Every expedition has a defining moment, be it for the team, the expedition mission or the individual team member.
Today I stood on a mountain peak called Lone Wolf – it was my personal defining moment of this expedition into the journey of Wolf OR-7.
The walk from our previous night’s camp, beside a small pond filled with the sound of frogs, involved an easy stroll in the early morning light. (See image below of frog pond – and note the similarity between the photograph of the pond by team member Daniel Beyers and the image of the sound wave recording of the frogs singing).
During our daily route planning before breaking camp, I noticed on the map we would pass close to a small peak called Lone Wolf, and I knew then I would divert from our path to climb its summit. Luckily the contour path we followed was a mere 15 minutes from the summit, but the way up I chose was steep and packed with snow and ice. My team members were eager to keep moving, so I knew I needed to move fast to reach the top.
There is nothing like setting yourself a small and unexpected challenge, that pushes you beyond your own limits just for the hell of it. I always find it invigorating to take myself by surprise, and the climb up Lone Wolf Mountain was just that. I kicked my boots into the steep hardened ice and kept going. I found myself amongst a maze of dead burnt pines, their blackened charcoal bark reached high above my head into a blue sky. I kept my eye on the obvious rocky summit silhouetted behind them.
Small peaks have a wonderful ability to suddenly place you on their summit, and that is what happened. Topping out on the smallest of peaks above the tree-line, my view stretched to the edge of every horizon.
I stood on Lone Wolf Mountain, a random and small peak in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, on an expedition to follow the tracks of a lone wolf for 1,200 miles. Looking to the west into the Skylakes Wilderness of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, I realized I was looking directly into Wolf OR-7’s new territory, and where he had recently been photographed by a camera trap with a mate.
What I saw was peak after peak of rolling hills and mountains to the west. The land before me was a paradise for a wolf. A protected expanse of forested land, rich with game and water. I realized our team had come all this way and would still continue south into California retracing OR-7’s original route, but where I stood, would likely be the closest we would ever come to the place he now calls home.
I took a moment to howl out loud from the top of that summit – because that is what you do when you are overwhelmed by the beauty of reality. The call echoed into the distance and the world remained still, but it had heard my voice on a lone peak.
As my fellow team members waited below, I turned a final 360 degrees and took in the expanse of this vast land. Then slid, slipped and ran back down to the contour path. When I caught up with them, they were all smiles and broke the news to me that Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had just confirmed via a press release that Wolf OR-7 and his mate had been photographed with pups. It is a reality now that a new pack resides just beyond where I stood, in the very same forest where the last wolf bounty of Oregon was collected in 1947. History comes full circle and sometimes in surprising ways.
I have no idea why we really decided to retrace Wolf OR-7s dispersal route, we all have our reasons. For me, Wild Peace is one of them, but beyond all reasoning there is always the mystery that remains and in many ways it is the mystery that defines everything.
Standing on Lone Wolf Mountain made me think about myself and the metaphor of the lone wolf. It can be lonely, and yet knowing our place in the world is all that matters, even when it is a mystery – that is the gift of hope in Wolf OR-7’s story. Hope that when we know our place as a society and species in a greater interconnected world, we are able to once again make space for wolves, exactly where they belong, in the wilderness of a snow-capped mountain land.