A Campbell River man attacked by a grizzly bear last week continues to undergo extensive treatment at Vancouver General Hospital.
But lying in his hospital bed, Colin Dowler is a thankful man. Thankful he didn’t give up. Thankful for the knife his father randomly gave him weeks before the attack and which ultimately convinced a 350 lb. bear to let go of him. Thankful, also, for the crew of a logging camp he cycled nine kilometres to get help from. And thankful for the air ambulance crew and VGH medical professionals who have been taking care of him since the medivac from the remote logging camp north of Campbell River.
“I am just super impressed with Vito and his campmates with how well they helped me with only Level 1 First Aid,” Dowler said. “They did everything right to save me. I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Vito Giannandrea is the cook of an Interfor logging camp on Ramsay Arm, an inlet approximately 43 km northeast of Campbell River. He and his co-workers immediately set to providing first aid after Dowler threw himself down on the steps of the camp and called out asking for help.
Dowler had just cycled seven kilometres along a logging road having just escaped the jaws – literally – of a grizzly bear that had ripped and gnawed his flesh in a predatory attack.
The story began when Dowler set out to go mountain biking and hiking July 28 on Mt. Doogie Dowler along Quatam River which empties into Ramsay Arm.
“I’m looking for a route up to Quatam River where I might be able to get up Mt. Doogie Dowler,” Dowler said.
Dowler had been in the area for a day trip a month or so ago and decided to come back and do an overnight trip and try to explore further. There is a logging operation on this remote river on the mainland coast east of Vancouver Island. This time Dowler got a ride to the end of the logging road from one of the camp employees. It was Giannandrea, coincidentally.
Dowler had pepper spray with him in his deep front pocket but he lost it somewhere along the way. He spent the night in the area and then on the way back the next day, he retrieved his bike and set off on the 9 km ride back to the logging camp.
After two kilometres of the ride back, he came upon the grizzly about 100 feet in front of him walking towards him.
“I wasn’t sure what to do,” Dowler said. “I just started having a conversation with the bear.”
A standoff ensued with the bear trying to approach Dowler who got his bike in between him and the bear. He also used a hiking pole to try and keep the animal at bay. Meanwhile, Dowler continued to try to talk to the bear – a tactic that’s designed to try and keep a bear calm during an encounter.
He also threw his backpack down to the side to try and distract the bear but it just sniffed at it and resumed his pursuit of Dowler. At some point in the proceedings, Dowler prodded the bear in the head with the hiking pole.
“It was just to try to hold him at a distance and let him know that, I don’t know, that I’m here. It just seemed like a way to hold the bear back and that it might make him think twice.”
Instead, the bear bit the pole and they engaged a in a little tug-o-war.
The bear seemed calm the whole time and moved slowly and wasn’t growling. But he then started pushing harder and harder on the bike. When the bear took his final swat at the bike, Dowler threw it at him. Then the bear quite quickly stepped over the bike and bit into Dowler’s left flank carrying him for a ways to the edge of the road about 50 feet away. Then the animal began “chewing on my abdomen,” he says.
He tried gouging out the bear’s eyes with his thumbs. That didn’t last long but the bear began shaking him and spun him around. Then he laid his body across Dowler and began to chew on his left thigh. He would bite and shake and then chew again. Dowler could hear the gruesome sound of the animal chewing.
“I could hear the teeth on my bone,” Dowler said.
The struggle continued with Dowler trying to peel the bear’s lips back in an attempt to pry the teeth off of his leg but the animal would just let go and then bite again, once biting Dowler’s hand in the process. At some point he also bit Dowler’s foot and then his other thigh.
Dowler said he was very scared and in intense pain throughout the struggle. He wasn’t screaming but was yelling and making kind of “Aaaah” sounds. He tried playing dead once but the bear continued to chew.
Dowler realized then that this was probably his last chance to save himself. He felt he got the motivation to take the definitive action that saved him when, at one point, he lay thinking, “this is it, for me, right? I’m a goner.” He thought about his wife and kids then and “I think that helped say ‘OK Dowler, this is what you’ve got left in you. You’ve got to get your knife now because it isn’t getting any better.’”
After a few attempts, he managed to pull the knife out of his pocket and open it. He jabbed the knife into the bear’s neck and it immediately let go and backed off. Dowler could see blood dripping from the animal’s neck.
During a momentary standoff, when Dowler didn’t know what the bear was doing besides bleeding and keeping an eye on him, Dowler used the knife which his father had randomly given him just a few weeks before to cut a tourniquet out of his shirt sleeve and tie off his chewed up leg.Then it was a painstaking process of crawling back to his bike with the bear standing a ways off.
Then after one failed attempt, he was able to get on his bike and pedal down the road. It was difficult pedalling for a while before the road eventually sloped steadily downhill enough to allow Dowler to coast towards the logging camp.
Once at the camp he got off his bike and threw himself on the camp mess hall steps where Giannandrea recognized him. Dowler said “help, I’ve been mauled by a grizzly bear.”
The employees immediately began first aid and called in a helicopter to take him to medical treatment at Vancouver General.
Dowler is certain that the first aid he received from the workers at the camp saved his life, for which he is deeply grateful.
“My goodness if it wasn’t for those five guys putting all their heads together and helping me out for the hour it took to get the air ambulance there…was absolutely huge. I truly believe they saved my life.”
Conservation officers attended the area later and found the bear showing predatory behavior. It was shot and determined to be a 350 lb., four or five-year-old male grizzly.
The encounter has left Dowler with a period of rehabilitation and treatment to undergo.
He said it’s a little bit early to say what effect the incident will have on him and his relationship with the outdoors, but “I am not in a rush to go into grizzly country alone, that’s for sure.”