California Man Survives Bear Attack in Secluded Wilderness: Here’s How

by Jennifer Shea

Ken DeCamp suffered a grisly wound in a black bear attack but lived to tell the tale.

DeCamp is a former employee of the USDA Forest Service who was photographing wildflowers one Saturday morning last August in the Trinity Alps, a mountain range northwest of Redding in Northern California, when he ran into a juvenile black bear.

Bear Attack Startled DeCamp

The author and former forest service official was hiking the East Fork Lakes Trail, as DeCamp described in SFGate. The trail cuts steeply uphill soon after the trailhead and stays that way for several miles until it reaches the area below East Fork Lakes. For that reason, it’s not a very crowded hike.

DeCamp had made it to the final creek crossing below East Fork Lakes when he got thirsty. So he deposited his gear beneath some willows and walked to the creek’s edge with his water bottle. He drank, filled the bottle, and returned to his gear. He had just shouldered his pack and picked up his camera when he turned and saw it.

The young black bear was practically face to face with DeCamp. Both were startled, to say the least. 

But the bear recovered first. It swiped at DeCamp. Luckily for him, DeCamp quicky ducked.

Still, the bear’s claw tore into DeCamp’s forehead and left eyelid.

“The force of the blow spun me around and threw me down into the creek head first,” DeCamp recalled in SFGate. “I vaguely remember the blow as my head hit the rocks. I was knocked unconscious.”

DeCamp doesn’t know how long he was out. But when he woke up, he was lying in the water with his eye and part of his mouth submerged.

He sat up with some difficulty, blood gushing from his eye wound. He later learned that he had a major concussion, so at the time, he struggled to gather his wits about him.

The Long Journey Home

Finally, he made it out of the creek and got a handkerchief from his camera bag to staunch the bleeding. As he moved away from the creek, he saw that the bear had passed over him and made for the brush along the creek instead.

As he made his way back to Buck’s Ranch, he battled dehydration, a severe headache, waves of nausea and overwhelming blood flow. It took DeCamp nearly six hours total to make it back to the road, and over an hour to get up the road to his truck.

Somehow, he managed to drive the two hours to Mercy Hospital in Redding. But on his way through the emergency room parking lot, he basically collapsed.

DeCamp credits the doctors and nurses there with saving his eye. They got him in, stitched up his injury and monitored him carefully. He still struggles with depth perception and some vision problems in his left eye, he said, but all told, he’s lucky to be alive.

“It all boils down to something my dad told me many years ago,” DeCamp wrote. “‘You do what you have to do – no matter what the situation – because you ALWAYS have to come home.’”