The Grasshopper Peak Trail Follow-up Investigation:
Ranger Robert Leiterman's open-minded investigation
of a 1999 bigfoot/sasquatch report from Humboldt County, CA.
So how does a Park Ranger get involved with the whole monkey business of investigating bigfoot reports? Good question! Well, it helps to have an interest and to be at the right place at the right time.
To understand my involvement, I need to recreate the setting. I was six years old when Roger Patterson filmed the "Bluff Creek Bigfoot". It was during my early adolescence, that I had first learned about the Bigfoot phenomena. I still remember my parents taking my brothers and I to the drive-in movie theater (remember those?) to watched "The Legend Of Boggy Creek" and "The Mysterious Monsters". I was blown away by the possibility that these large hairy monsters lived in the nearby forests. I can't help but to smile when I read about and meet others who have followed the same motivational paths. The whole phenomena has intrigued me ever since. So when the opportunity to share my interest presented itself, I decided to make it happen.
I have been a Park Ranger with the State Parks for over twelve years and I have spent more then two of them behind the Redwood curtain in Northwestern California, where some of the local radio D.J.'s affectionately calls BIGFOOT COUNTRY. As a park ranger, we have many job responsibilities; one of those is to interpret our areas natural and cultural history. We give campfire programs and nature walks during our busy summer season and special programs to the local schools the rest of the year. During the last couple of years, I have had several people ask me about bigfoot in the ancient redwood environment. I loved the way their faces light up when I shared with them some of the few reported sightings and encounters that had taken place in the park. When I mentioned to them that I had been thinking about putting together a campfire program about bigfoots, they wanted to know when it would be ready. It was then and there that I decided to go ahead with my new interpretive idea and put together a campfire program. So began my first step into becoming involved through public awareness. I began giving my talk and slide presentations around the traditional campfire setting. My theme asked a simple question, "Does Bigfoot Really Exist?" and then filled their thoughts with some very interesting information. I wasn't there to convince them of the validity of the phenomena, my goal was to enlighten them in a humorous way.
After a few evenings of entertaining the visiting publics curiosity, my program quickly became the most asked about evening campfire for the summer. One unique thing about working as a Ranger at a park as large and diverse as Humboldt Redwoods State Park is that there never seems to be a dull moment. This last Labor Day weekend wasn't any exception. The visiting public kept us busy with the usual visitor misunderstandings, incompatible outdoor user philosophies, usual squirrel bites, over due hikers and other predictable behaviors that takes place when you put too many people together in the same limited space. Welcome to the world of people management! As predictable as some behavior really is, the public always manages to surprise me. There is no such thing as an average day in the park.
During Sunday of the Labor Day weekend, an hour into my shift, my office intercom buzzed. "Robert, are you there? There is a man here who wants to talk with you about Bigfoot!" "Send him over!" I said, as I wondered what the individual might want. This was the third time in the last month that my helpful Park Aides had directed the inquisitive park visitor, with Bigfoot related questions, over in my direction.
The day before, while I was surfing the BFRO web site, I stumbled upon a new bigfoot related sighting. Of all the possible places a sighting could take place, it happened in the very same park in which I work. Not very far from where I was standing. When the gentleman walked into the office, he had a familiar look to him. My mind raced trying to put a name with his face. He wore a black ball cap with the letters, B.F.R.O., embroidered in white letters across the front. "Hello," he smiled, "My name is John Freitas, I'm from the Bigfoot Field Research Organization. I'm up investigating a bigfoot sighting that took place near the Grasshopper Peak Trail." As I shook his hand, it all came back to me. I had recognized him from a bigfoot related article I had recently read from the San Francisco Chronicle, telling of his research in the B.F. phenomena. I also remembered, stumbling onto his website (www.bluenorth.com). It was on his website that I had learned about his Memorial weekend project titled: Mission Night Scream where they traveled, in caravan form, throughout Northwestern California, broadcasting, what they believed to be either bigfoot screams & howls, into the heavily forested areas.
So far, they claimed this unusual method of sounding had proved to be very effective and had produced some interesting data in the form of return animal calls. I also remembered that he had plans for a sequel, Mission Night Scream 2, to take place during Labor Day weekend, and look, here they are. Anyhow, I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet Freitas, and at the same time, wondering what was yet to come. He filled me in on their experiment/expedition.
