Trail Jogger at Glacier National Park Walks Away from Encounter With Two Grizzlies

A trail runner in Glacier National Park was lucky enough to walk away from an encounter with a grizzly bear. File photo by NPS.

A trail runner in Glacier National Park has survived an encounter with two young grizzly bears, although he's got some bite marks to show for it.

The 60-year-old jogger, Thomas Nerison, of Kalispell, Montana, was running along the Lake McDonald Valley Trail on the west side of the park Sunday morning when he heard what sounded like barking dogs and horses coming down the trail.

The jogger told rangers that he was about one to one-and-a-half miles from the Avalanche Lake trailhead about 9:45 Sunday morning when he turned around to hear what was making the noise. Mr. Neirson, who was not making any noise as he ran and who did not have any bear spray with him, told rangers he thought the bears were running from something that had startled them.

One of the bears stopped in close proximity to him and while Mr. Neirson tried to kick the bear, he fell down while doing so. He said the bear the bit him twice as he continued to kick. When the jogger managed to grab some sticks to poke at the bear, the bear lost interest in him, moved back toward the way it had come and then went uphill and away from the trail.

Mr. Neirson then walked downhill and cross country to the Going-to-the-Sun Road where he got a ride from a visitor back to his own car at the Avalanche trailhead. He then drove himself to the Kalispell Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Room for unspecified medical treatment.

Later Sunday rangers closed the trail between the junction with the Avalanche Trail and the Johns Lake Trail, per the park’s bear management policies. Park rangers are investigating the incident and based on their findings, in accordance with Glacier’s Bear Management Guidelines, park managers will determine what, if any, further actions will be taken.

The park is seeking information from anyone who may have been on the Lake McDonald Valley Trail on Sunday between 9 and 10 a.m. Please contact park headquarters at 406-888-7801, if you were on the trail or might have seen bears or dogs in the area between Johns Lake Trailhead and Avalanche Trailhead.

Running on trails and traveling alone in grizzly bear country is not recommended in Glacier. While taking a jog or a run may be good exercise, joggers and runners run the risk of surprising a bear on trails in Glacier. Trail running is discouraged as there have been an increasing number of injuries and fatalities nationwide due to runners surprising bears at close range. Park hikers, trail runners, backpackers and campers are urged to familiarize themselves with standard safety precautions to follow when in bear country.

These precautions include: Never travel alone, never travel after dark, make (loud) reoccurring noise when hiking/walking/trail running (especially near streams, brushy areas, hilltops, and blind curves), keep children close by and within sight, always be aware of local surroundings, keep observant and alert for evidence of bears and mountain lions and/or their activity.

More information about safety in bear country is available on the park’s web site.

“Make no mistake, bears are active,” stated Park Superintendent Chas Cartwrigtht. “All park visitors should be alert while bicycling or simply walking and/or driving along park roads. Running along trails is discouraged because of the potential of surprising a bear. A runner alone on a trail can inadvertently startle or frighten a bear (or mountain lion), causing it to react in a defensive or aggressive manner. Females with cubs are particularly dangerous when they venture from their dens with newborns in the spring.”

"All visitors should keep alert for any signs of bears, make their presence known and keep a safe distance from all bears that are observed," the superintendent added. "DO NOT approach bears or mountain lions under ANY circumstances."

Park managers stress that hikers who have pepper spray should always carry it while in bear country. “Be knowledgeable about how to use bear spray and have it readily accessible and not stowed away in a pack,” urged Superintendent Cartwright.

Bear spray is meant to be used in the case of imminent attacks only and is not intended to be used as a repellent. It should never be sprayed on gear (hiking and/or camping equipment) or around campsites.

“Under no circumstances should pepper spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for standard safety precautions in bear country,” the superintendent added.

This is the first bear-related injury in Glacier since August 2005. In June 1996, a 70-year-old male visitor sustained injuries from a grizzly bear while he was hiking alone on the same trail.

Park visitors are asked to report all sightings (or signs) of bears and/or mountain lion by stopping by or calling park headquarters at 406-888-7800 to report bear and mountain lion sightings as soon as possible.

Comments

The encounter between the runner and the bear was about as good as could be expected under the circumstances. Running along a trail in bear country, particularly during the spring, is asking for trouble. The bear may have been startled and then attracted to what probably appeared to be a fleeing animal.

I'm sorry, but--what an idiot. Why not just wear a t-shirt with a target on it?

I wouldn't call him an idiot, Lynn. I've run along a number of park trails and it's a wonderful experience. This gentleman certainly was fortunate, and no doubt might have fared better had he carried some bear spray or made his presence a bit louder. But I wouldn't call him an idiot.

Kurt--

I might not call him an idiot, but I think the adjective "foolish" applies. Springtime in Glacier means bears with cubs. I would not run any trail in that park during this time of year. Another adjective that applies is "lucky." Ray Bane's comments are right on.

Rick Smith

This is my father. He has the utmost respect for bears and their habitat. He simply enjoys the same kinds of places they do. He has spent thousands of hours in the back-country and has successfully avoided encounters with bears probably a dozen times. He was running on a well-traveled trail, on a Sunday morning with the intention of meeting up with a group of 5 other people from his running group. He always carries bear spray... and the only reason he didn't this time was because he was planning to be in such a large group. These bears did not have cubs... they were two young males and Grizzlies do not commonly come down that low. I wish you had as much respect for my father as he does for the bears whom he encountered on the trail. Pease think before writing a comment about someone whose kids might easily see.

Anon 6/9, here at Traveler we've tried to make it clear that we don't condone personal attacks and the use of patently offensive or abusive language. Generally, we do a darn good job of intercepting such comments and either deleting them or editing out the inappropriate content. (You can easily check that out for yourself by scrolling through the comment sections of recently posted articles.) It looks like this is a case of something slipping into the gray area. I hope you understand and don't think of us too harshly. BTW, I see that the media coverage of your father's encounter with the grizzlies is receiving generally sympathetic coverage. A good example is this article in today's Daily Inter Lake. I'm glad to hear that your father wasn't badly injured and should recover in fairly short order.

I am from the area and know the gentleman. That is a highly trafficked area of the park. I've lived here for 22 years and worked in the park and only seen one bear in that area. Though we all agree that the bear spray he normally carries would have been helpful, he really did nothing else wrong. The key point to me is that the bears were frightened of the dogs in the area (which are prohibited) and were running scared. He did the right thing by attempting to fight back, ensuring that those bears will likely retain their fear of humans. This encounter ended extremely well under the circumstances with no severe injuries to Mr. Nerison and no bears being destroyed. I'm surprised that people even feel the need to attack him at all. It isn't as though he didn't admit that carrying his spray would have been better, and he did say he was attempting to meet up with a group of people. Every local person who enters the park is fully aware of the risk involved and accepts that. He seems to be accepting of that, didn't blame the bear or say it was acting in an overly aggressive manner, so it seems that all efforts to criticize him are done by people not fully aware of his feelings or the situation. Let's just be thankful he's okay!

I think its a learning experience for all of us to express ourselves about what happened, that way we all learn and educate others.

Don't be so sensitive. I am sure the runner dude, if he still has a sense of humor, would call himself an idiot and laugh along with others mocking him. He's also a brave dude for fighting those bears. Now he has a great story to tell about the time he was an idiot dumbass who fought a bear. Yay for him!