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Grizzly Details: Surviving a Bear Attack

Hiker Gerald Holzer recounts a 2005 grizzly attack in Yellowstone.

How bad was Pat’s injury?

I’m reluctant to talk about Pat’s medical treatment-just to maintain his privacy. They cleaned and disinfected it. It was a dirty bite, and they said he had the option of continuing some other preventive medical treatment that would have to be continued over weeks. We reluctantly continued to Livingston to do that, and when we started driving up there we were silent for a while. We had 2 more weeks and it was a great feeling of disappointment. It was a sad time. The next day, Pat decided he would rather be in Bismarck, where he’s from. Reluctantly, we realized that the wise thing to do was to call it quits.

The good news is that Pat’s wound healed fine.

Did the bear event affect how you feel about backpacking?

No, not at all. Every night I spend in a tent is a happy time for me. Yellowstone is the best, because you can get away from everything and be in a true wilderness situation. It is the rewarding thing for me. Up until that point I didn’t have a particular interest in bears, and now I do. It has made me more of an advocate. Again, I still had 2 weeks of vacation. When I came home, I said hi to my wife-she was glad to see me-and then went to the Boundary Waters for a little bit. Just to test myself and get back on the horse again. I went to some areas that were familiar to me. I hiked to these high areas at sunset and purposely hiked out in the fading light with a flashlight just to make sure to quell any willy-nillies.

Were you nervous?

A little. But nothing that panicked me. In fact, I wanted to feel skittish and be able to deal with it. The reason I go to into the backcountry is to look at the geology and the wildlife, and then go to the library in the winter and try to learn more about these things so I can go back out there with new eyes. I think the bear attack opened a new avenue of interest.

Would you have done anything different?

Many things. First, I should have been carrying bear spray as well. In the haste-I was in a hurry to get on the trail, I forgot my pepper spray. When I realized I didn’t have it, I should have gone back to get it. Second, when we saw that scat, in hindsight, it would have been a good idea to find an area with good visibility and take an hour break. Third, after we saw that scat, we should have had the pepper spray in our hands. Rangers reluctantly mention pepper spray-for good reason. People think, oh I have pepper spray, I don’t have to worry. But if I had used pepper spray on the first charge, the grizzly might have left right away.

Why do you think this bear attacked you?

My hunch-and I have a master’s in animal behavior-is this was not an animal seeking us as food, it was an animal trying to reduce a perceived threat.

Do you want to go back to Yellowstone?

Yes. Definitely.

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