Doug Hajicek, nature film producer, took a break with his cameraman, and wandered near the shoreline of Selma Lake, nearly 1000 miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In the Arctic to film giant lake trout, they had flown into this remote location by floatplane. Along the isolated beach they encountered a crisp 17-inch footprint. The print was exceptionally clear and detailed, and except for its enormous proportions, clearly human-like in form, with distinct toes and a broad rounded heel. Some 40 inches further ahead was another similar footprint, followed by another, and so on trailing alternately into the distance. This resembled no bear track. Besides, a polar bear hind paw measures only between 10 and 14 inches long. The hind paw of an Alaskan brown bear may reach a full 16 inches in length, but their range is generally restricted to the Pacific coastline. Grizzlies do range farther to the east but their foot is only about 10 inches long. Could it be an out-of-the-way Alaskan Brown, or an over-sized grizzly, fishing for giant salmon? Hajicek weighed that possibility but he was familiar with bear sign from extensive documentary film-making with Lynn Rogers, the “man who walks with bears,” and he knew that a bear track consists of a distinctive alternating pattern of hind and forepaw prints. The narrow interdigital pad of the fore paw is much abbreviated compared to the hind paw, to which is added an extended distinctly tapering heel pad. Whatever animal had left these tracks was walking upright, on hind feet only, and had struck off from the lakeshore in an apparently determined course with an impressive stride. Judging from the freshness of the tracks, it may even have been the filmcrew's arrival by floatplane that sent it on its way.
Hajicek’s curiosity was piqued and together with his companion, they followed the advancing line of footprints. For over a mile they traced the creature’s enormous strides, before deciding that they didn’t actually want to catch up to whatever behemoth had left the immense tracks clearly and deeply impressed in the frosty tundra soil. The men remained mystified over what could have been responsible for these prodigious footprints. They returned to the lake thinking that they could readily follow the tracks from the air over the relatively treeless landscape and perhaps overtake the trackmaker. But the pilot of the floatplane refused to talk about the tracks and rebuffed their suggestions to pursue them, and so they gave up on the idea.
Hajicek was unfamiliar with Sasquatch and therefore had no real concept of a giant upright ape upon which to hang the enigma of the footprints. The obvious and unavoidable fact that some unusual animal had made this impressive trackway continued to dog him, and his thoughts frequently returned to the scene of the discovery. The suggestion that someone might have intentionally hoaxed them at that precise spot beside a 70-mile long lake in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, accessible only by floatplane, seemed absolutely nonsensical. Hajicek thought about it a great deal and eventually, with the advent of the Internet, encountered the website of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), and discovered that he was not alone in his experience. In fact, a surprising number of other people had discovered large inexplicable footprints in the wilds of North America. He also learned that the BFRO was compiling an electronic database of reports of sightings and footprints submitted by witnesses from all walks of life. A network of field investigators responded to and documented these reports, where possible, by interviewing witnesses and collecting corroborative evidence, or determining alternative explanations. Hajicek began to educate himself about the accumulated information concerning the history and nature of this hypothetical and strangely elusive primate. He was surprised and irritated that the public at large, and particularly the media, ignored the extensive evidence for the existence of this otherwise legendary animal. Being a filmmaker by profession, he thought what better project than to produce an informed documentary that dealt objectively with the data and explored the question of Sasquatch with an open mind. The folks at the Discovery Channel concurred and so the concept of Sasquacth: Legend Meets Science was conceived.
The format of the documentary was a noticeable departure from the established formula for “monster” media. Instead of trotting out a series of sensational eyewitness accounts with interviews and dramatic recreations, then “balancing” them with retorts by armchair skeptics and willfully ignorant scientific experts, Hajicek opted to let the data stand on their own. He would present the accumulated evidence on its own merits and enlist the expertise of scientists willing to evaluate it objectively and to pursue their analysis wherever it might lead them with out prejudice. Several of these recruited scientists were previously unconcerned with the matter of sasquatch, but nevertheless, in the spirit of exploration, were quite willing to ply their skills to evaluate the evidence laid before them. Others harbored a longstanding interest in the subject, but had rarely spoken openly of it for fear of ridicule and a concern for their reputed credibility. A few of the scientists, like Dr. Bindernagel, Dr. Fahrenbach, and me, had already crossed paths with the evidence and were actively engaged in ongoing research into the matter, in spite of its unpopularity within mainstream science, and even our own institutional colleagues.
