Wagner was on skis leading 9 students and two teaching assistants in an area between Mount Emmerich and the Chilkat River near Haines, on Alaska’s panhandle, when Wagner was attacked by a brown bear.
The initial report to police was that Wagner suffered extensive injuries to his leg. State police contacted a helicopter company to see if heli-skiers could find the group and evaluate if a helicopter could land, according to an Alaska State Troopers report shared by a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Before the helicopter left the mountain, the bear came back to the place where the rest of the hikers were, about 200 yards from the helicopter, according to that report, and a trooper hiked back to the area to provide security. The university chancellor was contacted and agreed it would be safest to evacuate the entire group; he called a helicopter company to do that.
None of the students was injured; they returned to Juneau on Tuesday by ferry as originally planned. Haines, 92 miles north of Juneau, can only be reached from the capital city by air or sea.
University of Alaska Southeast professor Kevin Krein said through a university spokeswoman that all the students are doing well. “Forest, the teaching assistants, and the students were great in the situation,” Krein said. “They applied their medical and wilderness training, worked together, and responded effectively. I am very proud of them.”
School chancellor Rick Caulfield said in a statement: “I commend the students for their quick action in responding to this situation and appreciate the prompt response from Alaska State Troopers, Haines Police, Temsco Helicopters, and medical staff in Haines and in Juneau. Our thoughts are with faculty member Forest Wagner as he recovers from this incident, and we are thankful that all involved are safe.”
Temsco Helicopters, which performed the evacuation, had no comment.
Wagner has been coordinating and teaching the outdoor studies program at the university for a decade, with courses on outdoor leadership, ice climbing, backcountry navigation, rock climbing, glacier travel, crevasse rescue and mountaineering. He has led many extended expedition courses. He also works as a guide on Mount Denali and has worked internationally as a high-altitude guide. He is a graduate student in northern studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who, according to his faculty web page, “is most interested in human narrative, northern identity, and sense of place.”
Last month, nine students and four instructors were swept into an avalanche on Canwell Glacier during a University of Alaska Fairbanks mountaineering class, according to Alaska Public Media; all were rescued, but the incident triggered questions about the safety of the mountaineering program.
Earlier this month, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game warned that, after a stretch of unusually warm weather, bears were waking earlier than usual from their winter sleep.
Grizzlies and black and brown bears had already been spotted, they announced, and in the southeast, “recent warm days have skunk cabbage and other wild greens blooming, setting the stage for bears there to start moving any day.” Because of those early signs, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker proclaimed April “Bear Awareness Month,” explaining that “April is a good time to remind Alaskans about bears, their behavior, and how we can live responsibly and safely in bear country.”
It was the second bear attack reported in Alaska in the last few days; a bear hunter was mauled by a grizzly in the interior, east of Denali National Park, over the weekend, according to the Associated Press, and is recovering.
This post has been updated.