True Tales: Circle of Wolves

A close encounter in Yellowstone Park.

I left Yellowstone’s Gneiss Creek trailhead on a cool, late-summer afternoon. After hiking through dense willows, I emerged into a deep, grassy meadow tinted a beautiful golden-brown. I could see hundreds of yards in all directions, and had begun to let my bear guard down when I noticed movement off to my right, about 25 yards away. A large, gray-colored wolf stood up out of the deep grass. It was almost like an apparition—one second there was nothing, then, poof, the wolf appeared. Before I could even collect my thoughts, another gray-colored wolf stood up to my left. And then the real shocker: five more black wolves all rose out of the grass right in front of me.

The pack had been bedded down in the deep grass. It appeared I had interrupted their nap, and now seven large wolves were staring me down. I couldn’t help but think of letters to the editor in local newspapers discussing how it was just a matter of time before wolves attacked some poor, unsuspecting hiker. Was I going to be that hiker?

Then, as my trembling hand found my canister of bear spray, I realized not a single wolf was growling or baring its fangs. I had already decided that I was going to let the wolves make the first move; I couldn’t back away because they had me essentially surrounded. But one by one they turned and walked away, eventually gathering on a ridge 100 yards away. One raised its head and howled, then they disappeared into the forest to the north. I walked to a log next to the stream and sat down. The hair on my neck was still standing up. I knew these wolves could have torn me to shreds, and no, I don’t think bear spray would have been very effective on seven wolves. But on this day, the wolves only revealed to me their majesty in a wild setting—a fact that I heartily toasted that evening by the campfire.

Orville E. Bach, Jr. spent over 30 years as a seasonal park ranger in Yellowstone and has written several books on his experiences, including Tracking the Spirit of Yellowstone.