Cliff with Bart and Kim Cutino
Monterey's Bart Cutino sets sights on Bigfoot
Searching the forest for creature
By DENNIS TAYLOR Herald Staff Writer
The wilderness is pitch-black at night and Monterey's Bart Cutino says he and his colleagues like it that way as they try to solve one of the enduring mysteries of folklore.
Cutino, 35, is an unabashed, unapologetic member of The Bigfoot Research Organization, a diverse group of about 200 researchers and adventurers. They wander through the deep woods for days at a time in search of a legendary creature — indeed, they believe there are thousands of them — inhabiting the forests of North America and the world.
The vast majority, they're convinced, are in the Pacific Northwest. Cutino says there have been at least 10 sightings over the years in Monterey County, the most intriguing by a University of Southern California psychology professor who says he saw one at dusk at the Fort Hunter Liggett military base while boar hunting in 2002.
"Sometimes I'll just drive through the forest with the headlights off, moving at about 4 mph, using a thermal-imaging unit to see every living creature. I'll do that for seven or eight hours at a time," Cutino, who was born and raised in Monterey, says.
Other times, he and fellow researchers will go out in pairs or small groups, watching, waiting, listening and searching in the darkness for any evidence of a mostly nocturnal animal with an eternal life-span that got its nickname from a newspaper in 1958.
The "Bigfoot" moniker, he says, makes many of his fellow researchers wince because it implies to too many people that there is only one. It is believed to be a shy, enigmatic, probably mythical creature that reveals itself for precious seconds at a time, almost always to somebody without a camera or a camcorder.
Misinformation and pranksters have further belittled the ongoing quest to find the real-life Sasquatches, believed to be wood apes.
'It wasn't scary'
Cutino, an associate with NCW Group Wealth Management in Monterey, believes there are actually about 6,000 to 7,000 in North America alone — and is convinced that there's nothing mythical about them.
Indeed, on Aug. 18, 2007, he feels certain he saw one on Chinook Pass, near Naches, Wash., during an outing he took with about 14 friends, including several other Bigfoot researchers.
According to a report he filed that summer for the Bigfoot Research Organization, he was standing a short distance from his campsite around midnight when he heard the breaking of a branch. He decided to check out the sound with a hand-held thermal-imaging unit, a device that uses body heat to make living things visible in the darkness.
What he saw 50 yards down a path appeared at first to be human being peering at him from behind a large tree, peeking first around one side of the trunk, then the other.
"About 20 to 25 seconds later, it stepped out from behind the tree and dropped on all fours, knees on the ground, arms extended and did this little head rotation in my direction," Cutino says. "At that point I knew what it was, and it was surreal. It wasn't scary. I just couldn't believe it was happening."
He says the Sasquatch propped itself momentarily onto its right shoulder and inched itself forward, at which point Cutino began snapping his fingers, trying to get the attention of a colleague who was 30 yards away, near a truck containing recording equipment.
"Every time I snapped my fingers, this thing would make a full-body, convulsive-type movement — very agile, very animalistic — and it would pause-freeze every time I stopped snapping my fingers," Cutino says. "Then it rotated back onto its right shoulder, put a hand up next to its face, and splayed out the hand so I could clearly see all five digits on the hand."
The creature stood up, went down again, then stood again before Cutino made a decision to run in the opposite direction, toward his friend with the recording equipment. By the time his colleague got the complicated recording equipment set up and directed, the Sasquatch was gone, Cutino says.
Based on measurements taken later, using a 6-foot-3, 175-pound colleague as a model in the same location, Cutino estimates that the creature stood about 7 feet tall and weighed up to 575 pounds, with the vast majority of the weight in its upper torso.
The head was relatively small and unusually round, and its arms were an astounding length, perhaps even longer than its legs.
That there is no photographic evidence is disappointing, but Cutino says it didn't temper his exhilaration that night.
"At the time, I'd been going out there looking for one of these for about four years, and wasn't 110 percent convinced that they really existed, even though I had talked to a lot of people who said they had seen one," he says. "But after that night, I'd bet everything I love and I'd sit back and smile, knowing that Bigfoot is real. That's how certain I am of what I saw out there."
Cliff, Bob Gimlin, and Bart on expedition in Washington
Cutino hails from a well-known Monterey family. His father, Bert, is co-founder and chief operating officer of the Sardine Factory restaurant and a principal in Cannery Row Co. and Foursome Development Co.
His late uncle, Pete, was a Hall of Fame water polo coach at the University of California-Berkeley. Both of his grandfathers, first-generation Sicilian immigrants, were fishermen on Monterey Bay during the heyday of the sardine era.
"Both of my nanus — my mom's dad and my dad's dad — used to see our version of the Loch Ness Monster out there in the bay. All the fishermen called it 'Bobo,'" Cutino says. "Looking back at all the reports, I'm guessing that it might have been an oar fish — a very lengthy, serpentine-like fish that looks like it has a mane."
Those tales, plus an interest his brother, Mark, had in Bigfoot, captured Bart's fascination when he was only 6. He began reading everything he could about the legendary Sasquatch, watching TV reports and later scouring the Internet for information. Over the past six years, he's spent over 200 nights in the forest.
Sightings have been reported in every state except Hawaii and Rhode Island, numbering in the thousands, with Washington (465) and California (411) at the top of the list. Nine Canadian provinces, and seven other countries — led by Malaysia, with 36 — also have turned in reports.
The vast majority of the scientific world considers the Bigfoot phenomena to be largely bunk. Scientists have expressed doubts that such a species could exist in numbers great enough to perpetuate itself, wondered how such a creature could find enough food to sustain itself and noted that nobody has ever found the remains of a Sasquatch. They have also questioned the validity of the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, shot in Bluff Creek in 1967, that purports to show a female Sasquatch retreating from her pursuers.
But Bigfoot researchers have arguments to combat each of those concerns.
"People have a right to be skeptical, especially when you consider an evidence pile littered with hoaxes, and what a poor job we've collectively done presenting our case as researchers," Cutino concedes. "However, even sifting through the debris, one will find more viable, intriguing physical evidence and eyewitness testimony than 99 percent of our court systems receive."
Technology, he says, is finally catching up with the needs of researchers, and he believes irrefutable images of a living Sasquatch are likely to be captured in the next few years.
Until that happens, and as long as his family — including his wife and baby daughter — remains supportive, he intends to continue his quest.
"My idea of a good time might be unpopular, being a Peninsula resident, but everybody else can have their tee times," Cutino says. "Just put me in the middle of a dark redwood forest at 3 a.m. and I'm the happiest guy in the world."
Cliff and Bart discussing casts with Dr. Meldrum