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'Punching for my life': Calgary man recounts cougar attack in Banff National Park



UPDATE: Parks Canada says its investigation into a reported cougar attack in Banff National Park last month turned up no signs of the big cat. Full story HERE.


A Calgary man sustained just minor injuries but says he's lucky to be alive following a cougar attack in Banff National Park this week.

Spencer Weilermann was on a solo day trip Monday, hiking along the Rockbound Lake trailhead around 11 a.m. when the life-threatening encounter occurred.

The 23-year-old had low battery on his phone, so he started back to the parking lot area.

He went about 20 metres off-trail to urinate when suddenly, a cougar latched onto him.

"I felt this giant weight on my shoulder. Something clawed around onto my face," Weilermann said.

"I just grabbed as much hair as I could, chucked it off my shoulder and kind of did like a front flip, and we tumbled down this hill. It was just pure adrenaline. I wasn't thinking.

"It was just an immediate reaction to get whatever this is off of me."

Weilermann says he fell another 20 metres down the hill while wrestling the cougar during the attack that lasted about 30 seconds.

"We were just rolling, tumbling down. I think after that, I don't really remember too much because I smashed my head on a tree or a log or something pretty shortly after we started rolling," he said.

"My glasses flew off. I don't know if I lost consciousness but all I remember is kind of coming to and holding the cougar and I'm just punching for my life. I had spikes on my boots. I'm trying to just kick and just sprawl. I'm screaming, I'm yelling but yeah, after a few punches, I must have landed on something because it just ran off into the bush."

(Photo provided.)

Weilermann suffered minor soft-tissue injuries including scratches to the side of his face and his left eye.

He was able to walk back to the trailhead parking lot and dial 911, at which point a Parks Canada worker was able to meet him just 15 minutes later and paramedics were able to transport him to Canmore in non-life-threatening condition.

Parks Canada posted a bulletin on Facebook late Monday about an area closure for Castle Mountain Lookout and Silverton Falls, which includes Rockbound Lake, located about halfway between Banff and Lake Louise.

"Parks Canada is asking park visitors to please avoid these areas, and respect closures in place to ensure the safety of the public and Parks Canada team members working in the area," the post read.

CTV News contacted Parks Canada for an update as to why the area was closed and is awaiting a response.

(Photo provided.)

(Photo provided.)

There has only been one fatal cougar attack in Banff National Park, which occurred more than 20 years ago in January 2001.

Frances Frost, 30, was cross-country skiing by herself near Lake Minnewanka when she was attacked.

Wildlife officials found the cougar over her body and shot it.

Alberta Parks previously issued an advisory for Kananaskis Country in December after a cougar was spotted by a hiker with dogs in the area.

Additional warnings were also issued last year following cougar sightings in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Canmore and Cochrane.

(Photo provided.)

Conservation experts encourage awareness

Weilermann is an avid hiker, having regularly completed solo day and overnight camping trips across Alberta.

Although this was the first time he had ventured into the Rockbound Lake area, he was adequately prepared.

"I had all the safety measures, bear spray, an air horn, radio, satellite phone and this was just a random attack," he said.

"I couldn't use those tools at the moment, but I brought them to protect myself and it's important to have the right education and to research areas you are visiting for the first time."

Clio Smeeton, president of the Cochrane Ecological Institute, says the best advice for anyone who sees a wild animal such as a bear or a cougar is to make as much noise as possible.

"Look at the animal. You should make yourself look much bigger than the animal and it should turn around and run away," Smeeton said.

"The theory is that if you're looking at a big cat, and that's been applied to leopards as well as cougars, that if you've got your back to them, they're more likely to attack but they hardly ever do."

Smeeton says cougars may be spotted in certain areas they don't usually roam due to last year's wildfire season in Alberta, which was the worst on record.

"They have to move out away from where the fire was to find food that they can eat and if you've had the biggest year on record, an awful lot of Alberta got burned," Smeeton said.

"So, people who live outside the fire area are bound to see more wildlife that they don't expect to see.”

Weilermann says he's thankful for the help he received.

The attack won't deter him from getting out and enjoying nature but he encourages others to be more aware.

"I'm going camping next weekend, so it's not going to stop me," he said.

"Being born and raised in Calgary, the mountains run through my blood. I don't think this should hinder anyone from enjoying nature. It's a beautiful thing and bears, cougars or wolves in the area are something we have to accept." Top Stories

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