GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont. — Night after night it returned, a fearsome thing just out of sight, and no matter where he ran, Ken Larson could not escape.
"Why can't I get out of the woods?" he'd panic. "Why can't I get out of the park?"
He'd wake up, relieved it was just a dream. Then he'd look around the hospital room and feel the throb of his wounds--a gash in his scalp, a trail of holes down his back, a broken bone in his leg--and, with a shudder, he'd remember.
The morning of June 5, Larson went for a walk in Glacier National Park and was attacked by a grizzly bear.
Thirty seconds of terror transformed him from an anonymous tourist into the most talked-about man in the park, a bloody example of what can go wrong when people and predators mix.
And not just in this bear-laden corner of Montana. Across the West, some of America's biggest and scariest carnivores--grizzlies, mountain lions and wolves--are making comebacks, aided by the public's new fondness for predators once reviled and driven nearly to extinction.
Wolves have been returned to Yellowstone National Park, and other reintroductions are proposed: grizzlies to Idaho, wolves to Arizona and New Mexico. In March, California voters retained their state's ban on hunting mountain lions, despite two fatal attacks on people in 1994.
By popular demand, fear is back in the wild, and Ken Larson has felt its bite.
Seventy years old going on 40, Larson was trim and athletic, a retiree who liked to start each day at 6 a.m. with a brisk, four-mile walk.
That was his routine back home in Murrells Inlet, S.C., and he resolved to stick to it while on vacation. He and his wife, Bonnie, arrived in Glacier on June 3, and the next day he asked a park naturalist to suggest a four-mile hike.
Try the Avalanche Lake Trail, the naturalist said. Any grizzlies spotted there, Larson asked. Not recently, the naturalist said. Good, Larson said. He had read a park newsletter warning visitors to keep their distance from bears, and he decided he'd rather not see one.
The next morning, most guests at the Lake McDonald Lodge, including Bonnie, were still in bed when Larson set out. He drove 10 miles to the trail head, arriving about 6:30 a.m.
"Entering Grizzly Country," warned a sign. "There is no guarantee of your safety."
Larson pressed on, regularly calling out "YO HO!" and "HELLO!" He'd read in the newsletter about making noise to avoid surprising a grizzly.
About 45 minutes out, he realized that he wasn't on the Avalanche Lake Trail. This was the Johns Lake Trail, a less-traveled path branching off the Avalanche. But no matter. This trail was pretty too, and no bears had been seen here either. Besides, it was time to head back.
Larson turned and relaxed again into the rhythm of the hike, reciting bear calls and entertaining random thoughts: Where will Bonnie and I go today? "HELLO!" I wonder what kind of bird that is? "YO HO!"
The morning air was crisp, the forest as peaceful as a church. Sunbeams slanted through the cedars, and Larson walked through columns of shadow and light. He was enchanted.
By the time he saw the grizzly, it was 20 feet away, rushing toward him on the trail, mouth open, teeth bared.
"Oh, my God!" Larson cried. "He's going to get me!"
He jumped off the trail to his left, seeking shelter amid the ferns. He got 10 feet. The bear swatted the back of his head, its knifelike claw slicing a six-inch furrow across his scalp. Larson screamed and crumpled to the ground.
Play dead if a grizzly attacks, the park newsletter said, so Larson curled into a fetal position, his face grinding into hemlock needles as the bear batted him like a rag doll.
Claws and teeth sank into Larson's neck, shoulder and stomach. He tried to keep quiet, but couldn't help moaning. He thought he was going to die.
With one last crunch, the bear clamped onto Larson's left calf, breaking his tibia and ripping out a chunk of flesh bigger than a golf ball. He heard the bear sniff, and then it was gone.
The attack had lasted no more than half a minute.
Larson lay there a minute, maybe two, listening for the bear. Then he staggered to his feet and hobbled down the trail, dragging his left leg and glancing back every few seconds, fearful that the bear would return.
He covered the half a mile to his car in 20 minutes, only to discover that his keys had dropped out of his pocket during the attack.
Luckily, another car soon pulled up. In it were Kim and Tori Ziemann, sisters on a day off from summer park jobs. They wrapped a shirt around Larson's bloody head and helped him into their car, then barreled down the road at 65 mph.
By the time they reached the nurse's station at the lodge, Larson was shivering and very quiet. The nurse laid him on a sleeping bag and snipped open his bloody clothes.
Medics loaded Larson into a helicopter and, as he lay there breathing oxygen through a mask, he felt himself being lifted up and away. At last, he was out of the park.