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Hunting for Bigfoot

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

My 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 the UK's wilds. 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.

Thousands 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. The only decent footage of the beast, taking in California by a couple of chaps called Patterson and Gimlin in 1967, is considered real by many experts (including, at the time, Disney and Universal studios) 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 populated 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.

Kristine Walls on Puget Sound ferry
I was picked up from Seattle by Kristine Walls (left, on the ferry across Puget Sound), 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. The 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.

The 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.

Lake Crescent - quiet as the beginning of a horror film
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 cabin).

Paul Graves
Among 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).

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.

There 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 (Paul Graves, above, with bigfoot plastercast), 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:

“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
Matt Moneymaker (left, by Lake Crescent), 39-year-old BFRO founder and boss, 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 from the people who pay to come on his BFRO expecitions. But, here with my un-cynical head on, I decided not to think about that too much.

Pockets 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 bet at least half of the would-be woodsmen were packing heat.

Fellow researcher Tracey Herigstad
I was told that Squatches (slang for Sasquatches) preferred women, so for best chance of seeing one I should go with Tracy, a young anthropology student and veteran Squatch investigator (right, in the bigfoot pose from the Patterson-Gimlin film), 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 shooting star. In between the dark trees, the air was fresh with the late summer smell of cedar, pine and alder.

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. Tracey and Kristine explained both away. One, it’s rare to find any animal's 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.

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...

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to believe in something that Western Science, the one deity we rarely question these days, says it isn’t there. Moreover, science happily explains why deluded thickos have created Bigfoot. 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”.

Then 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).”

Convsersely though, even if Bigoot has taken on the guise of man's created monster, that doesn’t mean it doens't really exist. Back when they were just scant-believed explorer’s tales, both gorillas and Komodo dragons were considered as mythical monsters by the better educated. It was quite a surpirse when they turned out to be real.

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

Bigfoot Spotter Kevin
The next day, after I'd had a blissful night's sleep in my cabin, the camp was abuzz with excitement. There had been a Bigfoot Encounter.

Kevin Lomas, a 53 year-old ex US Army Lieutenant Colonel (right, in the woods near his Encounter), 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.

Moneymaker made decisions. That night a small, elite team would return to the site. Dr Leila Hadj-Chikh, Conservation Biologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society (below, with Kristine and Tracey), would set up her super high-tech recording equipment. Kevin Jones 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.

Some of the elite team
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. Kevin told a story with military detail of watching a Sasquatch for 45 minutes through a gun-scope when he was 17. 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?

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.

Shortly afterwards, with strange noises still all about, I stood a way down the track taking a pee. I remembered the commonly held theory that Squatches beat prey to death with their fists. What was that noise I could hear in the forest? Squatches readying their knuckles for some serious man-punching? Was this going to be it? Death by Squatch?

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

After a while we went to bed in out tents, me packed in with Kristine and Tracey, fly-sheets off so we could see out. But nothing more happened.

Me, seraching for the Squatch by Kristine's encouter site
On our return, 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 with my usual female entourage.

The campsite that night was a very jolly affair, with a long starl-it walk and some calls to lure Squatches, followed by beers, a fire and some very entertaining camp-mates. 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.

Kristine woke us all in the morning: “I’ve just seen one!” Tracey and I piled out of our tent. The Bigfoot had gone, but Kristine pointed out were she’d watched it for a few seconds. 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.

Where Kristine saw it
I liked Kristine, and respected her intelligence and judgement. The figure she described having seen that morning could have been 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. Or it could have been one of the giant but unobtrusive North America bi-pedal apes. 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 a proper scientist tells me that 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.”

For more on Bigfoot and the BFRO, see www.bfro.net

Copyright The Telegraph 2005 / Copyright on pictures Angus Watson 2005

  © Copyright Angus Watson 2006