The Internet has provided a novel and readily accessible forum for the exchange of ideas and information. Like Hajicek, other witnesses frequently submit reports of their encounters with sasquatch to the many sites on the Internet concerned with the topic. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization was one of an overwhelming number of websites that one is confronted with when searching the Internet for information relating to sasquatch or bigfoot. It was the one that captured Hajicek’s attention and subsequently cooperate during the development of the documentary concept. Many of the pioneering scientists Hajicek would work with were associated at one time or another with the BFRO. For a time the BFRO took the lead among a new generation of amateur and professional investigators. There were a number of organizations of various stripe, but the BFRO boldly touted the distinction of being “the only scientific organization probing the Bigfoot/Sasquatch mystery.” A rather grandious assertion perhaps, but, in so far as efforts were made by its investigators to adhere to the principles and methods of scientific research during the collection, handling, and evaluation of objective evidence, that standard was applied with varying success. Like any community, the BFRO was not without its volatile personalities, egos, strong wills, deep-seated opinions, conflicting agendas, and other controversies. However, in spite of intermittent lapses, there has been a degree of cooperation, collegiality, and professionalism among its individual membership.
Matthew Moneymaker, the founder and driving force behind the organization, recruited and sometimes rode rough shod over a line-up of amateur curators and investigators with varied skills and backgrounds. Affiliated with their ranks have been a number of credentialed scientists primatologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, wildlife biologists, geologists, and engineers, which pursue a professional interest in the matter. Some of the most dedicated field researchers, however, have little, or no formal training in the sciences, but often possess a vast experience in the outdoors and keen powers of observation and discernment. The self-described aim of the BFRO is as follows:
The mission of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) is multifaceted, but the organization essentially seeks to resolve the mystery surrounding the Bigfoot phenomenon, that is, to derive conclusive documentation of the species' existence. This goal is pursued through the proactive collection of empirical data and physical evidence from the field and by means of activities designed to promote an awareness and understanding of the nature and origin of the evidence.
The BFRO, the oldest and largest organization of its kind, is directed by a virtual community of scientists, journalists, and specialists from diverse backgrounds. The researchers who compose the BFRO are engaged in projects, including field and laboratory investigations, designed to address various aspects of the bigfoot phenomenon. As a result of the education and experience of its members and the quality of their efforts, the BFRO is widely considered as the most credible and respected investigative network involved in the study of this subject.
When compelling evidence is collected by or submitted to the BFRO, it is presented to scientific and forensic specialists for evaluation. The BFRO organizes and reports observations and data and publishes research material. Through this process, the BFRO steadily improves the size and scope of its collective expertise.
Those in the organization anticipate that this emphasis on cooperation and professionalism is not only the most realistic approach to resolving the mystery, but that it furthers the BFRO's long term goal: determining how these rare and elusive animals can and should be protected and studied after their existence is generally acknowledged by governmental agencies and the scientific community.
Admittedly, this is not a wholly “scientific” posture, i.e. “to derive conclusive documentation of the species’ existence.” The strictly scientific stance would be to seek to resolve the question of the existence of sasquatch either way, without any appearance of a “pro-Bigfoot” bias. To its credit, the BFRO investigators are routinely critical of reports and go to pains to winnow the kernel from the chaff, concerning both potential evidence and would-be debunkers. Indeed, it is the proponent that is frequently responsible for refuting misidentified or misinterpreted evidence or claims. It must be appreciated that many of the individuals involved in the investigation lay claim to firsthand experiences that have effectively laid the question to rest for them personally. They are motivated by a conviction that eventually well-documented evidence will bear out their experiences or convictions and resolve for them a vexing and persistent mystery.
