Searching for Bigfoot

Semi-convinced that Bigfoot existed, I flew to the ancient forests of North America to join the Big Foot Research Organisation’s hunt for evidence. They’d all seen the beast. Would I?

(Click on pics for high res versions)

Bigfoot sightingMy mission to find Bigfoot was not as crazy as it sounds. John Napier, primatology director at the Smithsonian Institute, in his objective book on Bigfoot was: “forced to conclude that a manlike life-form of gigantic proportions is living at this time in the wild areas of the north-western United States.”

Bigfoots, also called Sasquatches, are, supposedly, a species of giant bipedal North American forest ape. You can think of them like the big cats on our moors. Most British people accept that big cats, released when the pet laws changed in 1976, prowl our moors. There are convincing eye witnesses and irrefutable track evidence, but, officially, there are no big cats because scientists cannot find them. That’s the position that the Sasquatch is in. Except there’s a lot more evidence that it’s there.

Bigfoot carwashThousands of Americans and Canadians – including doctors, policemen and professors – have reported seeing Sasquatch over the last 150 years. They consistently report a hairy, forest-dwelling animal, between 8 and twelve feet tall, with a loping gait, long-ish arms and a pointed head. Many Indian tribes consider Sasquatches no less real than bears. Tracks, confirmed as those of a giant primate, have been found regularly. Several academics have risked their reputations by not only believing in Bigfoot, but by studying it for years. An animal living undiscovered in a vast wilderness, they maintain, is much more likely than mass uniform delusion and a hugely elaborate 150 year-long hoax.

Could such a big animal remain hidden? In 1992 a entirely new species of ox, the Vu Quang, was found in SE Asian jungle, an area more densely populaKristine on ferryted than North America’s forests. So it wouldn’t be the first time.

Gripped by the notion of a mini King Kong sharing a country with Britney Spears and George W, I asked the Bigfoot Research Organisation (BFRO) if I could join them on an expedition into Olympic National Park, Washington State, USA to find and study Sasquatch. They agreed.

I was picked up from Seattle by Kristine Walls (left), 41 year-old Investigator with the BFRO and part-time University of Washington botanist, for the journey to the Olympic Mountains in the Olympic National Park (crossing Puget Sound, Seattle and Mount Rainer in the background).

Mount RainierThe park contains glaciers, peaks almost double the height of Ben Nevis, and a forest about 1/5th the size of Wales (yet I’d never heard of it a month before – there’s a lot of world out there). Plunging off the highway into tiny roads through tangled brush to the camp, it was easy to believe we were in Sasquatch territory.

Peaceful as the beginning of a horror filmThe campsite that held the BFRO’s HQ for the weekend, The Log Cabin Resort, was an All American affair of camper trucks, a diner, and shrill children. It sat, bright and peaceful as the beginning of a horror film, on the edge of Crescent Lake – large, deep, glacial, and surrounded by steep, densely wooded hills.

I dumped my stuff in my cabin – the BFRO, who were all camping, had assumed a British journalist would be “too much of a weenie to camp” – and wandered over to HQ. (For the record, I’m not too much of a weenie to camp, but neither was I going to kick up a fuss and move out of my comfortable, dry, bear-proof, raccoon shit free cabin).

Paul Graves 2Among the gigantic pick-up trucks and humungous camper vans of the tourists, I found a group of men gathered under a large tarpaulin. Tables were laden with maps, Bigfoot books, walkie-talkies and other equipment, all semi-concealed behind a big cycling club sign – a ruse to keep mockers and hoaxers at bay (a hoax television show with a gorilla suit could do well with the BFRO, although the danger of being shot may outweigh the potential ratings benefit). (BFRO member Paul Graves, left, holding a Bigfoot foot cast in front of the false cycling club sign).

The BFRO turned out to be a much more staid bunch than I’d imagined, and a great deal more friendly. The last journalist who’d joined them had completely ridiculed their monster-hunting ways, but they couldn’t have been friendlier to me. That’s Americans for you.

Bobo 4There were around 35 people in all, mostly men. Ages ranged between 12 and 65. There were a couple of wild-haired types with whacky eyes (Bobo, left), but generally the group was made up of sensible-looking people, chatting quietly. There was the informed, academic, but slightly-excited-to-be-outdoors atmosphere that I imagine you’d find at an open-air Star Trek convention. My yellow T shirt and bare head stood out amongst all the camouflage gear and caps, but, as I assured everyone I met, I’d bought something green and a hat for later.

When hand-shakes and shoulder-chucks had died down, I spoke to Carter Mackley, a business attorney from Seattle in his fifties, with sober hair and a quiet voice. I asked why he was there:

Matt Moneymaker 2“I’m not a hundred per cent convinced about the Sasquatch, but I’m pretty sure. It’s a natural consequence of my legal training and eight years as a prosecutor: – there are too many people who’ve seen Bigfoot, situations where there are multiple witnesses, and others with witnesses who have a lot to lose by making up a story. Put that together with all the other evidence, and you’ve got to take it seriously.”

