Bigfoot Encounters

Is the Sasquatch out there?

Part One: -- August 12, 2011 -- From a thicket of hemlock, a rock fell at Jason’s Erickson feet with a thud.

It was followed by a second volley, a scattering of tiny pebbles, bound to get his attention. From the trees that crowded at the base of a rocky slope, he heard a purr, a bass, vibrating sound, he was sure didn’t come from a cougar or bear.

“I’ve grown up in the bush and it’s definitely something different.”

Stretching from the edge of Maple Ridge to the rugged reaches of Mount Blanshard, Golden Ears Provincial Park is 62,540 hectares of second-growth forest, home to deer beaver, black bear, and mountain goat.

But lurking in the red cedar and moss-covered Douglas fir is where a legend comes to life. Sasquatch – the gigantic hirsute beast that figures in First Nation mythology, the comical Kokanee beer mascot – has been barking at Jason, tossing pebbles at him, banging on trees.

He hasn’t seen one. “But I believe they are real.”

Jason’s dad, Adrian Erickson is your stereotypical outdoorsman, tall and rugged with weathered skin. He grew up on a small farm in northern Alberta, hunting and trapping with his father at an young age to help supplement their meagre income.

He saw his first sasquatch at age seven, shrugging off the encounter as something normal, just another beast in the forest, as nothing odd.

By the age of 16, while still in high school, Erickson was guiding American moose hunters and after graduation expanded his guiding and outfitting business into reclamation work for the oil and gas industry.

At 26, Erickson put down his gun and switched to a bow. He’s comfortable trekking into the wild, spending days camped far from civilization, alone, braving all kinds of weather. In 2001, not far from Jasper, Alta., a sasquatch, quite literally, crossed his path.

He admits he initially dismissed it as a cow moose. But he couldn’t avoid the nagging, gnawing notion that the lumbering, hairy brown creature he had seen was no ungulate.

He had to find out more.
Founded in 1995, the Big Foot Field Research Organization bills itself as “the only scientific research organization exploring the bigfoot/sasquatch mystery.”

It is a virtual community of scientists, journalists, volunteers and the curious who maintain a database of sightings and research.

When Erickson googled “sasquatch” a decade ago, the BFRO was like an easily accessed encyclopedia.

“I realized how much evidence there was out there,” says Erickson.

He devoured the BFRO’s compilations of eye witness reports from across the continent, the Patterson footage and research done by retired B.C. journalist John Green.

Soon, Erickson signed up as a researcher and began to interview people in the U.S. and Canada who claimed to have seen a sasquatch.

These were people who were dismissed as kooks, ridiculed, folks who has lost their jobs after revealing they believed in a beast that shared the same plane as fairies and the Loch Ness monster.

It made Erickson wonder: why is the sasquatch shunned by science?

“If scientists put 10 per cent of the effort into proving this exists, rather than trying to prove it didn’t exist, this would have been recognized decades ago as a species,” says Erickson.

By 2005, Erickson had talked to hundreds of witnesses who were relieved to speak about sasquatches to someone who took them seriously – who had seen them himself.

Tired of the wayward stares and sneers, he started the Erickson Project that year, the first multi-site field study of the sasquatch in Canada and the U.S. with the goal to have it recognized as a species.

“It is to vindicate the thousands of people who have been ridiculed,” says Erickson, who has been juggling a quest for the sasquatch while he develops acreages in Osoyoos, with his two sons, Jason and Ryan.

The term “sasquatch” is an anglicized derivative of the word “Sésquac”, meaning “wild man” in Halkomelem, the language of Coast Salish aboriginals of the Fraser Valley and parts of Vancouver Island.

Aboriginal tribes across North America have more than 60 different terms for the sasquatch.

And “big foot” isn’t just a North American legend.

Yeti and Meh-Teh, the Abominable Snowman, is said to inhabit the Himalayan region of Nepal, India and Tibet. The mapinguari or Inashi is a giant sloth-like creature that features in legends throughout the Amazon, while Yowies are the ape-men of the Australian Outback.

