I Fought Off a Grizzly
Jeremy Evans takes us through a first-hand account of the catastrophic injuries he sustained after being mauled by a grizzly bear while deep in the Canadian backcountry.
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Out Alive is a podcast about real people who survived the unsurvivable. Check out more seasons and episodes here.
This episode contains graphic content and discussions of suicidal thoughts that may not be suitable for all listeners.
Survivor Jeremy Evans takes us through a first-hand account of the catastrophic injuries he sustained after being mauled by a grizzly bear three times while deep in the Canadian backcountry.
You can get your copy of Mauled to read the full story of Jeremy’s attack and remarkable recovery here.
Host: This story contains a discussion of thoughts of suicide, as well as very graphic content, including descriptions of multiple serious injuries and is not suitable for all listeners.
Some stories, more than others, leave us with an inescapable question: How could somebody survive that? While reading Mauled that was the question that replayed in our minds over and over again.
The book details an account by survivor Jeremy Evans and is co-authored by Crosbie Cotton with journal entries by Jeremy’s wife, Joyce. As the former editor of the Calgary Herald and an award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared on the pages of Sports Illustrated and Time, suffice it to say Crosbie knows a thing or two about an incredible story.
Crosbie: He told me some of his story, and it was the most intriguing story I’ve heard in a long time. It’s practically unbelievable.
Host: Jeremy Evans had endured the unthinkable, and yet it wasn’t until meeting Crosbie that he saw his ordeal as noteworthy. That’s just the kind of guy Jeremy is. You’ll hear from Jeremy, Crosbie, and Joyce.
But to get an even more detailed account, find a copy of Crosbie and Jeremy’s book, Mauled. It’s a story of finding life and hope and love through brutality, and I hope you’ll go check it out after hearing this episode, and get some answers to how somebody survives the unsurvivable.
Host: In late August of 2017, 32-year-old Jeremy Evans of Calgary, Alberta, went out on a scouting trip to prepare for the opening day of ram hunting season. Jeremy is an avid outdoorsperson and nature lover, and he was determined that it would be his year to finally tag a ram. He went out that day with the anticipation of a kid the night before Christmas.
Jeremy: Hunting, I look forward to it every year. I spend about two months every year out there running around in the bush, like a wild man going after deer, elk, moose, sheep. I’m an avid bowhunter.
Crosbie: Jeremy is absolutely passionate about the outdoors.
Host: This is Crosbie Cotton again, co-author of Mauled. You’ll hear a bit from Crosbie throughout the episode.
Crosbie: His wife is a marine biologist. She was his first-ever girlfriend. He was her first-ever boyfriend. They’ve been with each other ever since they met in high school.
Host: Here’s Jeremy’s wife, Joyce.
Joyce: I actually grew up in a setting that wasn’t very outdoorsy. I suppose I just found the love of the outdoors myself.
Currently we have two children, and at this time they’re 2 and 5, and we just incorporate them in everything that we do with the outdoors. We don’t really avoid activities because we have children, we just bring them.
Host: Jeremy left his home around midnight to drive the three hours to where he’d park his truck while hunting. His plan was to be out in the bush for three nights.
Jeremy: It was a pretty early morning start, I got out to where I was planning on going sheep hunting about 3 a.m. I left the truck, loaded up my backpack and hopped on my mountain bike and made my way down the trail into where I go sheep hunting. That’s about 12 to 15 kilometers back to where I normally set up base camp.
So hopped my bike and started off down the trail. I’d say about 5, 6 kilometers in, there’s an outfitter’s tent. There’s normally an older gentleman sitting there drinking his morning coffee. They weren’t there. I kept on going down the trail and passed by two other gentlemen. I rode past him on a mountain bike and gave me a weird look like, who is that? Some strange guy riding through the bush with a bicycle. I then proceeded to ride into the far back canyon, which everybody nicknames a Crying Canyon. It’s very steep and a hard place to reach. I like going back there because I never used to see anybody and I’d see sheep and it’s one of my favorite places to go.
Host: Jeremy has been going back into the Crying Canyon to hunt for about 17 years. His strategy was to travel so deep into the bush that the dayhunters who only venture a few kilometers in would scare the sheep right into his sights.
Jeremy: There’s a couple drainages that I climbed through, and I got to a spot where the trees end on the mountain side.
I was sneaking through, taking a few steps, glassing the hillside. I got to a spot where I noticed a bunch of sheep. I sat up there elbows on my handlebars, looking across to their side of the mountain there, and I noticed the sheep. I was watching them. I was there for probably 10, 15 minutes, and I brought my binoculars down just to kinda reposition.
