Chugach State Park

Wild Encounters
  |  Gorp.com

Only fifteen miles north of Windy Corner's sheep jams, while camped on a mountain ridge, Cliff Eames once enjoyed what many would consider the ultimate wilderness experience. Shortly before midnight, as he and backpacking companion Mike Frank prepared for sleep, Eames's dog, Spike, began to growl. Peering out the tent, the men saw two wolves standing side by side, less than twenty feet away.

Eames pulled Spike into the tent, then returned his attention to the wolves. Considerably larger than his seventy-pound black labrador, they had beautiful coats and appeared well fed. The wolves stared back for perhaps thirty seconds, then nonchalantly turned and walked slowly away. About seventy-five yards off, they were joined by two other wolves; together, the foursome howled for thirty to forty-five seconds, then vanished quietly into the night. "The wolves didn't seem the least bit afraid," says Eames, an Anchorage resident since 1977. "It was incredible—one of my most memorable experiences. To think, we were only an hour from our cars."

Other backcountry travelers have been equally touched by Chugach's wolves. An almost mystical encounter took place on Eklutna Glacier in 1978, when six men got caught in a severe winter storm. Howling gales, heavy snow, and subzero windchill temperatures drove them to a Mountaineering Club hut, where they stayed for several days. The men grew accustomed to the wind's shrieks and moans and roars. But at 5 a.m. on their final morning at the cabin, they were awakened by a new, more surprising, noise: howling wolves.

The distant calls lasted a few moments, then abruptly ended. The idea of wolves traveling in pitch darkness during such a storm seemed so unbelievable that the men thought perhaps they'd somehow imagined the howls, until the wolves spoke again. The men piled outside the cabin; gale-force winds still blew across the glacier, but visibility had improved considerably. As mountaineer Jim Sayler later reported: "Suddenly, out of the fog far across the glacier, several small shapes appeared... We watched as five wolves made their way across and down the glacier. As suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone... "

The pack's passing was considered a good omen; if wolves were moving, perhaps the storm was breaking. Later that day, the men descended the glacier and left the mountains, their spirits lifted in immeasurable ways.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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