A simple hike turned extraordinary for Carl Brodersen last weekend when he spotted a pack of wolves feeding on a kill on the frozen surface of Salmon Creek Reservoir.
Brodersen, 28, has lived in Juneau his whole life and for the first time he witnessed a pack of 11 wolves feeding and frolicking for roughly 20 minutes, just above the bustle of Juneau.
“I saw Romeo once,” he said, “But then, there it was, all of Verona in front of us.”
Brodersen had decided to go for a hike with a friend, Lou Taylor-Thomas, also of Juneau, last Saturday.
“I realized I’d never been up to Salmon Creek Reservoir in the winter,” he said.
It was when the pair reached the old pump house, the place where the trail forks off a dirt road and onto a singletrack, that they noticed tracks in the snow.
“At first we thought they were just dog tracks,” Brodersen said. “But then, as we hiked further, the human tracks stopped but the tracks continued. That’s when we realized they were wolf.”
The Salmon Creek Trail ends at an overlook, adjacent to a dam, with a broad vista of the reservoir.
Brodersen said it was from this spot they caught sight of some tiny specks of movement at the far end of the lake. He said he didn’t know what they were until he viewed them with the zoom of his camera lens.
The pack of adult wolves was completely oblivious to the presence of the pair. Brodersen said they watched the group for about 20 minutes. The two hikers stayed quiet, he said, but they were also fortunate because the wind was blowing toward them, taking their scent down the valley, instead of toward the pack.
“There was something they were eating, but mostly they were just playing,” he said. “They would bunch up and then scatter about, then bunch up again. It took them a while to notice us.”
When they did, he said, they scattered out of sight and didn’t return, at least not right away.
Ryan Scott, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the sighting, while not uncommon, is a very interesting one.
“(It’s interesting) mainly because we just don’t know a lot about the wolves around the Juneau area and they’re not overly visible,” he said.
A few years ago, locals were seeing wolves fairly regularly. Romeo was a regular fixture in the Mendenhall Glacier area, and after his disappearance, a grey wolf was reported in the same area and near Sunny Point. This bold wolf startled residents when it approached rolled down car windows and strolled into front yards. Packs were also observed, mainly from helicopters said Scott, north of town.
“I recall there being about 6 to 8 wolves in that pack at about that time,” Scott said. “(Eleven) is a good size pack.”
Generally speaking, Scott said department experts have theorized that wolves are always present around Juneau.
A few years ago, he said, ADF&G wildlife experts collared three wolves near Berners Bay while doing research on other species. The data they got back indicated the ability of wolves to range fairly dramatically — from Skagway to the Taku River, he said.
“We don’t know much about wolf ecology in the Juneau area. The data demonstrated that they move a lot and they’re around more than we know. They’re just very discrete,” he said. “Salmon Creek Reservoir is pretty remote.”
Scott said it’s hard to know what the pack was feeding on — maybe a mountain goat, a deer or possibly a bear that was out too late. Either way, just seeing the pack is a treat, he said.
“What a great opportunity to be able to see them out on the ice like that,” he said. “This happens more often than we know, but what’s really neat is that someone got to see it.”
• Contact Outdoors Editor Abby Lowell at firstname.lastname@example.org.