The Outside Blog

Adventure : Exploration

When Wolves Attack

The Attack (As told to Joe Spring):

I decided to go camping on short notice as an end-of-the-summer deal with five friends—my girlfriend, her sister and brother-in-law, and two male friends. We drove up by Cass Lake, Minnesota, to Camp Winnibigoshish.

We were hanging out until about three in the morning. My girlfriend Rachel wanted to sleep outside. As she got ready for bed, everybody else went into their tents. She picked a spot by her Jeep. She had a blanket on the ground and another on top of her. Once she was situated, I walked over and lay next to her.

I had sweatpants and a sweatshirt on. I had my back down, my elbows on the ground, and my hands on my hips—all of which allowed me to have my head up to look at Rachel. We were awake the whole night, talking.

Around 4:30 A.M., I was mid-sentence when I felt something clamp down on the back of my head. I could feel the teeth, but I couldn’t see or hear anything. Rachel was looking at my eyes as I was talking, so she actually saw the wolf bite down.

I reached for the back of my head. My hands went to wolf’s jaws. It’s not like there was any precision to what I was doing. It was kind of a mess. I struggled. I moved my hands around, from its jaws to the side of its jaws, near its cheeks. I put pressure on its head with my hands. Eventually I just held its head in place and jerked my head forward really hard. I didn’t pry its jaws open. I just put pressure on its head and then pulled my head forward.

{%{"quote":"I never had fear of wolves. The other times I’ve seen them, they ran away from me. I have never seen any aggression. I had no idea this could even happen."}%}

After my head came out, I jumped up. It was maybe seven feet away from me, pacing back and forth, growling really loud. It was shaggy and pretty big. It looked like a coyote, but bigger.

My family is really big into hunting, so I’d seen wolves from our deer stand, but I never had fear of wolves. The other times I’ve seen them, they ran away from me. I have never seen any aggression. I had no idea this could even happen.

I thought the wolf was going to lunge back at me or Rachel. I started kicking and screaming at it. Rachel had had her head under the covers, but as I was kicking and screaming, she got up and ran to the jeep.

Rachel’s brother in law was in his tent. I yelled for him a couple of times. “Max! Max!”

After maybe five or ten seconds of yelling, the wolf turned and ran. It wasn’t a panicked run. It just kind of trotted into the brush. I don’t really know where it went after that. I was just focused on my head.

I could feel the blood dripping down the side of my face. I reached up with my bare hands. I was bleeding really bad, but there wasn’t really much pain. I don’t know why. Maybe adrenaline? Or maybe I just wasn’t able to focus on the pain because I was focusing on getting out of there? I quickly threw a blanket over my head and pressed down. Max ran out of his tent and helped me to the truck.

It took us a moment to clear the front seat. By that time, the blood had soaked the blanket, so we took it off. We grabbed a roll of paper towels and used them to bandage my head.

When I sat down in the truck there was this really sharp pain, and then throbbing.  I could feel each tear. I had a huge gash that was maybe four inches and then a bunch of puncture wounds. I could feel each individual thing and they all they had their own kind of pain, but the gash hurt the most.

I called my dad right away and told him I had been attacked. He told me, “Call 911.”

I called them next. They told me they’d send somebody out to see what was going on. I’ve never hurt that bad. I thought I was going to vomit all of the way into the ER. It was a 45-minute drive.

The paper towel soaked through a couple of times and I just kept putting layer after layer on. I knew I didn’t want blood all over the place. I had people telling me what to do. “Put pressure on it,” they said.  Everybody was a little shook up, but they handled it really well. “It’s going to be OK,” they said.

My dad met me at the ER. The bleeding had pretty much stopped. A nurse cleaned out my wound, but I had to wait probably an hour for the doctor. He came in and cleaned everything out real well, too. Once they cleaned my head, the bleeding started again. It wasn’t gushing, but it took probably three hours before the bleeding stopped. They put 17 staples in my head, gave me rabies shots, and bandaged up the area.

