British Columbia

'It was grating my bones up': B.C. man narrowly survives grizzly attack

Colin Dowler was cycling on a B.C. backcountry trail when a grizzly bear inched closer and closer. It dragged and bit Dowler, but he was able to fend it off, barely, with a gift he'd received just two weeks before.

Colin Dowler was exploring the backcountry when he was attacked by a grizzly

Colin Dowler stabbed a grizzly bear in the neck and then rode his mountain bike nearly seven kilometres to safety. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Just one day before he turned 45, Colin Dowler didn't think he'd live to celebrate it.

On Tuesday, the avid outdoorsman was scouting backcountry trails outside of Powell River, B.C., on his mountain bike, about seven kilometres away from a nearby logging camp.

After making his way down one of the hills onto the logging road, he caught sight of a large male grizzly bear, walking in his direction.

"I wasn't really sure what to do about the situation," Dowler said from his Vancouver hospital bed. "I largely stood there, and let the grizzly keep walking up towards me."

Concerned of making any sudden movements, Dowler nervously watched as the bear inched closer. He had a hiking pole in one hand and tried to nudge it away.

But the bear kept advancing and swiped at Dowler's mountain bike.

"It grabbed me by the stomach and kind of pushed me down and dragged me toward the ditch maybe 50 feet," he said. "I tried eye gouging it away and it didn't really work."

Dowler fended off the bear with a buck knife. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

A lucky gift

Dowler, a husband and father of two daughters, says the event seemed to unfold in slow motion. He considered playing dead as the bear bit through his arm, foot and thigh.

"It sounded like it was grating my bones up," said Dowler. Knowing that the bear wouldn't stop the onslaught, he remembered he had a small buck knife in his pocket. It was a gift given to him by his father two weeks earlier.

"Somehow, I don't know how I did it. I used both hands to pull underneath the bear to get to that knife, and I grabbed the knife out and opened it and put it in [my] hand and stabbed the bear in his neck.

"It let go of me immediately. It was bleeding quite badly," he added. "I wasn't really sure if it was dying faster than I was."

The bear kept its eyes on Dowler as he cut off one of his shirt sleeves and wrapped it around his leg.

He managed to drag himself to his mountain bike and climb on. With one leg badly wounded, he started pedalling.

"I was thinking I'm not going to make it," he said. "It was pretty freaking scary."

Blood stains the gravel area where Dowler was attacked by a grizzly bear. (Vittorio Giannandrea)

A rocky road

Dowler cycled for seven kilometres down a logging road toward a remote worksite. He collapsed outside the camp mess hall and started yelling for help. Five workers showed up and began administering first aid.

"When we saw him, it was shocking and pretty unnerving at first," said Vittorio Giannandrea, camp cook at the Ramsay Arm worksite.

"Then we began talking to him, cutting off the clothing on the apparent wounds where blood soaked through everything and just used as many hands, large bandages and other materials to stop the bleeding and cover the wounds."

Giannandrea says a helicopter was there in about 40 minutes to transport Dowler to hospital.

"Colin is the toughest guy around, and his perseverance is the showcase. We were just lucky enough to all be in the same place at the same time," said Giannandrea.

Dowler is now recovering inside Vancouver General Hospital with non life-threatening injuries.

Jennifer Dowler thanked workers inside a nearby remote logging camp for performing first aid on her husband before he was picked up by an air ambulance. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Bear euthanized

According to the provincial Conservation Officer Service, four officers went into the area following the attack. Insp. Murray Smith said the bear was put down after it snuck behind one of the officers.

Smith confirmed the bear had a stab wound to its neck.

Dowler says it was practical skills that got him out of the situation alive, but it was the thought of his wife and two daughters that gave him the will to fight the bear off.

His wife, Jennifer, thanked the workers at the logging camp for swiftly tending to her husband.

"He definitely wouldn't be here if it weren't for them. And I'm just happy my husband is as stubborn as he is," she said.

With files from Tanya Fletcher and Chris Corday

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