Matt Moneymaker, 39-year-old BFRO founder and boss (right, pic taken a day or two later), was too busy organising the night’s activities to chat. His voice, although louder than an Englishman generally enjoys, was by no means the camp’s loudest, but his enthusiastic charisma held the everyone’s attention when it needed to. His name really is Moneymaker, and he really does make quite a bit of money out of the BFRO. But, here with my un-cynical head on, I hardly took that in.

Tracy HerigstadPockets of people explained their moves to Matt, listened to advice, then peeled off, mostly to camp up in the woods. The idea was to experience Sasquatch – be near it, see it, get footage or picture if possible, but not to disturb it. And very much not to shoot it. Although, shucks, who are we kidding here – this was America – I’m sure at least half of the would-be woodsmen were packing heat.

I was told that Squatches (slang for Sasquatches) preferred women, so if I wanted to see one I should go with Tracy Herigstad, a young anthropology student and veteran Squatch investigator (left), Kerry, a blonde surf chick on her first expedition, and my chauffer Kristine. Again, it would have been churlish to complain.

We walked for a couple of hours, deep into the boundless woods. There was no moon, not a cloud and no light pollution, so the sky was ablaze with stars. It was difficult to look up without seeing a meteor plummeting silently through the atmosphere. In between the dark, silent trees, the cool air fresh with the late summer smell of cedars, pines and alders.

We discussed two arguments against Bigfoot: one, that nobody’s found a dead one, and two, that such a large creature couldn’t possibly hide from humans and their technology. Both can be explained away. One, it’s very rare to find any bones in the forest, because they get dispersed and eaten quickly – hence no dead Squatches found. And two, the best tracking technology in the world don’t work in dense forest. Eric Rudolf, the Olympic Park Bomber, hid in the meagre woods of N Carolina from 1998 to 2003, avoiding detection by US military’s finest kit as well as police and amateur trackers.

Patterson–Gimlin_film_frame_352

It’s difficult for human arrogance to accept that Bigfoot might be as bright, or even brighter than Rudolf, but if we can, then it’s easy to see how Sasquatches might elude all searches. Rudolf was only caught when he raided a dumpster. Had he not, who knows how much longer he would have stayed hidden.

And, of course, there’s the Patterson-Gimlin film. In 1967, two thirty-something men, Patterson and Gimlin, were riding in the woods near Orleans, California, when they saw a Bigfoot. Patterson fell off his horse in excitement but managed to train his 16mm camera on the beast, capturing the most famous Bigfoot image (left). At the time Disney and Universal were the world’s most advanced film studios. Universal said that they didn’t have the technology to create such a realistic film and it would be almost impossible to hoax. Disney said that they were the only studio that could have made the film, but that they hadn’t. The authenticity of the film has never been properly debunked.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to believe in something when Western Science, the one deity we rarely question these days, says it isn’t there. Moreover, science happily explains why deluded thickos may have created it. Dr Simon Roberts, anthropologist, suggests that “myths have a function. The creation of Bigfoot might be a way of delineating between wild nature and man’s domesticated world”.

Kevin JonesThen there’s the Jungian idea that monsters are a projection of our own inner animal. Dr Christopher Bailey, psychiatrist, says: “Aggressive impulses deemed intolerable for civilized people are disowned and attributed to something outside the self, like when people who kill wolves for sport refer to wolves as bloodthirsty killers (and fail to see the irony).”

Then again, just because we make up a monster doesn’t mean it’s not there. Back when they were just scant-believed explorer’s tales, both gorillas and Komodo dragons were considered as mythical monsters by the better educated.

There or not, the three girls and I found no trace of the Sasquatch that night. We had a lovely walk though. It turned out they were all very good singers, and, as singing attracts the Squatch, I was serenaded most prettily as we ambled along the soft pine-needle paths of the star-lit woods.

The next day, however, the camp was abuzz with excitement. There had been an Encounter.

Kevin Lomas (above right), a 53 year-old ex US Army Lieutenant Colonel, had camped the night before with two others on a promontory five miles into the forest. While the other two slept, a huge Sasquatch had loomed over his tent, and made a deep rumbling sound. The terrified Lomas had been unable to move.

Researchers in bigfoot countryMoneymaker made decisions. That night a small, elite team would return to the site. Dr Leila Hadj-Chikh (centre in pic with Tracy and Kristine, left), Conservation Biologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, would set up her super high-tech recording equipment. Kevin Lomas would guide the team to the right place. Tracy and Kristine were to go because they were good at calling Squatches. And the final member of this crack unit? Well, me, of course. I was to sleep in the exact spot where Kevin had been buzzed by the Squatch the night before. I suspected I was being set up for a hoax. I hoped not. I didn’t want to be loomed over by a big beast in the middle of the night, real or fake.

