Jan 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm #1283754
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On July 23, 2011, Josh Berg and six teenagers were hiking in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains, a remote section of wilderness south of Denali National Park, on day 24 of a 30-day expedition with the National Outdoors Leadership School. The boys had set out as an independent student group that afternoon and expected be without a NOLS instructor for much of the remaining trip. Gaining that independence—a major achievement for any NOLS group—was why Berg, who is 17, returned to Alaska in 2011 after completing a similar NOLS course a year earlier. Berg was acting as team leader when he and three other students were mauled by a grizzly bear hours after leaving camp. This is Berg's story, as told to Madison Kahn.
Jan 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm #1820335
Two of the boys had bear spray, which is essential, but they didn’t use it because it was buried in their packs.
Only 2? Out of 7? I would expect more (a lot more) from NOLS. But maybe this isn't the normal routine and hopefully Mike C. or Ryan H. will respond.
On the WTS courses, everyone carries spray and it must be easily accessible. No exceptions. We even periodically do checks in camp when the packs are off.Jan 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm #1820361
Bear spray buried? I always have it handy – attached to my belt – and have actually hiked through areas with my hand close to the trigger if we came across fresh scat.
To add to what Chris said – I find it irresponsible that bear spray was not carried by every student.Jan 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm #1820409
From the reports I've read they wouldn't have had time to use bear spray or a gun anyway.
An incident like this gets reported thousands of times. It's still being reported. +nols +alaska +teens +grizzly gets 1,470,000 results.
The last page of that report says "walking in a stream is risky." Well, maybe. But for every person killed by a bear when walking in a stream there are likely dozens of people killed by drowning while walking in a stream. As a fisherman and backpacker I'm walking in streams loaded with salmon frequently in Alaska and I'm not going to stop.
It also recommends carrying your spray in your hand and yelling every three or four seconds.
For me, I'm not going to hike around in a big mob that is continuously yelling. I'll encounter less bears, but I'll also encounter less of virtually every other animal out there and it will ruin my wilderness experience. A hand with bear spray in it is a hand I can't use for other things, like grabbing a branch or using a hiking pole to prevent a fall, falls being far more likely to be my demise than a bear.
This is Backpackinglight. To me it doesn't make sense for every person in a group to carry a piece of gear that is so unlikely to make a life or death difference. If it DOES make sense, shouldn't we be carrying anti-human pepper spray whenever it's legal? People are much more likely to kill or seriously injure us than bears.
I do think that it might make sense to carry a couple cans of spray in a big group in grizzly country, and if one carries bear spray it makes sense to carry it where you can get at it right now, and to have practiced beforehand how to draw and fire it.
Of course, like any other piece of gear it's "hike your own hike."Jan 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm #1820418
I'm with Bruce on this. Hmmm, the Alaskans agree on how to behave in Alaska?
As he said,
1) "hike your own hike" – I wouldn't fault anyway for equipping everyone (or no one)with bear spray.
2) bear attacks are SO down down the list of fatalities compared to exposure, avalanches, pre-existing medical conditions, and human-on-human violence.
3) despite (2), it gets SO over-reported, because, well, it's a very capitivating story. How many people get brought into the woods by their BFs only to killed and left there? I guarantee you its greater than bear fatalities nationally, likely also in Alaska. Heck, we had a decade where taking women into the woods and stalking them with bow and arrow rivalled bear deaths.
to which I'd add:
4) there weren't any fatalities!!! "Minivan with Alaskan soccer team has fender-bender, results in one broken arm, two lost teeth and a torn scalp." Why don't you get excited about that? It happens more in my town. It happens MUCH more in your town.
Bruce goes quietly and I'm cool with that. For him. Really I am. I've got young kids, I saw 5 griz the year I got my iPod. I don't do that anymore. And I make noise. Noise (0 grams), not spray (300 grams), not guns (3,200 grams).
But "hike your own hike."Jan 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm #1820420
I trust you two don't backpack in grizz territory.Jan 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm #1820425
There are far, FAR fewer people driving minivans to soccer practice v.s. backpacking in the Alaskan wilderness.
I love these statistics, no matter how many times the same ones are re-posted. Again. And again.Jan 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm #1820426
USA Duane HallParticipant
@hikerduaneLocale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
I think this gets people going because they see and read about violence in whatever city they live in and can deal with that. Bear/grizz encounters are very foreign, they don't know how to act and with it making the news gets more people going. I go solo bping mostly and the ladies at work are always asking if I am worried about bears. Maybe in AK.
DuaneJan 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm #1820429
I don't carry spray in my home area, mostly because black bears don't scare me much. Grizzly country is a completely different situation.
If you go out on your own, sure, don't carry spray if you don't see a need. My issue with this case is that it was an institutional trip.
If you send your kids out on a Scout trip canoeing, and the troop only gives 1 PFD to every 3 kids, and 1 drowns…..Jan 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm #1820430
Good point Duane.
Here is Skurka with bear spray handy (in AK)Jan 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm #1820432Jan 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm #1820433
IIRC, that's the griz Andrew scared the sh*t out of. :-)Jan 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm #1820434
@davecLocale: Crown of the Continent
There were several articles in the Alaska Dispatch over the summer which did a much better job discussing the incident.
My take: they may have made a few mistakes, but encounters like that are part of the probability of hiking with Grizzlies. Even if the point guy had spray on his shoulder strap, I'd say there's at least a 60% chance he wouldn't have gotten it fast enough. If that fish and game guy was in the same area, he probably would have been hiking up the creek too. Often the only practical route.Jan 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm #1820437
I fully agree the first guy wouldn't have gotten to his spray in time if it was as close as described. But if he yelled "bear" like he said, the other guys should've had enough warning to get to theirs. Oh yeah, they didn't have any. :-)Jan 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm #1820438
'Even if the point guy had spray on his shoulder strap, I'd say there's at least a 60% chance he wouldn't have gotten it fast enough.'
