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The content below describes something that may have been seen before by
humans, but has never been described before in writing, as far as we can
tell. Please do correct us if you can cite a previously published
source describing snow mounds of the same description.
The short description: Wood-debris-covered snow mounds. They are waist-high,
dome-shaped mounds of clean snow, with a layer of wood debris coating
the exterior of the mound. These mounds are noticeably different than
naturally formed snow drifts, and the wood debris layer is not wind-blown
but rather placed by hands.
|The Tentative Explanation
These wood-covered snow mounds may have been constructed to preserve
a source of uncontaminated water in the form of virgin snow -- water
uncontaminated by various bacteria and microorganisms such as Cryptosporidium
and the Giardia
In California's Sierra Nevadas the word "Giardia" sends
chills up and down the spines of cowboys
and hikers. It is a water-borne intestinal parasite found in otherwise
clean pond water and stream water. It causes a dreaded intestinal
illness called giardiasis
(referred to simply as "Giardia").
Recent studies have shown that many people who believed they were
stricken with Giardia after drinking untreated mountain water had
actually been infected not by Giardia lamblia but rather a cousin
organism such as Cryptosporidium, which is also found in untreated
Sierra water. There are various types of water-borne organisms in
the Sierras that will cause debilitating giardiasis-like symptoms.
Giardia lamblia occurs naturally, and is found world-wide, but it
has a particularly strong reputation in California's Sierras Nevadas,
where it is said to be in abundance and spread by numerous cattle
Cowboys have been herding cattle into the Sierra Nevadas
for the past 100 years or so. At this time numerous cattle operations
drive herds of cattle into the high country every year as the snow
recedes. The cattle operations do this to reduce their yearly feed
costs. The cattle feed on lush spring grasses and flowers in the
alpine meadows in the summer, and they generate an abundance of
cow dung around water sources like ponds and steams.
In many places in the high Sierras cow dung is more abundant and
plainly visible than the dung of any other large mammal species.
In the warmer months migratory deer herds, and their attending
predators, frequent the alpine meadows and bogs as well.
When winter rolls around again the cows are herded back down to
the low country. Sometimes cattle herds are transported in both
direction by cattle trucks. Cattle trucks bring in cows from various
places around California.
People who live and work in the Sierras and Central Valley say drinking
unpurified mountain water is a dangerous gamble. Some will say a
hiker has a 50/50 chance of ingesting Giardia, or something like
it, when drinking untreated water from any given stream or pond
in the mountains. Others will say the odds are closer to 10%.
Even if the odds are only .05%, a human (or any other primate) will
eventually get Giardia (or something like it) if it frequently
drinks unpurified water from ponds, lakes and streams in the Sierras.
Human primates typically avoid Giardia and similar organisms by
purifying Sierra water before drinking it -- usually by boiling,
or adding iodine pills, or using reverse osmosis filters, etc. Other
animal species cannot purify their water so easily.
Deer and various small mammals can get most of their water
from plants, and by licking the condensation off plants and grass
at night and in the morning hours. Deer don't absolutely need to
get water from ponds or stream water. Herds will often be found
grazing in areas with no ponds or streams nearby, due to this ability
to hydrate from plants and nightly condensation on plants.
Spring water sources emerging from rocky mountain slopes will be
free of Giardia-like microorganisms, but these types of springs
are sparsely scattered, and can only be guaranteed to be Giardia-free
right at the spring source.
A smart, large animal with hands could avoid Giardia (and similar
organisms) by accumulating and preserving piles of virgin snow at
strategic locations as the snow recedes to higher and higher elevations
In the Sierras, snow generally accumulates during winter storms.
The major storm events in winter set the lower limits of the snowline,
then the line recedes during the rest of the year, except when occassional
spring storms reset the snowline to a lower elevation temporarily.
The zone just below the receding snowline is also where the most
deer are found in the Sierras.
Like the battles over water rights in California, high country cattle
grazing rights have been a political battle for decades in the state.