As many youngsters then and now, I discovered a fascination with extinct dinosaurs and prehistoric ape-men. I knew the author Jack London, not for his Call of the Wild, but for his less well-known novel, Before Adam, which explored the main character’s dream-like racial memories that nightly hurled him back to the vicarious experiences of remote forebears who lived in trees at the dawn of humanity. Growing up in Pacific Northwest I eventually was exposed to the legend of sasquatch. At the age of eleven, I encountered Roger Patterson from a third-row seat in the Spokane Coliseum, where he was showing his captivating documentary film about "America's Abominable Snowman." Its centerpiece was the famous 60 seconds of jumpy footage of what he and partner Bob Gimlin claimed to have witnessed along Bluff Creek in the Siskiyou Mountains of northern California. The larger-than-life image of a Bigfoot deliberately striding across the screen made a lasting impression on a young and adventurous mind and served to reinforce my fascination with the evolution of the primates and primitive humans. Was this creature some “missing link” or some relic from a spent diversity of man-apes? I hadn’t yet been indoctrinated concerning what could and what could not exist. The possibility that a giant human-like ape, or some remnant ape-like human, perhaps a relic of the Pleistocene Ice Ages, could have survived to the present in the remote corners of western North America, or elsewhere in the world, seemed to offer the prospect for a fascinating adventure in exploration. Patterson's dramatic film seemed to draw back the curtain on the legend, revealing what could be one of the most intriguing questions facing zoologists and anthropologists today. Does a giant upright ape inhabit our wilderness today? What, if anything, might it disclose about human history?
The Patterson-Gimlin film did not bring a speedy resolution to the mystery of the sasquatch, as Patterson and others had optimistically anticipated. In fact, it made very little lasting impact on the scientific experts of the day, in the absence of a body or some bones. The years that followed yielded no conclusive physical evidence, no type specimen required by hard science, and sasquatch remained stuck in the company of assorted legendary "monsters" and other occult subjects.
Very few physical anthropologists ventured to openly pursue a critical look at the matter. One exception was Dr. Grover Krantz, then a young anthropology professor at Washington State University, and not one inclined to shy away from a controversial idea, whether anthropological or cryptozoological (the search for “hidden” animals). He studied Patterson’s film and concluded that it was in all probability authentic. He examined the tracks and concluded an unknown animal had left them; but more importantly, he persisted in thrusting the broader matter of the evidence for sasquatch under the noses of the “Scientific Establishment” as he came to rather critically refer to it. His colleague at the nearby University of Idaho, Roderick Sprague, editor of the Northwest Anthropological Research Notes (NARN), noted the lack of anthropological literature on sasquatch, and in a 1970 editorial invited responsible articles on the subject at a time when it was downright dangerous to one’s career to do so. Over the next decade, a series of submissions was published in NARN, and these contributions were eventually assembled by Sprague and Krantz as a collected volume under the title The Scientist Looks at the Sasquatch. Without the early attentions of a few intrepid anthropologists, the subject might well have been altogether ignored by science and been relegated wholly to the realm of folklore and fantasy.
Krantz was an accomplished anatomist, and his detailed analysis of the Patterson-Gimlin film, his published evaluations of the accumulated footprints, and his discovery of dermatoglyphics (skin ridge detail) on the soles of the sasquatch feet could not be so off-handedly dismissed. However, dealing with "evidence" of such a controversial nature is not without its challenges and pitfalls, and Krantz became the target of criticism springing not only from skeptical professional colleagues but also from the volatile elements of the community of amateur Bigfoot researchers. In the end, Dr. Krantz did not live to see the mystery conclusively resolved, but he and others held the door ajar, creating the opportunity for further investigators to take an objective look at the matter.
My own early interests in apes and prehumans led me eventually into a career in academia, specializing in primate evolutionary biology. I was focused on the emergence of human locomotor adaptations, especially our apparently singular trait of walking on two feet – bipedalism. Rather than center my investigations directly on the earliest initiation of hominid bipedalism, I have turned to the more recent pattern of emergence of the distinctive modern form of human walking, characterized by a striding stiff-legged gait and endurance walking and running.
