The Unbelievable True Story of the Hiker Who Survived Back-to-Back Grizzly Bear Attacks
"I could feel her breath on the back of my neck and her front claws digging into my back."
The Voorhes for Reader's Digest This past October, I took an early morning hike in the Madison Valley in southwest Montana. Knowing that bears are common throughout the area and not wanting to surprise one, I hollered out, “Hey, bear!” every 30 seconds.
About three miles in, I stepped out into a meadow and hollered again. A few more steps and I spotted a grizzly bear with her cubs on the trail at the upper end of the meadow. The sow saw me right away, and they all ran up the trail. But then she stopped, turned, and charged straight for me. I yelled so she would know I was human and hopefully turn back. No such luck. I gave her a full charge of bear spray at about 25 feet. Her momentum carried her right through the orange mist and onto me.
I dived face-first into the dirt and wrapped my arms around the back of my neck for protection. She was on top of me, biting my arms, shoulders, and backpack. The force of each bite was like a sledgehammer with teeth. Over and over she bit me. After what felt like hours but was merely minutes, she disappeared.
Stunned, I carefully picked myself up. I was able to walk, so I half hiked and half jogged back down the trail toward my truck, three miles below. I had numerous bleeding puncture wounds on my arms and shoulder, but I knew I would survive and thanked God for getting me through this.
About five or ten minutes down the trail, I heard a sound and turned. It was the griz, bearing down at 30 feet. I was lucky after the first attack, but could I survive a second?
Again I protected the back of my neck with my arms and kept tight against the ground to protect my face and eyes. She slammed down on top of me and bit my shoulder and arms.
My hand instantly went numb, and the wrist and fingers were limp and unusable. The sudden pain made me flinch and gasp for breath. That sound triggered a frenzy of bites to my shoulder and upper back. I knew I couldn’t move or make a sound again, so I huddled, motionless. Another couple bites to my head caused a gash to open above my ear, nearly scalping me. The blood gushed over my face and into my eyes. I didn’t move. I thought this was the end. She would eventually hit an artery in my neck, and I would bleed out on the trail.
Suddenly she stopped. There was dead silence except for the sound of her heavy breathing and sniffing. I could feel her breath on the back of my neck and her front claws digging into my lower back below my pack, where she stood. I could smell the terrible, pungent odor she emitted. For 30 seconds, she stood there crushing me—my chest smashed into the ground, my forehead in the dirt. And then she was gone.
I tried to peek out, but my eyes were full of blood and I couldn’t see. I knew that if she came back a third time, I’d be dead, so I wiped the blood from one eye and looked around. No bear. I stood up and moved quickly down the trail again. Forty-five minutes later, I got into my truck and drove 17 miles to the hospital. It took doctors eight hours to stitch me back together. Most punctures and tears were on my arms and shoulder. A five-inch gash along the side of my head will leave a nasty scar.
The next day, I woke up with dark bruising in the shape of claws across my lower back where the bear had stood on me.
Not my best day, but I’m alive.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, know how to protect yourself from a grizzly.