I’ve always told my friends, “You’re safer outside than you are in the city.” I just never dreamed something would attack me. My family is pretty outdoorsy and we camp a lot. I don’t fear that I will be attacked in my life again. It might be weird camping outside at night again, but I just have to work up to it.

Analysis:

Graham did the right thing by fighting off the wolf and then standing and yelling. “He needed to challenge the animal,” says Tom Provost, a regional manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Running away may have further triggered the predator’s natural reaction to attack.”

Two days after the incident, officials trapped and shot an 84-pound wolf nearby. The dead animal’s muscle tissue matched DNA from saliva taken from the blanket Graham wrapped around his head. The DNA showed a pure wolf, not a coyote-wolf hybrid. The animal tested negative for rabies and showed no signs of canine distemper virus. Officials dug more. A necropsy, the animal equivalent of an autopsy, revealed the left side of the wolf’s jaw was shorter than the right side. His left upper canine had never irrupted out of the gums, and his upper molars and lower molars didn’t line up. A healthy adult male wolf can exert enough pressure with its jaw to snap a moose’s femur in a string of bites. The wolf that attacked Noah Graham was a one-and-a-half-year-old male with a messed up jaw.

The wolf’s stomach included only fish spines and scales. Not far from Lake Winnibigoshish, there are resorts with fish cleaning stations where fish guts and scales remain on the round. There are still other areas on the shore where fish are cleaned, or where dead fish may wash up. Campers reported seeing the wolf walking near tents the weekend it attacked Graham. It’s quite possible the animal was scavenging around the lake for fish or around campsites for garbage.

Further examination of the skull showed more. Sometime in the past, the wolf had an injury to the face that damaged its upper jaw. His nasal cavity suffered an inflammation at some point, and, as a result was deformed and smaller than average. The injury to the upper jaw may be the reason that several teeth didn’t irrupt. There was also a large dental cyst. The left front side of the brain was different than the right front side. The animal’s nasal nerve, olfactory bulb, and frontal lobe—which helps control emotion and decision-making—had severely atrophied. He had remarkable brain lesions that were more accentuated on the left side of the brain than the right side.

“We can’t know with certainty why this wolf approached and bit the teen,” says Minnesota wildlife health program supervisor Michelle Carstensen. “But the necropsy results support the possibility that its facial deformity, dental abnormalities, and brain damage predisposed it to be less wary of people and human activities than what is normally observed in healthy wild wolves and also affected its ability to effectively capture wild prey.”

Context:

Almost everything about a wolf evolved to run and hunt, and, at times, to decide whether to do one or the other. The animals often prey on ungulates, teaming up in packs of two or more to run down deer, elk, moose, and bison. They’ll also kill other predators—including cougars, black bears, and polar bear cubs—though they rarely dine on the meat. At times, they scavenge. In Minnesota, they may consume anything from chokecherries to cows, but they mostly hunt deer, which they track with an exquisite sense of smell. They usually go for the neck, slice open the abdomen with their canines, and then dine on everything from the entrails to bone marrow. It is not unusual for wolves to cover 25 to 30 miles in a day, and hundreds of miles of territory in a month, looking for food. State officials have witnessed the animals sprinting at speeds up to 35 mph. When they’re not pursuing prey, they may be running from perceived threats, which might include anything from the sound of an avalanche to the sound of a Chevy Avalanche.

It’s not an easy thing to count a population of wolves. Since they often avoid people and the scent of people, capturing them is difficult. They often live in dense forests and run over long distances, so aerial surveys have their limits. Their tracks often overlap and disappear, so counting signs is a monumental and sometimes misleading task. Still, officials in Minnesota did their best last winter. In November, they asked for wolf observation data from 11 national, state, and private organizations whose field employees might see wolves or signs of wolves. By the end of winter, they had received 2,898 wolf observations.

