Montana: Night of Terror

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Hiking up to their back-trail camp site, the five young people passed hikers who told them of being chased by a bear; now it was dark, and they were no longer sure of their trail through Montana's Glacier National Park. Soon a huge grizzly loomed through the smoke from their fire, and the campers huddled fearfully around the flames for a night of terror that ended with one girl dead in their midst and another teenager, 20 miles away, mauled to death by a second grizzly bear.

For the five campers near Trout Lake, none of the standard tips for discouraging bears seemed to work. Snuffling ever closer, the beast ignored their bonfire and invaded the camp. As they cowered in sleeping bags, feigning death and hiding their heads in blankets, the grizzly ripped apart packs and bit into bedrolls, and even slashed the shirt from the back of one camper, who lunged in desperation and hit the bear on the nose. When the grizzly reared to its full height, the campers bolted for trees, but Michele Koons, 19, caught in her sleeping bag, was dragged away screaming, "He's ripping my arm! My God, I'm dead!"

Meanwhile near Granite Park Chalet, another grizzly slipped like a wraith upon a camp site pitched near a garbage dump purposely baited so that tourists could get a close look at the bears. The grizzly alternately mauled Julie Helgeson, also 19, and her companion, who kept still through the agony of two attacks and thus saved himself. Bitten on the shoulder, legs and buttocks, he heard the girl being dragged away, screaming so loudly that other campers at the chalet heard her anguished cries. After the survivors told their horrifying tales, two grizzlies were quickly slain before the evident killers —with human blood on their fur and flesh in their claws—were found and dispatched.

Although this was Glacier's first lethal encounter with bears, park authorities immediately banned overnight camping and the Interior Department pondered new rules for camping out in national parks, while some Montanans demanded the eradication of the park's grizzlies (estimated at 100). Whatever the outcome, last week's twin tragedies were a reminder that the grizzly deserves his Latin name—Ursus horribilis.