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Two hikers injured by grizzly

by JIM MANN The Daily Inter Lake
| August 26, 2005 1:00 AM

A man and his teenage daughter were seriously injured by a grizzly bear with cubs Thursday in Glacier National Park, and they were further injured in attempting to escape the bear, falling down a steep rocky area below the Grinnell Glacier Trail.

The incident prompted a long and complicated rescue involving a "short-haul" airlift by ALERT helicopter out of Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Both the man and his daughter, out-of-state visitors whose names were not released, were in critical condition at the Kalispell hospital Thursday night.

The encounter occurred at about 10 a.m. near Thunderbird Falls, roughly two miles from the head of Lake Josephine in the Many Glacier Valley.

Park officials say the man and his daughter surprised the bear from about five feet away. With two cubs nearby, the bear attacked both hikers.

"To avoid a continued attack, the visitors apparently rolled off the trail, falling approximately 30 to 50 feet down a steep rocky area below the trail," a park press release states.

"The only confirmed injuries I know of is they sustained bite wounds during the encounter with the bear," said Glacier Public Affairs Officer Amy Vanderbilt.

Nobody witnessed the attack, but another hiker came upon the scene soon after.

"Somebody came upon the scene, and that was the individual who ran down the trail and notified a ranger naturalist who was with a group of people," Vanderbilt said. The ranger reported the attack by radio.

At about 11:30 a.m., four rangers were dispatched aboard Minute Man Helicopter out of West Glacier, and more rangers were sent from Many Glacier. The first rangers to reach the victims used technical climbing equipment to lower themselves below the trail, Vanderbilt said.

Because of their location well below the trail, ALERT helicopter was called in to perform the "short haul" rescue, involving a litter tethered below the helicopter. Rangers assisted in the effort.

But reaching the victims, stabilizing them and performing the extraction took time. The man didn't arrive at the Kalispell hospital until about 4 p.m. His daughter arrived at about 5:30 p.m.

"They apparently retained consciousness the entire time," Vanderbilt said.

Jim Oliverson, a spokesman for the hospital, said the two were in critical condition but could not elaborate on the nature of their injuries.

"She was less severely injured than he was, and that's all I know," he said. "The fact that they were short-hauled out of there indicates that they were in an area where it wasn't easy to get them out."

Immediately after getting the report of the encounter, rangers closed the trail to Grinnell Glacier, typically one of the park's busier hiking routes. Some connecting trails were also closed.

Fred Vanhorn, Glacier's acting chief ranger, said that after the rescue was complete, rangers would remain in the area, investigating the scene and patrolling for the bears.

No management decisions have been made about the bears. But in similar mauling incidents involving female bears with cubs - and no history of aggressive behavior - park officials have taken no management action.

Three people were injured in two separate encounters with a grizzly bear and its cub on the Scalplock Lookout Trail in August 1999. Those attacks were determined to be "defensive," with the bear reacting naturally in encounters with perceived threats. No action was taken against the bears.

The last mauling fatality in Glacier involved a hiker who encountered a sow known as "Chocolate Legs" with two cubs in the Two Medicine Valley. Craig Dahl, a park concessions employee, was killed and mostly consumed by the three bears on the Scenic Point Trail in May 1998.

Those bears were determined to be aggressive with no fear of humans. After an extensive investigation, the decision was made to destroy them. During a two-month period, rangers hunted and killed the bears.

One bear attack occurred in Glacier last year. On May 16, jogger Gary Smith was bitten by a bear on a trail near Sun Point. On Sept. 27, 2003, Kathryn Hiestand of St. Mary and Browning resident Kelsy Running Wolf encountered a grizzly near the Piegan Pass Trail. Hiestand was hit from behind by the bear and pushed into a fir tree. Then the bear knocked Running Wolf to the ground and bit her on the shoulder.

When the bear turned to Hiestand, she repelled it with a blast of pepper spray. The two hiked six miles to the Many Glacier Ranger Station, and were transported to Browning Hospital, where they were treated and released.

There have been 10 fatalities officially attributed to bears in Glacier's 95-year history. According to Oliverson, ALERT Helicopter has transported 29 bear mauling victims in Northwest Montana during its 27 years in operation.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by e-mail at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.