POWELL — It’s a grizzly bear attack story that’s drawn national attention due to the courage and strength four college wrestling teammates displayed, leading to their survival.
The bear attacked one man in the Wyoming wilderness. His friend jumped in to save him and suffered the worst of it, but, as he recounted Wednesday, it was the right thing to do. In a desperate move that almost cost him his own life, he grabbed a fistful of the bear’s fur and pulled with all his might.
“I had to get it off. I had to do something. I couldn’t watch my friend get tore up right in front of me,” Kendell Cummings told MTN News in Powell, where he's recovering from his injuries.
When the teammates at Northwest College in northern Wyoming decided to head to the Bobcat-Houlihan Trail for some shed hunting Saturday, they never expected the turn it would take.
“We probably got five or six miles back in and it was getting a little late. We found a couple sheds (antlers), all of us found a couple, and we were there, and we decided it’s time to turn around and go back to the truck,” Brady Lowry said.
That’s when the group separated. Cummings and Lowry traveled together and were apart from their other two teammates, Orrin Jackson and August Harrison, for around 10 minutes before the attack happened.
“I looked over at Kendell and he was probably only about 15 yards away from me and I was like, 'dude, there’s bear signs everywhere,' and right after I said that is when the crashing started happening in the trees ... The only thing I had time to say was, 'Bear! Bear!” Lowry said.
That’s when a grizzly bear lunged at Lowry, knocking him off a small ledge, leaving Cummings to watch in horror above the grizzly and his friend.
“It’s gnawing on me. I threw up my arm to protect the first initial bite and its bite broke my arm and it was just throwing me around down there, just doing whatever. I was helpless,” Lowry said.
That helpless moment is when his friend jumped into action by first by yelling and throwing anything he could find at the bear.
“Nothing was working. The bear was just focused on Brady and it was getting Brady. So, I eventually got up there, right up next to him, and I grabbed the bear and pulled him off of Brady, and the bear kind of looked at me and took me out onto the ground and started attacking me,” Cummings said.
Lowry got up and ran to call 911 and find his friends, but Cummings didn’t know that and called out to make sure his teammate was okay.
“But when I called out to Brady, I think the bear knew that I was still in the area, and I was still a threat. So, it came back around and got me again,” Cummings said.
While the attacks were happening, Harrison and Jackson had lost sight of their friends and were completely unaware of what was going on.
“We finally get to the bottom of the basin and we, when we finally found them, that’s when Brady was coming down the mountain yelling for help,” Harrison said.
Lowry followed with, “They finally got what I was saying to them and kind of hustled up to where I was at, and we were probably 100, 150 yards below where we got attacked by the bear.”
Jackson remembers the feeling of having to walk back up the mountain to search for Cummings.
“We thought Kendell was dead, really, and we were honestly prepared to go up there and find his body,” Jackson said.
But he wasn’t dead. He had gone limp during the second attack and believes that is why the bear left him alone. After three minutes of laying, waiting to make sure the bear was gone, he got up and started walking down the mountain.
“I got about halfway [down] before I could hear August yelling at me and I kind of yelled back and then we linked up and they got me off the mountain,” Cummings recounts.
The young men still had to make their way to a hospital. With the help of farmers in the area, the teammates made it to the trailhead.
“When I was riding in that side-by-side, I was cold and that’s when it started to hit me that I’d been attacked, and I need some serious help,” Cummings said.
Once at the trailhead the party met up with local Search and Rescue crews. Cummings was immediately flown by rescue helicopter to a Billings hospital, and Lowry was later transported by ambulance to the same hospital. Both sustained serious injuries but have since been released from the hospital.
“I thank, you know, every one of them, and I’m sure Kendell does, too. We really, it was a miracle that, everything was a miracle, the whole story,” Lowry said.
“I’m just glad they’re both out now and we can be together,” Jackson followed.
The young men anticipate getting back on the wrestling mat eventually, but for now, Cummings is home in Evanston, Wyoming, to continue recovery.