Eventually, my path crossed that of Dr. Krantz. In 1996, during a visit with family in Boise, Idaho, I traveled with my brother Michael to Pullman, Washington and the campus of Washington State University, to examine Krantz’s assemblage of alleged sasquatch footprint casts for myself. The day was spent pulling specimens from drawers and spreading them out on padded laboratory bench tops. There were casts from the Patterson-Gimlin film site; the enigmatic “cripplefoot” from Bossburg, Washington; a cast made by Sheriff Bill Closner from Skamania County, Washington, the first county with a formal ordinance prohibiting the killing of a Sasquatch; casts from the Blue Mountains in southeastern Washington bearing skin ridge detail or dermatoglyphics; and many more. We compared and contrasted characteristics and discussed alternate interpretations of details of anatomy and foot function. We noted the repeated appearance through time of recognizable individuals residing in a given geographical region. Finally, we noted the dubious aspects of the more questionable examples and the evident hoaxes, although these seemed to be decidedly in the minority, contrary to my initial expectations. The singular opportunity to examine firsthand Krantz's collected series of footprints was extremely enlightening. The study of photographs can provide only so much, and then the investigator must examine the casts and the footprints themselves to truly appreciate the finer details and signs of animation. In 2001, Dr. Krantz formally passed the baton and most of his cast collection was transferred to my laboratory at Idaho State University, where it joined the sample of casts I had also assembled in the meantime, totaling in excess of 150 casts. The Smithsonian Institute accessioned additional selected specimens from Krantz's collection, along with most of his personal papers, and even his very own skeleton, now an enduring anthropological specimen.
A significant number of the casts in Krantz’s collection, which also figure prominently in his notable book, Big Footprints (in its current edition known as Bigfoot Sasquatch Evidence), were accumulated from the nearby Blue Mountains in southeastern Washington. This region took on greater significance when I was asked to review a book, Bigfoot of the Blues (in its current edition known as The Walla Walla Bigfoot), written by a regional journalist by the name of Vance Orchard. Orchard had chronicled developments in the district in his newspaper column for over a decade. Upon leaving Krantz’s lab, my brother Mike and I paid an unplanned visit to Walla Walla, to call upon Orchard and a few of the people who figured prominently in his narrative: Wes Sumerlin, Bill Laughery, and Paul Freeman. Sumerlin was one of the last of the old-time mountain men, frequently horse-packing in the Blues. Bill Laughery was a former game warden now living in the Tri-Cities area. Paul Freeman had briefly been a patrolman for the U.S. Forest Service assigned to the Mill Creek watershed. It was on one of those patrols that he claimed to have encountered a sasqautch and subsequently found footprints that exhibited dermatoglyphics. Freeman had become something of a controversial figure, particularly among the community of amateur Bigfoot investigators, but I was eager to critically examine the original specimens that I had only seen copies of in Krantz’s lab. Our unannounced visit found Freeman at home and he cordially invited us in to visit and to examine his footprint casts. The originals, with a few exceptions, were even more impressive than I had anticipated. I pressed him for more details about his casts, for examples of multiple casts from a single trackway, for circumstances of the finds, all the while attempting to size up the person, his reliability, and motivations. Shortly he turned to me and said, “You’re obviously serious about this. Would you like to see some fresh tracks? I just found the first tracks of the Spring earlier this morning.”
