Hikers suspect they saw a wolf at Crater Lake in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

Hikers relax along Crater Lake on Thursday. A couple that was hiking near dusk on Tuesday night believe they saw a wolf on the north end of the lake.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Jim and LuAnne Spurrell were hiking the trail alongside Crater Lake in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness close to dusk Tuesday night when the alarmed cries of an animal stopped them in their tracks.

They pivoted to see what the commotion was about and were startled to see what they believe was a gray wolf loping across terrain they had just passed 30 to 40 yards behind them.

“I immediately yelled, ‘That’s a wolf,’” Jim Spurrell recounted Thursday. “At about the same time, my wife blurted out, ‘That’s a wolf.’”

“When you saw it, you knew exactly what it was,” LuAnne said.

The sounds of alarm were coming from a smaller animal that they couldn’t see well enough to identify but suspect was a beaver or marmot. The presumed wolf was walking across a pile of downed timber on the north end of the lake, paying no attention to the smaller animal. The wolf “floated” through the tree trunks without a problem, Jim Spurrell said. Once clear of the logs it followed the trail in a “characteristic wolf-like gait” and soon disappeared to the west into the woods, he said.

The Bethesda, Maryland, couple are in the Roaring Fork Valley to visit their daughter in Carbondale. They had booked time to visit the Maroon Bells area under the new reservation system and were hiking at Crater Lake at 7:53 p.m. when the shadows were long and the number of people dwindled.

LuAnne said it was ironic that just a few minutes before seeing the presumed wolf, she and her daughter were talking about the evening taking on a “fairy tale” kind of atmosphere with the dark forest and deteriorating light. The trip back to the parking lot at Maroon Lake was slightly eerie after the wolf sighting, she said.

In retrospect, Jim wishes he would taken time to search for a paw print, but it was getting dark and they didn’t want to be roaming around after dark in the presence of a wolf.

“We were a little bit freaked out,” Jim said.

The couple is certain what they saw wasn’t a coyote. Jim said they are accustomed to seeing eastern coyotes, which are slightly larger than those in the West. What they described as a “beigey-white canid” was one-quarter to one-third larger than their 85-pound German shepherd. Jim said he frequently throws a Frisbee to his dog and is used to seeing his pet 30 to 40 yards away. Therefore, he said, he is confident of his assessment of the size of animal he saw in the wild.

Unfortunately, they don’t have a picture of the possible wolf.

“I think we were all so drop-jawed that no one even thought of taking a picture,” Jim said.

He did report their encounter to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Wednesday and was urged to go on the state agency’s website to file an official report on a possible wolf sighting. He filled out the report on Thursday.

“I’m not doing this as an alarmist,” Spurrell said. He just thinks the possible sighting could be an interesting development. Spurrell had double majors at the University of Tennessee in chemistry and zoology, though he didn’t pursue species identification in his studies, he said.

CPW has confirmed the presence of a wolf pack in northwestern Colorado and it is investigating a handful of other reports of wolves that the agency has deemed “credible.”

In a recap of wolf activity issued on June 12, CPW said a lone wolf that was first confirmed in North Park one year ago remains in that area. The wolf was collared in the Wyoming Snake River pack and migrated to Colorado, where it was first photographed in July 2019. It’s labeled as 1084-M.

Another lone wolf, with a wildlife-tracking collar, has been reported in Larimer County. Officials believe it left a pack in Wyoming or Montana. However, flights and ground crews haven’t been able to detect a signal or visually confirm the wolf.

Two groups of campers in Grand County reported spotting a “large, wolf-like animal” on the weekend of June 6-7, according to CPW. The agency is investigating to try to confirm the presence of a wolf.

The presence of a pack of at least six wolves was confirmed late last year in the extreme northwest corner of Colorado. There have been several sightings by wildlife officers, hunters and landowners.

Area Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita and district wildlife manager for the Aspen area Kurtis Tesch couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday about the Spurrell’s possible sighting of a wolf. It is unknown if wildlife officers attempted to collect scat samples of look for paw prints.

Officials with the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District said they are unaware of wolf sightings in the terrain around Aspen but noted CPW is better suited to answer if it is feasible a wolf could have ventured into the Aspen-area forest.

Jim Spurrell said he couldn’t rule out seeing a wolf-dog hybrid, although there was no evidence of a human around that would be accompanying a domesticated animal. They saw two tents at Crater Lake, but no people.

“I don’t know how to explain it — this was not a domestic animal,” Spurrell said. The fur was mottled, he noted.

“I’m pretty certain of what I saw,” Spurrell said.

This isn’t the first possible wolf sighting in the Aspen area. A Roaring Fork Valley resident said he encountered a wolf while hunting on Independence Pass in 2007.


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