Alaska Bear Incident Update


Jul 24, 2011

Original Post: 11:00 a.m. 7/24/11
UPDATE 7/27/11, 8:00 a.m.


NOLS Students Injured in Bear Attack in Alaska

LANDER, Wyo.— On Saturday evening, July 23, 2011 a group of seven NOLS students hiking without instructors was attacked by a bear. Four students have been injured in the attack. The student group is part of the NOLS Alaska Backpacking Course that started on June 30, 2011 with 14 students and three instructors.

The Alaska State Troopers were contacted via personal locating beacon, activated by the student group, and responded to the scene. The students were evacuated in two groups via helicopter. Two injured students are at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. The other two injured students were transported to Mat-Su Regional Hospital in Palmer. One student has been treated and released. The parents of the injured have been notified.

The incident occurred in the western Talkeetna Mountains approximately 45 miles northeast of the town of Talkeetna. The students had crossed or were in the process of crossing a creek when they came in contact with a bear that attacked the group.

Students indicate that they were following accepted bear safety practices—calling out to warn bears of their presence and carrying bear spray.

The students were on the 24th day of a 30-day backpacking course that teaches outdoor travel and camping skills. They were on the first day of their student expedition, in which students hike for the remaining days of their course as a student group without instructors.

The rest of the course and instructors have been evacuated by helicopter. The parents of all students on the course have been notified.

NOLS was founded in 1965 by legendary mountaineer Paul Petzoldt. More than 15,000 students graduate from NOLS each year. The school teaches leadership, teamwork, environmental ethics, wilderness medicine, and wilderness technical skills.

UPDATE 7/25/11, 4:50 p.m.

Of the three students that were hospitalized, one student was released from the hospital today, one student is listed in good condition and the other is listed in serious condition. NOLS Executive director John Gans arrived in Alaska yesterday and has been providing support to the families of those in the hospital.

We will be notifying NOLS courses currently operating in Alaska about this incident. The following chart lists the courses by course code, their current location, and when we will notify them.


Courses Currently Operating in Alaska Mountain Range Notification Date Method of Notification
SAK 5/25-8/7 Clearwaters 7/28/11 Reration
SAK1 6/4-8/17   7/25/11 Switch
AKW1 7/7-8/5 Healy 7/28/11 Reration
AKW2 7/7-8/5 S. Talkeetnas 7/29/11 Reration
BRE 7/8-8/16 Brooks (canoeing) 8/16/11 Course end
AKX1 7/10-8/8 Lost Lake 7/28/11 Switch
AKX2 7/10-8/8 Sea kayaking 8/8/11 Course end
Levine 7/11-8/4 N. Talkeetnas 7/27/11 Reration
AKW2 7/12-8/9 Clearwaters 7/29/11 Reration
AKW1 7/15-8/13 S. Talkeetnas 7/29/11 Reration
WSA 7/17-7/30 Sea kayaking 7/30/11 Course end
AKW1 7/18-8/16 Wrangells 7/27/11 Reration
AOEX1 7/21-8/19 Squaw Creek 8/4/11 Switch
AOEX2 7/21-8/19 Tosina 7/27/11 Reration
SAK2 6/4-8/17 Sea kayaking 8/17/11 Course end
SEK 7/17-8/15 Sea kayaking 8/15/11 Course end
SEK 7/20-8/18 Sea kayaking 8/18/11 Course end
NAME 7/24-8/16 Chugach 7/25/11 Course start
NASK 7/24-8/16 Sea Kayaking 7/25/11 Course start
Clearwaters - 150 miles East of Denali National Park  
Healy - East of Denali National Park    
Wrangells - Wrangell St. Elias National Park  
Tosina - just west of Wrangell St. Elias National Park  
Lost Lake - just north of Seward    
Squaw Creek - North of Valdez    

UPDATE 7/26/11 9:05 a.m.

Early last evening a media session was held at the NOLS Alaska staff house with four of the students involved in the incident--Shane Garlock, Sam Melman, Sam Boaz and Noah Allaire (who had just been released from the hospital a few hours earlier). Seven media outlets attended and were given the opportunity to ask questions of the students as well as NOLS Alaska director Don Ford and NOLS admission and marketing director Bruce Palmer. As was the case with how they reacted to the incident itself, these brave students expressed themselves with grace, poise, and a strong showing of camaraderie.

UPDATE 7/26/11 6:05 p.m.

As a school NOLS continually strives to refine and improve our curriculum, accepted field practices and risk management protocols. This is an on-going process. Risk management has always been and will continue to be a priority at the National Outdoor Leadership School. This incident will continue to be reviewed to inform that broader process going forward.

Action is being taken. Messages are being sent to every NOLS Alaska course with detailed information about the incident. These messages also include a reiteration and reemphasis of both bear and personal locator beacon protocols.

For more information please review: Risk Management at NOLS (pdf)

UPDATE 7/26/11 6:10 p.m.

A Message from Tori Murden McClure, NOLS Board Chair - Click here

UPDATE 7/27/11 8:00 a.m.

The comments have been reorganized to display the newest comments first.

UPDATE 8/02/11 3:50 p.m.

One student remains in the hospital in Anchorage where his condition continues to improve. All the other students have left NOLS.

UPDATE 8/03/11 8:30 a.m.

As a point of clarification, NOLS does not do "solos" in bear country. The culminating experience on a NOLS course is the student expedition. If instructors decide that the course is ready student groups of four or more will travel the last days of their course without instructors. The instructors help the course divide into groups, select their leader and plan their route. Students know the instructors' route and campsites, instructors carry a phone and student groups carry a satellite location transmitter or phone. The student groups make the daily leadership decisions with the benefit of NOLS support systems.

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NOLS is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you step forward boldly as a leader.

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