As I did that, I noticed a little brown thing ran in front of me. It’s probably about 10 feet away. I knew exactly what it was at the moment. I was like, “Oh shit, it’s a cub.” I knew I was screwed. I had my backpack leaning against the frame of my bicycle, so I was reaching out in my backpack to grab my bear spray.
Host: Jeremy was deep in bear country, and even though he very much knew better, he had neglected to clip his bear spray somewhere accessible. He had only seconds to react, and with his bear spray deep in his pack and his gun unloaded, he knew he was in trouble.
Jeremy: As I was reaching out in my backpack, I heard a little crack and I looked over my right shoulder and there was mama on a full charge less than 4 feet away.
Just remember seeing her left front paw sticking out. The whites of her eyes rolled back. Her mouth was open. I proceeded to grab the frame of my bicycle. Set it in front of her, grabbed my pack, her head got tangled into the frame of the backpack and her paws got into the spokes and wheels of the bike.
She turned and looked at me, and I immediately picked up my pack and started bashing over the head and pushing her back in the face, and she ended up grabbing a hold in the pack a few times. Managed to pin my hands against the side of the frame of the pack, and her teeth pierced through. I was fighting her off. The bike got shaken off, and she backed away about 30 feet. I was backing up. I was trying to get my gun off my backpack. As I was doing that, she was walking away, and then she spun right around and came charging in.
Host: While grizzlies don’t usually see humans as prey, a mama bear will launch a defensive attack if she feels her cubs are threatened.
Jeremy: I panicked, threw my backpack at her, and I decided, run up the mountain side as fast as I could and try to get around a tree and jump into a tree. I jumped off the ground into a spruce tree, tried getting up as high as I could. I got about 6, 7 feet up, and she was right there underneath the tree, but as I was pulling myself up, my right leg was dangling low.
She reached up with her paws, grabbed my leg and pulled it down. I remember looking right at her as she’s lunging up and her teeth sinking in, behind my knee. I was like, “This is gonna hurt.” At that time, I didn’t feel any pain. She just grabbed a hold, ripped me right out of the tree. I hit the ground pretty hard, and I was beside a spruce tree, so I crawled underneath the branches and wrapped myself around the spruce tree, hoping that the spruce would be able to protect me. And she was digging at me, and she was struggling, couldn’t get ahold of me. She reached me with her mouth, grabbed me on the left side, picked me up, tossed me about 6 feet.
I hit the ground pretty hard. I was just amazed by the power. At the time, I weighed 250 pounds. She picked me up and tossed me around like a ragdoll. There’s nothing I could do to stop her. Within a split second, she was on me. I was curled up a ball laying on my right side, and then her first bite, she grabbed me in the face. Her two front canines, one caught me just in the corner of the left eye by the nose and the other one on the other side of my eye, and she clamped down and just pulled the whole side of my face. I can just feel everything crunching bones. And she was just pulling on it. And at that moment I was just thinking, “This sucks. Playing dead sucks.” It’s hard to lay there when something’s chewing on you. At that moment, I just said, “Screw this. If I’m gonna go out, I’m gonna go out fighting.”
Host: Many experts will advise playing dead during a grizzly attack. Some bears will back off once they feel the threat is eliminated, but it doesn’t always work. Jeremy decided that his best chance of surviving was to fight back.
Jeremy: I rolled over on my back, started punching her with my right arm in the face, poking her eyeballs, grabbing her ear. She was snapping up my hand. Sticking my fingers in her nose, and she wasn’t having none of it. She came down to bite me in the face again, as she came down to bite me, I punched my left hand into her mouth. I just remember feeling her tongue and my hand sliding all the way down her tongue. You can feel all the bumps and the scars on it go. It felt like leather all the way down. And I shoved my fingers down the back of her throat and grabbed a hold of her tongue.
She was making some horrible sounds, kind of threw up at this point in time. I was laying on my back and her head was facing the left side and my hand was in her mouth. On the right side, her back legs were digging into my right side. Her claws were just digging in, and that really hurt. I was trying to push her off me.
So I was pushing on her, just trying to push off. My hand slipped, and I hit the belly. I could tell it was the belly by the thinner hair and the skin, and I reached up and grabbed what I thought the time was the balls. I reached up, grabbed, twisted, and pulled, and at this time my hand was still in her mouth and I was holding on and she started squealing almost like a pig squeal.
You could definitely tell whatever I was doing was hurting her and she just took off running through the bush, running up into the mountains. I got right up, straight up right away, and I dusted myself off and walked over to my backpack. I pulled out my cell phone and the first thing I did was turn it on to the selfie and I took a picture of my face and then the picture, there’s large chunks of the left side of my face are ripped out.
