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Denali NP Officials Puzzled Over Climber's Claim of Burying Ice Ax Into Back of Grizzly

August 24 2004 at 12:27 AM
roger  (Login dipper)

Response to August 2004 Accidents/Rescues

Roberto Cataldo is headed home to Italy, and officials at Denali National Park and Preserve are preparing to reopen a backcountry area near Kantishna where the 29-year-old adventurer reported fighting off a grizzly with an ice ax earlier this month.
A lot of people are still wondering exactly what happened in the Denali backcountry Aug. 2 when Cataldo claimed he drove off a grizzly by burying the point of an ice ax in its back.
Denali wildlife photographer Bill Watkins has posted photographs of an encounter between Cataldo and another bear on his Web site and offered his opinion as a veteran bear watcher on how the encounter could have been avoided.
Watkins also has reported that he met Cataldo the day after the Italian claimed to have made contact with the bear near Kantishna.
"She lightly clawed his left arm, tearing his blue, long-sleeve undershirt, leaving him with superficial scratches,'' Watson wrote. "He turned and hit the bear with his ice axe, burying it into her shoulder. She reared back and roared, and then took off with her cubs with the ice axe still buried into her shoulder.''
That's pretty much the same story Cataldo later told park officials, according to Denali ranger Pat Navaille and bear biologist Pat Owen.
Yet despite overflights and ground patrols of the area where the incident was reported to have taken place, they have found no sign of a bear with an ice ax in its back, or an ax, or even an obviously injured sow with spring cubs, as reported by Cataldo.
"I don't know what happened,'' Navaille said. "I'd be interested in knowing what happened. I think no one really knows other than him and possibly a bear.''
Navaille said Cataldo showed him an ice ax said to be identical to the one stuck in the bear. Cataldo even described how he struck the animal and buried the ax right up to its head.

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