STORIES OF COURAGE & BRAVERY IN ALASKA'S RUGGED COPPER RIVER VALLEY

Fred Rungee And How He Skinnied Up A Dwarf Spruce To Escape An Angry Mama Grizzly

Fred Rungee in 2007. Photo By Tom Sadowski.

 

Downplaying His Mauling By A Bear, Fred Rungee Remembered The Incident Like It Was Yesterday

 Northcountry Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.



Many an 1898 Alaska prospector lay on the cold ground, wrapped in an oilcloth, and worried about being attacked by a bear. But their most dangerous problems were not bears. Their most dangerous challenge was water.

In Alaska, winter or summer, water is the enemy.

Bears are statistically not as dangerous as Alaska's treacherous icy waters, in part due to their short season of activity. Lengthy winter hibernations limit bears to the summer months -- and the Copper Valley’s norm is winter, when bears are asleep, and there's still water under the ice of rivers and lakes.

But of course, ‘Bears Happen.’ And, generally, a bear encounter requires you having to save yourself. 


For example, Fred Rungee, a Copper Valley Bureau of Land Management ranger, came to  Alaska in 1953. Fred was working on a fire, alone, around 150 miles from Anchorage one July in the 1960’s. Over 50 years later, he could still clearly remember being treed by a 400 to 500 lb., ferocious female grizzly, like it was yesterday. And he recalled the bear standing under the little spruce he had climbed, and bear whipping it back and forth, clawing at his legs,

In 2013, Fred Rungee told me:


“It was a female bear, and she had a couple of cubs. About 200 lbs apiece. She was very protective of those cubs; she thought I would be a menace to them. She stopped in front of me; about 200 yards, and stood up. I thought, I’ll just back up a bit and get out of her way. She dropped down and started coming to me.

I didn’t have a rifle. It was thick grass and an old berm. So then I stopped and backed up to a tree, a living tree. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just stay here and bat her down with my polasky -- which is a fire tool.’

She came up. Usually a bear will stop and check you over with your eyes; they have bad eyesight. She stopped about 15 feet away, and looked me over.

When she stopped, I thought, ‘It’s time to go up in that tree.’ She shook the tree, and shook it. She shook it pretty good. It didn’t break. I held on. I waited fifteen to twenty minutes. I went back where I had the pickup--which was about 2 miles from there...”

Fred Rungee was injured on his leg by the grasping bear. But he was relieved to have survived, and decades later, he still downplayed the injury: 'It was just cosmetic; I only had thirteen stitches.'


Fred Rungee Playing His Piano. (Tom Sadowski)
Fred Rungee died two years after this interview, at the age of 93. 

Born in Connecticut, he was a college educated New Englander who was a gentleman scholar/woodsman. 

He was as handy with a piano keyboard as with a double-bitted ax.

Copper Valley Black Spruce. 

  Northcountry Communications. All Rights Reserved.


©Author Interview with Fred Rungee, November 24th, 2013

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Write us at ncountry@gci.net! Bearfoot Travel Magazines/Copper River Country Journal, Gakona, Alaska

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