Looks like my whole face is just hanging there. And so I was looking at that picture and looking at my face and could hardly make out what was there, what wasn’t. I was sitting there and pulled my pack against me there, pulled my gun out. And I was sitting there thinking to myself, it’s not that bad. I can still go look for a sheep.
I knew my injuries were bad. I didn’t realize they were that bad at that point in time. After the second round, all the tendons were severed in my right leg. There was a chunk missing out of my left side. A big chunk was missing in my inner thigh, and my face was still somewhat intact. The picture is actually in the book. I was really ticked off at that moment because I was mad that this bear had to do this to me when I spent a lot of time training and I was ready to go.
So I guess I was a little more in shock and not really realizing how bad I was at that point in time.
Host: This is an additional warning that what follows is a description of Jeremy’s injuries that some might find difficult to listen to. If you prefer to skip it, fast forward to about the 18:30 time marker.
Jeremy: So as I’m sitting there, load up my gun, just contemplating what I should do, I had the gun butt on the ground and the barrel leaning against my left shoulder and had my left hand curled around it and was holding the clip in my right hand and I was pushing rounds into the clip.
As I was doing that, all of a sudden I just felt everything go numb. My hands dropped straight down. It sounded like ice breaking.
Host: The bear was back. Jeremy hadn’t seen her sneak up behind him, but now his head was in her mouth.
Jeremy: She grabbed me by the back of the head, and she was crushed in the back of my skull.
You can just hear it, just everything sound like the loud noise of the bones cracking, and she then dragged me backward up the hillside. I just remember hearing her heaving. You can just hear her take a deep breath and her claws digging in and her just pulling me back. I’m not quite sure how far she tugged me, but it was a little ways. I was kinda still sitting up on my butt with her teeth clamped around the back of my head and got to a spot and she stopped moving and I was leaning against her front legs, in a sitting-up position.
She then grabbed me with one of her claws coming at the right side of my face on the corner of my nose and mouth. Ripped all the way up toward my eye and ripped off a large chunk of the skin on the right side of my face, removing my ear. When she was doing that, she started chewing on the back of my head, just gnawing on it like a dog bone, just crunching away, and she’s also chewing on the side of my face. I can feel her claws pulling everything off. And then just thinking that this is the end. Nothing much I can do. Not really much was going through my head. I just figured that this was it, this is the way I was gonna go out. It’s just a weird feeling, almost like, I don’t know, it was a calm feeling. Couldn’t really feel anything. You could just hear things just crunching in your skull. It still haunts me today.
She had quite the awful smell to her, like horse manure and wet dog mixed together. Just when she was chewing on my face, all the slobber, you can just feel it come down her face. Her breath just reeked. She was very aggressive and extremely powerful. Plus I’m laying there, and she’s chewing on things. She stopped and she repositioned her body, and my back fell and hit the ground, and it felt like everything reattached. All of a sudden I got feeling again, and I could move my arms. When I was looking up, I couldn’t see much.
My eyes at this point got pulled out. My left eye was hanging out of the socket, facing down. My right eye was pulled into my skull. Actually, at this point I didn’t think I had a right eye. Everything I was seeing was extremely blurry. I remember I was looking up, and you could tell that there was something dark over the top of me.
I can just see the later on the sides, and I reached up and grabbed again what I thought was balls with both hands. I grab, started pulling, and I wrapped my legs around her head and neck, locked them in and squeezed hard as I could. Whatever I was pulling on, I was trying to rip it off. And as I was doing that, she started bucking like a bronco and rolling around on the hillside, just squealing.
I remember just telling she was in distress, and she was defecating all over the mountainside and throwing up. and I can feel my back touching the grass and the brush. She’s moving quite fast, so I let go, and you can just hear her squealing and barking as she ran down the mountainside.
Host: Jeremy’s tactics had worked. He had successfully fought off a grizzly bear, but he couldn’t be sure if she was gone for good. He knew his injuries were extensive and without proper vision, he began to crawl around, looking for his gun.
Jeremy: I immediately crawled downhill, and I found the trail right away. I crawled down the trail, and I ended up finding where my backpack was.
I was panicking because I didn’t know if she was gonna come back again. I found my gun right away, and I grabbed some shells and then my hands were so messed up and I couldn’t see to be able to put them into the chamber without the clip. So I was trying and I couldn’t get it, and I was looking around on the ground looking for my clip, and the first thing I picked up was my mustache and goatee.
I picked that up and then I found another chunk was my ear and some skin, and then found some other pieces of my head. Then I managed to find the clip. I immediately shoved it in the gun and fired off three shots right away at the first thing I saw that was dark. As I’m sitting there, I got all these pieces of my face, and I didn’t know what to do.
