Cassie and the Wolves


Every paddling season since 1975 or so I have done at least one solo wilderness canoe trip. Most years I do more than one trip. Unfortunately this past summer (2010) I was committed to something else and the possibility of getting out for at least one solo trip looked bleak. However at the end of August an opportunity presented itself. On such short notice I decided to go to La Vérendrye, a place I know well that did not require much planning on my part. I also thought it would be a good idea to use this trip to initiate our 9 month old puppy to the canoe and teach her to lay down without moving in front of me in the bottom of the boat.

So I registered at Le Domaine (La Vérendrye canoe trip headquarters) and then drove 30 kilometres on forestry roads to the put in. Once there I had a lunch, loaded up the canoe and somewhere around 3:00 pm was off paddling against the wind to a portage that would take me over to another smaller lake where there is a beautiful quiet camping site. As I approached the portage that leads to the other lake I met 2 American couples that were travelling in the opposite direction. They had just completed the portage. They told me that the camping site that I intended on using that night was occupied. Disappointed I turned around and backtracked in order to check out the sites on this lake so that I would have a place to spend the night. I really was not too impressed with the two sites I inspected so I opted to spend the night at the last site visited.

After securing the canoe I pulled out the dog's ball and started playing deep-water fetch with her using a ball thrower. I had been playing fetch with her for about 15 minutes or so when all of a sudden I noticed a mama bear and a cub walking along the beach towards me. The dog was quite a ways out in the waves trying to find her ball and the wind was blowing from us to the bears so she did not see or smell them. As soon as I made eye contact with mama bear she stood up on her hind legs and let out a low guttural sound. She then landed on her front feet and charged me. I stayed put and already had my pepper spray in my hand. She rushed forward about 10 to 12 feet and then pulled up, turned around and walked into the tenting area of the site. I kind of figured she was only bluffing but it was not a comfortable feeling to be threatened. Cassie was now swimming in with her ball so I immediately put her in the canoe and shoved off to the other camp site across the lake. As I was padding out I turned around and to my surprise the two bears were on the shore sort of sniffing around at about the place where we were throwing the ball. I figured I was real lucky that the dog did not see or smell them because I have no idea what her reaction would have been.

It's past 5pm now and I pull into the second camp site. Not a very nice camp site by La Vérendrye standards. Must have been buggy in June and July as there are a lot of low wetlands immediately around the site. Usually at this time of the year, if it's going to be a clear night, I'll sleep under the stars but late this afternoon the sky is completely covered and an occasional raindrop could be felt. So up goes the tent. I was later to be thankful for this decision, as Cassie and I were to have an event full night.

After supper and some loafing around I went into the tent and called the dog in. It was a little past 8pm and quite dark with the low covering clouds and very threatening skies. I had just stretched out on my sleeping kit when the windy silence of the night was broken by the smack of a beaver tail on the water nearby. This was immediately followed by the splashing sound of a moose walking in shallow water. No need to check because after so many nights spent in the wilderness one gets to recognize most of the sounds of the night. However it is surprising that it was a moose in this area of LV as their numbers have been dwindling in the South of the park and their territory has now been taken over by the whitetail deer.

So what's with this dog of ours. At home it barks or growls at the slightest noise and out here nothing turns her on. However she is alert and her ears are straight up. I guess she's just not in her element.

Suddenly the peace of the night is shattered by the cry of a pack of wolves. Not the calls of a regrouping pack but the howls of a pack getting excited about the upcoming night's hunt. At first a deep and grave voice (the alpha male?) followed by other similar voices soon joined in by some higher and sharper voices (females?) and finally a few yip-yips of at least 2 cubs. I figure they are no more than 200 to 300 meters west of the tent but upwind. Since the cubs at this time of the year are about 4 months old and don't travel much that means I'm sleeping real close to their den and in their territory. Because of the wind direction they may not be aware of our presence and I hope that they will go into the forest to hunt and not travel the shoreline. I went back to trying to sleep but my blood was full of adrenaline and my pulse rate was off to the races. I just could not fall asleep as my ears were tuned into the sounds of the night.

