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Fall off cliff injured Alaska bear attack victim

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Forest Wagner on the summit of Alaska’s Mount Sanford/UAS photo

The University of Alaska Southeast mountaineering instructor attacked by a bear this week might have suffered the worst of his injuries when the animal knocked him off a cliff.

Forest Wagner is now in Providence hospital recovering from the attack. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wagner’s hometown newspaper, on Wednesday reported his mother had posted a statement on Facebook saying her son was in surgery on Tuesday and more surgery was planned for today.

The surgery appears to be related to the repair of bones broken when Forest went over a 10-foot cliff.

A friend and co-worker of Forest during the climbing season said “he was skinning up” a snowfield in the Chilkat Mountains when attacked by the bear on Monday. The attack  bowled him over the cliff.

“I think he was fighting the bear as he went over the cliff,” the friend said.

An instructor at the university in Juneau during the school year and a guide on Mount Denali, North America’s tallest peak, during the May-to-June climbing season, Forest himself was not granting interviews.

His mother did post a message from him Tuesday evening, according to the News-Miner, which reported it said:

“Hi everyone. Thanks for the outpouring of support. I am in stable condition at Providence Hospital in Anchorage. I expect to be here for 10-14 days. I love you all very much and will update as my condition improves.”

Details of the attack on Forest remain sketchy though news of his attack has rocketed around the globe.

Alaska State Troopers at first reported the mountaineering instructor was leading a hike of 11 students  and two teaching assistants up 6,405-foot Mount Emmerich just south of Haines, Alaska. But skiing would be more appropriate for the terrain.

“Skinning up,” as Forest’s friend calls it, refers to attaching what are called climbing skins to the bottoms of skis so that one can walk uphill on them much as on snowshoes. The skins are then removed to ski back down the mountain.

It is unknown where the rest of the UAS class was in relation to Forest when the bear attacked, but typically when skiers are skinning up a mountain they are strung out in a line. What happened after the attack is also unknown. An Associated Press reporter waiting in Alaska’s capital city for students getting off a ferry there as they returned from Haines late Tuesday afternoon, but the students joined Forest in not wanting to talk.

Many, many questions remain about the attack. It is unclear whether Forest suffered his injuries from the fall or from the bear – spring grizzlies sows can weigh more than 500 pounds – landing on him at the end of the fall.

Haines is in Southeast Alaska bout 500 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.

No students were injured. Friends and family remain hopeful Forest will have a full recovery.

He is not the first bear mauling victim to go over a cliff. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Paul Kissner nearly died in 1967 after he rolled off a cliff on Admiralty Island to escape a grizzly that was attacking. Kissner was seriously injured, but fully recovered and went on to a long and productive career studying Alaska salmon.

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