continued from Pt. 2....
Being in the presence of a creature with the panache and reputation of a wolverine had my rifle at my shoulder- not that I expected trouble, but the wolverine's behavior was already surprising at this point. I must say at this point that wolverine attacks on humans are exceptionally rare and most serious research into such degrade pretty quickly into stories and legend. But there are several documented occurrences and a few more that fall into "likely" wolverine attacks but the events are not even remotely common. There are also several local stories of wolverines that have exhibited stalking behavior toward humans. Would the wolverine have had a go at my partner had he been alone? No one could say with any certainty, but I think so given the determination he exhibited in the charge. What he did next surprised me even more.
As he came around the scree pile he came to a full stop a mere 20 feet away- much closer than I've ever been to a wild wolverine. This was, in fact, only my fourth sighting of these creatures in 12 years. Looking at him over the top of the rifle scope with my index finger resting on the trigger as he emitted a low growl standing on his rear legs, we sat "eyeball to eyeball" for what seemed like an amazingly long time. He seemed genuinely irked that he rounded the pile looking us in the face rather than seeing our vulnerable backs. I must admit that the thought of tangling with this guy was as appealing as juggling running chainsaws (with similar results) and I gave serious thought to killing it right then and there. In fact, I planned that if it dropped to all fours facing me I was going to blast it off the mountain with a .300 magnum shell. I've never been seriously challenged by a wild creature that weighed perhaps all of 30 pounds but here I was...and I've got to admit I didn't like it.
The high pressure system that had given us blue sky and fair breezes had finally given way to the low pressure system pouring over the peaks and through the passes to our south. We didn't know it at that moment but the snow line was now creeping from 8000 ft to just a few hundred feet above our camp at 5500ft. But we couldn't know that- the ceiling had dropped to just 2000 ft., nearly to the valley floor far below. Without visibility, sheep hunting in this weather was useless. Just useless. The only way we'd bag a ram is if he wandered into our camp and became entwined in our guy lines. Busted.
At this point, I did something most unusual on any Alaska hunt. I pulled out my Blackberry and fired it up. Given our elevation and proximity to an AT&T microwave station, perhaps I could get a signal. Surprisingly I did- its becoming more common to get such signals as our communications infrastructure grows- a few years ago this would have been impossible. I navigated to the NOAA website and checked our forecast. Days of this weather without change as the low pressure system became the dominant climatic force in the region. That low system brought heavy rain, low cloud, no visibility and a broken spirit. With just a week scheduled to hunt and no break in the weather in sight our useless turned into hopeless.
Like broken men we donned our rain gear and began packing our soaking wet camp for the long descent off the mountain. I couldn't help but feel like we were throwing in the towel but given our current situation our only other option would be to hang out in our tiny mountaineering tents, try to stay dry, try to stay sane and think about rams. We planned to hold our schedules open in the event the weather broke we would make another assault up here after the ram. With a heavy pack and a heavy heart, I walked off the mountain.
to be continued....
Author's note- wolverine photo credit Wikipedia Commons.