The majority of those observations—61 percent—were tracks. The next biggest chunk of data included howls, kills, dead wolves, and scat. Less than ten percent of the observations were of living wolves. Officials took all those observations and mapped them out to figure out the wolf’s range. They combined the observations with other considerations—such as habitat type and pack size—and came up with an estimated population of 2,211 wolves. Though the degree of error predicts the number of wolves could be anywhere between 1652 and 2640 animals, the current population estimate is much higher than the 750 estimated gray wolves living in Minnesota in the 1960s. It’s also a lot lower than the 2921 wolves estimated for the winter of 2007. The drop comes from a number of factors: the state instituted a 2012 hunt that claimed 413 animals, nearly 300 wolves were killed in response to depredations on livestock in the nine months leading up to the winter wolf survey, the state expanded hunting of “over-goaldeer populations in many areas, a mild winter made it harder for wolves to hunt the deer that were left after that hunt, and the Minnesota moose population declined.

Any skeptical reader might think that the number of animals hunted for sport and killed in response to taking livestock almost matches the decline of the last five years. They wouldn’t be wrong. Any skeptical scientist might point out that because the confidence intervals of the 2007 and 2013 surveys overlap, it’s possible that there has been no change in the numbers between the two surveys. They wouldn’t be wrong either. Estimating the population size of wolves is a complex thing.

It’s much easier to estimate and calculate the numbers of wild wolves that have attacked people in Minnesota. The state offers an interesting study area because it is the only place in the continental United States, aside from an island in Michigan, where the animals were not wiped out in the mid-1900s. The Minnesota DNR says this is the only documented incident in state history.

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Backcountry Cabin Escapes

Ski huts in the Alps are like small castles—most employ caretakers who greet you with beer or wine and cook you hot meals. The U.S. may not have the luxury or the sheer numbers (Switzerland alone has 213 hüttes), but we’re getting better. Last year, the newly formed, Colorado-based Grand Huts Association opened the Broome Hut at Berthoud Pass near Denver, and there are plans to add eight more linkable huts in the next decade. Until then, there are plenty of other options. At least ten states from Maine to Oregon have huts. With a little planning, you can piece together a world-class trip without the transatlantic flight.

Rocky Top
The 10th Mountain Division hut system in Colorado remains the premier—and most popular—network in America, and its 20 well-stocked cabins (with little avalanche danger along the access trails) are ripe for three-to-five-day powder trips. The best is a 28.5-mile route between Vail and Aspen. Start at the Polar Star Inn (elevation: 11,040 feet) and milk the tree skiing on the western flank of New York Mountain, located just above it. It’s 8.2 tough miles from there to the Peter Estin Hut, but prime bowl skiing nearby makes the slog worth it. End with a seven-mile ski to the Harry Gates Hut, which sleeps 16 and is perched on a bench facing Avalanche Ridge. The next day, ski out to your car on Fryingpan Road. From $33 per person per night.

Teton Traverse
When people think of the Tetons, they almost always think of the range’s east face over Jackson Hole. But the west side holds rarely touched, navel-deep powder. Begin by climbing 5.5 miles through the Jed Smith Wilderness to Baldy Knoll, a Mongolian-style yurt operated by Teton Backcountry Guides and surrounded by prime face-shot terrain. The next day, skin nine miles along Alpenglow Ridge at 10,626 feet to Teton Backcountry’s Plummer Canyon yurt; if it’s a whiteout, take the lower route through the trees. Once there, you’ll appreciate the amply spaced aspen-grove heaven. Looking ahead: a 314-square-foot yurt with bunk beds, a pellet stove, and a full kitchen is opening in Teton Canyon next winter, so you can tour an extra day. From $355 per night for the yurts, which sleep six to eight.

Sierra Stash
More than 50 years ago, the Sierra Club built a series of huts above Lake Tahoe’s west shore. The best time to link them up is in late January, when Tahoe catches the best snow. The most feasible route begins at Donner Summit and travels six miles south to the Benson Hut, which is perched at 8,350 feet, sleeps 12, and offers high-alpine terrain. Then it’s four miles south to the Bradley Hut, an A-frame with a detached two-story outhouse that often gets buried in deep winters. The Bradley doesn’t have beds or cookstoves, so come prepared. $20 per person per night.

