As they made their way along the southern flank of Mt. Grinnell, a glacier-carved cliff that rises nearly 3,500 vertical feet from the valley floor, they fell silent, lost in the sounds of the wind and the water, the beauty of the moment. Ahead of them were the Gem and Salamander glaciers. A ribbon of water cascaded into the forest below. A river flowed into the turquoise stillness of Grinnell Lake.
Ten minutes past the falls, they ran into the bear. In a matter of minutes, they had all tumbled 30 feet down a rocky V-shaped chute, landing on a ledge beneath the trail. Jenna had scrambled away, and the grizzly was on top of Johan.
The attack had just started, and it had been going on too long. He grabbed the bear by the fur on its throat. The feeling of the coarse hair, as on a dirty dog, was unforgettable, and for a moment the animal just stared at him, two amber-brown eyes, its snout straight in his face. It showed no emotion, no fear, no anger. There were just those eyes looking down at him.
Johan considered fighting. He reached to his left for a rock. A piece of shale, it crumbled in his fist. He tucked his knees to his chest and tried to cover his head.
The bear bit again and again on his right arm. So this is what it feels like to have your flesh torn, he thought, still trying to comprehend the attack. He tussled about, trying to avoid greater injury.
"Aaagh," he screamed.
Now the bear was tugging on his back. It felt as if someone were jumping up and down on him, and he found himself growing angry. Throw it off the mountain. If only he could throw it off the mountain.
He felt a sharp pressure on the top of his neck and his head. The bear was biting into his skull, chewing into the bone. This could be it, he thought. This could be his death, and his right hand was useless. He could not push the bear away.
If only this were a movie or one of those old episodes of "Bonanza" he used to watch on TV. He'd be a stuntman, and they'd stop shooting any time.
But this was real. He'd die if he didn't make another move, so he rolled and fell again, sliding 20 feet down the slope to a small ledge and then over that and onto a narrow shelf. Right foot, left foot. He landed on his feet. He was lucky he stopped. He wouldn't have survived the next long straight drop.
He was silent. The bear stood above him, unable to reach him. It felt good to be left alone. Water flowed down his back. Cold water. He'd fallen into a small stream, runoff from yesterday's rain.
Jenna heard the bear panting as it came closer to where she lay beneath the branches of a low-lying alder. She felt woozy from her fall. She had a knot on her head. Her back ached, and her ankle was bleeding.
She tried to stay tucked in, but when the bear got close to her face, she had to push it away. It nipped at the right corner of her mouth, at her hair, her right shoulder. Each bite was quick, followed by a slight jostle.
Her screams split the morning silence like an ax.
Johan pressed himself against the mountain. There was no room to sit or lie down. He heard Jenna, but he couldn't do anything. He would remember the sound as the worst he had ever heard, and then there was nothing. All was still.
He was wet and dirty, soaked with blood and starting to shiver. The attack had lasted at most 15 minutes. He looked at his right arm and saw exposed tendons. His medical training as a physical therapist told him no major nerves or arteries had been cut. They can sew that together, he thought, and that, and that.