Evidently, unbenounced to the park staff, he had just finished meeting with a man and son, who claimed to have seen B.F. in the park just 15 days ago! The R.P. (Reporting Party, man who reported the sighting) had taken Freitas and his team, up to the sight location to have a look around. He said they didn't find any noticeable evidence at the scene but, 12' above the ground, on a damaged section of a nearby tree, they found what they believed to be hair fibers. They collected them and said they would be sending them off to the lab. I asked my self, "why are the Rangers always the last to know these kind of things?"
The conversation soon shifted to their current project, or as my fellow ranger that evening called it, experiment! Mission Night Scream 2. Coming to a state park near you! He had asked, sense they were in the neighborhood, if it were possible to try his sound system in the vicinity of the State Park. After all, the most recent sighting had taken place not all that far away. I thought about that for a quick moment. "It's Labor Day weekend! One of the busiest time of the year around here! Even the bears head for the hills during this time of the year!" I expressed. "Now, exactly how loud are those speakers?" I couldn't believe it the speaker could project sound anywhere up to 2 to 2.5 miles away. Would this work? After some discussion and some serious thought, we found a way that might make it work. I gave him a park map, and marked out the areas where their experiment would cause the least amount of damage, making sure they were clear of all of our campgrounds, and our even less understanding park neighbors. We didn't need a rash of reports of bigfoot calls, for day shift the next morning. The last thing I wanted to have to listen to was my supervisor saying, "You let them what! Where! When! Don't you know what time of the year it is? What on earth were you thinking?" John agreed to turn down the speakers, and be very discrete about their activities, staying away from population centers.
After they attended my campfire program entitled, "Does Bigfoot Really Exist?" They thanked me for my time, my understanding and for my interestingly humorous Bigfoot Entertainment, and went off to do their "experiment". I enjoyed meeting John Freitas and the rest of his crew. John was very professional about the whole ordeal. They stuck to our agreement and there weren't any complaints that I knew of. The stayed in the area until about 10:45 p.m., trying a variety of location, with disappointing results. They did not get any returns to their calls so they called it quits and headed to greener pasture east, on hwy 36.
There are some Park Rangers who will do just about anything for science!
After talking with John Freitas, during Labor Day weekend, about the report, I made plans to attempt to find the sighting location on my own, as soon as I was able to. They said they had found some hair fibers, in amongst a section of bark that had been gouged out of a tree, about 12 feet above the ground. They noticed the damaged tree, which was almost, a half of a mile from the sighting location, while they were on their way back to their vehicles. But, at the actual sight location, they were unable to find any evidence to substantiate the sighting.
So on September 14th, with those thoughts in our minds and with color pictures in hand, taken off the web site, my friend KC (an excellent tracker) and myself took off up the trail and into the forest, not knowing exactly what we would find. With here say directions, and the color pictures we brought with us, we managed to find the exact sighting location. Using the color picture, we found the exact sighting location where he had seen the figure.
Note: From that location, when the RP looks up the forested slope, he was looking through a narrow gap that the trees and stump formed, at the site location. This small viewing window reduced what he could actually see; making it that much more surprising that he actually saw something.
We visually matched the stump and tree patterns, looking up slope from the trail and carefully worked our way the, 150 to 200 feet up the slope, trying not to disturb anything that might have been overlooked earlier. It had been 14 days since the alleged encounter and 9 days since Freitas and his group had searched the area for clues. During that time, lots of new redwood duff had fallen on the ground, covering almost the entire earlier surface disturbance. We carefully searched for clues, around the large matching, 900-year-old, fire scorched stumps. The majority of the stumps were now delicately covered with a bright green moss. We noticed the disturbance of the ground cover in between and around the two stumps. We also found a small camera strap, amongst the duff, that had been left behind by Freitas team. We were unable to see any signs in the easily disturbed moss. If any of these stumps had been used by the figure as a scratching post, there would have been very obvious signs. It was hard to believe that some vigorous scratching had actually taken place.
The more we tried to imagine the RP standing along the lower trail, observing the whole thing, the more a few things didn't add up. As we examined the photographs and reread the witness statement we had obtained from the web site; we began to ask that one important question. "Just what did the RP say he saw from the trail? Tell me one more time, . How much of this mysterious figure did he actually say he saw from the trail?" I kept asking. From what we could figure, if he actually saw the upper half of something moving above the stumps, through this very small viewing window, the animal had to have been 15 to 20 feet tall! "Not very likely!" We decided to expand our search area, to include the surrounding hillside above and below the two very familiar stumps.