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A Rider's Bucket List

Snow is bucketing from the slate-gray sky in Santa Fe today, and I was glad to find this video to fortify my evening workout—relocated indoors due to the grim weather. It’s amazing how a bit of beautiful footage of riding in glorious weather can motivate you.

It got me thinking, too, about all the riding I did last year and the riding I hope to do in 2014. For some of us, it’s that time of year: when training plans start back up, some good hard efforts start to rouse the body out of its rest state, and goals and racing plans begin to crystalize for the coming season.

But this video was also a pleasant reminder that it’s not just about racing. (I know, “Duh!” But it’s easy to get caught up.) One of my fondest memories of 2013 was a bikepacking exploration that my wife and I did in March around Las Cruces, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. We set out with enough food for a couple of days, linked a couple trails we knew with lots of desert singletrack we didn’t, braved some cold nights under the stars, did a bunch of hike-a-bike in deep sand, got lost on some backcountry trails and buzzed by an immigration helicopter, and took so much longer than we’d planned that we both missed a day of work. It was riding at its best: exploratory, impromptu, self-supported, out in the elements.

With that in mind, as well as the video footage still on repeat on my screen, I humbly submit a few more Things Every Cyclist Should Do:

11. Build a trail. Or at the very least, adopt one and help maintain it.

12. Introduce a friend to cycling. You know how happy it makes you.

13. Poach an illegal trail. But only if you don’t get caught.

14. Learn to wheelie. I was going to say track stand or bunny hop, but there’s something elegant about a wheelie. Manuals are even better.

15. Ride so hard that you crash. But don’t crash so hard that you can’t ride anymore.

16. Get girled. There are lots of fast, badass women riders out there—find them and learn.

17. Skip work to ride. Biking is somehow even better when you know others are stuck behind a desk.

18. Get lost. Enough said.
 
The snow is chiseling at my window, and mostly everyone I know is headed up the hill to ski. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow. But today I’m riding. Five inches of fresh in town is the perfect excuse to take the Borealis Yampa out on its maiden test ride.

Perhaps that should be 19: Skip a workout and ride for fun.

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How to Stay Charged in the Wilderness

Every few months, another travel-ready charger appears that’s intended to replenish your mobile phone when you’re miles from the nearest wall socket. Be it solar, wind, or hydrogen, the devices work by converting energy to electricity and charging a USB-connected handset in real time. (They can also store power in an internal cell or an external battery pack.) Most generate enough juice for a few clutch texts or calls, and that makes them potential life-savers whether it’s an off-the-grid vacation or Hurricane Katrina. We paired a dozen of the gadgets with a Samsung Galaxy SIII. Some worked faster than others; these four stood above the rest.

1. Goal Zero Nomad 7

How It Works: The magazine-size panel weighs less than a pound and is perforated with eyelets, so it can be hung from a branch or strapped to a backpack. When it’s exposed to direct sun, you can either connect your phone directly or fill an optional battery pack ($40) that, once charged, can be tapped after sunset. It’s the smallest, most flexible solar panel we’ve seen. ($120)

Charge Time for One Call: 12 minutes
For Full Power:
6.5 hours
X Factor:
Partly cloudy with a chance of rain.

2. Etón Boost-Turbine 4000

How It Works: This kinetic-energy generator uses magnets, a gear box, and mechanical motion—a hand crank—to charge an internal battery. It’s the only device here with a two-way USB port: power up the battery from an electrical socket before leaving the house and it’s good for two full cell-phone re-ups. Start cranking when the stored power is exhausted. ($80)

Charge Time for One Call: 6.5 minutes
For Full Power:
3.8 hours
X Factor:
Since it’s human powered, the BoostTurbine is the most reliable we tested for quick charges, but don’t plan on generating enough juice for a full battery.

3. Brunton Hydrogen Reactor

How It Works: The prototype we tested looked like a smaller version of the canisters used to fuel camp stoves, except that it uses hydrogen to generate power. Twist on a 2.3-ounce bottle and the gas is slowly released, flowing past a platinum catalyst that separates the hydrogen ions from the electrons. The resulting electricity is transferred by USB. ($150)

Charge Time for One Call: 10 minutes
For Full Power:
6.1 hours
X Factor:
Each refillable canister costs $15; run out and you’re on your own.

