White Falcon, White Wolf
Arctic Diary: Tracking Wolves: Tuesday, July 3: I Love Lucy

Having, beyond all expectations, found a wolf den we had thought that the day’s events were over. We reached our camp on the beach and settled down to a well-earned supper.

The seemingly impossible task of finding a den was completed in just three days and called for a celebratory wee dram of Canada’s finest whiskey. 

Then, just as we were looking out over the magnificent sea ice to the seemingly never-ending mountains beyond, “Lucy” walked into our lives.

The beautiful female wolf came sauntering along the beach heading straight for us.

Totally unperturbed by our presence — you would have thought she had seen humans every day, whereas we were probably the first she’d ever seen.

She carefully smelt our tracks and then proceeded to come into camp and pick up my best float rope and cheekily carried it off — I felt an instant rapport with her. We thought it was a female because she squatted in front of us, making her mark; nothing to do with me fantasising.

I took the opportunity of photographing her in all her stances and expressions as she seemed to pose for the camera. This lasted about 10 minutes before she continued on her way along the beach.

We saw her scratch up the odd lemming as a snack as she disappeared off westward and out of sight. As we settled down to enjoy our evening again, she reappeared.

As she passed through our camp again she took a fancy to a jacket I had left on the floor. TV producer “H” had the video camera out this time and caught me chasing her over the ice in hot pursuit of my favourite coat. I liked her cheek!

Back to business

The next day was a serious day, full of logistics. How were we going to get the camp over to River 3 with the deadly raging rivers or disintegrating ice? How were we going to land cameraman Mark Smith, producer Jonny Keeling and even more equipment if the sea ice was getting so bad? Could we get a helicopter and use it to take some aerial footage at the same time? 

Lots of questions, phone calls, discussions, plans and contingencies made. This was my area of expertise and I loved every moment of it.

I needed to keep our options open and my eye on the budget, so today’s task was to recce the beach for a suitable landing strip for the twin-engine aircraft.

This meant negotiating either the rivers, one of which H had now named “Jim’s Drift,” or the diminishing sea ice.

We chose the ice which was OK apart from the numerous just-too-wide cracks we had to get the ATV over; but we made it to River 3. By 1230, we had our runway – 230m of gravel, sort of straight and level; recced a suitable campsite and started to watch the wolf den for activity.

As soon as we stopped to watch, the pack came running down the far bank of the river and across to us.

One of them, a male we had called “Bill,” came really close, about 4m away, until the alpha male called him back and came close himself.

He looked, moved, sniffed, looked again and paced off to the rest of the pack to report his findings and announce his conclusions. They all eagerly greeted him with suitable reverence; lots of face-licking, tail-swishing and bottom-smelling.

It was a gorgeous day with the sun beating down on us; could it get any better than this?

By half-past three in the afternoon, we thought we’d better get home to camp. Having come the ice way we were going to try to return the ice way. Our first problem was actually getting on the ice.

The tide was in and the small cracks were now wide and full of water. You couldn’t really see much ice because of the large amount of water lying in pools on top and we soon found out these were also pretty deep.

Having finally found a way out on to the ice, I drove the ATV very carefully indeed, trying to see through the foot or so of water to spot the large cracks in the ice. I knew they existed because I had seen them earlier. The last thing we wanted was to lose the ATV in deep water, let alone stranding us on the ever-melting sea ice.

This was hair-raising stuff and by the time we had made it back to camp my eyes were bulging and my nerves wrecked; I was mentally and physically exhausted.

H, who had been riding shot gun as usual, was in a similar state having been bracing himself for a deep ditch in the ocean at any moment.

We made it but I did think that we were really pushing our luck now.

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