DAY TWO - Wednesday, October 18

ELK CHASE AND CRYSTAL HIKE

Good morning. Itís 32 degrees at 6AM.

As I am putting my stuff in the car, a van pulls into Laurieís driveway. Itís her friends D & F. They ask me to tell Laurie they saw 926F on the road just past Round Prairie.

I thank them and go inside to tell Laurie & Pauline, who are in the kitchen. So even though we are eager to see her, 926 does not appear for any of us.

We end up gathering at the Institute, where Doug has found the Junctions. They are in the flats, spread out, testing bison.

The Junctions spot a bison calf dawdling behind the herd. They give chase and one of the collared blacks catches it and knocks it down; another black and a gray chase the mom who turns to defend her calf. But the calf gets up quickly and while the wolves are busy with mom, the rest of the bison herd belatedly notices the attack and rush to the calfís rescue.

At the arrival of suck daunting protection, the wolves back off, and the bison give them a body-language thrashing. If belligerent stances and raised tails could injure, the wolves would be goners. Instead they just move out of harms reach and seem to high-five the wolf who knocked down the calf. Turns out that was alpha male 1047, who currently has only three good legs. Wow. That is amazing.

The wolves leave the bison and turn south, spreading out again as they head towards the river. Itís clear they intend to cross. I love watching animals cross the wild rivers of Yellowstone, so I concentrate on following each one across.

Each crosses in a different place and a different style, but soon they are all on the other side. They quickly gain higher ground which makes me believe they are hunting in earnest. Three blacks veer to the west and uphill, aiming for a small group of adult bison with one large calf. These bison run quickly and effortlessly up the steep hill and soon the wolves give up. I notice one of the bison has a magpie on its back and the bird stays on for a ride rather comically for quite a while.

I turn my scope left again to find the other four wolves. Someone calls out ďtheyíre chasing elkĒ. I find the running elk first, another level up, and then I see the wolves after them. They split the herd: half moves east and the other half west. The eastern group scatters, making it hard for me to follow so I switch to the western group, about a dozen, still intact. Two black wolves are close on the heels of the trailing elk. A gray joins the two blacks and the three wolves chase the elk across the entire length of Jasper Bench and up Divide ridge. Although one black wolf keeps right up with the trailing elk it looks like the elk is not yet running full tilt, but just fast enough to stay ahead of the wolf.

In other words, the elk looks too healthy to catch.

Finally we lose them all over Divide Ridge. I turn my scope back to the east and find a lone black at the eastern end of Amethyst bench, howling. It is answered by other howlers. These other howlers, three of them, materialize on the bench directly south of the ranch, above Amethyst creek near some very large boulders. One of these is definitely 969F and another is 1047M (the alphas) and one other black.

The lone black howler eventually re-joins the alpha group near the big rocks. The four of them howl for a long time and are always looking to the west, as if they can hear returning howls that we cannot.

Now they begin to move west, eventually ending up along the back of Jasper bench. They bed there and I begin to pan to the west, expecting the other wolves to show up any minute. And sure enough, here they come, nicely silhouetted on skyline on Divide ridge. I see 3 blacks & 907 (gray).

The pack re-unites near a big boulder we temporarily call Wolf Rock. They are a big, happy dog-pile, wagging tails and body slamming, face licking. After a good bit of bonding they move east again and eventually disappear into the gully at the back of the bench.

One by one they go out of sight.

Now that is a nice sighting!

We stick around a while, hoping they will come back out but eventually some of us decide to head west to Hellroaring. When we arrive we find more of our friends. Chloe & Becky are here, as well as Jim & Joellyn, Calvin & Lynette, Larry & Linda (Wyoming), Dale & Faye, Kathie and Bill H.

Alas, there are no wolves in view. We chat a while, and exchange goodies, and then Kathie suggests we take a hike up to the Crystal pen. Laurie and Pauline beg off but it sounds great to me.

I pack very lightly and use both poles. Becky and Chloe go too, so I stick with them and rest as often as I need.

The way up has some steep parts but itís not relentless. We start on the trail but soon diverge to the left. We have quite a time getting through a thick aspen grove, which I swear wasnít even here the last time I hiked up here with Ballpark. But that was more than 10 years ago!

There is a massive rock that serves as a marker. Hike to that rock and skirt itís western side and youíll find a trail to the old pen site. The fences were taken down long ago. Itís really cool back in here, dark and shady with great big trees. It feels like a club house Ė a great place to camp (if it were legal). Lots of blow down, plenty of dead wood. We stop and have our lunch, then explore a bit.

After this we hike around the eastern side of the big rock which offers a climbable slope to the top. Really cool to be up here. But windy! Great views of Little America, the old Slough den area and the road.

Now we head back down and take a slightly different route Ė and doing so takes us past the new beaver ponds. These were NOT here when Ballpark and I hiked up, but I think they could be five-ten years old. I see three or four levels of dam-ponds of Crystal Creek. Itís really cool!

These are mostly mud dams, hardly any sticks. I see three beaver lodges and a few spillways. We do not see any beavers which is a little peculiar. You can see hillsides full of beaver-gnawed aspen stumps.

We make it back to the cars and cool down, drinking lots of water. On my way to Slough a coyote crosses the road in front of me. Then we scope at Dorothyís for a while.

We hear coyotes howling but only find one of them.

Then I hear Bill announce a grizzly sighting from down at YES, so I head there to see him. Heís a big guy, prowling the edge of the treeline.

We look for the Junctions from here but do not find them.

I decide to head in to spend the evening with Laurie & Pauline. On my way there I see one of the prettiest October sights from Footbridge, where the Soda Butte creek winds through the flats. The willows here are a multitude of subtle fall colors; burnt orange, red and purple, and the dry grasses are golden, making a really lovely combination.

Itís so good to be here!

Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, coyotes, elk, 8 Junction Butte wolves (including 969F, 907F, 1047M, 1048M, 996M, un-collared black male, black limper F, 2nd black limper F) and the spirit of Alison



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