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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)


I was taken to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where x-rays revealed I'd broken my neck in three places and needed to be kept still. An hour later, I was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and went right into 7 hours of surgery. Jenna stayed in Kalispell, where a physician who's world-renowned for treating bear bites worked on her. There are exotic parasites that live in a bear's mouth that could have killed us. Somehow, neither of us got an infection.

My list of injuries was long. About 60 percent of my head was "de-gloved"–the bear essentially took my scalp off. Its claw fractured my right eye socket and disrupted an eye muscle. One bite snapped my right wrist. I also broke my nose and two vertebrae; I had a compound fracture of my second cervical vertebra; I had bite wounds all over; I ruptured my left biceps; and I had lacerations on my thighs and shins.

Jenna broke her back in two places, but they were stable fractures–meaning they were in place and wouldn't easily move. She had two big bites. One was from the corner of her mouth to the top of her head, and the other was on her right shoulder. She also lacerated her ankle nearly down to the Achilles tendon when she fell.

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.

Since the attack, I have been in and out of surgery. Doctors took a muscle from my side and put it on my scalp. I've had three surgeries on my eye. I can see fine when I look straight ahead, but I get double vision when I'm sitting at my keyboard. My neck gets stiff, but I'm getting physical therapy. I'm the director of physical, speech, and occupational therapy at Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego, so I know the importance of therapeutic follow-through.



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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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