A Wolf Sighting in the Sierra Nevada?
by Paul Richins, Jr.
(updated 1/15/12)

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On a backpack trip June 2-9, 2007, hiking from McGee Creek Trailhead to Mono Pass and the Mosquito Flat Trailhead, I sighted a wolf or a wolf-like animal. It was around 4:00 PM on June 7 as our party approached Golden Lake (10,994 feet) that I saw the animal. I watched him for about 15 seconds as he bounded down through the rock cliffs. He was not running in a straight line over the rugged terrain but changed directions with each bound. One second he was heading directly toward me and the next second running away from me. I was was downwind so he did not smell me and for some reason did not see me until he got within about 10 feet. With a sudden start, he saw me and wildly leaped to his left and bounded swiftly away. He was longer and taller than the chocolate Labrador Retriever that was with us. The wolf had a well-developed chest and long legs. His fur was medium length and a uniform light tan color. He may have weighed about 60+ pounds. What really impressed me were the animal's long legs and deep, well-developed chest. I have subsequently looked at photos of coyotes and gray wolves and the animal looked very much like the wolf photos I reviewed.

Earlier in the day we had spotted large animal tracks in the fresh snow along the Mono Creek Trail from Hopkins Creek to the Fourth Recess Trail junction. These animal tracks continued to, and beyond, Golden Lake. There were no human tracks in the fresh snow so we discounted the potential that the animal tracks were from a domestic dog. The paw prints in the snow were about the same size of the chocolate Labrador Retriever (about 3-3.5 inches across).

I have seen many coyotes in the backcountry and this animal was more than twice the size of any coyote I have seen. The animal was shifty and moved through the rugged terrain with speed, grace, and ease. Wolves have not been common in California and the Sierra Nevada for the past 100 years so my sighting may have been of some other animal, such as a cross between a dog and a wolf. However, there was a wolf killed in California on the west side of Sequoia National Park near Woodlake in 1962 that was verified to be a wolf and there have been occasional non-verified wolf sightings since then. If anyone has information about wolf sightings in California's Sierra Nevada or what I may have seen, your thoughts are appreciated. Please e-mail me at prichins@jps.net

Location of the Wolf Sighting: About 0.2 mile northwest of Golden Lake. Golden Lake is located on the west side of the Sierra Nevada crest about 1.5 miles due west of Rock Creek Lake and south-southwest of Toms Place (located between Mammoth Lakes and Bishop on Highway 395).

The trip itinerary:
The prime goal of this trip was to camp at locations that afforded maximum opportunities to photograph the splendor of the High Sierra. Each day we were up at dawn photographing the sunrise and getting early-morning shots. After photographing for 2-3 hours each morning we would have breakfast and move camp a short distance to the next location.

Day 1-McGee Creek Trailhead to Big McGee Lake
Day 2-Big McGee Lake to McGee Pass to camp near Red and White Lake
Day 3-Red and White Lake over class 2+ rock scrambling and snow fields to the cross-country pass between Red and White Lake and Grinnell Lake, down to Grinnell Lake and Laurel Lake.
Day 4-Laurel Lake to McGee Creek Trail to Hopkins Creek (snowed and hailed about an inch during the afternoon and early-evening)
Day 5-McGee Creek Trail at Hopkins Creek to Pioneer Basin Trail to Pioneer Basin Lakes. It again snowed, this time about 3-4 inches between 1:00 PM and 9:00 PM. That night the storm cleared and the temperature dropped to 15 degrees F.
Day 6-Pioneer Basin Lakes to Mono Creek Trail to Golden Lake.
Day 7-From Golden Lake we hiked cross-country to Mono Creek Trail to Summit Lake over Mono Pass to Box Lake (Little Lakes Valley).
Day 8-Hiked out and drove home.

Trip participants: Paul Richins, Judi Richins, Dave Figoni, and Kona, a chocolate Labrador Retriever.

Accounts from Others
I have been pleasantly surprised by the responses I have received from others who have also spotted a wolf or a wolf-lke animal in the Sierra Nevada. Below are their accounts.

From: Rod Schorr <rschorr@cccorange.com> San Clemente, CA
Possible Wolf Sighting in hte Piute Pass/ Golden Trount Lake area in mid-September 2008

I read your article about the wolf near Golden Lake and had to tell you that I saw two, just as you did, on the Piute Pass trail, deep in the woods not far from Golden Trout Lake (west side of Piute Pass) in 2008. Everyone laughed at me saying 'there are no wolves in the Sierra" but I've seen coyotes too, and I would rather call these dogs before I called them coyotes. They were enough at a distance for me to wonder. But they were furrier than a coyote and much huskier. The two animals were identical in color (grey), size and shape, which I wouldn't expect of dogs, and they behaved wild. When they spotted me they took off like a shot and never looked back.Just thought I'd let you know. You're not crazy. I believe the wolves are back.

From: John Montgomery <John Montgomery@cox.net>, Tucson, Arizona
Possible Wolf Sighting in the Piute Pass-Humphreys Basin area on July 20, 2007
We saw a lone wolf -- gray colored above Lower Desolation Lake about 10:00am Friday July 20, 2007 for about 30 seconds. It was about 100 feet away on a ridge. It was not a coyote because I see them all the time here in Tucson. It was a beautiful looking animal and moved with grace. We were heading to Upper Desolation Lake to climb Four Gables.

