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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)


The bear had gone back to Jenna. When it lunged at her, she extended her hands and grabbed it around the throat. I think that was when Jenna realized she needed to play dead instead. She quickly curled up in the fetal position. The bear bit her face and then her shoulder. She didn't flinch. It finally gave up and left, probably to retrieve its cubs.

After her initial scream, I didn't hear anything more, so I figured the bear wasn't on her. But I didn't make a sound myself for fear that it would turn back to me. At this point, I couldn't do anything to help Jenna, because I was pretty beaten up. I assessed my wounds. I didn't see any arterial bleeds, but when I touched the top of my head, I felt nothing but bone. I covered my left eye to find out if I could see anything out of my right eye, which had been clawed, and I managed to make out Grinnell Lake.

I waited a little longer, then I yelled for Jenna. She called back immediately. And her voice was strong. That was the best sound I've ever heard.

After Jenna fell, she had crawled under some bushes and next to a rock for some protection. We were about 30 feet apart. The first thing I asked when I called to her was how her eyes were. Fine, she said, but she had wounds on her face and her shoulder.

I crawled to a ledge, leaving my backpack and a trail of blood behind. I pulled the hood of my jacket over my head, just to cover up my scalp so people wouldn't have to see me. A ranger told me afterwards that I actually created a seal to stop the bleeding.

Jenna and I were only 30 feet apart, but we were too weak to get to each other. And later, when the rescuers came, they didn't want to move us. So I didn't see Jenna until after my surgery more than a week later. But that was a good thing. When I saw pictures of how I looked, it was bad. I was covered in blood, and you could see my skull.

For the next 45 minutes, we yelled for help.

I don't remember much until a guy came sliding down the mountain with his eyes wide open. His wife ran back down the trail and eventually found a ranger-led group on its way to the glacier. That ranger radioed for help.

It was a long 2 hours before medical personnel reached us. During the wait, more hikers stopped. Two boys retrieved my backpack and camera. Others covered us up with their jackets. We were bloody, but they didn't care.

When the rangers arrived, they started treatment, but it was another 4 hours until a helicopter arrived to lift us out.

My blood pressure dropped to 80/30, and I lost about half of my blood. An artery going through my scalp was torn. But pain was not an issue. Yes, I was hurting, but it wasn't something I concentrated on. I was just so happy to see people.



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READERS COMMENTS

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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