I pulled out my phone and started trying to text my wife, let her know that I screwed up and that I love her.
Host: Jeremy knew his texts wouldn’t send but hoped Joyce would see them someday. He was 14 kilometers from his truck in an area he knew other people rarely visited. He figured he had no chance of making it out alive.
Jeremy: And I was sitting there debating on what I should do inside of my leg. There was a huge chunk missing. I couldn’t stand up on my left side. The corner of my abdomen was all ripped open, and I’m sitting there and I thought to myself that this is the end. I was just gonna end it because no way I’m gonna make it out alive.
So I tried to, I loaded up my gun and was gonna, I guess, finish myself off. It ended up not going off. The gun never went off. It was actually something pretty hard for me to admit, to talk about. It was a very difficult time, and I’m sitting there thinking for a second, “I guess this is a sign. I better try to get out of here.”
Host: Jeremy still doesn’t know why his gun didn’t fire when he tried to end his own suffering. Just moments later when he moved the barrel to the side, it went off with a deafening bang. Jeremy still felt his condition was hopeless, but he hoped he could lessen his wife’s suffering by getting as close to the trailhead as he could so that his body would be found more quickly.
Jeremy: I knew I wasn’t gonna make it out. I was in pretty rough shape. My goal was just to get further down the trail where somebody was gonna find me quicker, so my wife didn’t have to wait that long to find out what happened and. I took the chunks of my head and I laid them on my skull, put a sweater on, put it on upside down, put the neckpiece around my head. I opened it up, and I laid all the pieces of my face on my head with the skin, the blood side down on top of my head, put all the pieces there. I folded the shirt over my head and I took the sleeves of it and tied it around the back of my head knot, and then tied a knot in front of my head. My jaw was hanging down on the left side.
Everything, all the skin and muscle was removed. My jaw was just hanging down, so when I tied a knot, it helped hold my jaw back in place.
Host: We’ll be right back.
Jeremy: I then proceeded to try to stand up. I couldn’t put any weight on my right leg. It wouldn’t hold. It just kept buckling. The first 10 feet, I probably fell a hundred times. Just toppled. I managed to get up on my feet and the first hundred yards, the trail goes down the steep drainage into a bunch of rubble and down to a creek.
I started to walk down that, and I ended up losing my footing and I tumbled head over heels all the way down to the bottom. It was a couple hundred feet down into some big boulders. I hit the boulders pretty hard, and when I was laying there, I just couldn’t move. I was in so much pain, and it was just a bad moment. I just was giving up.
Host: Here’s Crosbie again.
Crosbie: He’d lay there in the water, and he decided that it was time to die, that he couldn’t go on, but he put on music.
Jeremy: Just so I could relax and go to sleep, and when I pulled my phone, I couldn’t tell what I was doing. I was just hitting the screen, and the song that came on was Baby Shark.
It was a song that I played for my daughter when she was sick or having nightmares or bad dreams.
Crosbie: That motivated him to move forward, to get back up and to motor on or crawl on, in this case. So I managed to get up, and I crawled up the drainage up the other side. I remember trying to get up and crawl through the bush.
It took a little bit, but I got to the next drainage, and the same thing there. I toppled down that and I was just wanting to make it just enough further to get to the main trail, and from the main trail wanted to get to the camp or just somewhere where somebody’s gonna find me quicker. And I got to the main trail and I was stumbling down that.
And the whole time, Baby Shark was playing on repeat.
Crosbie: Jeremy was making his way, I mean, more than 10 kilometers out of the woods, most of it crawling. He kept thinking about his 6-month-old daughter. That motivated him tremendously to survive.
Host: Jeremy crawled through the thick brush to the outfitter’s camp about 9 kilometers away that he had passed earlier that same morning.
Jeremy: I couldn’t see. Everything was really blurry, and in order for me to look forward, I had to tilt my head almost all the way back, because my eye was hanging out. I got down to where the camp was, and I remember trying to look off the trail and trying to make noise, see if the guys could hear me, and nobody was there.
Host: Jeremy was devastated to find the camp where he had seen the two hunters deserted and remembers crying in frustration, but thoughts of his family propelled him on to make it just a bit further.
Jeremy: There was another drainage, a little creek. I end up falling down about 10 feet into the creek face, first into the creek, just covered in water. My head underneath the water, and all I can do to try to crawl up the other side. I remember where that trail comes out of the trees, it meanders a bigger creek. Everything got washed out from a flood from a few years prior, so there wasn’t really no trail anymore. You just had to walk down the creek in the washed-out area.
I was crawling over her logs and stumps and I knew there was an outfitter’s camp where there’s usually always somebody there. They had two canvas tents set up and I went and looked in both of them right away for somebody, but there was nobody there. There were no horses there, looked like no one had been in there for a couple days.