The US Forest Service has traditionally been on the side of reducing
and eventually eliminating cattle operations in the Sierras, due
to the various
types of environmental damage they cause, but the cattle operations
are widespread and have been going on for generations.
There are many towns around the base of the Sierras where local
cowboys still earn their main chunk of yearly income by herding
cattle in and out of the high country. The original cowboy families
are steadily disappearing nowdays, but they are being steadily replaced
by lower cost migrant agricultural workers.
Eliminating high country grazing will not eliminate cows and hamburgers,
it will merely make it marginally more expensive for cattle operations
to feed and water herds of cattle in the low country in the warmer
We are releasing this information now, following the Fall 2007 Sierras
Expedition (in El Dorado County), because during that expedition we heard
that rangers in yet another part of the Sierras had recently come across
similarly constructed snow mounds, and those rangers were puzzled by them.
The story came to us through a casual conversation with an employee at
a ranger station. The story could not be verified, but the story itself
was enough to encourage us to publish this earlier description, and establish
some historical chronology.
If these specific types of formations have not been documented before,
then we are pretty confident that California State Park Ranger Robert
Leiterman was the first person to examine and describe them. Leiterman
found two of them during a BFRO expedition in June 2005. He wrote an article
about his find shortly after that expedition, but it wasn't published
until now, for various reasons.
We knew if these wood-covered snow mounds were indeed the products of
some non-human animal behavior, then other people would eventually find
some in other places, and we would eventually hear about it through some
channel. By waiting to hear about at least one similar find, before publishing
Leiterman's description, we would be less concerned about human fabrication.
It was an issue we have debated in the past -- what should we release
publicly, and how will that affect future evidence collection for various
types of evidence. People could potentially fabricate these snow mound
formations down the line, but if we don't speak about them publicly ever,
then we won't be able to effectively solicit reports of similar finds.
People can fabricate footprint finds also. But that doesn't deter us from
talking about footprint finds. Over the years we have seen that some footprints
finds will be fake, but other finds will be apparently legitimate, so
better to ask for all footprint finds, knowing that some legitimate footprints
will come forward that way.
Potential Connection with Sasquatches:
Sounds indicative of sasquatches (howls, whoops, knocks and whistles)
were heard in the same area where the mounds were found -- a mountain
valley outside the Emigrant Wilderness -- over the course of a few days.
The mixed rocky terrain was generally not conducive to footprints. The
amount of terrain made it impossible for the expedition group to thoroughly
scour the area, so there may have been more evidence around, but we didn't
find much of it in the course of a few days. We noticed the most obvious
things: the various sounds and these snow mounds.
Sasquatches do not leave much noticeable evidence behind, most
of the time. In non-snowy conditions, the impact sasquatches create in
their forest habitats is mostly indistinguishable from the impact of bears
and other large animals. They can avoid leaving distinct tracks simply
by avoiding exposed dirt, mud and sand wherever possible. Other large
mammals, like mountain lions, will avoid leaving tracks, so it would not
be a stretch for other mammals to exhibit the same behavior.
Sasquatches definitely do not make complicated tools or structures,
by human standards. Occassionally BFROers will find arrangements of natural
objects that appear to have been placed by hand. Although stick formations
are often misinterpreted by people who are looking for sasquatch evidence,
stick formations are occassionaly found which were clearly erected and
positioned by something with hands.
These snow mounds discovered by Leiterman were distinguishable for that
same reason. They were clearly made by something with hands.
There are only two types of animals in North American with large hands
(larger than raccoon hands) -- humans and sasquatches. Determining that
a stick formation was made by hands does not automatically mean it was
made by a sasquatch, but it eliminates almost every other possibility.
The human possibility becomes much less likely depending upon various
factors and circumstances such as seasonal inaccessibility, which was
definitely a factor in this case.
Robert Leiterman's article:
Robert Leiterman approaches the first mound
|The location was not far from the boundary of the Emigrant
Wilderness, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California (Tuolomne
County). This is the same general area where the "Sierra
Sounds" were recorded.
