Hiker Killed by Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone

Artemus

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Well, thanks for posting this Jackson. I've been thinking about it for some time. Partly because I travel bear country, sometimes solo, and partly because I was been hiking with @scatman a few miles away on the south side of the lake that day or a day or two before. His report of our trip is here to give you a sense of the country.

The Park's press release:
 

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Artemus

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The man killed was a colleague of an acquaintance of mine but I'd rather not go in to details until they release his name. That is supposed to happen tomorrow. But there is lot to be learned from the press release:

Reported facts:
- he was a local to that exact area
- he was an experienced hiker in that area and others in Yellowstone
- he had self defense wounds on his arms
- no pepper spray carried as yet reported
- hiking solo
- sow and yearling cub prints found - they are collecting DNA
- he was partially eaten and cached (bears cover the kill they can't eat with dirt/twigs and leaves - if they don't just sleep on it instead)

So my sobered and reinforced thoughts on the tragedy and my personal beliefs in traveling the High and Wild. We've discussed this here quite a bit in other threads and perhaps I will link them in here.

The guy was experienced and knew what he was doing on his own backyard trail. The risks, the current bear environment, the known problem-animal environment, the close proximity to traffic, habitation, and people were all in his assessment range. He was half a mile from a very popular trail which itself is very close to a large "village" in the heart of Yellowstone. He apparently chose not to carry pepper spray and was apparently attacked by a mother sow. Normally this would indicate that it is a defensive charge - her defending her cub. Something like 80-90% of these end as a knockdown or even a false charge. Even when a mauling occurs typically once the bear thinks the threat is eliminated it leaves the scene. The fact that he was subsequently predated on is counter to the normal case in my research and awareness. If he had pepper spray it may have helped, I can only speculate. If he had had three large companions like I did with Scat near there a day before he probably would have not been charged either.

So for me the attack sobers me up in two respects:
1) It reminds me that travel in grizzly bear country is dangerous - especially dangerous solo. I should always, always have my defensive spray with me and be prepared to deploy it and I should reconsider going alone, away from a popular trail, in Yellowstone.
2) Traveling in bear country, for me, means assessing the situation on the ground continuously, collecting and assessing the recent history of the local bear situation and then knowing the past statistics of bear/human encounters in the Park and everywhere else. This assessment of the statistics based on here is what happens, usually, when... and here is what happens, usually, then... is basically a probability assessment based on past statistics. Reminds me of my traveling high-risk avalanche terrain in the backcountry in the winter. 75% of the time slopes under 32 degrees will not slide. Almost all the time a skied slope is a safer slope. These probability assessments are just an estimate of the probability you will be alright. Not the black and white "yes it is safe to go" we hope for when deciding to launch. These snow-covered slopes are variable after all, the weather is variable causing the snow pack - in the case of avalanche terrain. These animals are living/thinking/assessing creatures with a will of their own so they are also likely to sometimes ignore the probability assessment.

So, I will be a more sober traveler in backcountry Yellowstone/Alaska/Yukon wherever I choose to travel with, and in, the Wild - and I will probably less often be solo.

My heart goes out to the families, both human and ursus.
 
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Jackson

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Wow. That's gotta be humbling, knowing that it happened close in location to where you were. And so close in time.

I think doing a solo trip in grizzly country would be an amazing experience. I've never done more than day hikes in the GYE, but it puts you in your place and fills you with awe, knowing you're in their territory. It just sucks when things like this happen. I'm hoping they'll release a bit more information about the circumstances. It sounds like it was predatory, but it's all pretty vague at this point. Thanks for sharing the press release and trip report.
 

Artemus

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And there's the information I wasn't sure about, thanks @langutah. Definitely predatory, then. Those stories are always especially chilling to me.
Well I need more info. I'm clinging to the hope it was a defensive attack and that the sow then just took advantage of new food. We will probably never learn enough to know so it puts a wrench in the probability assessment.
 

Artemus

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Joey

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A sow grizzly with cubs of the year is a dangerous situation. Especially if at close range in a surprise encounter.
And its not uncommon for a bear to start eating something its attacked, especially when its lying dead on the ground. Its in there nature.

