Trauma, terror and horror are much like the word love. You think you know what they mean until you experience them at a deeper level. Our experience camping in Banff on August 8th redefined what terror, horror, trauma and even love meant to us.
It’s easy to assume that you’re cam is never going to pull, that you’re never going to fall down a mountain out of control or be attacked by a wild animal.
It’s easy to tell yourself that those things would never happen to you. I, like many others, told myself that same sentiment for years. My family treated nature with the respect it deserved, and in return for not eating in our tent, not leaving food around our campsite, and just practicing great LNT principles, nature would leave us be…
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this time.
When we set up camp, we followed all of the principles we had practiced in the past - but even with more focus this time because we had just seen a black bear outside of the campground several hours earlier. We went to bed in a tent with no attractants in it or nearby, and a can of bear spray right above our heads.
Shortly after, we were woken up by the tent wall moving near our head. Assuming it was a bear I called, “Get back!” to my wife Elisa and kids while reaching for the bear spray.
When the tent wall came at me again I pushed back and instantly felt something incredibly strong snap down on my right hand. The crushing pressure was like nothing I have ever felt before, to the point that my mind focused on the crushing sensation on my hand and blocked out that I was screaming in pain.
When the animal pulled back, my hand was finally freed, I was able to regain some focus. I realized the rain fly had been ripped off of the tent, revealing something much worse than a small black bear. It was a wolf.
The realization sunk in that this animal was not trying to get inside to get something we left in the tent, but instead wanted to get to us. As parents, mine and Elisa's minds went to our children first. My wife covered our youngest with her body and I threw my oldest son behind me. The movement bared the the back of my arm to the wolf who attacked again.
With my children out of immediate harm's way I turned back to the wolf, which was still locked on to my right hand. My wife and I frantically called for help. I tried punching the wolf and realized it was a useless effort. I then tried holding onto its head, attempting to pin it down with my body in order to extend time for help to come. I pinned it twice, barely controlling the wolf’s head while we called for help. That gave us the time needed for a stranger at the next campsite (a man who we would later learn goes by Russ) to make his way to our aid.
By throwing rocks at the wolf, we were able to force the wolf to release me for enough time to run toward Russ's van.
This attack was unprecedented in a national park that welcomes millions of visitors a year. The abnormal behavior has been attributed to be the result of an older wolf being kicked out of a pack, which grew hungrier and hungrier until it became so desperate that it attacked the first thing it could find. Unfortunately, we were the closest campsite to the river on the campground, and we had a well defined path leading to the river. We are so grateful, because so many things could have altered the outcome that night to the unimaginable. After a few days, we stopped “what if-ing” the attack and instead decided to focus on what we think we did right and what we could have done better.
We think we were right when we:
- Discussed how to handle an animal attack with our children just a few days before (although admittedly, wolf was not on our discussed list)
- Kept our campsite and tent clean from food and all other attractants
- Made it a priority to remove our children from harm's way first
- Used tactics to extend the length of each attack to prevent more bites and provide more time for help
We think we were wrong when we all decided to turn and run to a nearby car after the attack was over. As expected, “flight” switch activated after I was able to release myself from the wolf, and we ran. It worked out for us, but we should have practiced a safer retreat even if it was only 100 ft away.
That night redefined terror, horror, trauma and love for us and will forever change how we view wilderness. We love nature and even love wolves (just maybe not that one) but they will never be the same to us. I have had people tell me I would have better odds being struck by lightning ten times than being attacked by a wolf, but it did happen.
I guess that is the point: in nature you cannot assume that the unexpected will not happen. You can do everything right, and horrible accidents can still happen.
That does not mean stop doing what you love, but it does mean you should be prepared to address situations when they arise. Think it through beforehand and, most importantly, don’t stop fighting when it does happen.