A group of Haines residents had a bizarre encounter with a bear near Chilkat Lake on Saturday.
Shannon Stevens said the plan was to spent the weekend with her brother and his girlfriend at a remote yurt 17 miles from Haines.
After traveling across the frozen lake by snowmachine Saturday, they cooked sausages over an outdoor fire pit. Later that evening, Stevens left the yurt to use the outhouse.
“Normally, when we are out there in the summer or the fall I’m used to shouting ‘Hey, bear!’ the whole way. It was the dead of winter, so I didn’t think to do that this time,” she said. “I got in there and sat down on the toilet seat, and something just immediately bit me in the butt. I jumped up and screamed.”
She called for her brother, Erik, who came running to investigate.
“I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m going to open the lid and look.’ I take the headlamp and I grab the lid of the toilet seat and I lift it up,” Erik Stevens said. “Right at the level of the toilet seat, maybe an inch or two below, is a gigantic bear face looking right back up at me.”
He closed the lid and they ran back to the yurt as fast as they could. Shannon Stevens was bleeding, so they cleaned the wound and bandaged it up.
She said she was shocked, but not seriously injured.
“It felt like just a single puncture. Maybe it wasn’t even a bite. It might have been a swipe with his claw, potentially,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll ever really know that part.”
They stayed in the yurt the rest of the night, waiting until morning to look around. The bear was gone. The fire pit had been knocked over, and there were tracks running toward the outhouse.
Erik Stevens said he believes the bear was attracted by the smell of cooking, then entered the hole below the outhouse through a downhill opening.
“There’s a way out in the back of the outhouse, there’s a rock wall and there’s a way for a creature to get in through that rock wall. He probably just pushed the rocks over and got down into the hole,” Stevens said.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist Carl Koch conducted a brief investigation after learning of the incident. He believes it was a black bear, based on photos of the tracks and other recent reports of bear activity in the area.
“(She) might be the only person this has ever happened to,” Koch said. “I wouldn’t be surprised over the years if other folks have had bizarre things — but during February, to sit down in an outhouse and have something like that happen is very unusual.”
Koch said he’s heard of bears damaging outhouses after being drawn to the smell. In general, bears are less active during the winter, and they tend to stay in their dens for a long period of time. But that’s not always the case.
“Some bears will stay out a long time if there is food, maybe almost never den up,” Koch said. “We get calls year round in Juneau and all sorts of places, just not nearly as many as we do in the summertime.”
This is not the first close encounter with a bear in Haines this winter.
Earlier in February, a Haines man was mauled by a brown bear while backcountry snowboarding with friends. The attack left him with a broken arm, puncture wounds and other injuries. He’s since been released from the hospital and is recovering at home.
Shannon Stevens said her experience was not nearly as traumatic, but she has learned a valuable lesson.
“I mean, I’m definitely going to look down in the hole next time,” Stevens said.
You never know what might be down there.