Ridiculous is a meaningless word until youve seen Thomas Steenburg, Bigfoot field researcher, taking giant strides across Harrison Lakes beach wearing replica creature tracks moulded to a pair of Chuck Taylors. He is conducting an experiment, see, to find out whether or not convincing Bigfoot tracks can be easily faked. They cant. Even in the softest sand, Steenburgs tracksreplicas of the 1958 Bluff Creek, California, prints that catapulted the term Bigfoot into public consciousnessmark only an eighth of an inch of the surface. The tracks he claims to have discovered at Ruby Creek the week before, in late September this year, were three times that deep, indicating a foot structure designed to carry a very heavy animal. He says.
Heres the story: a man from Chilliwack went hunting in the forests around Ruby Creek, about 50 kilometres up the Fraser River from Agassiz. He was in very difficult terrain, a bog so moist and so deep that Steenburg later sank waist-deep while exploring the area. The hunter told Steenburg that something threw a rock at him. When he turned to look, he saw a manlike creature covered in hair walk into a thicket of trees. He believed it was a Bigfoot (also widely known in this part of the world as Sasquatch, which means hairy man in Halkomelem, a Salish language).
So the hunter was spooked, of course, and called Steenburg. After 30 years in the field, Steenburg has become B.C.s go-to guy for this sort of thing. Fellow trackers Bill Miller and Christine Marie went with Steenburg to investigate and they found a few tracks in the forest where the hunter saw the creature wander. They cast one of the prints in plaster and unveiled it, placed upon a trash bin, at the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club/West Coast Sasquatch conference on the shore of Harrison Lake on October 4the event at which Steenburg was taking giant strides across the sand. Harrison Hot Springs is a hotbed of Sasquatch activity, and the creature is ever present in the locals psyches: there are Sasquatch murals and statues and a restaurant and a provincial park named after the elusive (many say mythical) animal.
The cryptozoologists were crowding around the nine-inch cast. It was a mediocre print, at best, covered in bog gunk, and hardly proof that Sasquatch is alive and kicking. Then again, theres more to it than just this print.
There are two facts, says veteran B.C. Sasquatch tracker John Green, sitting in the living room of his Harrison Hot Springs house. There is something out there making those prints.
Second, thousands of people, including university professors, have said they have seen a large, bipedal animal covered in hair. If we get a team together, well discover that humans have been faking it throughout historyan interesting human activityor theres really something out there.
Green is a pioneer in Sasquatch field research and was one of the first to investigate the location of the famous and controversial 1967 so-called Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film shot at Bluff Creek. There have been more than 3,000 sightings in B.C. since 1920, by his count. (In July this year, two people separately claimed they saw a Bigfoot on Mt. Archibald near Chilliwack within three hours of each other.)
Green has written three books during his half-century search. He says he has seen many footprints but has never seen the animal, something he chalks up to bad luck but something that cynics use as proof that hes running a fools errand.
People dont believe because they have not actually delved into the subject themselves, says John Kirk, chair and cofounder of the BCSCC and author of In the Domain of the Lake Monsters. They have never done any research; they have never done any comprehensive analysis of the evidence there. Theyve never really looked into it.
Kirk says that when he began investigating British Columbias unclassified species, or cryptids, in the 1980s, he faced incredulity from the public at large. He got used to it a long time ago. He finds value in his work, even if most think hes nutsnew species are discovered all the time, after all. The Congolese mountain gorilla inhabited the same mythical realm for westerners as Bigfoot until it was officially discovered in 1902, Kirk says. Cryptozoologists have a long list of such creatures, and Earth is a big place. Just because we dont know its out there doesnt mean it doesnt exist.
The scientific community has refused, Kirk says, and still refuses to tackle a fringe subject that could compromise careers. There are superstars in Bigfoots corner, however: such highly regarded wildlife experts as Jane Goodall and George Schaller have acknowledged publicly that Sasquatch may exist and that science should invest more resources in looking for it.
But theyre a very small minority. Most scientists find the hunt pointless: why not devote our research to helping animals that are known to exist instead of dedicating time and resources to an animal that, if it exists, hasnt affected humanity in any way?
Well, humans want to understand our environment and we want to understand nature as best as we can. Its like any other animal that hasnt been discovered yet, Kirk says.
Im not out to prove that it exists, says Gerry Matthews at his home in Chilliwack. Matthews is the founder of West Coast Sasquatch, an on-line forum where Bigfoot enthusiasts share information. I wouldnt be terribly heartbroken if it was proven not to exist.
But the mystery is still out there. Theres enough going on to say, Ya know, theres something happening here; theres something on the go. It would be nice to get to the bottom of this, once and for all.
