Alone in the depths of Alaska, running on no sleep and low on ammo, a man spent a sleepless week warding off repeat visits from a grizzly bear. Luckily, the lone camper was eventually rescued – but for several sleepless days, it’s safe to say he was wondering whether his experience was going to have a happy ending.
The unnamed man was staying at a remote mining camp 64 kilometers (40 miles) from the isolated Alaskan town of Nome earlier this month, according to the US Coast Guard. On July 16, a crew from the Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak flew over the area on a routine flight and noticed something unusual: an SOS sign on top of a remote shack (pictured below). They circled back to the camp to find a person waving both arms in the air.
Upon landing, the crew found a man with chest bruising and an injured leg who’d just been through a week-long standoff with a grizzly.
“We don’t really come across people in the middle of nowhere. He was kind of struggling. When we came around, he was on his hands and knees waving a white flag,” Lieutenant AJ Hammac, a 35-year-old co-pilot who rescued the man, told the New York Times (NYT)
“He definitely looked like he had been out there for a while,” he said.
The man – who rescuers said was in his late 50s or early 60s – said a bear had been stalking him for a week, coming back to his cabin each night. Although he had a pistol to defend himself, he had just two shots left and was suffering from sleep deprivation.
"At some point, a bear had dragged him down to the river," explained Lieutenant Commander Jared Carbajal, which is when he’s believed to have sustained his injuries. The man was taken back to Nome where he was treated for his injuries.
Grizzly bears, quite clearly, are one animal you don’t want to mess with. Despite weighing up to 600 kilograms (1,500 pounds), they can run in short bursts up to 64 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour), which is faster than Usain Bolt’s 100-meter sprint world record.
If you find yourself coming to contact with a grizzly, it’s a very bad idea to run (swimming and climbing a tree will be equally useless given the skills of this species). Instead, the National Park Service instructs people to simply play dead
“Leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD,” the NPS advises. “Lay ?at on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.”
If you’re out in grizzly territory, it’s also advised to carry bear pepper spray.
Serious bear attacks are relatively rare in North American, but not unheard of. According to a 2019 report, cited by the NYT, 68 people in Alaska were hospitalized and ten people died as a result of bear attacks between 2000 to 2017.