By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Editor-in-Chief
BIG SKY – A mountain biker is in critical but stable condition at Billings Clinic trauma center after a grizzly bear attack in Big Sky, Montana, yesterday afternoon.
Gallatin County officials received a report at approximately 1:10 p.m. on Memorial Day that the biker, a male Big Sky resident in his 60s whose name has not yet been released and who was riding alone, had been attacked by a bear on the Fish Camp Trail in Spanish Peaks Mountain Club community west of Big Sky.
“It looks like a surprise encounter,” said Morgan Jacobsen, spokesperson for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “This kind of behavior is normal for grizzly bears.”
Following the attack, the victim crawled up to South Fork Road where Joe Jacobs found him on his way to the Yellowstone Club.
“I saw [the biker] was sitting down in a cross-legged position … and thought they were just somebody actually taking a break having some water,” said Jacobs, a finish carpenter who lives in Bozeman. “As I got closer they put their arms up and I could see … that his arms were bloody and there was something not quite right.”
When Jacobs pulled over he saw the victim was badly injured and called 911. Unable to speak, the biker tried to communicate what happened by writing in the gravel along the road so Jacobs grabbed a pad of paper and a pen.
“He wrote, ‘Bear,’” Jacobs said. “Then he wrote, ‘Can’t breathe.’”
Big Sky Fire Department first responders transported the injured biker to the Big Sky Medical Center where they rendezvoused with a life flight helicopter that flew the victim to Billings Clinic trauma center where he is being treated for lacerations and puncture wounds to the face and back, according to Jacobsen.
Officers from the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and state FWP officials found the bike on the Fish Camp Trail, which connects to both Yellow Mule and the popular Ousel Falls trails. Fish Camp is temporarily closed to the public and other trails are being monitored.
The bear has not been located. FWP is currently investigating the incident and is deeming the grizzly “non-predatory” at this time and not actively searching the area, Jacobsen said. Louise Astbury, general manager for Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, released a statement saying that authorities and first responders acted quickly and delivered the patient to definitive care.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the individual and his family for a full recovery,” Astbury said in the release.
Brian Lloyd, FWP’s Region 3 game warden, said this is the first incident involving a human-bear conflict in Big Sky this year and is urging area residents and visitors to exercise caution in the field.
“This is a reminder to be extra cautious when you’re out there [and] carry bear spray,” Lloyd said at the scene following the attack, adding that hikers and bikers should not venture out alone and should pay attention to signs including the smell of dead carcasses or birds in an area.
Joe Jacobs agreed. “You’re not at the top of the food chain out here,” he said.