While poking around we once again ran into the same problem, lots of new redwood duff broadcasted across the soil surface. We stood around and carefully examined the area, looking for anything that appeared to look out of place or unnatural. In a few moments, we noticed something very unnatural, but almost unnoticeable. Carved into the rolling hillside, weaving in and out amongst the trees was an old trail. A worn path that worked its way through the ravine, below, then past the familiar stumps and then meandering up the hill.
The barely noticeable path was much wider than a deer path, but very difficult to tell what had used the path. The pathway looked as if it hadn't been used for quite a while. It seemed to work into the contours of the countryside and follow the main trail like so many animal trails do. Off of the volunteer trail system was another path that worked its way towards the base of three redwoods, which varied in size. We carefully worked our way to the base of those trees. Along the way, we were unable to find any signs of new disturbance.
When we reached the tree, we did notice something very unusual. There was some disturbance in the duff at the base of the tree. One spot was directly near the base of the tree and the second was over a foot higher on the side of an angled slope. When I followed up the tree with my eyes, I noticed some thing very different. The redwood bark from about 2 feet above the ground to about 6 feet off of the ground had been disturbed and the lower branches, 6 feet above the surface of the ground had been broken off flesh with the bark.
When I closely examined the barks surface, I noticed a few of the upper sections of the soft, very fibrous, Redwood bark had its upper corners pealed back away from the tree and folded over, flat, against the rest of the tree. When I examined the surface even closer, I noticed quite a few more pieces were also bent over in the same way. They all pointed in the same direction, down.
The grove of smaller trees grew out of a slanted hillside. There were two noticeable flatter areas of slight disturbance, where I had placed my feet in the photo. Note: I had examined the area at the base of the tree, but due to the high organic content of the soil, was unable to find any actual tracks.
We took photos of the unusual patterns of the fibrous bark. We didn't see any hairs or unusual fibers. The bark was soft without any hard rough edges. I looked closely at the other trees in the area. I found it very interesting that none of the other trees had their bark disturbed in that way.
After I was satisfied, I worked my way back to the special grove of small trees. "Could this be our scratching post!" I wondered, as I imagined myself, lining my feet up with the disturbed duff and resting my back against the disturbed section of the tree. The area of soil disturbance seemed to match up with the area of disturbed bark. "Only one way to find out!" I stepped into the two possible foot placements and gently slid my back against the tree. "Seems to fit OK!" I smiled as I rubbed my back up and down and back and forth against the tree. The story of the three little bears came to mind: Not too hard! Not too soft! Just right! The size of the rounded tree, fit nicely against the spine. "Yep, this could be a scratching tree!" When I was satisfied with my scratching, I leaned forward and away from the tree. I then had another curious look at the trees fibrous bark. The barks fibrous edges were still folded over in a downward direction.
To KC's amusement, the redwood fibers had soiled the back of my shirt. "One more test to go!" I sent KC down the slope to stand in the very same spot the RP said he stood, when he claimed to have seen a strange looking animal walking back and forth and rubbing his back, up and down against a tree. KC yelled when she reached the spot. I then walked up and down the slope, asking her to yell when she could see me. I know it sounds very primitive, but it was very effective. I then worked my way down in between the photogenic stumps. There, she had to struggle to see may face. I then worked my way up the slope towards the small grove of three redwoods, less than ten yards from the stumps. When I stood next to them, I yelled down to her again. From where I was standing I could not even see her, nor could I identify the trail. We did luck out and have some hikers walk down the trail, only then was I able to tell exactly where the trail was. I also noticed how well the sound traveled up the hill to where I was. I was very surprised when she told me that she could see me from waist up from the same location the RP had stood. I'm not a very tall person, kind of sub normal, in height that is! I felt a rush of accomplishment surge through me as if I was putting an important piece of the puzzle together. I think I found the rubbing tree that was used by, what ever it was that the RP had seen that day. When you add it all up, it makes sense!
At first I was very unsure of the report. As a Park Ranger, who spends quite a bit of time out and about in the park, I wondered if he imagined or miss interpreted what he saw. Well, I've talked with the RP and he seemed pretty sincere about seeing something. He knows the difference between a cat and a dog, a bear and a roving transient, which do spend time seeing the sights in the park. I think he actually did see something scratching itself against a tree.
Now what was it that he saw?
More articles by Robert Leiterman
The location mentioned in the above article is in
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
E-mail Ranger Robert Leiterman at RoberL@bfro.net
Books by Leiterman :
The Bigfoot Mystery: The Adventure Begins
Author : Robert Leiterman
Copyright 2000 Robert Leiterman
[Order it online]