I was quite incredulous and silently chuckled to myself. What a coincidence, I thought, to have fresh tracks to show me, just like that. Could he have learned of my last minute decision to detour to Walla Walla and somehow hastily fabricated some tracks for my visit? It seemed unlikely, but either way, what did I have to lose? The three of us climbed into the truck and headed for the foothills. It seemed Freeman routinely drove the muddy mountain roads as early in the year as conditions permitted, looking for sign below the snow pack. That weekend in February, the melt-off had opened the lower foothill roads. On a restricted-access farm road he had found a long line of tracks in the wet ground. We pulled over, stopped the truck, and stepped out onto the muddy side road. A string of 14-inch tracks was plainly visible. Freeman’s own tracks from earlier that day were also evident, but indicated he had merely walked alongside the tracks, pausing occasionally, presumably to inspect individual footprints more closely. Freeman repeatedly downplayed the tracks to me, saying they weren't that good and he wouldn't bother casting them, since he had seen much clearer tracks. However, what he considered imperfections and distortions, to my eye were signs of their spontaneity and animation, although I still was rather dubious due to the sheer coincidence of the event and harbored lingering doubts about Freeman’s credibility. "How could he have managed this?" I was silently asking myself as I surveyed the scene. Mike and Freeman wandered ahead as I began a closer examination, taking measurements and snapping photographs. The prints were 14 inches long by 5 inches wide. I knelt down close and could make-out subtle patches of skin ridge detail, fading rapidly in the light drizzling rain. The tracks, whoever or whatever had made them, were fresh considering the weather conditions of the past several days, probably laid down during the preceding night or wee hours of that very Sunday morning. In some tracks the toes were extended and often the fourth and fifth digit hardly left a discernable imprint. In others the toes clearly curled over protruding stones; in still others the stones were pressed into the ground beneath the weight of the forefoot or heel, while still showing signs that a compliant foot had conformed to them. There were distinct tension cracks about the margins of many of the tracks – signs of dynamic compression rather that a forceful stamped impact. Several showed a speed-bump-like ridge a little less than halfway along the length of the foot. This was clearly a pressure ridge marked by expansion cracks, which immediately brought to mind a picture I recalled of a track from the Patterson-Gimlin film site, and the corresponding cast I had just examined in Krantz’s collection, which displayed a similar feature and dynamic details.
Then I came to a peculiar footprint that seemed to altogether lack a heel imprint. The step was on a slight incline and the foot had obviously slipped in the wet silty mud. Distinct slide-ins were evident ahead of all five toes, which were sharply flexed and deeply impressed to gain purchase. The forefoot had pushed up a ridge of mud behind it, much more pronounced than in the other prints, but there was no heel imprint at all. It was similar to a person walking on the ball of his foot when going up an incline, except in this case the entire forefoot, not merely a ball, remained in contact with the ground. This indicated a greater degree of flexibility of the midfoot than is present in humans. The print was over 2 inches deep in the mud so that as the toes had splayed somewhat, the marginal toes had impressed into the sidewall of the track leaving a never-before-seen profile of the first and fifth digits. The three toe segments, corresponding to the three individual bones, the phalanges, of the little toe were discernable, while the big toe possessed only two segments. This is a subtle detail of skeletal anatomy that most people are quite unaware of. As the realization began to sink in that this could well be the track of a flesh-and-blood sasquatch, the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
Freeman rejoined me and described how it seemed that the tracks began about where we had parked the truck, made a hairpin loop in the soft soil of the adjacent fallow field and ended once again along the side road precisely where the truck was parked. Again I thought to myself, how convenient for a hoaxer simply don false feet in the back of a truck, jump onto the muddy road, trot out a truncated trackway, jump back into the back of the truck, doff the muddy false feet and away you go. For the moment I kept these thoughts to myself.
The afternoon was waning and so we returned Freeman to his home and took our leave. I turned to my brother and said, "Even if these footprints are fakes, there is ample anatomy present. We can potentially learn a great deal from the incident, hoaxed or otherwise, by taking a closer look and making some casts." So after a quick trip to a hardware store for some supplies, we were back to the foothills. When we arrived, I said, "If we assume for a moment that these tracks are legitimate, then there has to be more sign up the road beyond the spot where the truck was parked and Freeman believed the tracks started and stopped.” There was abundant surface along the road and adjacent fields to take tracks, but a thorough search beyond the truck turned up nothing. The only other option, besides a hoax, was that Freeman had read the sign incorrectly and the sasqautch had come and departed from the opposite direction. We began to flag each footprint methodically and soon recognized the point where the trackmaker had made a hairpin turn, not out in the field, but near the truck, toward the road. We backtracked in the opposite direction along a brush-lined irrigation ditch and found more tracks beyond any sign of Freeman's footprints. Indeed, it appeared that whatever had made the tracks had come from the direction of the densely wooded Mill Creek that flowed out of the watershed, followed the cover of a brush-line ditch through the fields and nearby plum orchards, and was heading for the adjacent ridgeline that leads back to the watershed, when something, probably a passing car late on a Saturday night, prompted it to turn abruptly and retreat across the field toward the cover of the ditch, picking up its pace as it went. I was puzzled by the series of footprints immediately after the abrupt turn back away from the road. Every second right footprint was toed-out about 45 degrees from the line of travel. It wasn't until some months later, when I was examining my own tracks on an Oregon beach that I realized what had likely transpired. As I walked along the wet sand I would occasionally glance back over my right shoulder to get a glimpse of the appearance of the tracks I was leaving along the beach. I quickly noticed that every time I looked back, my right foot toed out sharply in a manner very reminiscent of the tracks in Washington. Something caused the track maker to turn abruptly and, with increasing pace, walk away from the road, glancing back every other step to assess the situation.
