TOP SECRET ANIMAL ATTACK FILES
Special Report filed by AAf Correspondent: Scott Tingley
from The Calgary Herald
Grady Semmens, Calgary Herald
Thursday, 31 August 2000
Next year, and every year after, Stephen Miles will hang up his hiking boots as soon as the buffalo berries bloom on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
The 28-year-old says everyone should do the same or run the risk of coming head-to-head with 350-kilograms of snarling grizzly bear. Miles met bear. Bear wasn't happy to have its berry munching disturbed.
"I shouldn't have been there. I should have waited until after the first frost, until the berries are dead. It's just not worth it," Miles said.
"There's nothing you can do to prepare for something like that. They're just too big and too fast."
Miles spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday about being mauled by a grizzly while he and friend Jeff Fortin were hiking the Skogan Pass trail in Kananaskis Country, Sunday.
It was the second grizzly attack this month in what is turning out to be a hazardous season for hikers and mountain bikers. A bumper berry crop is bringing the bears down into popular recreation areas to fatten up for winter.
Miles' right arm is in a bandage. His right leg, head and one of his shoulders have dozens of stitches, and he sits in a wheelchair. But he still considers himself lucky after his brush with the bear that could have torn him to shreds.
It was 11 a.m., not even an hour after Miles and Fortin left their car at the trailhead near the Nakiska ski hill, when they came around a bend and surprised two grizzlies in the middle of the trail.
One of the bears immediately charged the men.
"I could see his eyes, he was so close," Miles said.
It ran past Miles, who tripped over a rock, and after Fortin, ripping his backpack off which allowed him time to dive into the bushes and play dead.
Then, in only a few seconds, it ran back and dug its teeth into Miles' arm as he desperately tried to stay as still and quiet as possible.
"I've been camping and hiking most of my life and that's what I've always been told: Don't fight a grizzly," said Miles, an avid hiker who recently moved to Calgary from Eastern Canada.
As he attempted to curl into a ball, the bear bit down on Miles' arm and held it until he stopped moving. It then took bites on his head, shoulder and buttocks as Fortin, lying just five feet away, watched in horror.
"It's not something you can describe," said Fortin, 26.
"I had the unfortunate experience of watching the whole thing. All I could wonder was how he was going to get through it. And then there's always the fear that the bear's going to turn around and come after you."
Once he was completely still, Miles said the bear wandered off, leaving him lying dazed and bloody on the trail.
"I knew I wasn't going to die as long as I stayed still," he said.
"I knew if I didn't try and fight him he'd go away and he did."
The two men then bandaged his wounds and Fortin ran back down the trail, returning barely 10 minutes later with help. Miles was rushed to Foothills Hospital where he is still recovering from his injuries.
Parks officials have closed numerous trails and are still trying to track down the bears that mauled Miles and Pierre Richard, 21, who was attacked while mountain biking near Canmore Nordic Centre Aug. 15.
"We're telling people they have to be extremely cautious if they go out right now. To make lots of noise, travel in groups and phone ahead to make sure the trail they're going on is safe," said Alberta Environment spokeswoman Catherine Hart.
Conservation officers are awaiting DNA results from the bear's hair to confirm it was a grizzly and have set traps to try and catch both bears so they can determine if they should be relocated.
Park wardens in Banff are also keeping their eyes on five grizzlies, including an aggressive sow and two cubs, in the Lake Minnewanka area.
They have closed nearby Two Jack campground and two hiking trails and issued bear warnings on several others in the park.
"We're taking precautions because we want to make sure things are safe both for people and to ensure the health of the bears," Huculak said. "This is an important time for them to feed before they go into hibernation and we want to make sure that they are able to do this."
Hart said mountain trails will likely become safer in a few weeks as berries ripen in higher elevations.
If they're found, Miles said he hopes the bears will be left alone and that other hikers won't learn the about the risks of going into bear country during berry-feeding season the hard way. "I was in his territory. That's where he eats and we should leave him alone," he said.
"I should have stayed home until after the berries are gone. The trail will always be there but the bears won't."
For Banff information call (403) 673-3985 and in Kananaskis call (403) 760-1305.
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