There may still be more to this story.

And this whole "experienced with bears" or "experienced hiker in grizzly country" is bull shit. Just because someone lives in a park and hikes a lot does not make them experienced with bears, or experienced at all. Bear encounters are random luck, and every bear is different. And experience means nothing if you surprise a sow with a cub.

I know, hike with, and associate with a lot of people who live and work in Glacier and Yellowstone. Many of them hike all the time. 99% of them have zero bear experience. Their "experience" is what they've read or been told.

Grizzlies are wild, large, apex predators that know they are the top of the food change. They can do anything they want.
 

Joey

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It makes me wonder how long it will be until canisters and bear spray are required for backpackers in all the parks with significant bear activity.
Bear canisters don't really have anything to do with a bear attack. And bear spray is useless if people don't know how to use it. Your best defense is your brain. Understanding and respecting where you are at will go along way to keep you safe. And sometimes, you still can't prevent a freak occurrence.
 

Artemus

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There may still be more to this story

Hey Joey! Thanks for weighing in. Experience as expressed in the statistics is what I mean by a probability assessment of course.

Yes there may be more information - and may be tomorrow.
 

Jackson

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Thanks for your insights, Joey. Good stuff. I guess I didn't really think much about how the bear would eat part of the kill regardless of its initial intent.

So do you think that even thought those things don't get to the root of the human-bear encounter problems that national parks will require them? Or do they know better?
 

Joey

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Hey Joey! Thanks for weighing in. Experience as expressed in the statistics is what I mean by a probability assessment of course.

Yes there may be more information - and may be tomorrow.
Sorry Art and Jackson if my replies sounded like I was attacking what you guys posted. It wasn't directed at anything you guys said. I've just had multiple conversations going about this story, and get tired of everyone assuming the hiker was experienced with bears. Really its the media that makes it sound that way.

One of my points is that experience doesn't mean you can't get attacked. I had a situation on July 4th where I did everything right (according to books and NPS), and still had an uncomfortable encounter with a bear. We all assume the risks when we hike in grizzly country. For some of us, that's part of the reason we go.
 

Joey

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So do you think that even thought those things don't get to the root of the human-bear encounter problems that national parks will require them? Or do they know better?
I don't think this incident will result in any changes to park regulations. Off course we still don't know the details to this story. Even after the next press release, you might not get the 100% truth. One of the best ways to read about these is to read the full reports after the investigation is over. Sometimes these don't get released until the following year.

It's still safer to hike in grizzly country than it is to drive your car. Its safer to sleep in grizzly country than it is in your own house.

One thing I would like to see more of, and NPS has been doing some of this, is demonstrating how to use bear spray properly. It would also be nice if they spent a little more time explaining to people how instant a bear charge can be, especially in a surprise encounter. You are dealing with a few seconds, like 2 or 3, to find and deploy your spray.
 

Joey

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The only way you will see bear canisters required in either Yellowstone or Glacier is if bears start getting food in the backcountry. Right now, both parks are doing a good job (and the backpackers) of not having these types of incidents. The bears there are not like the Yosemite bears, where they have figured things out. Part of the Yosemite problem is too many people. In Glacier, you can bring a bear canister or Ursack, but they still require you to hang it. They also have food lockers at some backcountry sites.
 

Jackson

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One of my points is that experience doesn't mean you can't get attacked.
Case in point: Timothy Treadwell. Except he's kind of a special case. Lots of bear experience, nonetheless. But I understand what you mean. You can take every precaution and still be attacked.

And I don't feel like you were attacking what we said. The media spreads so much misinformation and blames the animal involved whenever there's a deadly wildlife encounter. Almost without fail. So I definitely understand your frustration.
 
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Artemus

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And bear spray is useless if people don't know how to use it.

Well, I highly agree with this. In fact, my sweetie and I practice routinely by quick-drawing and exhausting one of our long-delayed-from-retirement cans of spray just to practice up. We have even made friends practice before heading into a Yellowstone backpack.
 
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