Ski Patrolman Wrestles Grizzly Bear

By Angus M. Thuermer jr.

     Early last fall, three local men encountered a grizzly bear during an otherwise routine mountain-bike ride. Their amazing story—republished here from the Jackson Hole News & Guide— soon echoed on Paul Harvey and in newspapers throughout the nation.

     Within two weeks another bear attack on an elk hunter resulted in a crushed skull. That hunter recovered, as did the other two men—a hunter and a hiker—who were involved in bear attacks last fall.

     But that’s more or less the norm around here.—JHSKIER

From left: Tom Foley, Kirk Speckhals, Sir Charles, and Mark Wolling. Photo: McKoy

     September 1, 2004, Jackson, WY

     A mountain biker on Togwotee Pass fought off repeated charges by a grizzly bear Sunday until a companion drove the animal off with pepper spray.     

     Kirk Speckhals escaped his encounter with the grizzly with only four dirty scratches from the bear’s claws on his forearm, a punctured bicycle tire and bent rim. He said he hopes others learn from the mistakes he made during his ride around Pinnacle Buttes and past Kissinger Lakes—including not making enough noise to warn bears, not riding together, and not carrying bear pepper spray.

      Speckhals, a 46-year-old ski patroller and quality controller with Evans Construction, and fellow Evans employee and full-time skier Tom Foley, said the grizzly they battled was persistent and backed off only when there was about a second’s worth of spray left in the can of deterrent. Speckhals gave credit to Foley, who carried his can of spray on his hip, for rushing into the fray and saving his life.

     “I was on the ground with the bear on top of me,” Speckhals said. “I was waiting for a bone-crunching bite. I thought I was going to die.”

     Speckhals and Foley said their day started out innocently enough when they left for the loop ride near Brooks Lake with another ski patrolman, Mark “Big Wally” Wolling. The route traverses a couple of passes on the Shoshone National Forest at approximately 9,500 feet. The area is close to the Teton and Washakie wilderness areas, is known grizzly country, and is considered part of the species’ core habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem.

     Speckhals said he had ridden the loop several times before but has never carried bear spray. Before taking off, Foley offered Speckhals his extra can. Wolling took it, figuring if anybody got in trouble, it was more likely to be him since he was bringing along his dog, Sir Charles Winston VI.

     Speckhals said he had been ringing his bicycle bell at regular intervals to warn bears of his approach and not surprise them. As he climbed to the second pass of the trip, he pulled away from his companions and stopped making his regular warning. He crested the rise and heard a noise he knew meant trouble.

     “In the woods 300 feet away, the bear was in full charge, coming right at me,” he said. “No question the bear was a grizzly. I got off my bike and put it in front of me and started yelling ‘Bear! Bear!’” Speckhals decided to start out on his feet, confront the bear, and defend himself with his bike rather than play dead.

     Foley, some distance back, heard the cries but could not yet see the confrontation. Wolling was farther behind.

     “All of a sudden I heard ‘Bear! BEAAAR!’” Foley said. And as he sped toward the fight, Foley was thinking, “Whoa, God, I better get up there!”

     Foley continued, “His voice was getting more terrified. There were grunts. He sounded like he was fighting something. His screams were dramatic and scary.”

     Meanwhile, Speckhals was battling. “I lunged my bike out at him and yelled and he stopped,” he said. “But the bear seemed like he wanted to meet someone up close. He charged six or seven times,” each time deterred at the last moment by the bicycle.

     “Finally, he grabbed my bike out of my hands and started stomping on it,” Speckhals said. With the bear distracted, Speckhals decided to make a move. “I started creeping away. It was so hard not to run, and when I did run a few steps, immediately the bear left my bike alone and faced me.”

     Seeing that the bear had re-focused on him, Speckhals said he stopped and faced it. “He ran right up to me and put his front paws on me,” he said.

     In a Greco-Roman wrestling stance, Speckhals said, he sensed he was going down.

     “This time he just took me out—drug me to the ground,” he said. Speckhals managed to rotate, landing on his elbows and knees with his back towards the bear.

     Foley, cycling madly, was worried because an ominous calm had settled over the rugged hills around Pinnacle Buttes. “All of a sudden he got quiet,” he said of his companion...


The Jackson Hole Skier is a free visitors’ guide published annually and distributed at hundreds of locations throughout Jackson Hole, Cody, and other regional communities. To receive a copy in the mail, send $5 to Jackson Hole SKier, P.O. Box 1930, Jackson, Wyoming 83001.

Copyright 2004 by FPI (Focus Productions, Inc)., P.O. Box 1930, Jackson, Wyoming 83001. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publishers.

Publishers: Bob Woodall & Wade McKoy, dba Focus Productions, Inc. (FPI)

Editors: Mike Calabrese, Wade McKoy, Bob Woodall

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