By Ceri Godinez
Courtesy of the Chilkat Valley News
Although Shannon Stevens was prepared for the sting of cold when she bared her behind in a Chilkat Lake outhouse last weekend, she wasn’t expecting the sting of a bear tooth.
“I just sat down and the thing bit me right away. I jumped up, screamed, screamed for my brother,” Stevens said.
Her brother Erik Stevens, who was still inside the yurt at his Chilkat Lake property, said he heard his sister shout. “She screamed, ‘Something bit me.’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh, there’s probably a mink or some smaller animal in there. Then she screamed again, ‘I’m bleeding.’”
He said he grabbed his headlamp and ran to the outhouse where his sister was bleeding from a single puncture wound on her butt.
“She was still standing there with her pants down. I said, ‘What bit you? Where is it?’ And she said, ‘In the hole.’ I shined the headlamp and opened the lid, and right there at the level of the toilet seat was a cinnamon-colored bear face, big enough to fill the hole.”
The siblings slammed the seat shut and ran from the outhouse.
The next morning, the outhouse visitor was gone. The pair investigated and found large animal tracks leading from the fire pit, where they’d cooked dinner, to the outhouse, which is built on top of a root wad, high enough above the ground for a wolverine or small bear to squeeze through.
Erik Stevens said at first, they assumed it was a wolverine, but after they returned to town and had others look at pictures of the tracks, they were told the tracks looked like bear prints.
“I believe it was a bear as do my colleagues,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Carl Koch said after looking at photos of the tracks and interviewing both Stevens siblings. He said he’s not sure at this point whether the wound resulted from a bite or a swat from the paw.
At first, Koch had a hard time believing the story. He said he’s never heard of anything like this occurring.
“I have heard stories of people having scares near outhouses in the spring and summer when bears are normally out, but never in winter and definitely not from underneath while sitting down,” Koch said. He said he’s not sure why the animal was drawn to the outhouse.
“I would think the odor is cut way down with everything being frozen,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think the animal was denning in there since Stevens and her companions had used the bathroom earlier in the day without suffering any nips to their rears.
Koch said this is a reminder that running into bears is a year-round possibility in the Chilkat Valley.
“This is the second confirmed bear I’ve heard of outside of a den during February in the Haines area with rumors of others,” Koch said. “Folks should be prepared that some bears are out and about even though the odds of encountering bears is certainly lower in winter than it is in the summer.” He said he was sent a photo of a black bear in the Chilkat Lake area two days after the outhouse incident occurred.
Last weekend, Bart Pieciul was mauled by a bear after he and two other backcountry skiers accidentally disturbed its den above the Glory Hole Road along Chilkoot Lake.
Shannon Stevens said the experience hasn’t deterred her from using outhouses, but she does plan to practice a “look before you sit” policy on future visits.
In an interview Tuesday, she said the wound wasn’t too bad, mostly just bruising at that point. She said she plans to make an appointment at the Haines Health Center to determine whether she needs shots including rabies and tetanus.