GREYBULL — He resides in Buffalo, N.Y., but the victim in last week's grizzly bear attack near Meeteetse may be more familiar with Wyoming’s high country than just about any other adventurer who hails from the Cowboy State.
Barry Olson, a 1971 graduate of Greybull High School, has been coming back to Wyoming every summer for more years than he can count, spending four to seven weeks at a time in his personal quest to reach the top of every 13,000-foot peak in the state.
He estimates there are “35 to 36” of them in all and Francs Peak, a 13,164-foot summit southeast of Yellowstone National Park, was his 33rd conquest. He’d gone up Sunday, June 26 and was on his way back down Monday, June 27 when the attack occurred.
It was about 2 p.m. He was crossing into Meadow Creek Basin, at an elevation of about 12,000 feet.
“I was going down, over the ridge, and couldn’t see that far ahead,” said Olson. “We just happened to cross paths – I was going down, he was coming up.”
When their eyes met, only about 15 yards separated them.
“I took one small step away from him, but then he started to move toward me,” he recounted. “I tried to get to my bear spray – it had been clipped on my shoulder – but they move so damn fast. He was on me before I could even get to it.”
What followed was 30 to 60 seconds of sheer terror.
“They say the bear attacked me five times, but I’d almost call it like one attack,” he said. “After it got me the first time, bit me and shook me around, I tried to go for my bear spray again because he paused. But it was only a pause of a couple seconds. Then it was on top of me again. After that, I just played dead.”
The fifth and last time, “the bear had me 3 or 4 feet off the ground, flipped me over and dumped me on the ground,” he said. “Then … he just left.”
Olson was badly injured, but never lost consciousness.
In hindsight, he’s thankful for two things: One, it happened early in the day. “That would be my advice to others: Climb early, so if
something happens, you’ve got some light to work with,” he said.
The other was the personal locator beacon that he’s made a habit of carrying for the past 15 years. “They’re supposed to take the search out of search and rescue — and they work,” he said.
Several hours after he activated the beacon, help arrived on scene. A helicopter from Sublette County landed on scene and whisked him to a ranch on the Wood River, where he was picked up again and flown to a hospital in Billings.
Olson said he sustained significant muscular wounds to both thighs and the triceps of his left arm.
“I’m luckier than hell, to be honest,” he said.
He was discharged on Friday, spent several days recuperating in Greybull (where his elderly mother Dawn Olson still resides), and on Monday headed to Cody where he is going to be staying with a friend.
The dressing on his wounds must be changed three times a week and he expects to have a skin graft on one of his legs in a couple of weeks.
Olson isn’t looking too far ahead. First and foremost, his focus will be on healing.
He was hoping that this would be the year he finished his climbing quest, but that’s no longer going to be feasible.
“It’s a possibility down the road, but I promised my daughter that I wouldn’t climb a mountain for at least a year. So I’m going to stay off mountains for a year, at least. But … this may be it for me.”