Big foot researchers pledge to study the species in ways that will not harm them.

It’s why Erickson won’t tranquilize the creatures. To kill them, he says, would be akin to murder.

Erickson says he has seen the sasquatch with his own eyes.

So armed with cameras, in 2005, the Erickson Project began its quest to document the sasquatch, capturing what is purported to be the only other footage of the creature since the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film.

Most scientists believe the Patterson film is a hoax with a man in an ape suit, but some people, including Erickson, insist it’s a creature unknown to science.

The creature in the Patterson film resembles the sasquatch he’s seen, says Erickson. They have well-defined muscular physiques, long arms and walk like runway models.

Erickson and his Reel Productions team say they filmed the sasquatch in Maple Ridge and in U.S. locations. They didn’t just film one – but several. They caught them sleeping, peering through trees and via thermal images. In his film, you can hear the sasquatch make low guttural sounds, the kind that make your hair stand on edge. The creatures are in a variety of colours – grey, brown and an orangutan orange.

The location in Golden Ears Provincial Park was ideal because it had been hiked for more than a decade by the man who reported the sightings to Erickson. The sasquatch were not afraid to interact with the man, growing more familiar with him as he returned to the area.

Erickson filmed at the location for two years and collected hair samples from what he says is a grey, light-coloured sasquatch.

“You whistle and they whistle back. They won’t interact with strangers,” he explains.

Not all encounters are visual. The sasquatch like to chuck rocks at you. They are skittish.

“We don’t know why they pick certain people to show themselves to,” says Erickson.

Although Erickson captured sasquatch several times in clear, crisp images, he soon realized people would still dismiss his video as a hoax.

“The more evidence we got, scientists started backing away further and we got really tired,” he says.

“We realized DNA was the only thing.”

He hired Dr. Leila Hadj-Chikh, a biologist, who has a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology, from Princeton University, along with Dennis Pfohl who set out to collect blood, saliva, hair and skin samples.

A resident of Colorado, Pfohl, is an avid outdoorsman who had some strange encounters while camping in the backcountry.

Married with four children, he has spent the past six years hunting sasquatch with a camera and baiting them with food for samples of their DNA. The Erickson Project picked sites in Maple Ridge, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama where they knew they could get close to the creatures.

Pfohl says the reports from those locations were credible and the sasquatch were known to return to the areas, especially to snack on human food.

Much like bears, it seems the sasquatch have a taste for garbage and sweet things. Pfohl spent six months of the year visiting the research sites, trying to perfect his techniques.

He’s missed birthdays, many Christmases, his son’s graduation. “Cumulatively it takes thousands of hours to collect the DNA,” he says. “I have spent days in tree stands, on the ground, in tall weeds, with ticks, rain, snow, and hell.”

Pfohl’s baited the sasquatch with dog food but finds cakes and candy – Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Susie Qs – are what they like best.

He’d leave them at the site for two or three days and is confident it was sasquatch that took the snacks rather than a raccoon or bear. He also figured pancakes were an inexpensive and quick-to-create bait.

When he didn’t have time to cook pancakes, he’d drive to a local McDonalds and buy a stack. Sasquatch like them smothered in syrup. “I often think I’m leading to their early death by cardio vascular disease. Or the poor things will end up with tooth decay because of all the sweets,” he says with a laugh.

Pfohl sees himself as someone on a mission to find answers. “A lot of scientists won’t risk their reputations or careers on this,” he says.

“The discovery of a species – a bipedal hominid – that is the greatest discovery of modern day man. “How could they live all these years and we didn’t know they were there?

“The fact is people do see them. Hunters talk about them all the time but no one acknowledges it. People think I’m nuts.”

• Is sasquatch real? Part two, tomorrow...

Part two... uploaded August 17, 2011, 6:22 pm --

The second part in a two-part feature about The Erickson Project, the first multi-site field study of the sasquatch in Canada and the U.S. with the goal to have it recognized as a species.

In a Texas lab, blood, saliva, hair and flesh from what's believe to sasquatch are being analyzed and sequenced for a genetic blueprint. For now though, what Dr. Melba Ketchum has learned about the animal is a secret.