The wolf was shadowing a person who had a black dog with him. I believe it was a Labrador Retriever. This person said that the wolf, which he believed to be a coyote, had been following him from Puppet Lake that he had left earlier that morning. They were heading to Piute Pass.

We heard the wolf howl as we were approaching the person with the dog off and on for about 20-30 minutes, but did not hear any more howling after they departed the area.

From: Larry Jehlen, ljehlen <ljehlen@cox.net>
Another Possible Wolf Sighting in the Piute Pass-Humphreys Basin area--sometime in 2002
Very interesting. About 5 years ago at Golden Trout Lake (2 miles west of Piute Pass) I was hiking cross-country up to Muriel Lake and ran into what I thought was a wolf. I was maybe about 25-30 feet from it. We both stopped and stared at each other for maybe 10 seconds, then (s)he took off. I've seen a lot coyotes and this guy didn't look like one, he looked like a wolf. I'm guessing he too was at least 60 lbs. If it was a coyote, then it was one incredibly well fed coyote. He actually look more like a German Shepherd than a coyote. When I told the folks I was backpacking with about the encounter, they ridiculed me, so I let it go (kind of similar to telling someone you spotted Bigfoot, some things you just keep to yourself). I always felt that it was no coyote. Anyway, thought I would pass this along for what it is worth.

From: Sean Heredia, <seanheredia@hotmail.com>, Fresno, California
Two Possible Wolf Sightings--Huntington Lake area and Balsam Lake area
I just read your account of a recent wolf sighting in the high Sierra and I wanted to tell you about two sightings I experienced within the last 7 years.

The first sighting occurred around the first part of May 2000 near Rancheria Creek. A friend of mine and I are avid fishermen and one day we decided to drive up to Huntington Lake to fish. As we approached the Kaiser pass road turnoff, which was still closed for the winter, we wanted to take a chance and see how far up the road we could drive. We made it all the way to the Rancheria recreation area where you can camp near the creek. We trekked through the snow to try our luck at catching some trout. After about 30 minutes of fishing I heard something behind me and when I turned around there was a large white wolf with pointed ears, long legs, and a broad chest running through trees and across the snow at a distance of about 50 yards. I was certainly startled and shocked to see a wolf because I thought they no longer existed in California. I certainly knew what it was as I have seen them in British Columbia.

The second sighting occurred in October last fall right near Balsam Reservoir as I was trout fishing by myself over at the far corner of the dam. I was sitting quietly enjoying the day with the pole in a holder and as I stood up to walk about and stretch my legs, I noticed a large black animal at the top of the rock quarry behind the chain link fence sitting and watching me. It had pointed ears and at first I thought it was someone's dog that had ran off. Upon further viewing I could tell that it had a long pronounced muzzle, lots of hair, and a broad chest. It just sat there for about 30 mins. watching me as I fished. I kept looking back over my shoulder to make sure it wasn't going to come running down around the fence to the shore where I was. I kind of lost my sense of peace there for awhile but was amazed that I got to see a wolf that was all black.

Those are my stories and it's nice to know that they still can roam free in our beautiful backyard that we know as the Sierra Nevada.

From: Stephen Brown, <bvader@verizon.net>
Possible Wolf Sighting near Rock Creek Lodge, September 25, 2007
We were up at Rock Creek Lodge September 22-25, 2007. As a note, the 22nd was the "freak early snow storm". Tuesday, September 25, we had completed the hike to Gem Lake but that is not where we saw what we believe was the wolf. Since it was the end of the season there weren't many people in the area. We left to descend Rock Creek Road about 5:30pm. We were about 0.5 mile south of Rock Creek Lodge and ahead of us about 100 yards was a wolf "loping/slinking" along the right side of the road towards us. I stopped the car and pointed it out to my wife, and unsuccessfully groped for the camera never taking my eyes off the animal. I did the quick check list in my head; Coyote no, too large. Fox no, too large and grayish. Dog, not a Dog. Hmmm, must be a wolf.

We watched it for about 15 seconds, then I think it saw us and it darted into the forest. That was it. It looked a lot like this http://www.oceanlight.com/spotlight.php?img=16041 but a little more gray. I looked it up to see if there were wolves in the Sierras and found your site, so I thought I would tell you what I saw.

From: Alan Dubin <aldmd@comcast.net>
Possible Wolf Sighting Near Sailor Lake in the Sabrina Basin on September 28, 2007
I was backpacking in Sabrina Basin last weekend (Sept. 28, 2007) and saw a large dog-like animal near Sailor Lake (also known as Drunken Sailor Lake). At first I thought it was a coyote but it was much larger than a coyote, not scraggly, and a different color than any coyote that I have ever seen. It was the size of a very large German Shepherd, reddish-tan in color with a long bushy tail. The animal saw me from about 80 yards away,paid me little attention, and sauntered off behind a ridge. I did not see it again.

