Hiker trapped by a bear on Cannell Trail in Kernville

Photo by Julie Giyer

By Julie Giyer
Kern Valley Sun

Rochelle Votaw, local resident of Weldon is an avid hiker. She goes on hikes with groups and alone, and has been doing it now for four years. Votaw decided to hike alone on the Cannell Trail in Kernville on Sunday, May 10. She set out at 4:00 a.m. and had planned on returning back to her car before nightfall to head back home.

Around 6:45 p.m., Votaw was headed back to her car, about three miles from the trailhead, when she approached a mother bear and her cub. The cub became frightened and ran up a tree. The mother bear became protective and growled at Votaw, warning her of the danger that lies ahead if she were to proceed towards them.

Fearing for her life, she backed up slowly to remove herself from the sight of the bear. With the bear blocking her only way back to the trailhead, Votaw made a phone call to her spouse, Liz Mendia, for help.

Votaw could hear the frantic growls of the bear even after leaving and getting to a safe location. Worried, Mendia received a ride from a friend and headed toward Kernville. Votaw uses a device called Garmin InReach. It’s a handheld device that uses satellites for communication.

Votaw can be tracked where ever she is at on a trail as well as send a signal to Search and Rescue if she is in need of help. This device allows Votaw to send messages to her spouse when she has no cell signal. Since it was nearing dusk, Mendia recommended that Votaw send a signal to SAR for aid.

The signal was sent around 7:30 p.m. SAR informed Votaw that she may have to camp out overnight or until the bear leaves. Upon arriving, and worried about safety, Mendia had help from Kern Valley Sun editor Daniel Riley and his friend Tyler Stacey.

Both Riley and Stacey ran the trail to find Votaw, while Mendia and other Kern Valley Sun Editor Julie Giyer waited at the trailhead for SAR. After fifty minutes of not hearing anything, Giyer contacted SAR team member Brian Baskins for help. Baskins began to assemble a hiking team and was waiting on confirmation from higher-ups for the clearance to head to the trail.

At this point, Votaw still was in communication with Mendia and could still hear the bear. Mendia and Giyer waited at the trailhead as sky became darker and communication was lost to Votaw. It was approaching 9:30 p.m. and there was still no word from either of the three on the trail.

Finally, around 9:25 p.m., Baskins called stating that Votaw had made contact with SAR and that the bear had finally moved off the trail and she was able to head back. Baskins, as a concerned citizen was still going to head out to help and make sure Votaw and the two men made it back.

Around 9:33 p.m., Mendia and Giyer were able to see the flashlights of Votaw, Riley, and Stacey heading around the mountain. At this point, Baskins was called and made aware of the situation.

Words of wisdom for those deciding to hike alone, be prepared for coming upon wild animals. It’s always a good idea to carry something with you to ward off the wild animal. Be prepared for the chance you may have to camp out overnight.

If you encounter a bear, as Votaw did, that does not want to move because of fear for its cub, you may have to camp somewhere. Always be prepared, as hiking alone can be dangerous. Devices such as Garmin InReach can come in handy, allowing tracking of your whereabouts and emergency contact if needed.

1 comment
don terres - May 14, 2020

She must have gone on the trail at 4:00 PM. I was on the trail at 7:00 am and went to the 3.5 mile mark. In the 2 hours I was on the trail there was only one female backpacker (8:30 am) and a couple (8:45). There was no evidence of another hiker in front of me (no car in the parking lot).

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