“As an ethical scientist” Dr. Ketchum won't comment on any of sasquatch DNA testing or her findings until her research has been submitted to a journal and has passed a confidential peer review by experts in the field.

Ketchum's company DNA Diagnostic Inc. specializes in multi-species testing including human as well as animal DNA analysis for individuals, law enforcement, breed associations and state regulatory agencies. It usually runs tests for pet owners pining to find out whether bones discovered in the woods behind their homes belong to beloved Fluffy or Fido who met their demise in the jaws of a coyote.

Ketchum stresses the DNA testing is being done independently of the Erickson Project, the first multi-site field study of the sasquatch in Canada and the U.S. with the goal to have it recognized as a species.

“The peer review is essential to protect the integrity of a study by independently verifying the scientific analysis and conclusions in order to minimize people claiming this research as another bigfoot hoax or fraud,” said Ketchum.

She hopes to have the peer review complete and results ready for release by the end of the year.

To prevent people with “some limited knowledge of the ongoing DNA testing from trying to make premature disclosures or claim unfounded credit,” everyone associated with the research is under a legally binding non-disclosure agreement that includes Adrian Erickson, the man who filmed what he believes are sasquatch in Maple Ridge and other research sites in the U.S.

But getting a new species recognized isn't an easy task.

Since 2000, there have been many new species “described” but none “discovered” by science.
Most of these were species initially thought to be the same, but which are now split into two groups. For example, a sloth thought to be a normal three-toed sloth was found to be a separate species after DNA analysis, explains Arne Mooers, a professor of biology at Simon Fraser University. In terms of real discoveries, the most recent large mammal stumbled upon was the Pseudoryx nghetinhensis or Saola, a bovid (ox) found in Laos and Vietnam in 1992. Another large mammal – Balaenoptera omurai, a whale which range from 8 to 28 metres, was formally described in 2003. Mooers finds it hard to believe a bipedal primate has been in North America's forests and mountains for centuries. It is too big, he says, pointing out that many of these sasquatch hideouts happen to be rather close to urban areas and suburban subdivisions – but have yet to cough up skulls or bones.

North America would also be the last place he'd consider exploring for a new species of primate. “The only primate that lives outside the tropical region is us,” says Mooers.

“There's a macaque that lives in southern Japan but all other primates lives in equatorial or sub-equatorial regions.”

But if someone drove out of the mountains with a dead sasquatch strapped to the hood of their car, it would change his mind. “Never say never,” he says.

John Bindernagel is one of the few biologists in the world who readily admits the sasquatch is an extant or “real” animal. Based in Courtney on Vancouver Island, he is more concerned with addressing ecological questions such as how it over-winters in the colder regions of North America and its range. The best proof for Bindernagel are the tracks left behind by sasquatch, especially when those foot prints which have been cast in plaster.
Other evidence lies in sightings.

“I've just heard so many sincere, eyewitness accounts,” says Bindernagel, who has written two books on the subject. “These people do not want to tell me their reports. You almost have to drag it out of them.”

Hoaxes are a big reason why scientists steer clear of sasquatch. Bindernagel believes referring to sasquatch as “Bigfoot” doesn't help either. “We need to convince them to look at the evidence which is what they've been unwilling to do so far,” he said.

“Many discoveries have taken sometimes a century to be fully accepted. It's exactly what we are dealing with here. It's a de facto discovery – a discovery made in fact but simply not recognized by the larger scientific community.”

Tales about sasquatch roaming Golden Ears Provincial Park and thwarting bear-proof bins to snack on garbage amuse Stu Burgess.

As park manager, he's responsible for the “front country” – an area one kilometre from the park's main road that includes horse trails and campsites. He's yet to catch sight of any ape-man or – for that matter – odd-looking, seven-foot tall bears with the gait of super models.

“I've been working up here for 17 years and in that time, I've seen two cougars,” he says with a laugh.

The Erickson Project intends to release their documentary Sasquatch: The Quest in conjunction with the DNA test results.
...end Part Two.

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