"Do they look natural...like the sticks, branches, and snow could have
just fallen in place?" Matt Moneymaker's voice boomed over the walkie-talkie
"No!" Bart Cutino responded confidently into the walkie-talkie.
Bart looked over to me and smiled. I knew we were thinking the same thing...
This snow mound was not a natural formation. It was built by something
large and with hands.
Matt's voice came over the radio again: "Does it look like a person could
have built it?"
Bart replied .. "Yeah, a person could have done it ... but you should
take a look at this!" Bart's voice reflected my own excitement.
It was getting late and Matt was listening for sounds on a granite outcropping
a considerable distance away. We were losing daylight. He would not be
able to make it to base camp before darkness fell. There was just enough
time for us to show this to others in camp. Matt would have to wait until
tomorrow morning to see what all the fuss was about.
This expedition was Bart Cutino's third BFRO expedition that year. The
June 2005 Sierra Nevada Expedition had been my fifth BFRO related expedition
that year, and I have been a state park ranger for several years. We had
never come upon anything like this mound before, and never heard it described
|Robert Leiterman (Fortuna, CA) and Bart Cutino (Monterey, CA)
We stumbled upon the first mound by chance. Bart was trying to talk me
into heading back to base camp, but I wanted to see the place the topo
map showed as a pond. Several expeditioners had reported hearing sasquatch-like
sounds from this direction on previous days.
While walking around the perimeter of the pond, the first mound caught
my eye. I was saying, "Keep your eyes open for anything unusual, like...like
that big pile of wood chips over there." Then I got curious. It was odd
-- a big pile of wood chips in a dome-shaped mound. Bart and I decided
to have a closer look. That's how we came across them initially.
After trying to get Matt to come take a look, Bart had another idea. "We
should dig it up, or mess it up and set up a trail cam," he said enthusiastically.
"It's our last night. Time to start throwing the ball long."
We wondered if the snow mound was some kind of primitive refrigerator,
and hidden within would be the ultimate prize ... like an animal carcass.
So we wanted to dig into it to see.
At first I had just wanted to leave it alone. I'm not superstitious, but
I'm a ranger. One thing rangers say often to the public is "Take nothing
but pictures, leave nothing but footprints." But we knew we would feel
stupid later on if we didn't have a look inside while we were still there.
Then we noticed a similar mound on the opposite side of the pond. That
really got our attention. We walked around the pond and checked it out.
Same type of mound: a very symmetrical mound of clean, white, unadulterated
snow, topped with wood debris from decaying fir logs and snags. This one
appeared to be more recently constructed.
The second mound found was a larger mound. It was four-feet tall by approximately
eight feet in diameter. The brown, decomposing wood pieces on the mound
varied in sizes. There were some roughly one-foot long, by roughly five
inches in diameter. Those pieces were on the outermost layer, but then
85 percent of the debris pieces contacting the snow were two inches or
less in size.
The whole process of construction appeared to be a lengthy one. It wasn't
just a bunch of wood debris poured onto a mound of snow. There was a process
involved with the placement of the wood pieces. One thing was undeniable
about the placement of the wood pieces: It was done with care.
After taking in this sight for a while, Bart and I ran back to camp and
grabbed a shovel and a trail camera, and a couple of other BFRO investigators
(Dennis Pfohl from Colorado and Dave Johnson from San Francisco) and headed
back to the mound. When they arrived at the larger mound, their facial
expressions said what they were thinking before they both said it out
"There's another one over there, a smaller one," I said. "It was
the first one we spotted so let's start over there."
|Robert Leiterman and Dave Johnson at the second mound
Dave stayed at the larger mound while the rest of us made our way around
the edge of the pond. We knew it was important to do this before we started
disturbing it, because there was a possibility that the mound was created
for symbolic purposes, like as markers of some sort. We wanted to see
how visible they were from a distance.
I looked over at the larger mound across the pond and saw Dave's tall
figure with hands on his hips, staring down at the mound. I could see
it in his posture. He was running down a list of possible explanations.