4. BioLite CampStove

How It Works: This wood-fired camp stove converts heat to electricity through a thermoelectric generator. The energy is transferred via USB and excess is stored in an internal battery. Bonus: An optional grill ($60) lets you sear steaks while your phone feeds.

Charge Time for One Call: Eight minutes of hot fire.
For Full Power:
Four hours
X Factor:
It chews through wood rapidly, so gather plenty before igniting.

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Think Naked

C'mon, admit it. If you reflect on some of your most exhilarating moments in the wild, you'll almost certainly come up with at least one bracing skinny-dip or triumphant strip on a summit—moments that left you feeling more alive for facing nature the way you came into the world. The places where you bared it all are also precious, hidden gems you share carefully. Even if most of us never adopt the lifestyle of a true naturist (keep your Speedo on if you like), thinking like one can lead you to some of the few Edenic places left. In what follows, our brazen correspondents put this theory to the test.

Full Monty Maui
SQUINTING IN THE low light of the jungle to recheck our coordinates, I was having doubts. The writing on the back of the envelope was clear, but the directions were sketchy. "Follow main highway past town. Look for black mailbox. Climb through the big gate across the street. Watch out for cows. Follow trail to the Portuguese oven. Go right. It's dead ahead." Assuming that the pile of concrete and ashes we had walked past a few minutes before was the oven, we were on the right track. But the dense brush made it hard to tell if we were lost or on the edge of the promised Eden: the mystical "Venus Pool."

Pushing ahead through the moist leaves and the sweet stench of rotting mangoes, I stumbled into a bright patch of afternoon sun and then out onto a cliff. Below me lay a dark, bottomless pool framed by soaring rock walls lined with vines. At the inland end of the pool lay a massive hardened lava flow that snaked out of the overgrowth and into the still water; at the other was a thin ribbon of black-sand beach that separated the pool from the ocean. The only sound: surf pounding the shore. Then a middle-aged woman popped out of one of the crevices in the lava and waved. Pink sunglasses aside, she was buck nekkid. Waving back, I turned to my wife and said, "Well, this must be the place."

While we hadn't come to Maui with the express aim of taking our clothes off, it didn't take long to realize that nudists seem to have cornered the market on what was left of the island's unspoiled places. Since hanging out au naturel remains just outlaw enough to require some privacy, these folks have established a small circuit of remote and sparsely attended spots like the Venus Pool—one of our last finds, on Maui's eastern shore. Directions were available only through the "coconut wireless"—a word-of-mouth network—but plugging into it was easy enough. All it took was a stop at Mana Natural Foods in Paia, the north shore's best health-food store, where a surfer was more than happy to connect us.

Until recently, I'd never been one to equate discretion with nude sunbathing, but nudity is technically illegal in Hawaii—another reason that nude spots are off Maui's beaten path. It's covered by a state statute outlawing "lewd behavior," designed to protect the sensibilities of native Hawaiians who find public nudity shameful. Such delicacy hasn't always been the case; the ancient Hawaiians were not nudists in the modern sense, but they were certainly not offended by the human body, and most wore only small garments made of kapa-bark cloth that they removed before swimming, surfing, or fishing. Then the first Calvinist missionaries from New England arrived in the early 1800s and brought with them a host of Puritanical attitudes. These days nudity might not be equated with damnation, but complaints to the police are treated as a priority, and arrests—with convictions entailing as much as 30 days of jail time and fines of up to $1,000—still occur. No worries, though. Starting with the quick tip from the surfer at Paia, we managed to turn a series of casual suggestions into an amazing weeklong tour of secret swimming holes, remote beaches, and hidden waterfalls, several on or near the private property of out-of-the-way resorts, where it's perfectly legal to skinny-dip.

