BFRO's Skookum Meadow Expedition

Day Four

Tuesday, September 19

The researchers woke up to a fairly thick morning fog. The temperature was in the upper 40's. Most of the group set about making breakfast, with the exception being Bambenek, who opted to try his luck fishing in Big Creek, located only 1/2 mile from camp. After breakfast, the rest of the group began exploring the tree line along the northern edge of the clearcut surrounding camp. They managed to collect 1 pint of huckleberries from the bushes at the end of the road.

Noll opted to hike through the brush and towards the hill to the northeast of camp. Upon reaching the top of the hill, he discovered some large impressions. They were fairly fresh prints, 15 inches long, with a distance of 51 inches between each print. Estimates based on the sample prints left in the track garden at camp placed the prints at between 24 and 36 hours old. The tracks were left in soft soil on the side of the hill, just a few feet below the top. The soil was mostly comprised of loose, volcanic material which left a rather indistinct impression. What appeared to be toes were visible along the leading edge of the tracks.

Hilltop Track Way.
Photo by Rick Noll

Noll contacted the rest of the group via radio and informed them of his find. He also mentioned that he had located a road at the top of the hill near the tracks. Randles drove his 4-wheeler up to Noll's location, with Fish as his passenger. Randles called Lemley and informed him that he'd found an old skidder trail that should accomodate a full-size 4X4 vehicle. Lemley then took his vehicle to the top, accompanied by Lee. Upon reaching the top of the hill, the group discussed the tracks. It was the general concensus that they were inconclusive, but definitely interesting. Of further interest was the fact that the tracks were found in a location that was overlooking basecamp, from a distance of roughly 200 yards.

Click for Jeff Lemley's Bio After measuring and photo-documenting the tracks, the group came to realize what an excellent vantage point they had found. The top of the hill (which here after became known as Hilltop) offered excellent views from an elevated position to the west and the north, with a somewhat obscurred view to the east. The northwest corner of Skookum Meadow could be viewed from this location. It was decided that this would probably be the best spot to broadcast calls and run the thermal camera from.

The group returned to camp for lunch. Jim Henick arrived shortly after lunch, at 1 PM. He had graciously offered some logistical assistance by helping to shuttle both food and equipment to basecamp in his cargo van. He is also quite familiar with the area of operation. He explained that Powell, Moneymaker, and the film crew had been held up in Portland, but that they should be arriving within a couple of hours. They ended up arriving at 3:30 PM. There was a brief meeting discussing how the operations should progress, and then researchers went their separate ways to make ready for the evenings activities.

Moneymaker and Lemley drove to the Hilltop position, along with Fish and the film crew, to re-evaluate the location for call broadcasting and filming. Everyone agreed that it would be a great location for operations. The group returned to camp and began gathering gear to set up a campsite at Hilltop. Randles provided and set up a tent with accessories.

Hilltop Camp.
Photo by Rick Noll.

Members of the production crew began setting up their gear. John Mort and Daniel Searle provided expedition members with brief instructions on how to operate the thermal camera. Bambenek placed some pheromone chips on each side of the Hilltop camp, with the assistance of Fish. After establishing the satellite camp at Hilltop, the group broke for dinner. A few opted to take naps before the night operations began, while some of the new arrivals chose to check out their new surroundings.

Animal X's John Mort demonstrates Thermal Camera.
Photo by Rick Noll.

Operations that evening began at 11:30 PM. Powell and Henick hiked into Skookum Meadow, while Bambenek, Lemley and Moneymaker manned Hilltop, along with Pugsley, who was operating the thermal imager. Fish, Noll, and Randles remained in basecamp. Mort and Searle set up sound recording equipment and an infra-red camera at the end of the road 100 yards from basecamp. Everyone maintained contact via radio.

Several calls were played throughout the night. The call that was used for most of the expedition was one that had been recently recorded near Lake Tahoe, CA. It is a high-pitched call that lasts about 2 seconds. Some speculate that it could be the call of a younger animal, trying to communicate with an adult.

Click for Thom Powell's Bio The first set of calls were responded to by some coyotes. They sounded to be perhaps a mile or more north of basecamp. At around 1 AM, a couple of members faintly heard a call that came from just to the northeast of basecamp. The vocalization sounded similiar to the one being broadcast, but it was too faint to be certain. Shortly after this, movement was noted on the northwest side of basecamp, in the clearcut. Several individuals at camp heard this movement, which appeared to be about 75-100 yards out into the new growth. Nothing could be detected with the infra-red night vision optics at basecamp, and the thermal imaging unit at Hilltop could not detect any heat signatures outside of the basecamp perimeter.

John Mort was able to hear distinct footfalls coming from the direction of the other disturbance through the film crew's shotgun microphone. The footfalls ceased after a few moments. Several minutes later, Randles heard brief movement, followed by a gentle "thud." His interpretation was that whatever was moving around had most likely settled down on the ground. Best estimates still placed the subject at close to 75 yards from camp. No more movement was noted from this subject for the rest of the evening.

During this incident, it was decided that Pugsley, along with the thermal camera, should move down to basecamp, as that is where the action seemed to be. Bambenek shuttled Pugsley from Hilltop to basecamp, and remained there with the others. Moneymaker and Lemley remained at Hilltop to continue playing calls. Once redeployed at basecamp, the thermal unit did not detect anything in the direction of the movement.

Things remained quiet after that. Most of the team retired to their tents by 3 AM. At approx. 3:30 AM, Moneymaker and Lemley were joined by Powell and Henick, who had come up to Hilltop Camp on foot. It was very cold by this point, and so the foursome opted to start a fire to keep warm. Moneymaker played one last call at 3:45 AM, before putting the system away for the evening. The small group continued chatting about the day's events while standing around the fire. Powell and Henick related that they had heard an abundance of thumping while stationed in Skookum Meadow. They described the thumps as sounding like someone beating on a tree with a stick. The thumps usually came in groups of 3 or 4.

Skookum Meadow near where Powell
and Henick were stationed. Mt. Adams
is in the background.
Photo by Jeffrey Lemley.

Just after 4 AM, the Hilltop group heard a very loud vocalization over the top of their conversation. They immediately moved away from the fire, and towards the northern end of the Hilltop landing. What sounded like an extremely loud wailing was coming from the far side of the valley to the north of them, roughly 500 yards away. First impressions were that it was a coyote, but the qualities were quite different. The call would start off with a high-pitched wailing howl, that would slowly waver in pitch. After about 4 seconds of wailing, the call would trail off into what sounded like maniacal laughing. After a couple of seconds, the call would repeat itself almost exactly. There were about 7 or 8 calls in all, spanning roughly 50-60 seconds. Nothing more was heard after that.

The group maintained vigil at the edge of the landing for several more minutes, before deciding that the cold and fatigue were getting the best of them. Lemley walked back down the hill with Powell and Henick, leaving Moneymaker alone at Hilltop camp. It was 4:45 when the trio arrived back at basecamp and retired.


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