Alaska is known for its bear population, though most visitors to the state are lucky to even see one during their travels. For one 55-year-old hiker, however, a bear encounter quickly turned dangerous.
The unnamed hiker was in Denali National Park at the time of the incident on August 24, 2021. He had been hiking alone near the Thoroughfare Pass area, which is just to the south of Park Road, when he was attacked.
According to the National Park Service, the hiker had been making his way through very dense fog when he encountered a grizzly bear with two young cubs. The hiker states that the adult bear charged at him from about 100 feet (60 m) away, at which point he managed to deploy his bear spray to try to fend off the attack.
While the bear was able to knock the hiker down and bite him multiple times after being sprayed, it soon ran away. After the incident, the hiker walked himself approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the Eielson Visitor Center.
There, off-duty medical professionals who happened to be on a personal trip to the park provided the injured hiker with medical attention. Park rangers soon arrived and helped transport the injured hiker to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
Denali Bear Attack Incident Analysis
Bear attacks in Alaska and other recreation areas are one of the biggest fears for many hikers. Thankfully, bear attacks from grizzly bears are very rare and deaths from them are even more uncommon.
For example, according to the National Park Service, there have been only 8 deaths from bear attacks in Yellowstone National Park since it was established in 1872. Any death is a tragic one, though it’s important to point out that bear attacks are not as common as people think.
The Park Service notes that more people have died from drowning (121 deaths) and burns (21 deaths) in Yellowstone during that same period. Put another way, the risk of being killed by a bear in a place like Yellowstone is similar to that of being killed by lightning, a falling tree, or an avalanche.
With regards to the recent bear attack in Denali, it’s difficult to know why a bear decided to attack.
The most likely reason was that the adult bear was surprised and startled by the hiker as he was walking through dense brush at the time of the incident. The hiker made a smart decision to carry bear spray in an accessible place, though he was at a heightened risk for an animal encounter because he was hiking alone.
When in bear country, it is generally better to hike in groups. Hiking in groups usually makes more noise, which reduces the risk of startling a bear from close range. Furthermore, anyone in bear country should strongly consider carrying bear spray (unless it is prohibited by local regulations.
This quick video from Parks Canada offers good insight into bear safety and the proper use of bear spray:
Ultimately, what’s important is that the hiker managed to get out of the park without serious injuries. The Park Service decided to temporarily close the zones where the hiker was attacked to other visitors. However they have stated that they will not search for the ebar due to the defensive nature of the attack.