Berg rounds one such curve and sees what looks like a bale of hay just 30 feet in front of him. He has time only to turn around and scream, “Bear!” before the grizzly closes the space between them, rises on its hind legs—towering seven feet tall and weighing about 500 pounds—lunges, and flattens him. With a horrific roar, it goes straight for Berg’s head, chomping down on his skull with an audible crack. The others scream and scatter. As part of “grizzly protocol,” they have been taught to stand their ground, but this is too close, too sudden, too violent. And the bear is too big, too loud, too real—the earth booms each time it slams its paws to the ground. They don’t even have the time or wherewithal to pull out the bear repellent three of them are carrying.
There is a ridge on the right side of the stream, and most of the other boys scramble up it through the brush. Berg’s awful screaming prompts Sam Gottsegen to stop and look back at his friend. The bear still has Berg’s bloodied head in its teeth and is shaking the 180-pound boy like a flag as it gouges at his torso with its claws. Martin has paused near Gottsegen. “Is Josh being eaten?” he gasps.
Allaire is hiding on the left-hand shore, about 30 feet below. Garlock, Melman, and Boas are higher up on the hill, some of them screaming in panic, flattening themselves beneath the scrub willows. Gottsegen faces a dilemma: Do I run toward my friend who’s being attacked by a grizzly bear and basically sacrifice myself? Or do I run in the opposite direction? But it doesn’t matter, because now here comes the bear toward Gottsegen, its snout twisted furiously, a light-brown blur so fast that Gottsegen can take only a couple of steps before it slams him.