First thing I did was tear through the place looking for a radio or a SAT phone, something to contact help, and they had this big white cabinet that was locked up, sitting on one of the tables. I couldn’t get the lock off or open it up. My fingers didn’t work, and I just grabbed the corner of the cabinet and knocked on the ground and broke it open.
And the only thing that came out was a bunch of canned food and a little black case. It looked like a phone. So I opened it up and it ended up being a pocket knife. So I’m sitting there, a little disappointed. Couldn’t find no phone. Went through the other tent and nothing. In the big white cabinet, when it hit the ground, there was a triangle-shaped can.
I just remember, I knew the shape of it. It was like one of those ham cans with spam and it, and it has a little twisty teeth thing that you stick in to roll it back. My fingers didn’t work, so I grabbed another can and I bashed it open and grabbed a chunk of the ham and remembered putting it through the side of my face, because my jaw was hanging down.
I was sticking it in the side of my mouth. When I was in there, I was so tired, exhausted. I rolled out a sleeping bag and put it next to the fire. They had a stove in there, put it next to the stove, and I was gonna just lay there and fall asleep. I was so exhausted. Rolled it out, I sat down at the table to write a note. While I was sitting there trying to write a note, there was blood dripping everywhere, and it was driving me bonkers. On the table, there were some bounty sheets and toilet paper, so I grabbed that and started wrapping it around my face and my hands, just to stop the blood from dripping on the table. I found a roll of athletic tape or vet wrap for horses, what they use to tape up their ankles when they’re hiking, so I found some of that and just started taping things together.
I grabbed my jaw and folded the skin back up, and as I was moving around, it was like it was dislocated and clicked back into place. It felt so much better and I can actually talk. So I wrapped all the toilet paper and vet wrap up on my face to hold it together.
Host: After taping up some of his injuries with the vet tape and paper towels, Jeremy wrote a note to the owner of the camp that read: “Sorry, was attacked by a bear. It’s really bad. Was looking for a radio or SAT phone. Sorry about the mess. I don’t think I will make it. My wife is Joyce. Tell her I love her. I feel very weak. Lost too much blood.”
Jeremy: While I was doing this, I found a bunch of juice boxes, so I was popping them out, squirting them into my mouth, and that gave me quite a lot of energy.
Threw my gun in the tent and there was one tetra pack left of the juice boxes. There’s five. And I figured I’ll have one for every mile I go until my truck. So I carried the juice boxes and I just sucked on one, and I knew roughly how far away, and I was dropping them on the trail. At this time, my leg, my right leg was completely seized straight.
I couldn’t bend it at all, couldn’t move it. I was dragging it. The trail meanders down quite a bit through the bush and crosses the creek a bunch more times.
Host: Jeremy continued on from the outfitter’s camp up a steep hill until he finally saw something he recognized. Two boulders that had become a familiar landmark to him over the years, and that meant he was a mile from his truck.
Jeremy: As I’m looking down, I could see them. I was so happy to see them, and I had one juice box left. I knew from those rocks, it was the top of the hill and it was about a mile from my truck, so I was so happy. I sucked back the juice box and I kissed my hands and touched each rock, and I knew at that point in time I was gonna make it.
When I got to my truck, the first thing I did was push the mirror out of the way. I didn’t wanna see what I looked like. I opened up the door, sat in the driver’s seat, ripped off the rearview mirror. I remember starting up the truck, and I was looking forward and through the windshield and I couldn’t see the end of the hood.
I rolled down the window and I looked outside the truck. I couldn’t see the ground. All I can do, all I could see. When I looked out the window of the truck was just dark green on the side with light in the middle, and I figured, heck, that must be the road, so I’ll stick to the light. This road was about 16, 18 kilometers of really windy, twisty gravel road where one side of the road just drops off down some steep embankments, and the other side, just the side of the mountain.
Host: A sign on the Panther River Road is posted that says, “Travel at your own risk. Vehicle traffic not recommended.”
Jeremy: So I end up driving all the way down and I thought the whole time I was hitting everything. I got down to the road, and there’s a bunch of little lodges along the way. I pulled into the first one. It was the Panther River resort.
Host: Jeremy navigated the switchbacks and winding dirt roads. He made it the 16 kilometers to the lodge at Panther River, a small family-owned lodge and outfitter. It had been about eight hours since the mauling.
Jeremy: As I was walking up to the door, I noticed a small shadow of a child run away from the window. I opened up the door to the lodge, I heard a little boy going, “Grandma, someone’s trying to play a prank on us.”
