Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Break, 2010

I love spring break. It's the doorway to summertime, and is a good chunk of time off. I try to always take advantage of time off to do one of my favorite activities. I bet you can guess what that is...

Being true to my conviction of taking advantage of days off, my last four nights were spent alone on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. In fact, I just crawled in the door a few hours ago. This trip was mostly about a taking well-deserved break. A break from work, the computer, speaking to anybody, and the haunting feeling of needing to do something. The last of these was the hardest to break, but I got the hang of that on or about the third day.

My goal for this trip, besides the spring cleaning of my mind, was to look at some spots I hadn't been before. The first location I visited on Sunday night was the Humptulips River. It's only one ridge south of the Quinault River basin, and you know how much I like that spot. I found an appropriate camp overlooking two rivers, yet far enough away that they didn't interfere with good listening. The acoustics were excellent, carrying my screams far into the night.

I camped in the quarry pictured in the center of the screen.
The Humptulips River is to the south.

The night was uneventful, except for my incessant need to keep busy and a lone barred owl answering my calls. I dutifully deployed my trail cameras in and around camp, and was later pleased to find photos of a curious raccoon peering into the lens. It was my only trail camera success for the trip.

It didn't know what a trail camera was.

It rained most of the night, but the morning brought cold, clear sunshine into my camp. The ground was wet and spongy under my feet as I tramped around through the mossy forest that surrounded the quarry where I slept. I gathered my trail cameras and headed to the backside of Lake Quinault.

The trail I visited a couple weeks ago produced several footprints a year ago (actually eleven months ago), so I wanted to walk it again. It is my belief that the more often one visits a location, the stronger the chance of finding something of interest. This is because one can notice subtle changes or things that are out of place. I was hoping to find signs of a recently passing bigfoot on the muddy trail where I had walked recently, and the animals visited last year. No such luck.

A mile or so up the trail, a large marsh offers many food resources. My plan was to backpack in and stay on the opposite side of this marsh which empties into a larger river with a wide sandy bottom that is perfect for tracking. My plan failed. Actually, I failed. The swamp kicked my butt. I soon found myself balancing on and hopping over logs with a 50 pound backpack (thermal imagers, trail cameras, and 12 volt batteries are not light!). One of these logs tricked me into trusting my footing, and gravity got the best of me. I slipped, landing with my full weight on my right shoulder. This was after getting uncomfortably wet past my shins mucking about in a slow moving wetland. I was just starting to not have a good time. Not having a good time on my vacation was intolerable, so I packed out. Now I have a natural barrier nemesis, which I will conquer. Victory was not to be had that day, however. I gracefully admit defeat for that day at the hands of the Olympic Peninsula.

My path up and out of the swamps.

I drove to an old standby campsite. This location is well-known to bigfoot researchers who frequent the area, and has been the site of several successful trips dating back to 2004. On the drive in, I was astounded at the logging that has taken place over the past year. I didn't think much of it, knowing that logging brings in more deer and other prey species. The quarry in which I camped showed signs of a recent heavy rain with no fresh animal tracks to be found in the muddy areas adjacent to the gravel. As always, I deployed my trail cameras, set up recorders and thermal imagers, and made myself comfortable. That night I enjoyed the only campfire of my trip, preferring to "cold camp" the rest of the time.

I found out why there was so little animal sign nearby. Just before 4:30 AM, I was awakened by the sound of machinery and beeping. A logging operation was starting their work day only 500 yards to the south of where I slept. They pillaged an area known as "Spooky Road," which is no longer nearly as spooky as it once was. I tried to sleep a little more, though I was largely unsuccessful. Eventually, I packed up and headed out shortly after daylight.

My destination for that day was Wynoochee Lake. This area has a long history of sightings, particularly below the dam away from tourists. The lake is only a few ridges over from Lake Quinault and the Humptulips River, but it took more than an hour and a half to drive there due to road closures approaching from the west.

Just a few miles south of the Lake, I was paused by a sign that said, "Road Closed." Being the kind of person that takes signs in remote areas as only suggestions, I drove past the sign to find a flagger holding a stop sign by a road building crew. I asked the man if the road was closed, or if I could just wait to pass. He asked me what I was going to do at the lake, to which I replied, "Bigfoot research."

He looked at me and asked the most common question I get after dropping the "BF" bomb: "Really?"

Handing him one of my cards, I told him again what I'd be doing. He then told me that there are no bigfoots around there. He said maybe they're up by Lake Quinault, but not around there. He knew this because he grew up nearby. (Wynoochee Lake is less than 15 miles from Lake Quinault, and only three ridges over. Why couldn't they be there again?) I assured the man that bigfoots lived there. He went on to tell me that he wasn't sure bigfoots existed, especially around there.

I had a feeling that wasn't going to be all I would hear from this man. I was right. He first told me about a girlfriend he had that would talk about bigfoots like they were real. I think he said she was Quinault, but I know he said she was a Native American. He then told me about an animal that was pacing his car at near highway speeds one night. He doesn't know what kind of animal it was, but it was huge and had red, glowing eyes. He admitted that he didn't see the animal, but the passenger did, and she was scared. I tend to get some pretty good stories from skeptics.