That night we sat, deep in the woods, in a fireless clearing about twenty feet (7m) across, surrounded by tall trees, looking up at stars, satellites and shooters (the clearing in daylight, below right). Kevin told a story of watching a Sasquatch for 45 minutes through a gun-scope when he was seventeen. Would a distinguished ex-soldier make a story that might make him look a liar and a fool, I wondered, when he knew it might go in one of the world’s biggest newspapers? Kevin and Tracy

Dr Leila Hadj-Chikh said she though Bigfoot existed because of people like Kevin’s statements: “Most of my scientific knowledge is based on what other people tell me. If I can talk to people and judge their credibility for myself, then that’s the same as accepting another scientist’s judgement on another species.”

By now I was very nearly converted, and had had a couple of beers. Around us, the primeval forest was dark, vast and brooding. It wasn’t long before I thought every sound in the forest was a Squatch.

I put down an empty beer bottle – my third, so I wasn’t drunk. It clinked twice on the previous empties. A couple of seconds later, there were two clinks from the woods about 50 yards below us. It was too sharp to be an echo. The bush was too thick, steep and bramble-full for there to be anyone there.

“Could that be a squatch?” I asked.

“Could be… They’re clever. Do it again.” Kristine said.

I clinked again, three times. Three clinks replied from the pitch black woods. Then two clinks were matched by two clinks. No more clinks were replied to, but, minutes later, we could hear three Somethings walking around the clearing, in the thick brush, just beyond torch range. When we stopped talking, they’d stop walking.

As I stood a way down the track taking a pee, I remembered that Squatches use their fists to beat larger prey to death. What was that noise I could hear in the forest? Squatches readying their knuckles for some serious limey-punching?

My next beer-induced micturition was so close to the camp that the girls laughed, and Dr Leila, listening to nearby woodland sounds on super-sensitive, high-power headphones, said: “Oh yuk.”

After a while we went to bed in out tents, fly-sheets off so we could see out. But nothing more happened.

On our return the following morning, BFRO boss Matt Moneymaker asked me about my night. He told me that footsteps I’d heard around camp were too light to be Sasquatch. He said a group a mile down the mountain has been throwing stones down a ravine at around the time of the bottle clinks. Their stones must have struck bottles, he said, so that explained that.

His scepticism was impressive, but it could have been bluff. I asked him about his belief in Bigfoot.

“It’s not a belief,” He replied “It’s whether you’re informed enough to know about the evidence that’s there, and, in your rational analysis, does that evidence lead in one direction or does it not?”

He was interrupted by news of another Encounter. Tattoo artist Chip Beam had been loomed over and buzzed in the same way as Kevin. Chip told the story over and over, acting out parts. Eventually his wife, who’d heard the story even more times than me, looked ready to beat Chip to death with her fists. Kevin was amazed that Chip’s story was exactly the same as his. I was suspicious. Nevertheless I was happy to be dispatched to Chip’s Encounter site for another overnight vigil. Doing the Patterson

The campsite that night was a very jolly affair, with a long night time walk and some calls to lure Squatches, followed by beers, a fire and some very entertaining camp-mates (above, copying the stance from the Patterson Gimlin film. I’m third from left, on my right is Bobo, the only one to correctly raise his near shoulder (see real pic above)) . There were noises all around, as if a crowd of Bigfoot were circling, and Kristine thought she saw one right behind me. I wasn’t nervous though, perhaps because of the fire, or because we were camped in a 50 yard-wide fire break, or maybe I was just becoming less of a weenie.

Where Kristine saw itKristine woke us all in the morning: “I’ve just seen one!” We ran from our tents. The Bigfoot had gone, but Kristine pointed out were she’d watched it for a few seconds (right). We ran to the spot. I looked for broken branches, footprints and Bigfoot shit, not really sure what I was doing, but enjoying the moment. Kristine was elated. It was her first sighting after two years in the field. She told me all about it on the journey back to Seattle later that morning, and phoned all her friends to tell them about it too.

I liked Kristine, and respected her intelligence and judgement. The figure she described having seen that morning could have been a Sasquatch, a man dressed up as a Sasquatch, or a very deformed grizzly bear walking on two legs. Or the 41 year-old Washington university botanist could have been plain lying. Which is most likely?

After all that, I should probably accept that the Sasquatch is there. Yet I am just too much of a sceptic to believe wholeheartedly, until I see one, or Western Science tells me they’re there. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with the words of BFRO boss Matt Moneymaker:

“Western Science’s acceptance of Bigfoot’s existence is not only absolutely inevitable, it’s going to happen soon.”

[Putting this on my new website in 2015, A, I cannot believe it’s nearly ten years since I did this and B, Bigfoot remains officially a non-existent animal).

For more on Bigfoot and the BFRO, see www.bfro.net . To see me practicing my expression for if I ever do see a Bigfoot, see below,

Me looking for bigfoot