We began the week by visiting a place that was more like a carnival than a secluded paradise: the legendary Little Beach at Makena State Park. Nestled along one of the last stretches of undeveloped coastline on Maui's south shore, Little Beach was a hippie hangout in the sixties and seventies that gradually evolved into the island's best-known public spot for basking au naturel. While the great bodysurfing and beauty of the main strand, known as Big Beach, draws plenty of visitors from the nearby resorts at Waliea, the real attraction—100-yard-long Little Beach—is tucked behind the lava-rock wall at its western flank. (Authorities turn the other cheek to nudity here so long as you stay off Big Beach).

Stretching out among 70 or so sun worshippers, I surveyed a scene that would become familiar over the next few days: small groups sharing picnic lunches and fat joints of pakalolo, elderly men with oversize sunglasses strolling back and forth, sunburned middle-aged couples rubbing lotion into each other's skin. Many of the guys wore only sandals or baseball caps; the women tended to favor scarves or a gold chain or two. My wife nudged me, pointing to an ultra-groomed, gym-chiseled man in his thirties lying nearby. Trunk twisted, legs in the air, his yogic contortions made it look like he was trying to get a tan where the sun don't shine. "If anyone thinks that nudism is about sex, they ought to come to a place like this," I said, watching a large man jiggle down to the surf.

Even so, the beauty and casual vibe of the place inspired us to ask around about other nudie spots, and a woman we met in the parking lot suggested that we check out the Hale Akua Shangri-La, just past Haiku on Maui's north shore. Set at the end of a dirt road lined by a neat row of swaying wiliwili trees, Shangri-La's tidy compound of five wooden buildings is so well hidden that I had to ask the gardener to show us to the front door. 

Founded in the mid-eighties as a New Age retreat, this 12-room bed-and-breakfast now offers a comfortable option for those in search of an alternative to the standard high-rise hotel package. What's more, the Shangri-La's clothing-optional policy accommodates varying degrees of modesty. "It's perfect for couples where one person may be more comfortable with nudity than the other, but it seems that most people wind up naked after a few days," says Madhava D'Addario, the Shangri-La's manager and resident yogi. Shangri-La boasts a naturally ozonated, black-bottomed swimming pool, and a pair of hot tubs that offer dramatic views of both the ocean and the Haleakala volcano. It also has a rock pool with a small waterfall carved right into the cliff below the compound. Still, D'Addario had plenty of other suggestions. "We always give our guests directions to private beaches where they can snorkel among the sea turtles," he said. "My favorite is the hidden bamboo forest up the road." It didn't disappoint. We found the promised waterfalls and a natural clay cave where we spread mud all over ourselves. We also ran into a ponytailed massage therapist who set us on the path to the town of Hana, and by day four we were headed east on the twisty two-lane road to the Maui Sun Club.

Beyond a padlocked cattle gate, the Maui Sun Club sits in a small clearing in the middle of 19 acres of tropical forest. Known to locals as the Honokalani Ranch, the Club is surrounded by groves of wild bananas, mangoes, papayas, and guavas, all overgrown with creeping hou vines. Unless you subscribe to naturist journals, you'd never know it's the only totally nude resort on Maui. It has only three apartments and three small cabins, so there are rarely more than ten people visiting at any time, and it's about as off the grid as it gets: no television, no pool, no bar, no clothes. The Club is owned and operated by Georgianna Dryer, who, after checking us in, gave us directions to local refuges like Red Sand Beach, Makahiku Falls, Waianapanapa State Park, and the Venus Pool.

The next day Dryer personally escorted us to a favorite spot in her beater pickup. Coasting to a stop at a muddy opening in the trees, we climbed out of the cab, squishing fallen mangoes beneath our feet. Leading the way, Dryer picked a path down through the jungle and then along a rugged beach. Several hundred yards later she turned and whispered, "Blue Pool" to announce our arrival at a stunning freshwater hole crowned by a waterfall and a luminescent cascade of pink and purple impatiens. Pulling off her top, she pointed out at the horizon and smiled. "I love to come here for the sunrise." She added, "Floating in the pool, listening to the waterfall as I watch the waves, I feel blessed with a simple abundance and completely connected to nature. That's what my lifestyle is all about."

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