And they were standing right there, and I said, “No, I got mauled by a bear. I need some help.” And I handed him my wallet, my phone and said, “Please call my wife.”
Host: Jeremy’s wife Joyce works as a marine biologist, but on the day Jeremy was hunting, she was on maternity leave and volunteering for a local nonprofit.
Joyce: I was driving, and I just got a phone call, and of course I wouldn’t answer it when I was driving. And it just said no caller ID or private number or something. For some reason I just decided to answer it. It was an RCMP officer basically telling me that your husband got mauled by a grizzly bear.
Nothing like this had ever happened to me before, and things were happening so fast. I was also driving, trying to find somewhere to pull over and park, and I barely had time to really comprehend and have it sink in at the time. It was just total shock.
Jeremy: They were panicking, freaking out, didn’t know what to do, and they asked me is there anything they could do?
And I said, yeah, I need a glass of medium-temperature water, no ice, and a straw. So one ran in the back to call 911 to try to get an ambulance or STARS.
Host: STARS stands for Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service. It’s a Canadian nonprofit helicopter air ambulance organization that provides emergency care and transportation for critically ill and injured patients. They have several bases in Canada and one of them operates from Calgary.
Jeremy: And the other one gave me the glass of water, and I sucked that back. While I’m sitting there waiting to figure out what was gonna happen, I was dripping blood all over the floor. I grabbed a towel and started cleaning it up, and the one lady was yelling at me, telling me I should just relax.
And unbeknownst to me that there was a wedding that was happening later on that afternoon, and the party started to arrive. So the owner of the lodge got me outta the lodge, threw me in my truck, and drove me around the backside as she was trying to deal with the ambulance or STARS. The three ladies that were working that day were running back and forth across the gravel in the parking lot.
I was fairly calm I guess, and I was telling them like, “You guys need to slow down. There’s no need to run around. I’m fine. I’m just missing my face. Just relax.” So I was sitting there in my truck in the passenger seat and there was this 18-year-old girl sitting there and just talking to me, just making sure everything was all right and I was just asking her how her day was and anything interesting.
I just remember she would respond, but she would never look at me. Must have been pretty disturbing for her.
Host: Amanda, the daughter of the owners of the lodge at Panther River called STARS and 911. STARS says they were not able to come, but didn’t provide a reason why. An ambulance was dispatched a hundred kilometers away, but it became lost, and after an hour turned back. Amanda knew Jeremy didn’t have time to spare, so she called her dad, who owned and flew a helicopter, for help.
Jeremy: And at one point in time they came out and told me it would be about a half hour until the helicopter would. So at that point in time, I got out of my truck, opened up the back door of my truck, and tried to pull up my fishing rod. I wanted to go do some fishing while waiting for the helicopter.
There was a really good stream there for bull child fishing, so I tried to get my rod out, and the owner of the lodge saw me doing this. She came running out and was just yelling at me. I was like, “If I gotta wait for the helicopter. I might as well go do some fishing.” And they ended up convincing me to stay.
Joyce: I wasn’t shocked in the slightest when they told me that. I remember the RCMP officer I spoke with that day, and they were like, “Yeah, he was just rattling off his Alberta healthcare number like nothing was wrong,” and I was like, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
Host: At last, the helicopter arrived and Amanda agreed to accompany Jeremy to help provide what care she could while her dad flew to the nearest hospital in Sundry, about 65 kilometers away.
Crosbie: The owners of Panther River Lodge, it’s a rural outdoor lifestyle where the most important thing in life is being good neighbors and helping each other survive no matter what the challenge. Jeremy was so lucky to have so many people, once he made it out of the woods, there to help him.
Jeremy: When we were flying, I was trying to look out the window.
I know I couldn’t see, but I was trying to what it looked like as we’re flying over. Every time I lean over the side, I’d get a poke in my side, and I would turn and look at Amanda, and as I turn and look, she would throw up the tarp at me and I was like, “What the heck are you doing?” Every time I’d look over, she’d throw the tarp up, and I’d look out the window, and she’d poke me again.
And she thought I was passing out. She was trying to keep me awake, and every time I turned my head to look at her, I was squirting out blood. I was coughing, squirting up blood, so he was holding up the tarp to stop me from getting blood everywhere. And Chris, I couldn’t hear, I didn’t have the earmuffs on, I was missing my ear, and I couldn’t tell what was going on.
We got to Sundry. I remember seeing a bunch of shapes outside the helicopter, and there were a bunch of people standing there. They opened up the door to the back seat of the helicopter, and I turned and looked and said, “Hi.” The nurses and doctors that were standing there just went into full panic mode.
