A Twin Cities backpacker was mauled by a bear — presumably a grizzly with her cub — and severely injured in the mountains of northern Wyoming, authorities said Tuesday.
The attack occurred Sunday afternoon as Bradley D. Johnson backpacked with friends in the Beartooth Mountains just south of the Montana border, according to the Park County Sheriff’s Office.
Johnson, 48, of Plymouth, received “severe injuries to his arm, shoulder and back,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lance Mathess.
Two of his companions on the Muddy Creek Trail in the Shoshone National Forest hiked out to get help while a third stayed behind with Johnson, Mathess said.
A woman called the Sheriff’s Office from a store in nearby Cody about 3:40 p.m. and reported coming upon the two backpackers who told her Johnson “had been mauled by a grizzly bear” roughly two hours earlier, Mathess said.
“The bear stopped and moved off presumably because the perceived threat had ended,” Mathess added.
While state wildlife officials have yet to confirm the species of bear, Mathess said the circumstances of the attack point to it being “a sow grizzly with a cub.”
Mathess said the Wyoming Game and Fish Department typically do not pursue a bear that injures or kills a person when circumstances indicate the encounter involves “a defensive and not a predatory attack.”
According to the Sheriff’s Office, a rescue helicopter and airplane were dispatched and quickly found Johnson. The chopper landed as close as it could, about a mile from Johnson and the companion who stayed with him.
Medics hiked in to the scene, stabilized Johnson’s wounds and carried him to the helicopter, which flew him to St. Vincent Hospital in Billings, Mont. He was in fair condition Tuesday morning, a hospital spokeswoman said.
“Last I heard was he had several hours of surgery that night and was in for more surgeries in the future,” Mathess said.
Because of the limited space on the helicopter that rescued Johnson, the companion who stayed with him, 45-year-old Minneapolis Fire Capt. Justin Reid, of Medina, was left behind until a ground team went in about 7 p.m. Sunday and guided him out about 2:15 a.m. Monday.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department said in a statement, “This appears to be a surprise encounter between the individual and two bears. The man ... was backpacking with three other people ... ahead of the group when he encountered two bears at close range.”
The attack occurred too quickly for Johnson to use the bear spray he was carrying, the department statement continued, adding that the specific species of bear has yet to be determined.
Asked how often her agency sees incidents of bears mauling people, department spokeswoman Rebekah Fitzgerald said there are “a few a year.”
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482