The guy was pretty cool, and we chatted for about 5 minutes until he told me that I could pass. He reinforced that I was "working" at the lake if anyone asked. You betcha I was working.

When I arrived at the lake, I was astounded to find that I was literally the only person there. The campgrounds were all closed and gated. The picnic areas were barren, and the water spigots were turned off. I saw one vehicle, and it was parked at the hydroelectric facility. I had never been to a popular recreation area and found it utterly empty. It was like a dream come true.

Knowing that I was alone, I abandoned my plan to camp below the dam. I wanted to get above the lake, but found that the area was closed about a mile up from the lake for wildlife restoration between October 1st and April 30th. I chose to camp as close to the restricted area as possible, knowing how sasquatches prefer those limited access sites.

I spent the late afternoon hiking the woods, setting game cameras, and sunning myself on the warm rocks lining the Wynoochee River. At one point, I hiked to the lake's edge to see what had been walking around on its muddy shores. Besides a large number of elk, I found raccoon prints that barely registered in the mud. I only found them by using the basic tracking technique of keeping the prints between me and sun so their sheen could be seen. Without this technique, the prints would have been nearly invisible.

Raccoon tracks in the mud.

The mud flats and gravel bars on
the backside of Wynoochee Lake.

That night was a noisy one since I chose to sleep on the banks of the Wynoochee river. It's a little frustrating to make camp by a noisy creek when you're 'squatching, but I had to remind myself that I am allowed to take a vacation from bigfooting so intensely. Besides, I reasoned, sasquatches use rivers as travel routes, according to Native Americans. This, combined with the knowledge that most bigfoot witnesses are simply camping, helped me allow myself to take a night off of intensely scrutinizing every noise a nighttime forest has to offer. With my trail cameras and thermal imagers deployed all night, I had as much of a chance as usual. After all, I was still making calls. (I guess this is as close to "regular" camping as I tend to get...)

The night passed without incident nor rain, and I woke up to another clear, cold morning. I gathered my gear, dried the condensation off my tent in the rising sun, and made a yummy cup of coffee.

Driving south, I passed the same road building crew as I had the previous day, I spoke to the female flagger on the opposite side from the guy I chatted with before. She was very interested in what I was doing in regards to bigfoot. Her husband might have run into one many years before around Mount Rainier where he grew up, but he never saw it. He was inexplicably scared, and the hair on the back of his neck stood without reason causing him great discomfort.

While the woman and I were chatting, waiting for the crew's mechanical beasts to remove whole trees from the road, the word "sasquatch" squawked over the radio she was holding. We both laughed. I guess the guys recognized my vehicle from the previous day...

My destination for my last night in the woods was as far up the South Fork of the Skokomish River as I could get. The location was not far as the crow flies, but it took another hour and half or more of driving to get to the spot. Again running into signs indicating the closure of the backcountry for wildlife restoration until April 30th, I found a quiet campsite halfway up a ridge in an excellent spot for broadcasting vocalizations and listening for replies.

Overlooking the Skokomish River basin from my campsite.

Wandering around the camping area brought me into the wood line. I am always interested in how animals move around my camp areas, and from where they can observe the campsite without being detected. Following the various game trails through the brush, I found myself about 75 yards from my vehicle, high on an overlook in the forest where I ran across an impression measuring a little over eleven inches in length. I believe the impression shows a boot print, but this is uncertain. It was found along an elk trail in one of the only places where there was barren soil for a print to register in the thick salal that carpets the forest floor. I snapped a few photographs with my opened multi-tool for scale (the ruler measures 8 inches across, but it's hard to make out in the photo).

A lone impression in the thick salal.

I spent most of the night making calls and listening to the night. By this point in my trip, I was content to watch the moon and listen for up to an hour or more at a time. I was getting back to my "normal" self (whoever that is). I get a little concerned for myself when I can't sit still for extended periods in peaceful settings. It took some conditioning, but I found myself able to do so, and just in time to return to the hustle and bustle of my regular existence.

I eventually turned in shortly after midnight, not even bothering to pitch a tent, but rather sleeping in the back of my truck with the shell open to maximize my hearing ability. I set my timer to wake me up periodically to do more calls.

I awoke in the middle of the night to the pitter-patter of rain. I got up to reassure myself that the Ratheon 250D was sufficiently water-proofed, and ended up putting it in my vehicle for the rest of the night. I did not want to spend the last few hours of sleep worrying about a thermal imager that wasn't water resistant.

I awoke at 8 AM, and hit the road towards home in the grey rain that is synonymous with the Olympic Peninsula. Personally, I like it. I wish the thermal imager liked it more.

On the way home I stopped by Olympia, WA to see the sasquatch exhibit at the State Capitol Museum only to find that it was closed that day. I left one of my business cards on their door step and drove home.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Cliff interesting you like this area so much because I have just moved into the area from Tacoma... I am now living in Copalis Crossing and will be researching Lake Wynoochee and Humptulips River valley extensively now... I Co-Founded WASRT researching around Mt.Rainier West to the North until I recently took early retirement and moved out west to the coast... Lemme know if ya come through and would love to hook up and help out...