They were trying to pull me out of the helicopter, and at this point in time, my right leg was up over one of the seats, and it was straight and seized in place. I couldn’t bend it. I was trying to get my leg and they were trying to pull me out, and Amanda was sitting there yelling at him, “Leave him be, he can get out on his own.”
As she was coming around the helicopter to help pull me out, one of the doctors tried cutting in behind the tail rotor. This style of helicopter had an open tail rotor, so she ended up diving underneath the helicopter and tackling the doctor before he walked in the tail rotor. I mean, they didn’t know what to do.
They were checking my wounds and they were trying to take off my tourniquet on my head, and I was fighting them.
Host: The staff at Sundry Hospital, which is now called Myron Thompson Hospital, were overwhelmed by Jeremy’s injuries. They tried again to call STARS who told them again that they were not available. So Jeremy was put in an ambulance to travel by road the 90 minutes to Calgary.
Jeremy: When I was laying down in the gurney, the back of my head was all smashed open and I couldn’t lay my head down. It was excruciating pain, so they had a doctor hold my head. When they moved into the ambulance, that doctor who stayed holding my head the whole time together, was rolled in the ambulance and one of the paramedics was in the backseat there with me and they didn’t know where to intubate me from because my mouth was missing my nose.
Hanging there by a thread of skin, and I was breathing up in between my eyes and my forehead. That’s where they’ve seen, breath come out. I couldn’t see what was going on. As soon as they laid me down, everything went black, just the way my eyes were and that I just, I couldn’t see.
Host: When Jeremy arrived at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary, the emergency room was under construction, so he had to be taken in through the front doors where his family was already waiting.
Jeremy: They saw me coming in missing everything. Into the back right away. They asked me if I needed anything, and I said I wanted to say goodbye to my wife and my mom. I had never been put to sleep before for a surgery. I’ve never been in that situation. I was very afraid that I wasn’t gonna wake up from it. I was worried that I was going to die in the operating table there.
I had to say my goodbyes.
Joyce: He got someone to throw a towel over his face. He didn’t want me to see his face or what was kind of left of it at the time. It was kind of bizarre to see. I could kind of see a little bit, and I kind of described it in my book. I just saw kind of his green eye floating there and it was strange in that I could almost see bone, like it was a little hard to comprehend, but I could tell it was him. He was there. I could see his eye.
Jeremy: So my wife came back, and I told her I was sorry and then I’m gonna miss her. And that I tried and it was short, pretty brief. And they wheel me back in and put me through a bunch of X-rays and CAT scans, and I was pretty scared. They repositioned my head and had it in blocks to hold it. They fixed my eye so I could see a little bit.
One of the doctors had green eyes. I just remember when she was leaning over, and she had green eyes and I told her to hold my hand. Don’t let me go because I was pretty scared. So she stayed with me pretty much, showed us scans, explained everything that was going on, and they brought me into the surgery room.
I just remember their voice telling me everything’s gonna be alright. Just before they put me under, they give you some really nasty stuff to drink. So I was trying to choke that down and they put a mask over to knock me out. And I just remember this Australian guy says,” I’m down here at your feet. I got you, buddy.”
And he was rubbing my feet, and they put me out. I wasn’t fully out. I still remember pretty much everything they did and could see. They shoved the breathing tube down my throat, and I hated that part. And then the first guy came in and stitched up my hands, and another guy came in and stitched up my right leg.
Crosbie: He was wrapped in paper towels and veterinarian tape, and one of the surgeons said it was amazing that he had done battle triage to himself in the middle of the woods.
Host: Jeremy isn’t sure how he knew to wrap the dismembered parts of his face against the open flesh on his head, but those actions helped keep the tissue alive, allowing surgeons to reattach some of it.
That first surgery lasted 13 hours and was the first of many. Jeremy was brought to the ICU where he was put in a medically induced sleep until later the next day.
Jeremy: I couldn’t see anything. I could hardly hear. Everything was all swollen up. I remember my wife being there, one of my good friends was there. I was going in and out of nightmares every time I’d fall asleep, I’d wake up or be in a nightmare and have the bear chewing on me.
I was always scared they put me in a private room because I was having such a terrible time with the nightmares and flashbacks.
Joyce: Yeah, the PTSD nightmares was difficult, especially at first at the hospital because I could not do anything for him to help. We had to have somebody with me 24/7 just because they were so severe.
And every time I’d be in a flashback, I’d be thrashing. They try to hold me down, and it’d make things worse because that’s kind of what the bear did, pin me down. So it took a little while. My sister ended up staying with me for the first week. Every night after about 10 days, they tried to stand me up. You go to walk out. My tendons in my right leg were severed, tried to get me moving but I was able to walk, about 5 feet in the room and about 10 feet in the hall, and at this time my wife wasn’t there.
