Solo Backpacker Fatally Mauled By Grizzly In Denali National Park

A solo backpacker was fatally mauled by a grizzly along the Toklat River in Denali National Park. NPS file photo of the general area of the attack.

A solo backpacker along the Toklat River in Denali National Park and Preserve has been fatally mauled by a grizzly bear, according to park officials, who added that it is believed to be the first fatal mauling in the park's history.

A wallet was found near the kill site, but park officials on Saturday were waiting to make positive identification of the victim and notify next of kin before releasing the backpacker's name or home town.

The mauling was discovered Friday afternoon after three day hikers came across a backpack along the river roughly 3 miles south of the Toklat River Rest Area.

"Upon further investigation, they saw evidence of a violent struggle, including torn clothing and blood. They immediately hiked back to the rest area and notified the NPS staff of the findings at approximately 5:30 p.m.," park spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said Saturday.

"Park rangers launched a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft from park headquarters at 8 p.m. Searchers on the aircraft located the scene at 8:35 p.m. At least one grizzly bear was still at the site, although there may have been multiple bears," she added in a release. "The bear(s) moved away when the helicopter approached and landed. Two rangers on board the helicopter got out and confirmed the location of the victim’s remains."

According to the park spokeswoman, the rangers believe a grizzly attacked the backpacker near the river's open braided gravel bar, "although the bear subsequently dragged the remains to a more secluded, brushy cache site."

Due to waning light Friday evening and the presence of bears at the scene, rangers decided to wait until Saturday to recover the remains.

The area where the attack occurred is described by park officials as being "known for its classic mountain scenery and quick access to large expanses of alpine tundra deep in the Alaska Range. You are surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Alaska Range, but views of Denali are only possible from the highest ridges. This is a popular unit with a single primary access corridor and very open terrain. Expect to see other hiking parties at some point during your trip. Wear appropriate footwear because long walks on the gravel bar can be hard on your feet and ankles."

Park officials don't think there are other registered backpackers in the immediate vicinity. An emergency closure has been put in place, prohibiting all hiking and camping in that backcountry unit until further notice.

Wildlife biologists estimate that roughly 12 grizzly bears have been residing in the vicinity of the kill site this summer.

All backpackers in the park receive mandatory ‘Bear Aware’ training prior to receiving a backcountry permit, including a 30-minute safety video, a safety briefing from the backcountry ranger staff, and all backpackers are required to carry a Bear Resistant Food Container.

More details on this fatal incident were expected to be be released as the investigation continues.

Comments

Please do not go out and seek revenge against what the bear was only doing naturally. We just don't know if the hiker provoked the bear or bears by inadvertantly coming between a sow and her cubs, or did he get too close to a stashed kill, or did he just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Whatever the cause, don't apply cruel human traits to an animal which was probably just doing what he was raised to do - kill prey in order to survive.

Does the mandatory Bear Aware training include the caution against backpacking solo? That seems to me have been the first terrible mistake. Bannf National Park restricts hiking to parties of six or more in grizzly bear territory. Park staff monitor trailheads and fine offenders in prime grizzly season on such trails.

Hiking alone is always going to be a problem, because people who love the serenity of hiking are not going to wait until they can find someone to hike with. What happened with the kids last year is proof that a bear will attack whether you are alone or with others.

Other reports said the body was dragged into the brush, and I will assume that happened for consumption reasons. Most bears will attack and then leave the victim once they are no longer a threat. This bear will be put down if they can identify it. A camera was recovered showing photo's of bears. Assumption is that he got too close was mauled and partially consumed. It will be interesting if they can find a weapon or bear spray. Even if they do, most will have a split second to use it.

Philiosophically, I tend to agree with you, but if the bear cached the body, it was looking at the human as food and cannot be left alive in an area with human hikers. This is super rare in grizzlies. I am a biologist who has lived and worked in Alaska, and have encountered grizzlies before, once along the Toklat.

I completely understand your point of view, but disagree with the concept - the bear is on HIS turf, humans are "guests". Follow the established rules (agreed to before the hike was ever allowed) or suffer the consequences. The photos show it was NOT a sudden encounter with tragic results, but a lengthy observation of a wild animal about which he had been warned, and yet failed to heed said warning. Natural logical consequences.

The efforts to afford a close (safe) encounter with the bears that live in the Denali Preserve, while allowing the unmatchable views of one of our Nations most spectacular parks, should not be eliminated. When you undertake such an experience the Park Rangers do everything possible to prepare/educate the backpackers. It’s the responsibility of the backpacker to stay out of the way of the bears, not to interfere in their world. People make mistakes, bears will take advantage.


My husband & I, with another hiker, backpacked that unit during the 1980’s. We followed the training we received in the “Bear Aware” briefing required before we received our permit to enter the area.


We did encounter grizzlies but they ignored us. That’s how it’s supposed to work. That hike will remain one of our most memorable backpack trips from our hiking days.


I hope the National Parks & especially Denali Nat’l Park, do not withdraw the opportunity to observe our parks up close & personal because of one unfortunate backpackers fatal mistakes. Rest in peace fellow nature lover.

That is a very wise policy they have in Banff. I am surprised that a National Park would allow solo hikers in what is well-known bear country. It is a policy which needs changing stat. We are too quick to 'kill' any wildlife that comes into the ever widening human territory with little regard as to why they are there (try hunger and decreasing habitat thanks to us), and too many are too quick to want to kill them in their territory. Seems like an unfair game with the result being a slowly diminishng wildlife for which the human race will be the poorer. One need ony hike the empty forests of industrialized Europe to understand how sad and empty their 'forests' now are.

Unfortunately, there are some very, sad to say, bush-ignorant people in today's world. To seek revenge on a predator for what ranks as foolishness on the part of a solo hiker just compounds the stupidity.