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841 Bear Spray Mishap 2013-08-09

Windshield blown out by bear spray

On Sunday, 07/21 (our last day at Jenny Lake Campground in the Tetons), we spent the day preparing for an upcoming backcountry trip to the Meadows in Garnet Canyon. After running a few errands and packing and repacking, we finally adjusted the packs for the last time and then settled in for a restful afternoon.

Earlier that morning, our campsite neighbors had left Jenny Lake and new campers had arrived. They were two young women driving a small car from Minnesota. We did not get a chance to talk to our new neighbors that morning - we left the campground early to run a few errands. When we returned, their vehicle was still at the campsite, but they were gone.

Later in the afternoon the young women returned to their campsite. One of the girls waved and at first I did not recognize her, but then assumed who she was as she went to their site.

It was in the middle of the afternoon, and by then the sun was extreme. We were sitting in the shade near our vehicle. There always seemed to be a nice breeze that funneled down the campground road. As we rested in the shade, we tinkered with organizing the car, a daily task. Our long range plans were to leave the Tetons and begin our drive back to Colorado as soon as we came down from the Meadows.

Suddenly, there was a loud BOOM. It sounded like a bomb, not a gun shot. We jumped to see what happened. One of our neighbors was moving away from their car with an obvious injury. She was bleeding from her head, but she was screaming - she had bear deterrent (pepper) spray in her eyes.

The victim's friend joined us near their car. Amy tried to settle the sprayed girl down. Her friend, then left on foot to report the incident to the campground host. The only problem was that she left the campsite going the wrong way.

Amy and I had a one word discussion - irrigate. Then, I left Amy alone with the girl to also find the host, but I went the short route. Within a couple of minutes I reported the incident and then returned to the scene to help.

Amy and another camping neighbor had the girl laying down in the shade with her head raised. Both Amy and the other woman were science teachers and knew how to irrigate eyes. Amy held the girl while the other teacher poured water. The poor girl would scream, "Stop, stop, stop - I can't breathe!" She would settle a bit and then beg for them to continue!

The girl had read the warnings on the bear spray label and knew that the pepper could cause blindness. The brave camper knew she needed her eyes flushed so matter how bad it hurt.

Amy said the girls were in the late teens. It was their first "road trip." The victim had bought bear spray as an essential, even though they were traveling on a limited budget. It seems as if they had not even removed the spray from the plastic wrap. When they had gone exploring, they had left the can on the dash. Then, as the girl opened the door, it exploded. The blast busted the windshield and the spray covered the girl and the vehicle.

The campground host arrived with a Ranger and the other girl who had gone the wrong way looking for help.

The Ranger looked at the scene and was satisfied. The teachers were irrigating. He called for assistance, transportation, and then began collecting information.

Soon, a Park Rescue Ranger arrived and then the ambulance. All the rescue personnel were excellent. As a victim, you could not have asked for anything more. They calmed the poor girl and then bundled her for transportation to the emergency room.

exploded bear spray label

Once they had left, we opened the car doors to help it air out. It was a mess. The inside of the car was covered with the residue of the bear spray. With rubber gloves, the campground host and teachers emptied the car - placing everything in the bear box.

Things finally settled down. We went back to packing. After a few hours the campground host was called and she went to pick the girls up and bring them back to the campground.

We had gone after pizza and knowing all the girls food was sprayed, we bought them one also.

A few notes ...

Never store bear spray (or any other form or aerosol) in direct sun.

We could not believe the damage from the explosion.

We were surprised by how thin the walls were to the cannister.

Amy got a little bit of the pepper on her and said it burned for hours. We can't even imagine how it must have felt in her eyes.

We now, really believe that the spray would halt a bear or any other creature. It is some toxic stuff.

The campground host was great. She reported the incident, brought help to the scene, helped clean up, and then went after the girls at the hospital. I am sure she did even more before the girls could leave. She was a kind hearted person.

The Park Staff were nothing but professionals.

The teachers were teachers. They knew what to do, how to irrigate, and how to calm the poor girl.

The friend who went for help was barefoot. She ran on the hot asphalt until she found the host. She had a huge blood blister on the ball of her foot from the heat.

The victim was all smiles when she returned to camp. At the hospital she received an examination, stitches, and a milk bath!

Both girls graciously thanked Amy for her help and well, then thanked me for the "awesome" pizza!

We know that they still had many bridges to cross before they got home. Their out west adventure probably transformed into a car repair nightmares, but hopefully, everything worked out for them.

Happy - if you don't leave the bear spray on the dash - trails


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