She went to get some food. She ended up coming back there, was in the hallway with a walker trying to walk, and she was, I remember she was quite happy to see that first time me being up.
Crosbie: Everybody I talked to said he should be dead. That nobody could survive what he could survive. Joyce is also just very, very determined.
They love each other. Although this story I think made them much, much stronger. When Jeremy was in hospital, they wrote love letters to each other and left them on the bedside talking about what they meant to each other.
Jeremy: During the hospital stay, I’d go walk around outside with some friends. I couldn’t even go near a spruce tree, a bush, anything dark.
I had to have somebody on either side of me, and we worked at it every day while I was in the hospital able to move around. We went outside and we just kept working at it to get me more and more comfortable. I was in the hospital for five weeks, eight hours and 23 minutes.
So the recovery’s been a very long road the last five years. It’s been a lot of rocky up and downs. After I was in the hospital, it was 48 hours after being out of the hospital, I was able to put pants on. Went out back to the area where I got mauled to the gate and met the ladies at the lodge and we did a little walkaround and I did some hunting that day with my wife.
We shot some birds hobbling around the bush. I was out of the hospital for maybe a week and went out. One of my friends ended up shooting a whitetail doe and a bull elk that weekend. Right away I was back on my feet getting back out.
Crosbie: So he went back into the woods with a whole set of major criteria set down harshly by his wife. He had to have a satellite to telephone so that he could text anywhere in the world.
Jeremy: The first six months, I had a lot of nightmares, a lot of flashbacks. I started getting them during the day at work. I worked at a beef slaughterhouse at the time, and I went back to work right away. I. Seven weeks after being mauled, I went back to work. I remember one of the days walking around and my sense of smell came back. I smelled blood, and that put me into a flashback where I was back on the scene.
So it was a very hard struggle from day one in the hospital. I asked for help right away with that psychiatric help to help get over the nightmares or try to figure out how to recover from it. After about a year, I was diagnosed with PTSD. The nightmares continued constantly every night, three four of them a night and during the day.
Joyce: There was a period of time after about 1.5 to 2 years later when I had a very heavy workload at my job at the time, and his PTSD episodes were worse during this time. I ended up just having a really tough time with this because of my workload and ended up having kind of a mental breakdown at work, essentially, which is really bad, but life kind of goes on, right? Regardless of the issues you may have with your family and having to still parent and work is rough.
Jeremy: Depending on how stressful the day was would dictate how bad the nightmares were. My wife would always be on edge. She’d wake me up, and she’d squeeze my feet to wake me up.
I had a daughter. She was six months old when I got mauled. When I’d fall asleep on the couch, I wasn’t able to close my eyes. It looked like it opened. She’d always run over and poke me and wake me up and jump on me. One time I woke up and ended up knocking her across the room, being in the flashback, and that really scared me.
So it was a very hard struggle for quite a while. I was in therapy and my psychiatrist suggested I should try rapid acceleration treatment.
Last year in April, I did a 45-minute session with that, and that night was the first night in four years that I was able to sleep 7-8 hours straight. It was extremely helpful for me. It was very hard to tell people what happened. There’s lots of details in the book that I’ve never shared with anybody.
So there are quite a few challenges. Now, today I feel pretty good about it. I’ve been back to the scene a year after I was mauled, and then on the three-year anniversary, and then just this year on the fifth-year anniversary, I went back to the scene. It’s quite an emotional experience, and I’m happy that I’m able to do it and overcome that.
Joyce: The thing that really I think changed for me after the incident is just, this sounds kind of maybe corny, but how life is so precious. You really have to remember the important things in life, realizing the importance of family and the ones you love.
Jeremy: Family comes first. Be prepared for the unknown, the unexpected. Another big thing I learned is asking for psychiatric help is not a sign of weakness, but it’s a strength.
Crosbie: I’m hoping that people read it and get the “wow” factor, that “Wow, you don’t have to give up, that there’s a lot of inner strength in everyone. All you have to try to do is access it.”
Host: This episode of Out Alive was produced and written by me, Louisa Albanese with writing and editing by Zoe Gates.
Scoring and Sound Design was by Jason Patton. Thank you to Jeremy Evans, Joyce Evans, and Crosbie Cotton for sharing your story with us. Their book is called Mauled, and you can find a link on our episode page backpacker.com/outalive. It really is quite a read.
Thanks for listening to Out Alive, and if you have a backcountry survival story and you’re interested in sharing, you can email me at [email protected]
This season of Out Alive is made possible by the members of Outside+. You can get 30% off for Gaia GPS premium for a limited time with your membership, including offline access, snow safety features, and snow depth reports. Find out more at outsideonline.com/podplus.