By MARK THIESSEN | Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Two employees of an Alaska backcountry lodge startled an adult grizzly bear while running on a trail in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The bear stepped out of thick brush and mauled one woman while the other ran for help.
Gabriele Markel, 20, was recovering Wednesday at an Anchorage hospital. Her wounds, which authorities described as bites and scratches on her head, back and arm, weren’t considered life-threatening. She was upgraded to good condition from fair on Wednesday, authorities said.
Markel and a co-worker, Kaitlyn Haley, 26, of California, were running Tuesday afternoon on the Cottonwood Creek Trail near Upper Skilak Lake. They were about three-quarters of a mile from the lodge when the mauling happened.
“They surprised a bear as they were coming around a turn, basically,” said Tom Timmel, operations manager for Alaska Wildland Adventures, the company that operates the backcountry lodge in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Markel had pepper spray on her, but everything happened so fast, he said.
“Gabriele did have bear spray with her and, I think, even attempted to use it,” Timmel said. “But as it happens in these types of situations, sometimes, it was very quick and the bear was surprised.”
The grizzly quickly put Markel on the ground.
“Haley ran from the scene back to the lodge for help, the bear was still on top of Markel when Haley last saw her,” Alaska State Troopers wrote in a web posting. “Haley and several other employees ran from the lodge back to the scene of the attack armed with bear spray. As they were advancing up the trail, they saw Markel walking towards them.”
The bear, by that time, “was long gone,” Timmel said.
Lodge staff members provided immediate medical care for Markel and called for help, he said. In consultation with 911 operators, it was determined the best course of action was to take Markel by private watercraft for a 20-minute ride across Skilak Lake to the Upper Skilak Boat Landing, where a medical helicopter met them for the 70 or so mile trip to Anchorage.
Markel was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center. She declined interview requests through the Anchorage hospital.
It wasn’t immediately clear if wildlife officials would pursue the bear after the human encounter.
Steve Miller, the refuge’s assistant manager, said the trail has been temporarily closed for further investigation, which will include checking to see if there might be other determining factors for the attack, such as the bear defending an animal carcass in the area.
Salmon also are running in the nearby Cottonwood Creek, providing bears a natural food source.
He said people should make as much noise as possible when hiking.
“Fish are running, bears are along streams, streams are noisy,” Miller said. “It’s very hard for a bear that would normally get out of your way to hear you next to a stream.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said it wants to interview Markel and Haley.
It wasn’t known what prompted the attack, troopers said.
The nine staff members at the lodge, along with guests, which can number anywhere from eight to 20 people, are trained to be “bear aware,” Timmel said. They won’t use the trail Wednesday, and instead will offer different activities to tourists, he said.