Sur­vived two griz­zly attacks

High­land Park High grad fell in love with bears, the Amer­i­can West and pho­tog­ra­phy

Chicago Sun-Times - - Obituaries - BY MAU­REEN O’DON­NELL

Jim Cole died in an un­ex­pected way for the only per­son in North Amer­ica ever known to have sur­vived not just one but two griz­zly bear attacks — in his bed, at home, of nat­u­ral causes.

The High­land Park High School grad­u­ate moved out West years ago and be­came en­chanted by griz­zly bears, pho­tograph­ing them in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment — in the process putting him­self at great risk at times. One of the griz­zly attacks was so se­vere that his face es­sen­tially had to be re­built.

Mr. Cole died at his home near Boze­man, Mont. His body was dis­cov­ered July 26. He was 60.

He pub­lished three books about his work. The ti­tle of the last one cap­tures the spirit of his life­long, if un­re­quited, love af­fair: Blind­sided: Sur­viv­ing a Griz­zly At­tack and Still Lov­ing the Great Bear.

He wrote in that book about how his first en­counter with a bear helped set his course. As a boy, he saw a black bear dart across a ten­nis court at sum­mer camp at Camp Menom­i­nee in north­ern Wis­con­sin. He was ter­ri­fied — and en­tranced.

“His whole life changed,” said his niece, Cara Specks.

Mr. Cole went to the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado in Boul­der, where he was an ace ten­nis player, said Rich Berman, a for­mer class­mate. He worked for sev­eral years for Berman in com­mer­cial real es­tate, dis­play­ing the sin­gu­lar tough­ness that en­abled him to hike for help when a griz­zly sow nearly ended his life. “He just never gave up,” Berman said.

Mr. Cole fell un­der the spell of the Amer­i­can West. Hik­ing and na­ture pho­tog­ra­phy be­came his pas­sions. He socked away money from his real es­tate ca­reer and, by the early 1990s, de­cided to strike out as a na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher, said his high school friend Ron Gian­giorgi.

Mr. Cole was a strong out­doors­man, lean and self-suf­fi­cient. “The guy could hike up a moun­tain on his hands,” Berman said. “I could never keep up.”

He made a mod­est liv­ing off his pho­tog­ra­phy and class­room pre­sen­ta­tions he would do about bears, Gian­giorgi said. He also pub­lished the books Lives of Griz­zlies: Wy­oming and Mon­tana and Lives of Griz­zlies: Alaska.

He was first at­tacked by a griz­zly in 1993 at Glacier Na­tional Park in Mon­tana, said John Waller, a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist there. Mr. Cole was com­ing up the trail and sur­prised a bruin.

“The bear thumped on

him,” Waller said.

Mr. Cole suf­fered scalp and wrist in­juries be­fore a friend helped run the bear off with pep­per spray.

Waller said he en­joyed Mr. Cole’s com­pany. But he added, “We warned him re­peat­edly that his ac­tions would lead him into trou­ble. He fol­lowed his pas­sion, and he was drawn to bears be­cause bears gave him some­thing he needed. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s not re­cip­ro­cated.”

In his third book, Blind­sided, Mr. Cole wrote about the 2007 at­tack that cost him an eye. He was hik­ing near tall grass in Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park. He never saw a mama bear bed­ded down there, Gian­giorgi said. Her cub was nearby.

“She was on me real quick,” Mr. Cole said in an in­ter­view on NBC’s “To­day” show. “She drove me into the ground like a linebacker driv­ing a run­ning back into the ground.”

Pure adren­a­line helped him hike a cou­ple of miles to get help.

“The griz­zly raked its claws across his face,” Gian­giorgi said. “Jim had to hold up his face so he could look out the one eye and watch the sun to make his way back to the road.”

His nose, jaw and cheeks needed to be sur­gi­cally re­built. Af­ter the at­tack, Gian­giorgi joked, “Jim ac­tu­ally had a lit­tle bet­ter nose.”

Back in 2004, Mr. Cole was tick­eted for get­ting too close to bears at Yel­low­stone. A worker do­ing a fly­over an­i­mal count “ob­served a fe­male griz­zly bear with cubs and could see some­one crouched down in sage­brush, 20 feet away, tak­ing pho­tos,” said Yel­low­stone bear bi­ol­o­gist Kerry Gunther.

It was Mr. Cole. He was cited for breach­ing a Na­tional Park Ser­vice rule re­quir­ing peo­ple to keep a 100yard dis­tance from any bears. Mr. Cole ex­plained that he’d stum­bled upon them, chal­lenged the ci­ta­tion and won in court.

The rule was later tight­ened to re­quire that any­one who found them­selves in close prox­im­ity had to move to a safer spot, Gunther said.

Gunther said that, as “the only one in North Amer­ica that’s been mauled twice by griz­zlies,” Mr. Cole was well-known around Boze­man. He stood out for his eye­patch — a sou­venir of the sec­ond at­tack. He wrote blue­grass mu­sic, in­clud­ing songs about griz­zlies, and per­formed them on his gui­tar at open­mike night at the Pine Creek Lodge in Liv­ingston, Mont. Peo­ple would call him “Griz­zly Jim” or “Mon­tana Jim,” said lodge owner Ned Shapiro.

Though he moved away years ago, Mr. Cole was a life­long White Sox fan, Shapiro said.

His work can be viewed on­line at griz­zlysto­ries.com. Some of his un­usual pho­tos in­clude a griz­zly sow with four cubs, and a bear that ap­peared to be rais­ing the flag on a flag­pole, Gian­giorgi said.

A cel­e­bra­tion of his life is sched­uled 5:30 to 8 p.m. to­day at the Nite ’N Gale res­tau­rant in High­wood. An­other cel­e­bra­tion is planned Sept. 12 at the Pine Creek Lodge in Liv­ingston, Mont.

Mr. Cole is also sur­vived by his step­mother, Mar­cia Cole; step­broth­ers Louis and Wil­liam Grant; and a nephew, Jeff Specks.

Af­ter the sec­ond bear at­tack, Jim Cole lost an eye and had his nose, jaw and cheeks sur­gi­cally re­built.

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