Three were mauled. If the bear spray had been handy, it may have reduced it to one.Jan 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm #1820444
@balzaccomLocale: Wine Country
Pretty easy to sit in judgement at this point
So how many of us have dome something at least as risky as walking up a creek in Grzzly country?
Instead of explaining how much smarter than those kids we are—it would be a lot more interesting to hear about our mistakes.
Like the time I climbed out on the South Face of Cathedral Peak to see what it would be like to climb that last summit block. And I didnt' realize just exactly how exposed I was (1500 feet, straight down) until my climbing partner saw me, turned absolutely white, and asked me, in a very quiet and calm voice to please come back onto the ledge and get a rope on. I did.
And then started shakingJan 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm #1820452
>"I trust you two don't backpack in grizz territory."
I cut my teeth BPing with black bear in California.
Now, I and my family ONLY backpack in brown bear territory (plus, actually a larger number of blackies). Cause, what else is there within 1,000 miles? I guess we could fly to the Aleutians and contend only with the ground squirrels and foxes, but we haven't.Jan 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm #1820454
"If you send your kids out on a Scout trip canoeing, and the troop only gives 1 PFD to every 3 kids, and 1 drowns….."
Completely different situation. Scouts drown frequently. How many have been killed by bears? None?
If every person going into grizzly country needs bear spray, shouldn't they each have a sat. phone? It's orders of magnitude more likely to save a life.
It's important to have some idea of the odds of a bad event occurring and the likelihood of preventing said event with a given gear item. It's risk assessment. As we all know, it's a huge part of backpacking light. It's always easy to think "I should have had insurance" after an accident occurs, but we can't be fully covered for every conceivable accident, we can't afford it.
The real reason this made huge news is that it was such a rare event, and that it involved a bear.Jan 5, 2012 at 6:03 pm #1820455
>"Instead of explaining how much smarter than those kids we are—it would be a lot more interesting to hear about our mistakes."
Oh, I wasn't saying I'm smarter than them at all. I can easily imagine it going down the same way.
But I like Paul's idea of analyzing our own mistakes instead of someone else's.
We were skiing up a CA mountain in touring X-C skiis. Going fine, long schlep, then on a wind-blown traverse, my edgeless skiis slipped and I was sliding down a long slope that lead to a much steeper slope. No ice axe. No self-arrest poles.
The pointest thing I had was the tip of my touring pole, but one wrist was in the strap. So with the opposite hand I held the basket to the snow, pulled with the strapped wrist and tried to get as much weight as possible onto the pole tip. It was working, then my butt hit a bump, the tip popped out and I had to start over again. It worked and when I came to a stop, I wiggled that tip in deeper and deeper before kicking one step, then another. . .
All the time, in my mind, the Rainier Mountaineering Instructor from my glacier travel class was yelling, "Keep trying, keep trying, get that point in!"
So now I take test falls (in safe spots) on a slope and repeat throughout the day. Once the sun hits it, the slope is often safer than I imagined. But when well below freezing, and I like a solid self-arrest option with me. Or I stay off steep slopes.
Editted to repeat my previous griz mistake: No tunes in bear country! Seeing 5 in a year is too many for me. Keeping my wits about me and yakking it up when near water, berries and poor sight lines keeps it down to about one sighting a year.Jan 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm #1820456
Bruce, my point wasn't the situation…it's the lack of preparedness by an institution you put your safety in the hands of. It seems like people are forgetting that NOLS is a school.
These weren't a group of guys out playing in the woods for fun. They were paying students/clients on an educational course.
Assume you're a guide. A client pays you to take them out in grizzly country. You know the statistics on attacks and how to mitigate the risk. Your insurance company knows this as well, and expects you to manage the risks appropriately. You ignore the risk and your client gets mauled. Do you think your insurance company would continue to protect you, or drop you in an instant?
I don't think the rarity of the attack had to do with it making big news. I think it's more likely because it happened on a NOLS course.
Anyway, unless someone from NOLS comes along and responds I'll leave it at that.Jan 5, 2012 at 6:08 pm #1820458
When you time is up, it's up. No matter if you are 7 or 70. People die tragic, bizarre deaths. I hope to go in my sleep. Be alert, mindful and try to use common sense. But nobody gets out of here alive.Jan 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm #1820468
>"I hope to go in my sleep."
Unlike your passenger who will be screaming and grasping the dashboard?Jan 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm #1820471
"…It seems like people are forgetting that NOLS is a school."
Is somebody forgetting that?
"Be alert, mindful and try to use common sense. But nobody gets out of here alive."
There you go.Jan 5, 2012 at 6:38 pm #1820473
@cameronLocale: The WOODS
I've been thinking about why people are so scared of bears compared to other things much more likely to kill them like lightning etc.
I think its because bears are so unpredictable. You're only in danger of drowning near water and lightning is only a danger at specific times. Bears may be less of a threat statistically but they are the only threat thats always present (at least potentially).
My main question relating to NOLs is this. Why given the potential liablity of minors getting hurt on a NOLS trip did they not give everyone bear spray? It just seems like a no brainer way to cover your backside from lawyers. Also if bearspray isn't available why bother with it? If they carried the stuff someone should hav expained that you only have seconds to respond to a bear and it better be handy.
Edit – Good point that we've all made mistakes. Cloest I came to dying in the backpacking had nothing to do with bears. I almost drown on a really, really, really stupid kayaking fiasco in CA. Did I mention we were stupid?Jan 5, 2012 at 6:41 pm #1820475
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
When that event first happened, I remember reading that the kids did have bear spray but they got trampled and mauled before they could pull it out and use it.
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