It was a beautiful, sunny late November day when Susan Bond and Peter Moody decided to go for a walk after a long drive home from the coast the day before.
The couple, who live just off LD Ranch Road north of Kimberley, decided to walk one of their favourite neighbourhood routes, on the benchlands above Mather Creek.
They had no inkling the walk would result in an encounter with a grizzly sow and her cubs only 40 minutes from their front door — an event that has left them recovering from serious injury and trying to come to terms with how such a horrifying thing could happen in what they consider their own backyard.
Bond and Moody are both avid outdoors people and they have hiked the grasslands and forests around their home for 20 years and more. They had never seen a bear on the route they chose on November 25, 2012.
Susan and Peter sat down with the Daily Bulletin last week to talk about what happened and how they are dealing with it.
“It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm,” Susan said. “I said let’s go for a walk.
“We decided to do one of our usual routes off LD Ranch Road on an old track — we call it the Dam Road. We walked along the road, then dropped down to the creek at the spot where we usually drop down. Normally, we go down to the creek then go right back up to the bench. That day we decided to keep walking right there beside the creek. In summer the bush is too dense for easy walking but the leaves were gone and we could pick our way going upstream.
“I said, ‘oh, let’s do this. We may never do this again’.”
“Susan was ahead of me going a little faster,” Peter said. “I was fascinated by the creek, looking at the ripples and little falls. She was about 10 to 12 feet in front of me.”
“We’d been walking for 20 minutes or so when I saw a little opening up ahead beside the creek,” Susan said. “The sun was shining on it and I thought, I’ll walk to there and wait for Peter, then we’ll head upslope and back to the Dam Road.
“This is my memory of what happened next. I stepped out of the dense coverage and saw this big ball about 10 feet away. It didn’t register right away. It happened in a flash. One part of me was thinking, what is that? Then the sow raises herself up and looks at me. I saw the hump. I knew it was a grizzly. Immediately I was overcome with terror. I turned. In my mind I started to run, but I don’t know if I moved. I screamed to Peter — to warn him, but also so he would come and save me.”
“Susan was ahead of me,” Peter said. “I could see this little glade with the sun shining in. It looked attractive and I thought, Susan will go in there. Then I saw a large dark-coloured ball flying through the air. It landed on top of Susan and they just crashed to the ground. That was the sow. Then I saw two cubs running about.
“Some people have the idea that Susan saw the bear and yelled at it. She took a pace, maybe two paces, turning away. That’s when she yelled, just as the bear hit her.”
“What I remember is this,” Susan said. “I don’t really remember falling. I remember being on the ground. I have no recollection except hurting. The bear left me, then came back to me. I was lying there, I think face down, with my arm over my head. I don’t know about my legs. She bit me again, then went away. Then she came back and went for my face. Maybe I moved my head. I don’t remember it all. I remember the bear crunching my cheekbone. I remember hearing bones breaking.
“I was just laying very still. I wasn’t thinking play dead, though I suppose I knew that, but the intelligent part of my brain wasn’t working. It just seemed there was no point in doing anything but lie there.
“After she bit my face, she sniffed the back of my head and neck. I was thinking, she’s deciding what to bite next. But then she backed away and left me lying there.”
Peter describes what he saw.
“The bear is on top of Susan, snuffling, doing some damage. I couldn’t see exactly what she was doing. I always hike with ski poles because I have dodgy knees. So I just instinctively beat on the back of the bear with the poles. I don’t have a clear memory of what she did when she turned, but she put me on the ground. She could have hit me or I could have tripped. She was on top of me and went for my legs. Then she left and went back to Susan. I could still stand. I got up and whacked her maybe half a dozen times. She has thick skin and a lot of hair so I don’t know how effective it was, but again she turned on me. I went down again.
“I was lying on my back and my left side and I had my left arm up in the air. I looked up and saw her jaws and teeth coming down on me. My first instinct was to punch into her mouth, but then I thought, I’m giving her my fist — I will lose my hand and arm. So instead of punching, I wrapped my arm around my head.
“Her teeth dragged across my skull, tore my scalp. She went back to Susan a third time.
“When I saw that, I thought what do I do now? I wasn’t sure I could stand. But then she left.”
“I haven’t really tried to estimate the time that the bear was on top of us,” Susan said. “I suppose it couldn’t be more than five minutes. Then for a good 15 to 20 minutes we just lay there. I opened my eyes. I could see Peter lying there. We were facing each other, about eight feet apart. And I thought, what am I going to do if he can’t move? How am I going to get us away from here?”
The Conservation Officers who investigated the attack later told Bond and Moody that they believe the sow and cubs remained in the vicinity as the injured pair began to make their escape.
“They think she stayed around for some time. That’s just terrifying to think of,” Susan said.
The CO’s also found a fresh deer kill close by and determined it had been killed by a bear.
See tomorrow’s Bulletin for Susan and Peter’s account of how they got themselves to safety.