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Grizzly Details: Surviving a Bear Attack

Hiker Gerald Holzer recounts a 2005 grizzly attack in Yellowstone.

Then what happened?

It moved off, and went the direction it had come from. I heard it huffing and puffing and it stopped, still huffing. I played dead for 2 minutes, and I was starting to feel that the likelihood of it coming back was increasing. I knew Pat was close and playing dead, too, but I didn’t know if he was hurt. I also knew he had the pepper spray, which there was no time to get during the attack. I felt the wisest thing for us, if the bear came back, was for us to have the spray in our hands. So I whispered, hopefully loud enough for Pat to hear (but not the bear), "Get your spray." Then I waited a long minute. The bear didn’t move; it just continued it’s rhythmic huffing I didn’t hear anything from Pat. So I said a tiny bit louder, "Get your spray."

A minute later, Pat said something, something like, "got it" or "yeah." Whatever he said didn’t immediately incite the bear to attack. But, to my horror, a minute or two after he acknowledged he had the spray in hand, I heard the bear coming back. It was huffing, and I heard footsteps. Right when it passed my head and was heading toward him, I said, "Now!" wanting Pat then to rise, turn, and fire. A second or two later, I heard scuffling and I heard the spray go off. The instant the spray went off, the huffing stopped and the bear went away, leaving in the direction it had first come. Pat told me later that the bear was 2 feet away when he used the spray, and that he got it right in the face.

After the bear moved away and we couldn’t hear it anymore, I finally raised my head up and said, "Pat?"

He sat up and said, "The goddamn thing bit me!"

I thought, Oh Christ…he lifted his calf and on the front of his lower leg was a small puncture wound-about the size of a pencil eraser. We thought for a minute, now what do we want to do? Neither of us panicked. Panic doesn’t get you anywhere. We looked at his leg and we thought, we probably shouldn’t camp here. People laugh at that, but we waited all year for this. Since Pat had a puncture wound on his leg, we knew that he needed first aid. I said, "Do you need to treat that now, Pat, or should we get going?" And he said we should get going. We knew the bear would be in the other direction. We didn’t want to dawdle. We scooped up our stuff and hiked back to the lakeshore to where we could get some good visibility.

How fast?

We hiked quickly. It had taken us about 2 hours to reach that spot on the way in, but we got out in about an hour and 15 minutes. He wasn’t bleeding much, and we knew we had to report this to a ranger. So we boogied back. The odd thing is, I wasn’t really scared. I’m scared driving once a week or so on my 20-some-mile route home from the zoo, with people driving inappropriately and having near-death experiences. There you have adrenaline that has nowhere to go, so you just get all cranked up. But this was an appropriate adrenaline response. It was as much of a workout as either of us had had in a year.

On the way back, we ran into a group of three people, two women and a man. We told them, "Oh, we had a little bit of a bear encounter." And they said, "What do you mean?" And Pat pulled up his leg up. And they said, "Oh!" And they escorted us back. After the bear attack, we still had the presence of mind to know that other bears might have been around. So we were still making a ton of noise. When we met these people, they asked, "Why are you doing that? "

After we told them, they all started yodeling right away.

What did you do when you got back to the trailhead?

So we got back to the truck and got to the ranger station at Old Faithful. While Pat was being treated, a ranger interviewed me and then him. They were trying to figure out what action they needed to take.

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