DANGLING upside down by his leg, which was gushing with blood and clamped firmly in the jaws of a grizzly bear, Greg Boswell was terrified that he was about to die.
But what the renowned Scots climber did next has won him a legion of new fans around the world. For while lesser mortals might have given up, paralysed by fear, in pure desperation the 24-year-old fought back hard, slapping the wild animal repeatedly in the face and pulling it’s mouth open with his bare hands to free his mangled limb.
As Boswell confesses here in his first interview since that dramatic “man versus bear” battle in the remote Canadian Rockies last month, it wasn’t quite as “Rambo-like” as initial reports suggested.
Recalling the evening when he and his climbing partner, Nick Bullock, were walking back to their base in the dark after setting up a route on the 3,261-metre Mount Wilson for another day, he says: “We were just ambling along to our ropes to abseil down when something made me look over my shoulder, and there was a bear within five metres, bounding towards us.
“I took a few steps and fell and it jumped on me. I kicked it in the face and it bit my boot. It then went for my leg and lifted me into the air with just my shoulders still on the ground. I wouldn’t say I punched it, but I was slapping it in the face with the palm of my hand. My thumb went into its mouth and I was pushing it open. I never really tried to prize its jaws apart, but I think I would have tried anything at that point.
“Then it just looked at me and ran away. It was probably as scared as we were.
“We have had a lot of people saying since that we did everything wrong, but the experts said there was no question of avoiding an attack because the bear had already decided it was going to try to get rid of us,” said Boswell.
“That was by far the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I’ve been in very scary positions climbing where I would probably not die but would hurt myself if I fell. But if you fall off, you fall off and it’s done; whereas with this, it keeps going on and it’s the bear which decides when it’s over. You don’t know when it’s going to stop,” said Boswell.
In reality, the attack was over in seconds, but it was hours before the pair reached safety. Remarkably, the climber is expected to make a full recovery from his ordeal after the bear’s teeth narrowly missed severing a major artery and nerve, leaving him with “a deep flesh wound” which doctors treated with little more than 50 or so stitches.
“Luck has definitely been on my side,” he says. The rising star climber’s character was also a key to his survival and recovery. As Bullock succinctly put it in his blog: “Boswell is Boswell.”
And while the young Scotsman is not yet a household name, like legendary British climber Chris Bonington, he is regarded as the “future of Scottish winter climbing”.
Boswell is pioneering awe-inspiring routes across impossible looking overhangs which are setting new standards for today’s climbers, keen to conquer technical challenges in the mountains instead of following the traditional race to the summit.
He says: “I only really got into winter climbing about five years ago. It was seen as old-fashioned, for old men with big beards who liked to go out and suffer on the hills.
“Now in Scotland it’s got a second wind and lots more people are getting into it. I know people are watching me, which puts a weight on my shoulders, but last season was pretty good. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do this season, but if I do anything I want it to be Ben Nevis.”
As the final stitches came out this week he was gearing up for that goal which he hopes will see him trailblazing an extreme new route up the north face of the UK’s highest peak.
Acknowledging the impact of his recent ordeal, Boswell says: “I have a bit more of a ‘seize the day’ attitude. It didn’t happen when I was climbing so it hasn’t put me off. I could have been walking a dog.
“It’s almost settled my mind knowing that the bear didn’t want to kill us, it just wanted to get rid of us.”
His parents, Peter and Tina, who live in Cupar, Fife, and girlfriend Mhairi, who he lives with in Peebles, found it tough though, he admits.
“They are used to me doing dangerous things but it’s definitely a bit different when you call up and say you’ve been attacked by a bear.”
Greg Boswell is giving a talk about his climbing adventures at the Fort William Mountain Festival in February 2016 (www.mountainfestival.co.uk/)