Backpacking in Wolf Country
Last summer the public first heard official news of a resident wolf pack in the Teanaway. Since that time I've been thinking about these wolves, one of five active wolf packs in Washington and the one furthest south. I can hardly wait to don my backpack and head into this wild country to hear their call and search for their signs.
I spent many years in Minneapolis, and learned to backpack on skis and snowshoes in the wintery Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Evenings around the hissing Whisperlite were almost always graced with deep, throaty howls off in the distance. It wasn't uncommon to find the remains of kills on frozen lakes, and on the summer trips I took, scat was everywhere. That's what backpacking in a place populated by 2,500 wolves is like. Their presence permeated every moment, even when they couldn't be heard.
What should you expect when hiking with wolves? How do you prepare? My advice is to enjoy the experience. You are very, very unlikely to actually see a wolf; they usually avoid people at all costs. But do hang your provisions or use a bear-proof canister. Wolves usually won't try to scavenge your food, but we still have those big black bears.
If you want to increase your odds of hearing wolves, find someplace where the sound travels - a meadow, a peak, a big lake - and have dinner at sunset. Wolves often howl to herald sundown. Watch for tracks or sign. It's unlikely that you'll see any, and I can nearly guarantee that you'll never see an actual wolf. If you do, it'll be gone in a flicker of its bushy tail the moment it registers on your eyes. They know you're there, and they're extremely skittish of humans. It takes months of waiting before a wolf will become accustomed enough to a human to approach.
And remember this: the presence of wolves means that you're in wild country. You're somewhere big enough and intact enough to support a pack of apex predators. It's a rare thing. This summer, and in summers to come, savor it.