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Ultra-runner near the end of a 50-mile excursion attacked by a bear in Yosemite Valley

Jon-Kyle Mohr was less than a mile from the end of an epic adventure he’d been planning for years: a 50-mile run from his home in June Lake, over the towering Sierra Nevada, then down into the spectacular natural amphitheater of Yosemite Valley.

His long, hot, exhausting day was seconds from ending in triumph Sunday night when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a huge black shape charging at him.

In an instant, he said, he felt “some sharpness” on his shoulder followed by a powerful shove that sent him stumbling in the dark. When he turned around, people about a hundred feet away were shining their headlamps in his direction and shouting, “Bear!”

And then, right in front of him, he saw the large, adult black bear. The collision had knocked a stolen bag of juicy-looking garbage from the animal’s mouth, and it didn’t seem happy. Before Mohr could fully process what was happening, “it was coming back at me,” he said.

Mohr, 33, started yelling and slapping his running poles on the pavement, he said, as people from a nearby campground came to his aid, shouting and banging pots and pans.

It worked. The bear disappeared into the darkness. Mohr’s clothes were torn, and he had a few scratches, but there was no more serious damage done.

Mohr said he feels lucky. Given the staggering force of that single blow, “if it seriously wanted to inflict any kind of actual harm, it totally could have.”

Black bear sightings are common in Yosemite; hundreds of them live in the park. But attacks — or accidental collisions, as appears to have happened in this case — are rare. Mohr said one of the rangers who responded said he’d been in the park for decades and had never seen anything like it.

Scott Gediman, a spokesman for Yosemite National Park said, he had not received clearance to talk about what happened to Mohr.

Bad things sometimes happen when people get too close to bears trying to take selfies, or when they surprise the animals rummaging in their cars or tents. But an unprovoked attack on someone walking down the road is almost unheard of, according to park officials.

Mohr said the collision happened on the road near Happy Isles, not far from the Vernal Falls trailhead, one of the most populated places in the park.

As of July 6, there had been eight bear “incidents” this year, according to information published on the park’s website. An incident is any time an encounter with a bear causes monetary damage — when a bear smashes a car window to get the food left inside, for example — or when a bear injures someone, which the website describes as “fairly uncommon.”

The number of incidents is down 20% from last year, when there were 38 in total, according to the National Park Service.

But bears have become more active in Yosemite Valley lately, due to a ripening crop of natural raspberries, according to the park service. A sow and her cub have been seen repeatedly on the trails, in the meadows and near the popular campgrounds.

A man takes a photo of a bear

Austin Wall of Napa snaps a photo of a bear that is wearing a tag and transmitter collar near Yosemite’s El Capitan Meadow in 2020. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

All bears encountered in Yosemite are black bears; the last known grizzly was shot in the early 1920s. No one has been killed or seriously injured by a black bear in Yosemite, according to the website.

In an interview on Monday afternoon, Mohr was still a little rattled and searching for the words to describe what had happened.

That single swipe of the bear’s powerful paw tore through his sun hoodie and the shirt underneath it, Mohr said. It also ripped a few holes in his running vest. He had two substantial scratches with some blood, but nothing too deep or worrying, he said.

An ambulance arrived and the medics bandaged his wounds, but Mohr said he declined transport to a hospital.

Using a tracking device, park rangers located a familiar bear nearby and started searching for it, Mohr said. They told him it had been tranquilized earlier on Sunday morning and fitted with a tracking collar. They did not explain what had prompted that action, Mohr said.

“It sounds like the bear and I had equally crazy days,” Mohr joked.

An avid and experienced trail runner, Mohr knows there are much more likely hazards to consider on big adventures in the back country: twisting an ankle, straying off course, getting dangerously dehydrated in the heat. Bears are very low on the list of concerns.

Which is why what happened just seven-tenths of a mile from the finish was so freaky.

He had started his run 15 hours and 59 minutes earlier, according to his watch.

“It was just a really strange, random collision,” he said. “If I had rested my feet for 20 seconds longer at any point over the sixteen hours, it wouldn’t have happened.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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