Note: The wife and I had lived a similar experience in November of 1984. We had put up the tent next to the car in a large clearing at a trailhead. We had planned on an all day hike for the next day and we wanted to get a very early start. On this occasion we also had a dog with us in the tent. The wolves started to howl nearby, came down to the clearing, surrounded the tent at a distance of about 20 meters. It was a clear night with good moonlight. It was a big pack. We counted 6 to 10 wolves out there. I had a feeling they wanted the dog and the crazy dog, a male, wanted to get out and fight. I went out of the tent as the wife held the dog inside. The wolves retreated quite a bit and I could only now make out 2 or 3 individuals. I reached into the tent, put the dog on a lead and took him over to the car. Immediately the wolves came out of the shadows and they were once again menacing. I put the dog inside the car and started the motor running. Slowly the wolves moved away. We decided we had enough of this so we took down the tent, packed the car and left. As we were packing the car we could hear the wolves howling from time to time as they were moving up the mountain away from us.

It's now past 11pm and I once again hear the adult pack. Great! They are 2 or 3 kilometers away now so I take in a deep breath and try to get to sleep......Shit! A short and deep howl comes from a few meters downwind behind the tent. I can still feel the goosebumps and the hair standing up on the back of my neck, my back and my arms. One of them has found us and with the wind in his face he knows a dog is present. F..k, now what do I do. I try to convince myself that he is alone and that his pack is far off somewhere else hunting. He will most likely move on. Through all of this the dog remains cool but I'm getting concerned. Time goes by, 10:30pm, 11:00, 11:30, midnight, 0:30am, 0:45am and nothing is happening. Can't wait for daylight to come so that those beasts will go to bed and leave us in peace. Suddenly the same howl from the same place down wind a few meters behind the tent. He had not terminated his howl when two other voices joined in from the same spot. Now I'm more than concerned. Time to take action. The moonless and cloudy night makes for a pitch-black scene out there. I slightly open the back entrance of the tent and point the beam of my small flashlight in the area behind the tent. A few meters away 3 pairs of eyes glow in the darkness. What a sight. It's like a weird dream. As I always carry pepper spray and bear bangers, I load up a banger, put my arm out the door and point the thing towards the sky, pull back on the spring loaded firing pin and let go. A second and a half later the silence of the night is shattered by an enormous explosion that had my ears ringing for quite some time afterwards. It worked. No more shining eyes in the dark, at least for the moment. Time to put an end to these shenanigans by packing up and moving out of here. On goes the headlamp and as quickly as possible I roll up the mattress, pack the sleeping bag and tent and pick up the odds and ends which I always place together in the same locations inside and outside the tent before turning in for the night. Everything is secured into the canoe and at 1:30am we leave this unwelcoming campsite for an island site that I know of which is off of my planned route but will provide a peaceful day of rest and maybe some sleep. The seven kilometre paddle (as a crow flies) to the island took about 3 hours to do in the darkness as I had to follow the shoreline because the waves were still quite heavy out in the open. I arrived at the island around 4:30am and instead of setting up the tent and going to bed I put on my rain suit and sat against a huge pine tree and waited for the day to break, hoping for a sunrise and a better day. Once again I felt at peace with the world around me and knew I could never do without all of this.

Follow up: Upon returning home I did a little research of the www to see if the dog/man invasion of the wolves territories was a problem elsewhere. I learned that during the 2 summer months of July and August 2010 there were 18 dogs killed by wolves in northern Wisconsin. Half of these were hunting hounds been trained for the fall bear hunt. Last summer a wolf attacked a child in Algonquin. In March of 2010 a wolf kill a human in Alaska. In northern Canada wolves regularly kill sled dogs. In Montana wolves kill horses, dogs and sheep when these farm animals are a distance from human habitations. Apparently wolves do not accept dogs or any other competitor in their hunting territory. I don't think we should blame the wolves for this situation. We are invading their habitat. Like bears they get habituated to us as more and more mining, forestry, fishing, hunting and outdoor enthusiasts roam their hunting grounds. Some people have been known to feed them or leave garbage lying around. We are certainly the problem not them.