Dave Johnson has three university degrees and can figure out perplexing
problems faster than most people. It was good to see him standing there
pondering this for a while, trying to figure it out. Clearly it stumped
him as much as us, which made us a bit more excited.
We saw lots of deer sign all around the soft, moist soil of the pond.
The clear water of the pond was alive with caddisfly larva, dragging their
shell-like structures across the muddy, organic bottom. The water striders
skated across the water's clear surface. It was a healthy pond.
We noticed some fresh boot prints in some exposed soil in a boggy portion
of the pond. The path taken by the booted individual skirted along the
edge of the pond in one area. Evidently, the day before, a member of the
expedition had walked by here. He walked along part of the pond but his
trackway went nowhere near the mounds. Later on we confirmed that it was
a member of our own party. He said he did not noticed the mounds near
the pond when he walked through there the day before.
The previous winter had been an unusually cold and wet winter. The last
of the snows had hit the area during the beginning of June. Record snows
had been recorded in May (2005). The area was not accessible by wheeled
vehicles at all when the older of the two mounds was constructed.
One of the mounds, the larger mound, was likely built within a few days
prior to our arrival. The smaller mound was buillt a few weeks
prior to that. This was notable for us because the gates to this section
of the forest were opened by the Forest Service during the course of the
expedition, after the snow had sufficiently melted to allow vehicle access.
We all knew the mounds could not have been made by someone setting us
up for a practical joke because one was built long before we decided to
look around in this particular area. The gates had been closed when we
first arrived in the zone. We subsequently decided to enter that particular
area once we heard the gates had been opened.
The expedition party had been searching around at a lower elevation on
previous days and decided to check out this area on a whim in order to
listen for sounds. Knocks were reported by some expeditioners within 24
hours of camping in that valley. These reports drew more of the expeditioners
up to that elevation. Various other sounds were heard after that by more
people which encouraged the expeditioners to focus on this particular
area for the rest of the trip.
Due to the challenging difficulties of entering this large area while
it was still snowed-in, we surmised that the only realistic possibility
for human origin would be the snowmobiler scenario: if a human(s) had
snowmobiled (or used snowshoes or cross-country skis) into the area while
it was under snow and then spent many hours building and preparing these
mounds ... for no apparent reason. The mounds were too small to be used
for snow shelters for humans and there were no entrance tunnels of any
sort. And human snow shelters are not normally constructed with a layer
of wood chips on top. Some elaborate snow shelters are made with wood
frames and light branch material weaved in, but this was very different.
Everyone who came from base camp to see the mounds observantly circled
them, examined them on all sides, and looked closely for any clues of
an entrance tunnel. At least seven people eventually hiked over to look
at the mounds -- each one of them thinking, while en route, that he/she
might solve the mystery with a logical explanation. There were all stumped
when they arrived. The snow shelter idea melted away quickly when the
newcomers examined the mounds themselves. Everyone looked for clues of
human purpose or involvement but no clues were found. It was conceivable
that a recreational visitor built these two mounds, while the area was
still under snow, but there were no indicators for it. There should have
been some clues of human involvement on or around the mounds, like
marks in the snow from a snow shovel, or boot prints, or hand prints,
etc. There were none.
When we reached over to touch the wood chips on the top of the larger
mound (larger in diameter) we nearly fell onto the mound because of how
much we had to lean over. Whereas, the mound maker apparently did not
have to brace itself against the mounds throughout the whole process of
building it. Nor did it have to stand on the mounds while buidling them,
as we would have done in order to stay properly balanced. It seemed that
the mound maker had a very long reach.
The smaller mound was erected beside a stump -- not over a stump,
but rather along side a stump. That mound had melted back from the stump
a bit but it was still a nice symmetrical mound piled high with snow,
complete with a topping of dry heartwood debris. The heartwood topping
was collected from the same decaying deadfall tree several meters away.
It was not debris from the nearby stump. There was a bread crumb trail
of spilled wood chip debris between the decaying deadfall and both mounds,
showing that the debris came primarilly from the same rotting deadfall
The wood didn't cover every square inch of the smaller mound, as it so
carefully did on the larger mound. Either it wasn't constructed with as
much care, or part of the topping had sluffed away in places, exposing
the snow beneath.
