UAS mountaineering professor back on the job after surviving 2016 bear mauling

 Courtesy Ryan Cortes
Courtesy Ryan Cortes (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 21, 2017 at 4:48 PM AKDT
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A year after surviving a bear mauling near Haines, a UAS assistant professor is back in the outdoors teaching mountaineering students in the university’s outdoor studies program.

Forest Wagner this month led 10 students on a two-week expedition around the Juneau Ice Fields. The trip involved successful summits of Snowdrift Peak and the 6,800 foot Emperor Peak, the highest mountain in the Taku Range.

On April 16-17, the group skied back home along the south branch of the Mendenhall to West Glacier Trail.

"[The program] offers students a variety of degree options ranging from certificates to baccalaureate level awards," the university said in a Thursday press release. "Program participants practice risk management and environmental stewardship in small groups and in high consequence outdoor settings, such as the high-latitude alpine and ocean environments of Southeast Alaska. Graduates regularly go on to guide and lead groups in remote places across the globe."

It was during a similar expedition in April of last year that Wagner was attacked by a sow brown bear with a cub near the Northeast aspect of Mount Emmerich. Wagner was on skis leading a group of 11 outdoor studies students when he accidentally surprised the bear and it charged at him.

After the attack, one of the students rushed down the mountain to get cell phone signal and call Haines Police, who then requested assistance from Alaska State Troopers. After several hours, Wagner was airlifted from the mountainside in critical condition and was eventually taken to Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Private helicopters meanwhile evacuated the students safely back to Juneau.

According to the university, Wagner underwent about ten surgeries and physical rehabilitation after the incident. He has since returned to work in Juneau.

“Forest happily reports full recovery from the bear mauling, and offers his continued gratitude for the overwhelming support he received from Juneau and communities across Alaska,” UAS wrote in the press release.

According to his biography on the UAS website, Wagner has been working with the university’s outdoor studies program since 2006 teaching mountaineering, backcountry navigation and travel, ice climbing, rock climbing, and outdoor leadership. He also has experience as a high-altitude mountain guide.

Wagner declined requests for an interview with Channel 2.