Bear Attack: The Story of Seven Boys and One Grizzly

Seven high school students were near the end of their month-long survival course in the Alaskan wilderness, but the real schooling began when they came face to snout with the wildest thing of all.

By Derek Burnett from Reader's Digest Magazine | June 2012

Bear Attack: The Story of Seven Boys and One GrizzlyIllustration by Yuko Shimizu
It’s taken the better part of an hour, but the fishing expedition has been a success, and the boys continue their hike up the stream with the pair of tiny rainbow trout in tow. They’re walking single file directly in the cold water, using the creek as a trail because the land here is covered in scrub alder and willows that make travel nearly impossible. Berg, Gottsegen, and Allaire are in the front. The stream may make for easier walking than the land, but it is full of bends, some of them so tight that you can’t see around them to know what you’re about to walk into.

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.

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  • Your Comments

    • Joe

      Nice Article RD

    • Graham Robinson

      Excuse me, I was apart of that 14 person NOLS trip and we were given and properly shown how to use bear mace. The brave part wasnt that we got attacked, it was the fact that we were able to keep two severely injured kids alive for EIGHT hours after being viciously mauled by a 500 pound grizzly bear. Plus how if we had a riffle could we have shot the bear if we came around a corner and it charged us??? hmmmmmmm no. Unless you were a sharp shooter with the fastest draw in the world that bear was going to attack us. So to all the people calling us stupid, get your facts straight before you start commenting on something you know absolutely nothing about.

      • Matthew Gregory

        Sorry about what you went through, it was your choice to go into the wilderness and it was your reason and logic that got you through the situation relatively unharmed fatally. With that said id like to ask how sharp was the turn and what makes you think that a shot fired in the air would not have disabled the bear allowing you guys to retreat in the bushes or to higher safer ground??

    • David Harty

      Bear Attack!
      The story of 42 young boys, two female bears, and one pissed off, bald, man of God.
      2 Kings 2:23-25

    • GolfTango

      Brave? They panicked, ran, and almost got their friends killed.