Survival of the Fittest: Bear Attack in California’s Trinity Alps

Dominic Gawel |
Ken on his way to recovery! Credit: KenDecamp/ SFGate

Saturday, August 15, 2020 – Ken Decamp set out for a day hike in California’s Trinity Alps. Ken set out to revisit the Canyon Creek Lakes Drainage, photograph wildflowers, see the isolated basin, and document aspens. That Saturday turned from a pleasant walk in the woods to an outdoorsman’s worst nightmare.

At about 10:30 am, Ken stopped along a creek just below the East Fork Lakes to refill water and take a break from the 97-degree heat. As Ken was getting ready to depart, he came face to face with a juvenile black bear. As both parties were startled, the bear swiped its paw as Ken attempted to duck from it. The paw slashed Ken’s forehead and left eye. He was spun around, knocked into the creek, and hit his head on a rock.

Ken laid unconscious in the creek for an estimated 10 to 15 minutes — just inches away from drowning. As Ken woke, he struggled to realize the severity of the situation with a concussion and severe bleeding. As the reality dawned, Ken realized he was on blood thinners, making the bleeding nearly impossible to stop with his handkerchief. While soaking wet with survival mode kicking in, he began to make a plan for medical attention.

“X” is the approximate location of where Ken was attacked. Credit: Ken Decamp/ SFGate

Ken found the strength to stand up, gather his belongings, and start heading down the trail. As he began to walk down, he realized the bear had walked right over him and was very thankful the bear was not hungry. The bear only swiped Ken once and did not continue to attack him while he was unconscious in the creek.

As Ken began to journey down the trail, his condition grew worse. Concussion, bleeding, and dehydration made it incredibly difficult to navigate the trail towards Buck’s Ranch. Luckily, Ken was well versed in the area and was able to make it to the ranch.

After several episodes and drinking some water, Ken continued to feel nauseated and threw up until he was only dry heaving. Ken decided he needed to take the path of least resistance back — on trail or off. His vision was obstructed by blood and sweat. Since Ken knew the area well, he took a ridge down through the trees back to his truck.

Ken initially after the attack. Credit: Neal Herbert (NPS)/ Ken Decamp/ SFGATE

After a grueling six hours, Ken reached the road. He took a break for about 30 minutes before following the road back to his truck. His nausea and headache required breaks every 25-50 yards until he made it back to the truck. After over an hour, Ken made it the half-mile up the road to his truck.

At this point, the only thing on Ken’s mind was getting to the hospital. He drove two hours to Redding and got to the Emergency Room. After collapsing on his way into the ER, doctors cleaned up Ken, stitched him up, and got his pain down to reasonable levels.

It has now been five months since Ken’s epic survival endeavor. He is close to a full recovery and is practicing recommended eye exercises, and uses scleral contacts to help with depth perception. Overall, Ken is mostly back to normal and is lucky to be alive. At the end of his personal account, Ken leaves the reader with this inspiring message:

“An experience like this won’t keep me from returning to my backcountry adventures, in the Trinity Alps or anywhere else. Life is too short and there is too much to experience to ever be fearful of something like this happening again.”

“If there is a lesson to be learned it is this: Always be aware of your surroundings and never take your safety for granted.”

Be sure to read Ken’s personal account of the attack in his story How I survived a bear attack in California’s Trinity Alps” in SFGate.

East Forks Lakes Trail in the Trinity Alps of California. Credit: CalTopo

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