Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
Kendall Cummings could feel the grizzly bear’s jaws tearing through flesh down to his skull, but the adrenaline coursing through his body made it a painless sensation.
“I could hear when his teeth would hit my skull, I could feel when he’d bite down on my bones and they’d kind of crunch,” Cummings told Cowboy State Daily on Monday morning.
Cummings and his wrestling teammate at Northwest College in Powell, Brady Lowry, were attacked by a grizzly bear Saturday afternoon outside Cody. The two survived but suffered serious injuries from the angry bruin.
The bear first attacked Lowry, but Cummings, an Evanston native, jumped into action to pull him off.
“I grabbed and yanked him hard by the ear,” said Cummings, a sophomore.
Cummings successfully got the bear’s attention. Backing up as the predator reared up toward him, he described the sensation of the bear’s putrid breath filling his nostrils and himself with a sense of dread.
The bear charged at Cummings with surprising speed, immediately knocking him to the ground. After a short while in the grip of jaws, the bear left him. Cummings’ thoughts were not on his own injuries, but rather that the bear would attack Lowry again. It was when he stood up to look for his teammate that the bear attacked again.
“I called out to Brady to make sure he was alright and I think the bear heard me,” Cummings said. “It kind of circled around and got me again.”
Cummings said he fought back against the bear at first, but it quickly became apparent it would be a fruitless endeavor.
The bear eventually stopped its attack, and Cummings lay still for a few minutes after, hoping to avoid a third encounter.
When it was clear the grizzly had gone, Cummings said he got up and rejoined Lowry. The bloodied men then began their long trek down the mountain, 5 miles away from the Bobcat-Houlihan Trailhead where they started their hike.
‘I Owe Him Everything’
Lowry, a native of Cedar City, Utah, credits Cummings with saving his life.
“I can’t even express how grateful I am for him,” Lowry said. “I don’t know what I’m going to pay him back, I don’t. I owe him everything.”
Both men have undergone multiple surgeries over the last couple days.
Cummings received 60 staples in his head and plastic surgery to address major lacerations to his face, major lacerations to his left arm and leg that doctors had to suture up, and stitches on his right hand and right leg.
Lowry suffered a broken arm and lacerations to his back, shoulders, right leg and thigh.
Lowry was scheduled to be released from the hospital Monday while Cummings is expected to be released later this week.
Veteran hunters and wrestlers, the grapplers said the experience was incomparable to anything they’ve ever gone through.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Lowry said.
How It Happened
Lowry, Cummings and teammates Orrin Jackson and August Harrison decided to head up to the South Fork outside Cody to go horn hunting after finishing a Saturday morning wrestling practice. They all brought bear spray, one firearm and experience in the backcountry.
Along with the five or six antlers they collected, Lowry said they also saw copious amounts of bear scat, but no bear.
“If you’re seeing bear tracks, bear tracks on the ground, probably turn around and walk the other way,” Lowry advised.
According to Wyoming Game and Fish, in the last few weeks there has been many reports of bear activity at low elevations throughout the South Fork and North Fork of the Shoshone River, Clarks Fork River and Greybull River drainages.
“In the vicinity where the attack occurred, reports from landowners and hunters indicate there may be six to 10 different bears moving between agricultural fields and low elevation slopes,” Dan Smith, Cody Region wildlife supervisor said in a Monday morning press release. “Game and Fish will continue to monitor bear activity in the area and work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make management decisions in the best interest of public safety.”
At a certain point in the day, Cummings and Lowry became separated from Jackson and Harrison by about a half mile.
As they were traveling down the mountain, the bear emerged without warning, charging Lowry before he could engage his bear spray. Tackling him at full force, the bear knocked Lowry off the small ledge he was standing on.
At first, Cummings tried to get the bear off Lowry by yelling and throwing objects at it. When this didn’t work, he physically tried to pull the bear off his friend, grabbing it by an ear.
“We’re brothers,” Lowry said. “We’d do anything for each other.”
Cummings didn’t say much when asked about what was going through his head as the bear attacked one his best friends. He just reacted.
“It just happened so fast,” he said.
With a broken arm, Lowry alerted Jackson and Harrison to what happened and called 911. Eventually the bear went away and the two started making their way down the mountain.
G&F said it was at this point Park County Search and Rescue was activated.
Not Out Of Danger
They were far from out of the woods with about a mile and half to go before reaching emergency responders. Dallas Lowry, Lowry’s father, said both young men feared for their lives.
“My adrenaline was rushing so much, I really didn’t feel anything,” Lowry said.
Harrison and Jackson hauled their teammates on their backs all the way back.
“That’s what the wrestling team does – we go to hell and back with each other,” Lowry said. “We aren’t going to let one of us go down without helping.”
Once reaching emergency responders, Cummings was loaded into a side-by-side, at which point his adrenaline began wearing off.
“The wind, it was blowing onto my skull and it was getting pulled. That hurt, it was miserable,” Cummings said. “All the bumps, too, that was the worse part.”
He was life-flighted from the scene to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Montana. Lowry was taken to Cody Regional Health by ambulance. After being diagnosed with a serious compound fracture in his left arm, Lowry was transported to Billings by ambulance.
During the phone interview with Cowboy State Daily, Lowry and Cummings made numerous references to the brotherhood they share as wrestling teammates. Their entire team and coach Jim Ziegler made the 90-minute drive to Billings to be with them at their bedside Saturday and Sunday nights.
Dallas Lowry said he thought his son was joking when he told him about the attack. Once the reality of the situation set in, he caught the first flight out to Billings from Salt Lake City.
“He was very emotional that one of his teammates saved his life,” Dallas Lowry said.
Upon arriving at St. Vincent’s Healthcare, Dallas Lowry, also a wrestling coach, was greeted by the sight of his son surrounded by his Northwest Trapper wrestling team, a memory he reflected on with his voice choking. The team stayed with their ailing teammates past midnight.
“College athletics is where these boys turn into men and they adopt these brothers that they never leave, for the rest of their lives they’ll remember these things,” Dallas Lowry said. “College athletics does a lot of things for kids for education, but it also does a lot of things for a young man’s memories and friendships.
“The power of athletics in college … it teaches them life lessons that they’re able to tackle a problem like this and walk away from it.”
It will take months for the grapplers to recover from the life-threatening injuries they’ve suffered. It will likely be the last season for both at Northwest as Cummings is a sophomore and Lowry a redshirt sophomore. Both said they plan to hunt and wrestle in the future and will rejoin the team at practices as soon as possible. They both hope to return to competition sometime this season.
“I’d never put it past a wrestler,” Cummings said. “Wrestlers never say ‘never.’”
There is little doubt in Lowry’s mind that he and Cummings will remain friends far beyond their time as wrestling teammates.
“We’ll be best friends for the rest of our lives,” Lowry said.
No fundraisers have been set up for the pair, but Dallas Lowry said he expects their medical bills to be fairly steep. For now, he is asking the public to keep the two wrestlers in their thoughts and prayers.