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Denali Closes Two Backcountry Zones Following Grizzly Sow Encounter

August 1 2004 at 1:12 AM
roger  (Login dipper)

Response to July 2004 Accidents/Rescues

Officials at Denali National Park and Preserve have temporarily closed two backcountry zones to visitors after a solo hiker was slightly injured in a rare confrontation with a grizzly sow with a cub, they said Friday.
They also sharply curtailed hiking and other activities around the Eielson Visitor Center because a second sow, hanging around with two cubs in the center's vicinity, has been acting strangely, occasionally charging vehicles as well as the Eielson facility itself, according to park authorities.
The sow at the visitor center, 66 miles into the park, has not injured anyone but nevertheless concerns park managers more than the grizzly that pawed the hiker, said Denali spokeswoman Kris Fister.
"The sow has been around that (Eielson) area all summer," Fister said. "The biologists want to know, why all of a sudden has she become erratic? Why all of a sudden is she acting like this, and what's stressing her out?"
The bear that injured the hiker, a 34-year-old Norwegian, accompanied her spring cub and appears to have reacted normally, Denali officials said. It may have been surprised by the solo hiker and another man walking alone earlier the same day.
Nils Hammerstedt, of Oslo, encountered a grizzly with a spring cub at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday while walking through brush and low hills near Glacier Creek, several miles southwest of the Eielson center, according to the park.
He had entered a different part of the backcountry on Friday and couldn't be reached, park officials said.
Hammerstedt had a backcountry permit and had been camping alone in the area for a few nights when he met up with the bear and her cub, said Fister. Hammerstedt and the sow appeared to see each other at the same time.
Denali National Park advises all visitors on how to behave around bears, even if they come no closer than a half-mile. Those who hike and camp in the park's 41 backcountry units receive even more extensive bear education as a requirement for getting a permit, park managers said.
The general rule is that hikers should let a bear know of their presence by waving their arms and speaking to the bear while backing slowly away if they encounter one.
Hammerstedt apparently followed the instructions well, Fister said.
"He talked loud, backed away slowly, raised his hands," she said. The sow, however, kept coming, "not rapidly, just consistently."
When the sow closed the distance from Hammerstedt to 10 feet, the man dropped to his knees and elbows, curled into a fetal position and covered his neck with his hands, she said.
That, too, is standard advice, although Denali rangers generally say that "playing dead" should be the last resort, tried only when a grizzly is about to make contact. Hammerstedt may have dropped prematurely, Fister said.

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