From: "Chuck Vanderpool" <CVanderpool@mcclone.net>
Possible Wolf Sighting above Convict Lake around 2002
I visited your web site and saw your request for info on wolf sightings in the Sierra Nevada. I'm pretty sure that I crossed paths with a wolf in the high country above Convict Lake. It was a few years ago, maybe 2002. I crossed a frozen lake with my dog, and on the return trip, I noticed new tracks crossing perpendicular over mine. The tracks were larger than my dogs (a medium breed Norwegian Elkhound). I kept a close eye on the horizon as I continued. Soon I saw what I believe to be a wolf on a bluff above the frozen lake sitting on his haunches watching me and my dog. I sat on my pack and watched him for about 5 minutes. He was dark and large. His demeanor was nothing like the coyotes that I have been around. He was still, and very keen. After a while I moved toward him (he was 100 yards or so away) and he trotted away. I quickly scrambled up to where he was sitting and there was evidence of activity all around - scat, fur, dirty snow and habit trails. I poked around a little but didn't see him again. A treat for sure.

Editorial Comment: There are known to be a number of wolf-domestic dog mixes in and around the Mammoth Lakes area. Several people have emailed me with their accounts of seeing wolf-like animals near Mammoth Lakes. I have not included all these sightings because they are most likely wolf mixes. In this case, Convict Lake is only a couple of miles from Mammoth Lakes so it is likely that this sighting was of a wolf-domestic dog mix.

From: Bill Wilson <wilbilson@yahoo.com>
Date: Sun, Jan 15, 2012
Subject: Wolf Sighting in 1962

My father hunted wolves in northern Idaho in the late 30s so he knew what a wolf looked like. In 1962 we were driving north on Highway 41 out of Fresno when we saw a wolf cross the road. Later that day a wolf was killed west of where we saw it.

From: Diane Olseen, DOLSEEN@aol.com
Possible Wolf Sighting in Newcastle, CA, Sat, 16 Oct 2010
RE: Definitely NOT a coyote

I was outside this morning early on our property in Newcastle, CA. We're not located in the town of Newcastle, but rather on acreage on the west side of Highway 80. There is still a lot of heavily forested area near us. I couldn't believe it when I saw my first gray fox last year right in front of my bedroom window. I was also surprised to learn from a friend who lives 5 miles away, that he saw a cougar in front of his chicken coup (we're only 1,000 feet in elevation).

But . . . what I saw this morning, left me stunned. I was out watering some scattered oleanders on the property when I heard a "crashing and clanging" noise directly behind me. I turned around and saw three panic-stricken does leaping over our metal gate. They thundered on by me (at about a distance of 200 feet). As I was watching them race down to the north end of the property, I heard more crashing and clanging. The critter which I strongly believe to be a grey wolf had somehow either forced himself through the large, open rungs of the gate, or he jumped over it. I don't know how high wolves can jump, but a few seconds after I caught sight of him, he was literally flying after those deer. I watched in horror because I just love the deer. Rather than jumping the north fence, the deer spun around in the direction they'd come, with the wolf hot on their heels. I turned away, because I knew I couldn't stand to see him jump a doe. I ran toward the house, just knowing what I'd hear any second. I was right -- I heard one of the does bellow in pain, and I just knew he'd brought her down.

Later, I went out to the driveway to see if her body might be there. Had the wolf (and maybe a buddy) dragged her body away into the brush of the ranch next door? There was no body, no carcass. Could it have been possible that she somehow managed to escape, and the bellow was one of abject fear? I know wolves have to eat, too, but I'm rooting for the doe!

My husband and I lived in south Reno a couple of miles from the Mt. Rose highway for 5-1/2 years. Coyotes were everywhere. They'd even come up on our back patio. I'd watch them through my kitchen window. They'd walk across the top of our dry stack stone wall that surrounded the property. I KNOW what coyotes look like. This guy was NOT a coyote. He was much larger. Medium to dark gray in color, broad chested. I would say he was about the size of the German shepherd I used to own. I've had many dogs in my life and have never seen a dog run that fast, even my Dobie.

From: Joseph A Adams <jadams@hancockcollege.edu>
Date: Fri, 19 Oct. 2012
Subject: Definitely A Wolf

I came across your site a few years ago but for whatever reason decided to not add a post. I found your site again and have decided to share my experience. Three summers ago in July 2010, two of my boys and I were heading in on a backpacking trip with my buddy and a couple of his boys. We were heading to Seville Lake in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness area of Kings Canyon. We started the trip at the Marvin Pass Trailhead. A few miles in around Rowell Meadows I saw what I at first thought was a German Shepard about 120 feet away. The animal was walking and I soon thought, what would a German Shepard dog be doing out here? It was easily about twice as big as a coyote and when I called for my son to come and look, the animal looked at me a ran off. It was beautiful and looked just like a wolf! That image is still in my mind and there is no doubt that I had seen a wolf. We went back this past summer but unfortunately did not have another sighting. I will never forget this and I hope to see one again in the future.

Backcountry Resource Center by Paul Richins, Jr.
http://pweb.jps.net/~prichins/backcountry_resource_center.htm

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