Winters come early to the interior of Yellowstone, but the third week in October, 2007, was unseasonably warm, and the Hayden wolf pack lay stretched out in the bright afternoon light on a west-facing slope below the tree line, taking full advantage of what might be their last chance to sunbathe until spring. With a snow level creeping towards the valley bottom, the adult wolves knew that temperatures were soon to plummet and they may not get another restful nap like this for a long, long time.
The Hayden pack consisted of nine members, including a gray alpha male, a pure white alpha female, three gray pups born that spring, the sole black pack member (another half-grown pup sporting an extra thick coat) and three gray yearlings—one of whom was away on his own excursion.
As the waning sun sank behind the western hills enough to shroud their rendezvous site in shadows, the alpha male grew restless, slowly getting up to stretch. One by one, the rest of the pack rose and fell in line as their leader started in the direction of the Yellowstone River.
The wolves moved fluidly down a sagebrush slope that led to a bank above the river. The veteran male led the pack south along the bank to a point that provided an easy crossing. He was the first to take to the water, followed by the two yearlings. The stark white female was a harsh, blinding streak as she swam ahead of the pups on this, the safer part of their journey…