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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)


When a grizzly attacks, it doesn't bite, hold on, then shake back and forth like a dog. It bites and pulls away, bites and pulls away. When I recently saw the new King Kong movie, I must've gasped during the scene where the dinosaur and Kong are fighting, because my wife looked over asked what was wrong. I just stared at the screen, thinking to myself, that was just what it was like.

Half the time I was in its mouth, and I could see what it was doing, that it was pulling my flesh, but there was no pain. I could also see blood, though, and I knew it was bad.

I decided to throw myself away from it again, and I fell another 30 feet. I didn't time my fall–I just jerked away. I landed face-up, which wasn't ideal, but you can't plan these things. The bear got right back on top of me, so I grabbed it by the throat. I was facing it. Holding onto it. It was one big block of muscle that I knew I couldn't control. This animal was incredibly strong.

I grabbed a rock because I recalled hearing that if you hit a bear's nose, sometimes it will back off. At this point, I still didn't know there were cubs. Grizzlies aren't usually interested in people as food. This reaction was not hunger. This was: I need to take you out, you are a threat to my young.

My plan to hit it didn't work. The rock I grabbed was that slate stuff that just crumbles. And it was in my left hand–I'm right-handed–and suddenly I thought: If I hit it, I'm just going to piss it off even more.

So I curled back into protective mode, but this time it got more aggressive, gnawing and scratching my head. It felt like a dog digging for a bone. It was also biting my right arm.

I was face-to-face with the grizzly for about 3 to 5 minutes, but I don't remember what it smelled like. I don't recall any sounds, any grunting or growling. In fact, I never felt afraid. I was focused on survival and getting it away from Jenna.

The turning point was when I felt a tooth going into the bottom of my skull at the nape of my neck. When it went in, I heard a cracking sound and felt a lot of pressure. Then it hit me: Yes, I'm keeping this thing with me, but I'm going to be dead soon. So I thought, I need to get out of this situation. I launched myself downhill again and fell another 20 feet. I stopped in a rock chute on the edge of a cliff. My feet were strongly planted on rocks, my back into the mountain, and there were two rock outcroppings above me. Below me, there was a drop of several hundred feet.

The bear came down and just looked at me. I didn't move or make a sound. Maybe it thought I was dead. I was sitting there preparing to kick it off the mountain if it came after me again. I wasn't in a vulnerable position, even though I was really banged up. Honestly, I don't know if I could ever kick a bear off a mountain, but I was prepared to try. Instead it looked down at me and walked away. I never saw it again.

Then I heard Jenna scream. That was the worst sound I've ever heard.



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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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