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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)


Jenna has recovered very well. She is now dancing at Cal-Irvine.

At some point, I decided I needed to run another marathon. And so I entered the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego in June. There was extra pressure because the media were there to report on my race, but after mile four or five, I didn't care. I just wanted to finish. Then at mile 20, I thought, I don't want to go through this. My left leg isn't as strong as my right because of the injury, and the hat I wear to protect my scalp traps the heat in. I've been through enough pain in the past year.

Perhaps my struggle was simply recognizing that I'm not 100 percent yet.

But I finished in 3:39. My PR is 3:13, and I still hope to qualify for the Boston Marathon before the end of this year. Running the marathon was mental healing, and I know the mental toughness I had from being a runner saved my life. Those last couple of miles of a marathon are not fun. You have to push yourself through it, and that was a trait I needed that day in Glacier. It also helped that my blood pressure is low and my heart is strong.

Finishing the marathon was a barrier I had to overcome. I needed to know that I was myself again physically.

My other unfinished business is that hike. I plan to go back to the specific spot of the attack with the rangers that helped us and continue on to Grinnell Glacier. I am not fearful of going back into the wilderness–it's just one of those things I have to do.

Park officials closed all area trails after the attack and searched, to no avail, for the Otters' grizzly. However, rangers had determined that the bear was acting defensively and shouldn't be destroyed if found. As this issue went to press, the Grinnell Glacier Trail had seen no encounters since the incident.

You know how to hike smart in grizzly country. You travel in groups and carry pepper spray. You make noise and keep a clean camp. "But you need to be extra cautious if you encounter certain situations," warns zoologist and renowned bruin expert Stephen Herrero, author of Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance.



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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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