Alone in the wilderness
It’s been 10 years, but I still remember how the evening air smelled of wildflowers and musk of high bush cranberries. How the trail turned from uneven gravel to dirt. How the river gurgled and squirrels chattered above my dog and me in an otherwise unnatural silence.
I remember also the moment I heard the snap of a stick behind me, turned to see two wolves tracking me: one about four yards to the rear, the other six yards to my right. I could see the eyes fixed upon me, but I didn’t dare look at them eye to eye for fear they’d think it was a challenge.
I threw a rock, hearing it clack, clack, clack along other rocks as I yelled, “Get out of here.” Fear rose to terror and adrenaline kicked in, making me so clear-headed I could feel my mind quiet in concentrated thought.
“I’ve got to get out of here, God don’t let these wolves get me. They’re NOT going to get my dog,” I thought. But I knew danger was near even before I saw the wolves. There had been the fresh scat all over. I didn’t know it was wolf scat, but something was there, too small to be bears, too big to be dog. Then there was Toby—a field spaniel—usually wanting to swim or run in circles around me, staying by my side. When he saw the wolves he tugged, nose down, as focused as I was.
The wolves were thin. It’s odd I don’t remember their color. I do remember their ratty fur and them following me. I slowed, they slowed. My gait quickened, so did theirs. I stopped, they did as well.
We had been at Echo Bend, three miles into the Chugach National Park from the Eagle River side. I knew every twist and turn of that part of the trail, past Echo Bend, past the Perch, past the campground.
As the wolves trailed me, I thought, get to the hill, it’s just around the corner; then it’s less than a mile to Big Rock. I didn’t want to think I was still 2 miles from the safety of the Eagle River Nature Center. I took one curve, one hill, one benchmark, one step at a time, knowing each brought me closer to my destination.
I paced myself: too slow, too fast. I didn’t want them to see or feel my fear.
“Please, dear God,” I muttered. “Let someone come this way.” I hadn’t seen anyone for at least an hour. I was without weapon or whistle. I turned to throw another rock and stopped mid-throw. They were gone. Looked to my left and right, as Toby pulled on the chain to continue, my mind turning from clarity to confusion.
The trail had deepened into thick spruce and birch trees, lined with devil’s club and tall grass. They could easily hide. Were there more? Were they gathering to kill my dog? Were they circling? While I knew wolf attacks on humans were rare, I felt threatened. Seconds felt like hours. I was helpless except for wit and stamina, which kept me from running like a crazed animal through the wilderness. I didn’t feel safe until I reached my car, buckled in, the engine started.
I returned the next week with friends, determined not to let one experience ruin my fun. But I’ve never since hiked alone. I’m a little more cautious. A little wiser. With a little more respect for wolf country.