The plaster we bought was sufficient for seven casts and I tried to sample the variation evident in footprints depending on the conditions of the soil and the speed of walking or running. Some were shallower with the toes fully extended. Some were very deeply impressed, especially under the forefoot, in the softer soil of the fallow cultivated field. I was especially interest in the "half-track" with the toe slippage and included a cast of it, and found another example of such. It was getting late and we both had commitments to fulfill the next day in Boise. I still harbored serious reservations about the whole set of circumstances and could not fully accept the situation on its face, but the more closely I considered the tracks the more intrigued I became. In hindsight, the incident had much more significance than I was prepared to acknowledge at the time. The drive home was punctuated with discussions of the possible meaning and implications of what we had witnessed, from Dr. Krantz's lab and cast collection, to Freeman's tracks in the foothills of the Blues. When we pulled into home, well past midnight, I was not inclined to retire just yet. Instead, I went to the garage sink and carefully unwrapped and washed the dirt from the seven casts we had retrieved. I lined them up and reexamined them, carefully noting the contours of the heel, the consistent protrusion of bony landmarks, the evidence of midfoot flexibility, the signs of articulation and obvious mobility evident in the toe impressions. I placed my little finger alongside the profile of the fifth digit in the peculiar half-track. It failed to cover it fully. The toes were relatively long, even for a 14-inch foot. The evident spontaneity and consistency of the tracks impressed me profoundly. Perhaps there was something to these footprints that deserved a much closer look. Who better to evaluate this evidence than someone long preoccupied with primate feet and the evolution of bipedalism? I began contemplating what it would involve to review and extend the line of study that Dr. Krantz and begun.
Some time later, when the opportunity was extended to participate in a sponsored expedition to attempt to collect new data in the field, I was keen to join. Richard Greenwell of the International Society for Cryptozoology had received funding from a foreign documentary film company to mount a 4-week excursion into the Siskiyou wilderness of northern California. Our jumping off point would be just a few tens of miles from the site at Bluff Creek where Patterson and Gimlin had their alleged encounter, captured on film in 1967. An additional 5-man camera crew and four pack llamas accompanied the four-man research team. Our intended llama handler had to withdraw at the last minute and I was given a crash course in llama wrangling, which added a whole new and unanticipated dimension to the experience.
We had seismic sensors, night vision and call-broadcasting equipment, and early-model camera traps, at a time when few if any others were utilizing such technologies for this purpose. We discovered that such novel accoutrements presented a set of challenges all their own. On the first day in, we came upon an old set of tracks crossing a pass. They were heavily weathered and unsuitable for casting, but the discernable outlines of broad 13-inch foot laid down in bipedal sequence were evident. After this tantalizing piece of evidence, little else was found over the next couple of weeks. The infrared triggers for the camera traps were set of by any interruption, animate or otherwise. When the morning fog rolled in off the coast it would set the cameras off in rapid succession using up a roll of film in short order. We did get some intriguing responses to the calls we broadcasted, but they were too brief and faint to record effectively. There was ample sign of bear scat in the areas we explored, but footprints of any kind were scarce, if not altogether absent, given conditions on the ground. Frankly, I was a bit surprised by how little of the ground surface lent it to taking distinct tracks. The trails were rocky and a deep layer of dry duff often cushioned the forest floor. The creek beds were mostly rocky or densely overgrown with willows and alders. This was a something I had not fully anticipated and goes largely unappreciated by most who seldom venture off-trail.
