As I look out the window of my cabin at Summit Mountain Lodge, I fall witness to the tranquility of Glacier National Park. Most mornings I can loose track of time gazing at the view from our lodge, but today the grip of the wilderness is too strong. My plan was to meander through the woods and explore what my wife and I refer to as “the church”. The church is a wild, rugged wilderness that sees few visitors. Even during the height of Glacier National Parks peak season it’s hard to find many people, most days none.
I couldn’t wait to go explore, so I slipped on my snowshoes and threw on my backpack and decided I needed to go hiking in Glacier. The 2 feet of fresh snow didn’t seem to impede me as I shifted through the lodgepole pines in search of tracks and the hidden secrets the wilderness holds. It didn’t take long to stumble upon moose tracks, they were very deep and even with my longest stride I couldn’t come close to mimicking their footsteps. After about 15 minutes of snowshoeing over felled trees and through dense alders, I was finally able to see the base of the mountains. After scoping the landscape for several minutes I saw a couple of bighorn sheep up on a small hilltop, so I made my way to them to witness several big rams competing for dominance and took a few shots. Its always amazing to me to witness such a spectacle and I could have sat there for hours but I was fighting daylight as I made my way deeper in to the dark forest.
The sunlight faded and danced through the trees as shadows cast doubt on my direction until I arrived at a stream that was familiar. There were fresh tracks along the stream and they appeared to be from wolves. I’m not one to get nervous in the woods, even when hiking amongst the top apex predators that commonly lurk in my own backyard.
However, I’m always on edge if I see traces of blood along trails or come across kill sites. So when I crossed the creek and saw what appeared to be large traces of blood it was an easy decision to move along at a quicker pace. Walking into the dining room of a predator is never part of my agenda! I quickly decided to retreat and move into a deeper area of the woods and soon found a large meadow. It seemed like a great place to have a snack and watch for animals, especially since many owls frequent this area.
As I sat daydreaming there was an unexplainable sense of calm that was immediately interrupted as I witnessed several wolves making their way through the woods. As a wildlife photographer, I was a bit disappointed that I was unaware of their presence sooner and knew my shot was probably gone.
Surprisingly enough, they were not leaving and within less than a minute they started surrounding me. An eerie feeling came over me as they started howling on both sides at a very close distance. They were hidden in the shadows so Im not sure how many there were but they were way too close for comfort. I decided that I needed to get out of this situation, my mind started racing and my fight-flight response started playing tricks on me. Then I began talking to myself, asking myself silly questions like” have there been any wolf fatalities in recent years?
As I moved through the forest, I felt they were following me and even chasing me at times .
My pace gradually increased, and I kept stumbling on the forest floor. Then I took a sharp right turn running directly into a grouse that flew up in front of me scaring the bejesus out of me, momentarily making my heart stop. I froze immediately and as I glanced off to my right realized I was indeed being watched. My adrenaline was racing, I took a few steps to navigate through some trees and to my disbelief I was now face to face with a wolf feeding on a carcass. I could hear the ripping and tearing of flesh and bones as a young wolf was devouring chunks of meat off an elk carcass. The wolf stared at me momentarily, growled, seemed a bit irritated and then to my amazement the wolf continued to feed while watching my every move. I slowly pulled out my camera and did what any wildlife photographer would do, take and continued to take pictures. It was extremely dark in the trees, but I was able to capture a couple of rough shots.
Eventually, I made my way back through the forest with my headlamp and in the distance continued to hear the wolves howling. That night I reflected on an incredible moment in my life and again felt blessed to be in the presence of the epitome of wilderness. Regardless of getting the shot, this is a moment that I will never forget. In my life Ive always been more passionate about the adventure and not just the photograph. Stay tuned for more stories from my adventures, but more importantly, thanks for reading this one!
Author Bio: Born and raised in Montana on the infamous Missouri River Ted Chase is an adventurer and wildlife photographer. Ted and his wife own the Summit Mountain Lodge on the border of Glacier National Park.
They provide premier lodging, fine dining and are known for their destination weddings. The lodge offers a great launching point for anyone looking to hike, backpack, fish or search for wildlife around Glacier National Park.