The more one looks into it, the deeper the mystery gets. The Sasquatch conundrum defies logic. The creatures potential existence is about as baffling as the lengths that presumed hoaxers will go to so they can fool what is, essentially, a very small cult following. One thing is clear, however: anyone who does a little research soon learns theres a lot more going on than media reports of hoaxes.
A lot of Sasquatch tracks are found where nobody goes; its simple as that, Kirk says. I always get very doubtful when theyre found close to human habitation, and I quadruple-check those to ensure that the footprint shows flexibility, otherwise Im out of there in two minutes flat. Its a waste of time. If every print is exactly the same, thanks but no thanks.
There have been plenty of hoaxes over the years, the latest by three men from Georgia who claimed to have a Bigfoot carcass stored in an icebox. It turned out to be a gorilla suit stuffed with possum guts. But that doesnt mean all sightings and tracks are fabricated.
The reason Bigfoot field research continues is that convincing tracks are found every year around the worldtracks that change with each step, indicating that something organic, not rigid, is making the impressions. The Willow Creek Museum in California has a $100,000 reward for anyone who can demonstrate how to replicate footprints in dense terrain that reflect the gait and girth of a heavy, bipedal animal. So far, no one has come forward to demonstrate how convincing, organic-looking prints can be fabricated.
Whenever I hear that [footprints are impossible to fake], my bells go off, says B.C. Society for Skeptical Enquiry chair Lee Moller. Impossible to fake? People are very, very smart. If they want to see a toe that seems to splay, all it takes is a spring, a little bit of intelligence, and they can do it. Dont underestimate peoples ability for fakery.
Moller, a software designer by trade, wonders why, in an age when just about everybody and their dog has a digital camera or a camera phone, not a single convincing photograph has been taken.
Its virtually impossible to believe that an 800-pound primate could have not [only] gone unnoticed, but could have left no evidence behind. We have fossils from our predecessors that are three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half million years old, Moller said. This leads me to believe that its a figment of our collective imagination.
Stanley Coren, a UBC psychology professor, says, If you believe theres a Sasquatch, then youre going to find more material out there that would suggest to you that you really did see the Sasquatch than if you dont believe it. Coren explains that in the 1950s, UFO sightings were a hot topic. Not surprisingly, reports of UFO sightings skyrocketed during that time but have since tapered off as public interest in the phenomenon wavers. If you didnt have the idea of a Sasquatch in your memory then you wouldnt have the Sasquatch to interpret something you werent expecting.
Science, of course, requires a dead body or, better, a live one. Even bones or hair will do. Moller says that anything would be better than cheesy footprints or a video of what he describes as a man in a furry suit that could easily have been faked. He says that the likelihood of finding any previously unknown bipedal land-going mammal weighing more than 100 pounds is slim to none, and slim just left town.
Vancouverites tend to have this skeptical attitude, but the farther one gets from the city, the more one finds people inclined to believe in Bigfoot. For them, the creature appeals to that childlike belief that fantastic possibilities do exist on our planet. Bigfoot is the cryptid mascot. And if it really does exist, Earth is a very different world than we know.
But as with any other puzzle, well never know the answer unless society keeps an open mind about it.
Theres no place in the universe for cynicism, Kirk says. Skepticism, yes. As we say in the Bigfoot world, when youre out in the field, keep your skepticals on.
Bill Miller swears hes seen one. He took a picture of it, too, in broad daylight, back in 2003, about 4,200 feet up a mountain near Harrison Lake. The picture shows something hairy standing upright, half obstructed by the surrounding trees, about a half-mile away, across a valley. The figures arm is extended behind it, indicating its in mid-step. Miller points out the sunshine gleaming off the arm. The picture is blurry, of courseBigfoot photos always arebut its sharp enough to show that its not a bear. Hes spent the past five years investigating what that furry blur was.
I want to get close, he says. Not so close that I can feel its breath in my faceI dont want to be that close. Thats a nervous thing to even think about.
Hes steering his Polaris Ranger six-wheel-drive up Mt. Archibaldthe site of the double sightings back in Julyscanning the trail for tracks or anything out of the ordinary. Theres no special skill set for what he does: just be in as many places as possible as often as possible and hope for the best. The truck bed is loaded with rope, some tarp, his camera. Theres bear repellent in the cup holders.
He pulls over and stops where one man claimed he saw a Sasquatch cross the forest service road in front of his truck, coming from terrain so steep and so dense that any man roaming around in there wearing a monkey suit is about as plausible as a Sasquatch actually crossing the road.
Miller has been hunting Bigfoot for more than 10 years, but he says not to call him a hunter. That would imply that he has caught something. Its tireless, thankless work, and the minute Miller catches a good picture or a video, he says, hes retiring for good. Hell let the scientists handle it from there.
I have other things I would love to do, he says. I would love to get it over with tomorrow. When I get a film, Im done. I am done.