'I could hear the grating': Grizzly attack victim fought to survive in back country
It's a the kind of story few survive to tell, but Colin Dowler is recalling harrowing details of a grizzly encounter that left him with horrifying injuries – his survival only possible due to the methodical efforts of strangers who administered first aid.
Dowler had been hiking and cycling along a trail on the remote Ramsey Arm area – hours north of Powell River and home to a mountain named after his grandfather – when he encountered the adult male bear on the trail on Monday. He put his backpack and bike between himself and the animal, but it kept going toward him.
"It wasn't like a wild lunging attack or anything. It came with kind of methodical powerful, powerful swats," he told reporters from his hospital bed at Vancouver General Hospital.
"It kind of grabbed me by the stomach and pushed me down, dragged me towards a ditch, going maybe 50 feet. I tried eye-gouging it away but didn't really work."
The Powell River man says the animal didn’t growl or roar at him, and he briefly tried to play dead, but the pain of the animal chewing on him was too intense and he was screaming.
"I'm amazed I don't have any broken bones because it sounded like it was grating my bones up," he said, gesturing toward his injured left hand, nicked by the bear’s teeth as he tried to peel back its gums to remove its teeth from his side.
Losing a lot of blood and his strength, Dowler managed to reach for a two-inch buck knife his father had given him just a couple weeks earlier. He was able to stab the bear in the neck, and it immediately backed off, bleeding profusely itself. Conservation officers gunned down the animal the next day after it stalked them as they were searching for it; they were able to confirm it was the same animal because of its neck wound.
Keeping a wary distance, Dowler managed to drag himself to his bike, mounting it on the second try and somehow managing to cycle 7 kilometres to the road-building camp where he’d started his journey. Five staffers immediately ran to help him, all of whom had Level 1 First Aid training and were able to stabilize him as they waited for an air ambulance to take him to Vancouver General Hospital.
“His injuries were fairly extensive to the lower part of his body and he had quite a large laceration to his flank where some of his internal organs were visible,” explained trauma unit chief, Dr. Naisan Garraway.
He says a major artery in Dowler’s leg nearly cost him the limb and credits luck as well as the fast-acting road-building staffers for saving the man’s life.
"Having those kind of injuries can be very similar to shrapnel wounds in a warzone, where you have multiple lacerations and large open gaping wounds," he said.
Dowler and his wife are grateful for the strangers at the work camp who went above and beyond to help the 45 year-old father of two, who’d been scouting a route to climb Mt. Doogie Dowler at a later date with his brother.
"I want to thank the guys in the camp because he definitely wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for them," said Jenn Dowler.
“I’m just happy that my husband is as stubborn as he is.”