Skip to main content

For the second time in less than a week, a grizzly that was startled into action while feasting on berries and protecting its young attacked a hiker in Banff National Park.

At about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, two men hiking about 25 kilometres south of the town of Banff found themselves face to face with a sow and its cub.

The mother charged at the man in the lead on the trail, knocking him to the ground, chief park warden Ian Syme said. Although severely injured from bites to one hand and arm, the man managed to yank bear spray from his pack to defend himself. The bear fled along the trail, where it encountered the second man, who also used spray to scare it off into the bush. The pair then hiked at least five kilometres to a lodge, where they notified wardens. The injured man was taken to a Calgary hospital and was in stable condition.

The men's identities have not been released.

"The bear spray probably saved a far worse outcome than this," Mr. Syme said.

As a precaution, five other hikers in the area known as the Bryant Creek valley were ushered to shelter for the night and taken out by helicopter yesterday morning.

Banff officials described the incident as a "surprise encounter" that caused the grizzly to charge to protect its cub. Because the incident appears to be self-defence, wardens have no plans to track the bear.

That was also the case in a grizzly attack elsewhere in the park last Saturday. A woman hiking near Lake Minnewanka, about 25 kilometres from where the latest attack took place, found herself between a grizzly and her cubs. The hiker tried to hide beside a fallen tree, but the surprised bear swatted at her and knocked her unconscious. When she awoke, the bears were gone, and officials waved off tracking.

Bleeding and shocked, the woman hiked to get help. About 30 outdoor enthusiasts were also removed from the area.

Lured by an unusually plump berry crop because of heavy spring rain, grizzly and black bears have moved down from the alpine in the mountainous park and run into nature lovers out for a hike or bike.

The chance of encountering a bear in the backcountry is high at this time of year. From August through September, bears concentrate on feeding to lard on as much weight as possible before heading into dens for the winter, Mr. Syme said.

But attacks can happen at any time.

In early June, a grizzly mauled jogger Isabelle Dubé to death on a trail in Canmore, just east of the Banff park gates. Wildlife officials shot the bear. Last week, a black bear killed a 69-year-old man who was picking plums in Manitoba.

Officials say there is nothing unusual going on in Banff this year, and people shouldn't avoid the backcountry; just be smart about using it.

Officials advise that people hike in groups. After a bear encounter this year, hikers around Lake Louise were told to stay in groups of no fewer than six. Other precautions include carrying bear spray and watching for fresh tracks and droppings. Above all, hikers should make noise so they don't startle bears.

"We seem to have this phobia about making noise," Mr. Syme said. "If people made noise in both cases [the attacks on Wednesday and Saturday]things would have turned out different."

The Bryant Creek valley will be closed for at least a week given the good berry crop, officials said. The area around Lake Minnewanka will remain closed at least through the long weekend, Parks Canada spokeswoman Sheri Tarrington said.

Those bypassing the closings could face fines of $5,000.

Interact with The Globe