BC is world famous for its vast wilderness, and for some of the residents of that wilderness, including the grey wolf, Canis lupus, often called the timber wolf. Although there are approximately 8,500 wolves in the province, wolf sightings are fairly rare and usually very brief. I consider myself privileged to have had three lengthy and memorable encounters with wolves in northern BC, each of them very different from the others.
The first was in early October, high above the Liard River. I was camped overnight at a viewpoint along the Alaska Highway while driving from Whitehorse to Vancouver following a season of driving tour buses in the Yukon and Alaska. It was cold, and wet snow was being driven against my cheap little pup tent by a strong north wind. In the middle of the night, I awakened to the sound of a wolf howling – distant, and muffled by the wind and snow to the point that I had to strain to hear him. Then nothing – no noise except the wind and the faint flapping of the wet tent fabric. Had it been my imagination? I listened for a long time, and eventually drifted back to sleep.
Some time later, though, other noises woke me up. I didn’t understand what was going on until the crashing and roaring greatly increased in intensity briefly and then abruptly stopped, followed seconds later by a loud and long chorus of several wolves celebrating their victory over a moose. It seemed to be coming from the opposite side of the Liard River directly below the bluff I was on. I was mesmerized, thrilled, and perhaps a little afraid, though the rational part of my mind kept telling me that there was no danger. The noises from the wild banquet went on for at least an hour and included some violent disputes among the wolves.
I didn’t sleep any more that night. Even when the world became silent again, I just laid there, deeply thrilled by the experience, re-playing the sounds over and over and imagining the terrible visuals that had accompanied them. While it was still fairly dark, too dark to see any detail along the river bank below me, I got up, packed my wet gear into my little hatchback Pontiac, and continued south, with my mind still reeling from the night’s event.
Several years after being witness to that most primal of wolf activities, my dogs and I were very much part of the event. In the middle of the winter, I was walking far out on frozen Lake Bennett with my Siberian husky, Kodi, and wolfdog, Kayla, when Kayla started to get very agitated. After trying unsuccessfully to calm her down several times and not being able to figure out what was wrong, I finally saw what she had seen along the shore perhaps half a mile away. We were being followed down the lake by a pack of wolves. They were staying in the forest, allowing just brief glimpses, but there seemed to be 3 or 4 of them. Kodi almost certainly saw them but wasn’t reacting – Kayla, probably with instincts more in tune with the wild, clearly knew what the pack’s hope was and was terrified.
That ended the hike. It was a beautiful day, but I couldn’t continue to stress Kayla like that, and the hair on the back of my neck was raised a bit as well. I was also somewhat afraid that Kodi might decide to go over to see if the wolves wanted to play, so I put him on a leash and started back towards our cabin several miles away. I scanned the shore often, and was very relieved when the wolves gave up their tracking when they would have had to expose themselves along several hundred meters of bare cliff, long before we reached the end of the lake.
The third encounter was on the South Klondike Highway at Tutshi Lake, as I was driving home from Skagway in October 2012. This time, I was finally able to get very close in the comfort and safety of my car, and get photos of my magnificent neighbours. Given the range of wolves in this region, several thousand square kilometers, it’s entirely possible that these were the same wolves that had stalked us along Lake Bennett a couple of years previously.
I had seen wolves several times in this area over the years, but the sightings were always for fractions of a second. This time, two of the three wolves weren’t particularly bothered by my presence, though one immediately bolted for the forest ahead. I stopped as soon as I saw them, to get several photos including the one above. I had both dogs in the car with me as always, and they both froze, their eyes wide open and fixed on the wolves, not making a sound. There was no fear this time, only fascination.
As I was moving very slowly ahead, a third wolf came up from behind me, and I decided to pace her and then drive by her to reach the next one at the steep forested slope where I was fairly certain they would climb up and vanish. The next photo was taken as I drove by her.
Meeting the wolves at the forested slope worked out better than I ever could have hoped for. The two confident wolves stayed in the open instead of vanishing as quickly as possible. I turned off the car’s engine, and we all watched each other in silence for perhaps 3-4 minutes – a couple of times, I caught a glimpse of the third wolf, who was pacing back and forth a few meters up in the willows. The big grey wolf on the right in the next photo even marked a willow to show us whose territory this really was. With more important things to do, they eventually calmly climbed up into the forest. Once the wolves were gone, I rolled down the dogs’ window on the side the wolves were on, and they caught the wolves’ scents. Their noses went crazy, trying to get every possible smell, but neither of them made a sound.
BC’s wilderness offers an incredible range of possible experiences, and although I’ve had my fair share of them, these wolf encounters are very high on my list of experiences that continue to thrill me every time I think of them. I need to tell you about other wolf encounters in the Yukon, Alaska, and Northwest Territories next 🙂