The camera crew departed on schedule after five days of shooting. We moved camp further into the wilderness and hoped that with a fresh location, and fewer people about, we might have a better chance of encountering sign or detecting something. As the fourth week began, our guide, Mark Slack, and I undertook an excursion about five miles further along the trail and intending to then cut cross-country a further couple of miles to reach a cluster of off-trail lakes. We hoped that the shrunken lakes with exposed mud flats would provide more suitable substrate for tracking. The “trail" we followed was barely that since, as the Forest Service personnel had warned us, it had not been maintained for some years. We lost the indistinct trail a number of times as it crossed rocky outcrops, only to pick up portions of it again further along. In many places it was strewn with numerous deadfalls, rendering it impassable had we brought llamas along. It was clearly a region rarely disturbed by human visitors. As we negotiated an east-west trending ridge the rocky trail was littered with a thin layer of duff still moist with dew. Abruptly, we came upon a series of fresh footprints 16-inches in length. Something had come up the slope, cut along the section of trail for a short distance, and then continued upslope in the direction of a notch through the rocky ridgeline. The outline of the shallow imprints on the hard trail was unambiguous and the moist duff under the forefoot was scuffed back exposing the dry material beneath. The length of the step was over 42 inches on a moderate uphill incline. We scouted about, but what little sign we could distinguish off-trail was eventually lost in the rocky ridge.
About a mile further on we left the trail, following a small tributary upstream, and made camp near a clear spring just below a ridge separating us from the lakes. The spring was surrounded by exotic-looking pitcher plants, giving the scene a surreal atmosphere. Several bear trails were evident about the margin of the spring; their small quadrupedal tracks were in stark contrast to the footprints we had examined earlier that day. In the morning we climbed the ridge and descended through a vast boulder-strewn slope to the lakes. As we expected, the mud flats preserved many footprints, especially excellent bear tracks, some indicating cubs in tow, but disappointingly no tracks of sasquatch. We returned to the ridge just before sundown and from that vantage point tried to imitate the recorded vocalizations we had broadcast from the base camp on preceding nights. Surprisingly, our voices seemed to carry quite a distance, echoing down the drainage in the still evening air. There was no response – no audible reaction that is.
As we reached camp a cold drizzling mist had engulfed the mountains and we huddled around the fire beneath our ponchos as we sipped Miso soup left behind by the Japanese camera crew, and eventually retired to our respective bivy tents. I was awakened several hours later by Mark's urgent voice whispering, "Jeff! Jeff, do you hear that?" As I roused from my slumber I could just make out a trailing cry some ways off in the night. I wasn't at all certain what I had heard, but I was certainly wide-awake now. I lay there as the minutes dragged on, straining to listen. Then came the sound of footsteps and popping brush circling our little camp, and a clacking sound, of rocks or perhaps teeth, in rapid succession. The clacking was promptly responded to by a second source of clacking on the opposite side of the camp. There was a pause and silence, and then a clackity-clack of Mark's pack frame banging against the tree trunk it was leaning against. I struggled to extricate myself from my bag and tent, and heard Mark doing likewise. We found the pack, which had been wrapped in a poncho, standing uncovered with its flap unclasped and thrown back, its rifled contents hanging out in disarray. The dense mist obscured the moon and stars, and our flashlight beams did not significantly cut through the gloom. Whatever it was had simply slipped away into the fog. We lingered outside or tents for some time before returning to the shelter and warmth of our bedding. No sooner was I settled in than the footfalls returned. They quickened pace and seemed to approach my tent with a rapid pad pad pad. The sound of footsteps passed along the side of my small tent and something bumped one of the poles, jostling it. “Mark?” I queried, wondering if he could be out there investigating something, but he responded from inside his tent in the opposite direction. I again scrambled from my confinement into the wet darkness and shot the beam of my flashlight along the side of my tent. Near the head of my tent was enough grass to momentarily hold a roughly 16” oblong impression, the grass just rebounding from the compressing weight of the tread. There were also punch holes in the boggy stretches below the spring where something had apparently stridden rapidly away from the campsite. The punch holes had slumped in with standing water and retained no detail.
