Climbers were prepping their gear on the tail beds of their trucks an hour before the sun came up. I lay there listening to them deciding which cams and gear they were taking with them. In the far distance the sounds of the elk bugling bounced off the granite walls echoing around the meadows. There was no going back to sleep now and the only thing for it was to get up and take advantage of the early hour. It was that sliver of time when my chances were slightly higher of seeing some wild frends roaming before the sun rose and chased them into the cover of the forest for the day.
I decided it was a day for a new route and took off down the dirt road marked 'dead end'. I manoeuvred the old van down the rutted stone strewn road and it reliably rattled along bouncing me inside.
At first when I saw them off in the distance with my naked eye I thought they were pronghorn, their colouring mottled brown with flashes of white. Before that idea could settle it was almost as quickly gone as it had come, with the sudden realisation of what I was really seeing.
After a few moments of taking in the scene and realising they were wearing radio collars there could be no doubt. Wolves. Three individuals in front of me feeding on at least one carcass. The ravens circled and cawed above the scene, coming in intermittingly for their share.
I stood watching almost frozen but not with fear for wolves don't frighten me. I was riveted to the spot like you rivet when you know you're having one of those special moments that don't come along too often. An instance in time that you feel every precious second of.
The last time I'd seen wolves it was a pack of nine, eight black and one white, on the northern border of Yellowstone at daybreak on a cold January morning last. A few months later the rare white alpha female we spied that day was shot and killed not far from where we saw her in Gardiner, Montana. Authorities still haven't found who murdered her and our sighting of her was a gift that won't come along again.
I stood there in Grand Teton National Park this morning fully engrossed and thankful for that split second decision to not take the time to make a cup of coffee as I began my day. Beady eyed, I watched and they watched me. One took off into the trees and I was sure it was a signal for departure of the others.
As the sun went higher a howl rose up from the forest and as if in unison so too did the hairs and the goose pimples on the surface of my skin. I was alive. This was just a reminder of what that means. Then it came again. A howl this time from behind and I turned to see another individual staring back at the scene that I was now in the middle of. Perhaps the only thing more remarkable was there was no other human around. There I was and here I am. A woman from soft green Irish drumlins and stony grey soil surrounded by Tetons and Yellowstone. In the company of wolves.