We looked at the smaller one carefully. We felt confident that it was
older than the larger one across the pond. Both of the mounds were under
the partial shade of fir trees from above, and in the shadow of mountain's
morning sun. But the smaller mound had a lot more shade cover than the
larger mound. Even so, the smaller mound had clearly melted back a bit
from it is original shape.
The wood debris topping was composed of fir bark and fir heartwood. The
deadfall log source was much closer to the large, fresher mound. The smaller
mound was on the other side of the pond from the source of the wood debris.
Whatever had built the smaller mound had to carry the bark and heartwood
all the way over to the other side of the pond. It would have been very
consuming to do this, and required several trips around the pond. Whereas
the larger, fresher mound was roughly 25 feet from deadfall log from which
all the debris came from. It was as if the mound builder decided to build
the second mound much closer to the selected debris source and thereby
cut the effort level in half.
After examining the smaller mound we worked our way back to the larger
mound. We stood around staring at it for a while as we debated our next
action and whether we should dig into it. We all thought it might serve
as a refrigeration structure. We joked that we might find a wide assortment
of dead animals inside. We briefly mentioned the impact it would have
on this type of research if indeed there was any kind of food stashed
Digging into the Mounds for a Look
During the excavation of the mound we noticed more subtleties. We removed
sections of the organic debris from outside of the mound. The outside
surface was smooth and glazed over as if it was rubbed by hand. The edges
of the larger pieces of decaying heartwood had left edge impressions in
the ice surface. It could have been caused when the pieces were slapped
hard onto the mound. It was also possible that some wood pieces had collected
heat during the day and had begun melting into the icy surface.
We started about halfway down the sides of the larger mound and excavated
three tunnels into the heart of the mound. We dug from opposite sides
towards the middle and then down to the ground. We did not find anything
but clean snow the whole way through.
Before leaving the area, Dave, Bart and Robert set up a motion-triggered
trail camera, with the hopes that the mound builder would revisit the
The photo below was taken approximately three weeks later when Dave Johnson
went to check the camera at the second mound. By that point the snow had
melted completely and left behind the layer of wood debris.
The mounds were not snow accumulating on a stump. Notice there is no stump
in the photo below.
The trail camera was removed from the area because it was cumbersome to
service repeatedly. The location was a long drive for all the people who
were willing to help. We also felt it was unlikley that new snow mounds
would be built at those same spots next Spring. The odds seemed pretty low
for that, after we had conspicously altered both mounds in our effort to
figure out their purpose and origin.
Everyone who saw the mounds in person was initially puzzled by them. They
required so much effort to assemble that there must have been a compelling
need to assemble them. In trying to understand the needs at play,
human needs or sasquatch needs, I considered Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy
In the middle of the last century a man named Abraham Maslow developed a
theory that humans are worked upon by forces, and that our basic needs are
instinctive. He broke them down into five basic prioritized needs.
1. Physiological Needs: Biological - food, water warmth and air to breath.
2. Safety Needs: After satisfying the needs of number one, then comes security
3. Need of love, affection and belonging: After satisfying the needs of
number two, then comes time with others.
4. Needs for esteem: After satisfying the needs of number three, then comes
self-respect and respect for others.
5. Needs for Self-Actualization: After satisfying the needs of number four,
then comes do what you are "born to do". Writers write, painters paint,
and bigfooters try to have encounters with bigfoots.
The further down the list one goes, the more esoteric and distinctly human
the needs become, and thus the more potentially divergent from the needs
of an ape species with a different lifestyle.
Could a sasquatch have some esoteric needs that a human might not be able
to understand or appreciate? ... esoteric needs powerful enough to inspire
it to build these snow mounds for no practical purpose?