The next day and night were uneventful except for incessant rain. We surveyed the immediate area for additional sign but found none, except for old washed-out bear trails. The next morning the rain let up and since our provisions were nearly expended, we broke camp and headed back to rejoin the others. Along the trail I hoped to get another look at what remained of the tracks we had encountered earlier along the ridgeline. They were in thick timber and relatively sheltered from the direct onslaught of the rains. We paused there for a respite and some refreshment. As I slung my pack off, a softball–sized rock sailed onto the trail a mere few feet away. A slight shiver crept up my spine. There was no high point nearby from which a rock might have been dislodged by the rainstorm. Nor did it simply roll onto the trail from uphill. It had been airborne; it had been lobbed. For the first time on this excursion the hair on my neck stood on end; there was that subjective, but inescapable sense of being watched. In spite of the distinct feeling that something wanted us to move along, we determined to tarry and see what would happen. Nothing did and we eventually gathered ourselves up and continued on to the base camp, arriving late that afternoon and related our experiences to our companions.
That night I was again awoken by the sound of Mark’s backpack clanging against a tree trunk once more. As I collected my senses, I called to Mark. Immediately there was a pad-pad of heavy footfalls running between our adjacent tents and the sweeping sound of something brushing along the length of my tent's rain fly. I emerged from my tent to see Mark’s pack open again, this time the now empty food bag was out and standing on the ground like an open grocery bag. The hard-packed ground had again taken no readily discernable tracks. In the morning we discovered that our food cache in the meadow had been raided. The twisted double garbage bags were standing open, but there were no claw marks or tooth marks, and no scattered provisions that typically mark bear activity. Curiously, only a large resealable bag of flavored instant oatmeal packets was missing. The few remaining foodstuffs instant potatoes, dried fruit, jerky, etc. were left untouched. Such selectivity was also uncharacteristic of a scavenging bear, but had precedent in other reported sasquatch encounters.
These experiences in the Siskiyous were perhaps even more compelling than the footprints in the foothills of the Blues. We were in a remote region and had seen only two people besides our party in four weeks some serious backpackers who had come through from the distant more popular north end of the wilderness area. I was confident that no human was responsible for the events of those nights. I was equally convinced that we were not dealing with the antics of a marauding bear. The behavior was completely atypical of a bear in camp. There was something that had left 16” footprints, apparently walked on two legs, dexterously opened backpacks, rifled its contents without mark of tooth or claw, and accurately lobbed a rock in our direction. Just what that something was, remained hidden from sight throughout our excursion, but little doubt remained that I would have to pursue the question of sasquatch to its resolution, one way or another.
Hajicek’s documentary project, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, set a new benchmark for serious media coverage of this intriguing cryptozoological mystery. It provided an opportunity to further my own research through discussion and collaboration with an assemblage of open-minded and inquisitive fellow scientists recruited to evaluate evidence in their respective fields of expertise. A colleague of Hajicek, Michael Hsu suggested that a companion volume should be produced as well, in order to carry the dialogue to another level, and offered to take the lead in coordinating the effort. When Hsu approached me about writing such a book I was very keen on the idea. While organized after the framework of the documentary, in this companion volume I delve even further into the background and history of scientific reaction to the persistent evidence than was possible within the time constraints of one-hour television show. I share many of my own experiences, perspectives, and insights gained through nearly a decade of investigation and research. I also take the opportunity to set a baseline of what is known and to theoretically explore the potential for new directions of research. The latter may strike some as akin to the medieval debates about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But I suggest it begins to establish a framework for what is or is not plausible for the anatomy, behavior, and ecology of a reputed large primate. Will it bring us closer to a rational determination of what lies behind the legend of sasquatch?
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