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Backpacker Magazine – October 2006

Survival Story: Surviving a Grizzly Attack in Glacier National Park

On August 25, 2005, Johan Otter and his 18-year-old daughter, Jenna, hiked right into the worst nightmare of any Glacier National Park backpacker: a 300-pound mother grizzly protecting two cubs. Here, in his own words, the 45-year-old physical therapist from Escondido, CA, shares the incredible story of their life-and-death struggle.

by: Julie Cederborg (as told by the Otters)


We were talking loud. I'd been taking my time filming a golden eagle, but Jenna kept nudging me to keep on pace. We were hoping to hike to Iceberg Lake later that afternoon.

Right before the attack happened, we were debating how much farther we had to go before the turnaround. It was right around 9 a.m. Jenna was a few steps in front of me.

After the bear bit me, I didn't fight back. I couldn't. There wasn't half a second. It was just impact. Plus, I got thrown off my feet. I knew the smartest tactic was to get into the fetal position, but there was no time. And then I thought: Shoot, my vital organs are totally exposed.

The bear was throwing me around. I looked down the trail and decided the best thing to do was to get myself off the slope. And that's what I did. I ripped my body free from its jaws and then rolled down a steep embankment over rocks and bushes. I tumbled about 20 feet.

I came to a stop and took a breath. Then the realization came: OK, I'm here. There's no bear, there's no Jenna. Those two are together. That's not good.

I was carrying a daypack with a camera, water, and snacks. There had been bear spray in the loose mesh side pocket, but it was knocked out of my pack when the grizzly first struck.

Later I learned that Jenna had seen the bear spray on the trail and picked it up. She didn't know she had to release the safety lever before she sprayed. While she was looking at it–we're talking just one or two seconds–the bear started running at her.

She's pretty sure she fainted at that point. It was the shock of I can't get this thing to work as fast as I want it to and this bear is running at me. She passed out and fell about 50 feet off-trail in a different direction from me. She woke up halfway through the fall and hit her butt and head on rocks. That woke her up. That's also when she broke her back. It wasn't a bad break, thank god.

I yelled, "Jenna, come down here! It's safe!" She never heard me. But the bear did. The minute I yelled, I saw the bear looking down. It started running right at me.

It's unbelievable how fast grizzlies barrel up and down slopes. I went into a fetal position, and the bear latched onto my pack, lifting me up and down like I weighed nothing. I'm 6 foot 1 and 185 pounds.

All I could think was: This is bizarre. But Jenna later told me I was screaming. Then I remember thinking, Jenna doesn't have a backpack. If this happens to her, she's dead. That's when the realization set in: I needed to keep this bear with me. I can protect myself, but Jenna doesn't have this extra protection. I think my screaming kept it on me.



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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Jerry W Doyle
Aug 15, 2014

I have an additional comment I wish to share with readers. I know of several persons and friends who sustained injuries from bear attacks. They had their scalps peeled off their heads, one lost her right eye that was torn from its' socket and also lost both breasts when the bear's razor sharp paws swiped across her chest cavity ripping it open. The female friend attack happened on the Alaskan Kenai Peninsula. She survived as did the others persons and friends I know who sustained these horrendous bear attacks. It is worthy to note that not a single victim has harsh words to say about the bear that attacked them. Each recognized that they were guests in the bears' habitat and also recognized that they failed inadvertently to remain vigilant during the whole period of being in the bears' habitat. Anytime we let our guard down we increase exponentially the possibility of a bear attack.

Jerry W Doyle
Alexandria, LA

Star Star Star Star Star
Jerry W Doyle
Aug 15, 2014

Thanks for sharing this horrific experience with us. Let us hope that your experience leaves an indelible impression on the minds of us all to make noise on the trail while in bear country and to not only carry bear spray on our person but to know fully how to use it when the need arises. I backpack and hike "solo," often in Canada and Alaska where there are large browns. I personally carry not only bear spray, but a 5.5 oz canister sports horn that when blasted can be heard up to a mile away, as loud as the air horn on a tractor trailer truck. Pepper spray is of little use to the backpacker or hiker traveling up-wind. Consequently, this is my choice for carrying the air canister blaster, although one never will hear Park or Forest Rangers advocate use of these protectorates, even though Stephen Herrero makes mention of their use in his book.

We must remember that it is "we," who are the invited guests in wilderness areas and must conform to the environment and respect the potential dangers it exposes to us to enjoy the solitude and oneness with nature to its fullest. That means learning as much as we can absorb about wilderness inhabitants and the dangers that await us if we are not prepared fully to adapt to what nature throws our way.

Jerry W Doyle
Alexandria, LA

Star Star Star Star Star
bobert jomugus
Feb 11, 2014

hi

Star Star Star Star Star
randy
Nov 19, 2013

Wortha = IDIOT!

Star Star Star Star Star
TJ
Nov 19, 2013

Thank you for sharing this story.
But...
"Later I learned that Jenna had seen the bear spray on the trail and picked it up. She didn't know she had to release the safety lever before she sprayed."

Let's hope she knows how to use it now. Let's also hope that you keep your spray within reach.

You caught lightening in a bottle once. Might not happen twice.

Star
Wortha
Aug 31, 2013

"People have asked me how I feel about bears after the attack. Well, I don't find them as cute as I used to. They can kill. But I realize they are an animal we need to have around. And grizzlies are a sign of true America. They are a symbol of wilderness at its purest–and of an ecosystem that is intact. You need to be really respectful of that, and the dangers that go with it."

And for exactly what reason do we need to keep them around?
A sign of true America??? What does that mean?
There is no pure America--at what point was it "pure"?? It has constantly evolved; what does he man by an intact ecosystem? It is nothing like it was when griz were the top of the food chain a century ago. We didn't have the population expansion into ALL areas, there was plenty of habitat and food sources--now habitat is shrinking and key diet diet sources are disappearing in good part due to human causes. Now we have, by some misguided sense of altruism, reintroduced a killing machine into areas we as citizens have supported and paid for so that we may preserve these special places going forward and therefore be able to respectfully enjoy them--and not with the anxiety and stress of having to be aware of possibly horrific griz attacks.
Of course the bear is probably doing what comes naturally! It doesn't have the capacity to stop and think like we humans do..WE are responsible for every bear attack that has resulted in injury and death not only to innocent humans but also to bears. It is time we stopped trying to act like a god!

nick
Dec 29, 2010

not true

Anonymous
May 20, 2010

Hey

sean
Oct 30, 2008

hi

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