Joe Jacobs was on his way to a worksite near Big Sky on Monday when he saw a mountain biker sitting on the side of the road, his arms bloody. Jacobs stopped to help and called 911.
As Jacobs talked to a dispatcher, the man — who couldn’t speak — tried to write a message in the dirt. Jacobs gave the man paper and a pen. Then, with the help of another passerby, Jacobs understood what he was trying to write: “Bear.”
State officials later confirmed the man had been attacked by a grizzly bear while riding a trail above Ousel Falls near the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club around 1 p.m. Monday.
The man suffered severe injuries to his face, arms and back, according to Kevin Frey, a bear biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He was taken by ambulance to Big Sky Medical Center and later flown to Billings for further treatment.
He was in “critical but stable” condition as of Monday evening.
The run-in happened not far off Ousel Falls Road — maybe 300 or 400 yards up the trail at a sharp turn, Frey said. The trail was closed after the incident.
He added that the bear wasn’t showing any predatory behavior and that it appears to be a surprise encounter.
Further details on how the attack played out aren’t yet available. FWP is still investigating the incident. Frey said they haven’t been able to talk to the victim because of his condition.
“He was injured pretty badly,” Frey said.
The incident was the first human-grizzly encounter in southwestern Montana this year. There have been four run-ins elsewhere this spring — two in Wyoming and two in northern Montana, according to Frey.
Much of southwestern Montana is grizzly country, and densities are increasing in some places. The Yellowstone ecosystem population is estimated at more than 700 bears. Their range extends well beyond the park and includes the Gallatin and Madison mountain ranges.
Grizzlies are known to be around Big Sky. Frey said there have been a few verified sightings there earlier this year.
He added that the risk of an encounter is heightened for mountain bikers and joggers. They move quickly through the timber and are relatively quiet.
“Something comes at them fast like that, the bear’s probably going to be more reactive,” Frey said.
The Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association wrote in a Facebook post that the encounter in Big Sky is a reminder that bikers should take precautions like traveling in small groups, making noise, carrying bear spray and watching for tracks and scat.
“When we bike in southwest Montana, we are in bear country,” the post said.
Leslie Kilgore, a spokesperson for Lone Mountain Land Company, said the people who have maintained the trail for the past decade don’t recall seeing a grizzly there before.
Jacobs, a finish carpenter who does some work in Big Sky, was the first to stop and help the man. At first, he thought the man was just taking a break from his ride. Then he saw the blood.
He stayed with the man until help arrived. Others stopped, too. The man, who is in his 60s, wrote down contact information for his wife. Jacobs spoke to her later that day.
Jacobs said the man’s helmet was damaged, like it had hit a rock. He was also covered in dirt, like he’d crawled down the trail to the road to flag someone down.
“He’s the one that really made some heroic effort there, getting himself back to a visible place,” Jacobs said.