are free to move about as much or as little as they want; to hunt where-ever they want and to stay in good hunting areas as long as they want, without being drawn back to their home territory every day to feed the growing family. We donít quite know what happened; whether they had pups and they all died, or whether they were killed by rival wolves or disease, or if they just did not come to full term.

926 of Lamar was visibly pregnant in March, as were both 907 and 969 of the Junctions. Their collars provided enough information to suggest all three females had ďlocalizedĒ for a short period in early April (suggesting they were staying close to a den) but then that behavior stopped and their movement became random again.

I keep thinking, though, that the pack that DOES have pups to feed, the Prospect Pack, has to be somewhere on the northern range, and I believe we need to regularly scope the usual spots if we are going to find them.

I decide to try scoping from Hellroaring, even though Iím sure Doug M did just that early this morning on his way east. But what if the wolves moved into that area after he left? Anyway, I pull in and start to set up. Hellroaring overlook offers a wide view of a lot of territory and I have gradually become familiar with the favored routes of various wolf packs. I donít know the Prospects very well, but in my experience, wolves tend to like the same pathways so I make a plan to scope all the usual spots.

As I am raising my scope, my eye-piece (which has been loose for several days) drops off, falls into the dirt below me and ROLLS DOWN THE HILL!

I start to grab for it but catch myself in time because with my injured knee, I actually cannot lunge. Ack! I watch it roll down the path and disappear into thick vegetation. At first my concern is that it will be too damaged to use, but then something even worse happens. I hear it start ROLLING again. I freeze, listening hard to catch any indication as to direction. Finally the sound stops but I am unsure whether it stopped on its own or whether it just dropped over the cliff I know is there. It may still be rolling, all the way to the river but out of range of my hearing. Now what do I do? I donít have a spare eye-piece. My gut tells me itís down there, perhaps 15 feet below, slightly to the right and perhaps just above the drop off. I have to try to find it, even with my bad knee. I go back to the car and get out both my hiking poles. I study the hillside from every angle, trying to find a way to get to that spot using the easiest, gentlest slope. But this being Hellroaring Overlook, there actually is no such thing. All sides are steep, all are uneven.

If I didnít have a bad knee I would already be down there, steep or not. So I have to try! I know I shouldnít; I know if I slip I will be in major trouble. I go very, very slowly but my knee does not like uneven ground. After a few mis-steps, I finally realize it is futile and stupid, and Iím just asking for trouble. So I inch my way back up and figure out a plan B.

I call over the radio to Laurie. ďNothing to report, everythingís fine, but I need to come talk to youĒ.

Luckily for me, Laurie is not far. She and Doug have not yet headed south but are at Boulder. When I get there and tell them my sorry tale, they both want to go to Hellroaring to try to find it. I say no - itís just too steep and treacherous. Maybe if I knew exactly where it was and just couldnít get there myself I might take them up on it, but I donít. Itís a horrid, steep hillside and my eye-piece could be anywhere in a wide area.

Laurie says I can use Danís scope for the rest of my trip. Doug feels I can probably get another eye piece online. Then we make a deal for me to ďborrowĒ one of his extra scopes until I figure it out.

Doug heads back home while Laurie & I decide to go south over the pass to Hayden.

We spend the next 3 hours at Grizzly Overlook. Rick gets a signal for 1091 but we just canít find her or any of her pups.

Instead we watch a small herd of elk in the river. There are 3 calves in this group; playing, splashing in the water. Two moms have a short argument, rearing up on their hind legs.

We also see sand hill cranes, pelicans, geese. And bison of course.

There is a mid-western family here that we are scoping with. Laurie knows them as Hayden regulars. They have a son named Hunter who is 16 and very interested in wolves. I remember scoping with him last year.

Laurie mentions my missing eye-piece and Hunter perks up. He says heíd be happy to search for it and his dad says he will, too. Hunterís mom says they were going to drive over to the northern range anyway, so letís go!

About a half hour later, we re-convene in the Hellroaring lot. Itís a lot warmer now than it was this morning. I show them where I was standing and try to re-create the path it took Ė at least initially, so I can then offer my very best guess as to where it may rolled after that.

They are both fit and agile and they scramble down the hill with great enthusiasm. Hunterís mom stays in the truck and she and I talk, with me mostly saying how much I appreciate their being willing to help.

After about 10 minutes of steady searching, I am astonished when I look down and see Hunterís dad stand up from a crouched position with a big grin on his face. He raises his arm up high, holding up my eye piece!

Itís a Yellowstone Miracle!

He comes up the hill and shows me. I can see a few scratches on the metal but otherwise itís fine. We both remark on how warm it is. Itís been sitting undisturbed in the summer sun for several hours.

I am so astonished and relieved and happy. I give them all the brownies I have left and thank them over and over, wishing I had something more substantial to offer. I ask if I can buy them dinner and they say they are just happy to have helped.

I call Laurie to tell her. Hunter and his family head off toward Mammoth and I drive east.

At Yellowstone Picnic I stop to peek at a black bear mama with her two cubs along with about 20 other people. They are sleeping in the shade at the base of a tree.

Itís gotten very hot and I donít see any rain relief on the way. My leg is sore, probably because I overdid it with my eye-piece adventure. So, when I get back to Silver Gate, Laurie & I decide to stay in this evening. We work on her writing project instead.

She gets a report from the plane that the Junctions were seen on the Mirror plateau today and that they possibly had an altercation with the Mollies. Also, she learns that the Lamars were seen in the Cache Creek area.

We talk about what might have happened to the pups and she reminds me that Mollies have no pups either. It all points to distemper except for one major thing Ė distemper usually does not kill pups until after they are weaned. From the meager evidence we have this year, these pups died well before weaning could have begun.

It seems so unlikely that all three packs would have lost pups to rival wolves. So it remains a mystery.

As we are discussing this, Laure starts getting emails and phone messages from her loyal reporters in Hayden. They are in the middle of a Wapiti pup sighting. We soon get confirmation that 1091F has five pups, not four: four gray and one black. Tonight she led them all down to the river. They followed her partly across twice but both times they turned back.

She tried to get them to swim a third time but they would not do it. They are tired now. Laurie is convinced that the alpha female has a second litter on the west side of the road and that 1091 is trying to bring her pups to that den where the rest of the pack is.

Her reporters send great videos and photos, too. So, even though we saw none of it ourselves, itís a great ending to the day.

Today I saw: 3 black bears, 2 grizzly bears, bison, cranes, elk, geese, pelicans, pronghorn and the spirits of Allison and Richard.




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