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LAKE TAHOE By Tim McDonald

Most people come to Lake Tahoe to ski, frolic in the gin-clear waters of an alpine lake or maybe lounge in a resort by day and gamble in one of the casinos by night. -- I've come to see a wolverine.

This isn't as strange a quest as it might sound. For decades, wildlife experts believed the wolverine had long disappeared from the Sierra Nevada mountains, which ring the stunning lake, but a wolverine was
photographed last year, a few miles north of Truckee. Biologist also found other evidence of the animal's presence.

Why the wolverine? The primary answer is that the animal is one of the most elusive, evasive and downright human-hating creatures on earth, not to mention one of the fiercest. Pound for pound, the wolverine might be the baddest critter on earth.

About the size of a medium-sized dog, they’ve been known to kill moose. They’ll go head to head against much larger predators, including black bears, wolves and cougars. Wolverines are the ultimate, fighting machines.

The other answer is that I’ve already seen one, when I lived in Alaska. It was only a glimpse, but I’ll never forget the way it moved.  It slunk along low to the ground with ill intent, in an odd, menacing, almost serpentine movement. I recognized immediately that I was seeing a rare, strange creature.

A long shot

The sighting, in the deep, snowy woods of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, chilled me even though the animal did not attack. Indeed, it aggressively ignored me, if such a thing is possible. Still, the incident stayed with me. I won’t go so far as to say it’s an obsession, but there have been many a night when wolverines have insinuated themselves into my dreams.

I want to see another one.

I realize it’s a long shot.

Forest Service officials are not releasing information about exactly where the wolverine was spotted. Also, wolverines avoid humans like they’re carrying swine flu. I’ll be using the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 165-mile long trail that loops around the lake, mostly along high ridges. There will be awe-inspiring views, but there will also be a lot of people.

Nor do I plan to spread around skunk glands or nail a deer carcass to a tree, two ways wolverine-watchers hope to attract the animal. Still, I was lucky in Alaska. Maybe I’ll be lucky again. At the worst, I’ll be immersed in the natural beauty Lake Tahoe is famous for.

Stunning beauty

My personal quest will keep me outdoors, and the Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit part of the larger trail is my hunting ground. It’s a nearly 22-mile hike, slipping between the granite peaks of the Carson Range and offering probably the best views of the lake far below. I pass through wildflower meadows that make you happy just to be alive.  Despite the heavy use by humans, I actually don’t see that many people, other than a few other hikers.

My plan is to avoid people as much as I can, like the wolverine, and so I explore some of the spurs leading off from the main trail, including one that leads to the Marlette Peak campground, where a minor human/black bear encounter occurred last year.

Continue to page 2 - Lake Tahoe, “Skunk bears”.

 

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Lake Tahoe photographs provided by the "Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority."
Wolverine photograph provided by the National Park Service

 

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