A brown bear mauled a hiker on an offshoot of the Bird Creek Trail south of Anchorage early Sunday, and the man escaped by scrambling up a tree, Alaska State Troopers said.
Ben Radakovich, 30 of Eagle River, was about three miles from the trail head hiking alone when he rounded a curve and met up with a bear cub.
"(The encounter) scared the cub and the cub turned around and high-tailed it out of there," said Beth Ipsen, trooper spokeswoman.
Then the sow attacked. Radakovich was wearing a backpack, which provided some protection, and carrying ski poles, which he used to fight the bear.
Ipsen said it wasn't clear whether he had time to drop and tuck his body into a ball or whether the bear first bluff-charged. But the bear attack went on for a while, she said.
During a lull, Radakovich managed to break away and climbed a nearby tree. He told troopers a rush of adrenaline propelled him to the top, maybe 30 feet up.
From the tree, he called 911 on his cellphone at 7:42 a.m. He could hear the sow grunting in the brush at first. Then it grew quiet.
Rescuers got to his spot on the Penguin Creek Trail, off the main trail, just after 9:20 a.m.. One trooper based in Girdwood was off duty and another hadn't yet started his shift, so both had to drive in from South Anchorage, Ipsen said. They met up with park rangers and hiked in together.
The trail head is off a road at about Mile 101 of the Seward Highway.
Cellphone coverage is spotty in the area. Radakovich and a dispatcher kept getting disconnected but one or the other always called back, Ipsen said. Radakovich stayed calm and Ipsen said he gave great directions about how to get to the Penguin Creek Trail. But he didn't feel able to hike back alone.
Medics from Girdwood Fire and Rescue hauled a wheeled stretcher behind an ATV and treated his wounds. By 10:49 a.m., Radakovich was in Helo-1, the trooper helicopter, which deposited him at Providence Alaska Medical Center minutes later.
He suffered a big wound on his lower back and many puncture wounds as well as scrapes and bruises to his head, neck and back, Ipsen said. A Providence spokeswoman said he was treated and released.
"The trooper acknowledged he was lucky he had that backpack on, or it could have been worse," Ipsen said.
Radakovich was carrying pepper spray, but everything happened too fast for him to use it, Ipsen said.
State Department of Fish and Game officials plan to close the Bird Creek Trail for a few days and the Penguin Creek Trail for perhaps a week, Ipsen said. Troopers spotted a bear on the trail but don't think it was the same one.
Wildlife officials looked for the sow but didn't find it, Ipsen said.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.