Yes, potentially, but the lifestyle of a wild ape would likely be more practical
and basic than a human lifestyle, especially so in a cold environment. In
a cold environment, the bulk of a wild ape's nutrients, caloric energy and
daily routine would necessarily be directed to the pursuit and acquisition
of more nutrients and caloric energy. Caloric energy and nutrients would
be its money, in a sense, and the pursuit of money would be its business.
A successful business-ape would be trying to conserve its money as much
as possible, and it would learn to avoid things that might interfere with
If these snow mounds somehow helped the business both ways -- helped it
to acquire more nutrients and caloric energy, and helped it avoid things
that mght interfere with that pursuit, then the expenditure of so much caloric
energy, assembling these snow mounds, would be understandable and economical.
Other scenarios were considered at the scene, that afternoon, which compelled
us to look for physical clues for those scenarios in the general vicinity.
Q: Could the snow mounds have been built for a future use, like for storage
of prey animals not yet acquired?
A: It's possible, but it is unlikely, because there are bears in the Sierras.
Stashing any kind of meat in melting snow is not going to prevent bears
from smelling the meat and taking it. When there are bears in a given
area, the storage of any sizeable quantities of fresh meat (outside
a metal box) is basically a gift to the bears.
Q: Could a forest service employee have done this?
A: Not likely, because way too much time and trouble went into these mounds.
It would have taken hours to do, for no apparent reason. Also, there were
no clues near these mounds that indicated human activity or traffic. If
this had been a construction site, of sorts, the ground would have been
more disturbed --disturbed in characteristically human ways.
Q: Could it have been a practical joke directed at the expedition?
A: Not likely, for a few reasons: 1) This mountain valley was basically
inaccessible to anyone but snow-shoers when both mounds were built. 2)
We didn't even know that we would end up in this specific valley until
a few days before we went there. One of the mounds pre-dated the decision
to go there by at least two weeks.
Q: Could it be an 'exploded cedar stump'?
A: Definitely not. The mounds were comprised of pure white snow with a
layer of wood debris on top. If it was an 'exploded cedar stump' the snow
would be on top of the wood debris, not the other way around. Also, there
would be remnants of a stump and roots below it. There were no remnants
of a stump under either mound, as was verified weeks later after the mounds
had melted away completely. The source of the wood debris was a rotting
Q: Were these mounds built to store a source of clean water?
A: The mounds were within a few feet of a relatively clear, clean pond,
and only a few hundred feet from a year-round cascading mountain creek.
The pond water appeared to be clean enough to drink. There were many insects
around the pond, and it was full of larvae, which is normally an indication
of clean water.
In the Sierra Nevadas, however, people are strongly warned against drinking
apparently clean water from streams or ponds, because Sierra water has
more than its fair share of Giardia
lamblia parasites, which can make any animal or human dreadfully ill
Giardia parasites could be in the pond or the creek, but would not be
present in fresh clean snow.
Many of us in the organization know people who have suffered from giardiasis.
Those people will go to great lengths to purify their drinking water in
the mountains, to avoid getting giardiasis again. A severe intestinal
illness would definitely interfere with a wild ape's career -- the pursuit
of nutrients and caloric energy.
Reserves of clean water would help the ape avoid a sickness that
is not only uncomfortable, but also physicaly debilitating. Dispersed,
clean reserves like these snow mounds would be particularly critical
for an ape species that must follow wandering herds of deer.
The Question of Immunity to Giardia:
Q: Could a wild ape species develop a physiological immunity to Giardia
A: Acquired resistance to Giardia in mammals is not
well understood, but one thing is clear about it -- a mammal's adaption
and resistance to Giardia develops as a consequence of prior infections.
Any mammal would get sick from Giardia a few times, at least, before its
physiology would adapt enough to reduce the symptoms of another infection.
Resistance to Giardia infection involves changes to the lining of the
intestine and thicker mucosal secretions, among other things. These changes
make life more difficult for the parasite, and eventually help limit and
purge the infection, but they would not prevent the host animal from getting
infected to some degree, initially.
The analysis above focuses perhaps too much attention on Giardia Lambilia.
It needs to be re-emphasized that there are an array of water-borne fecal-to-oral
microbes in the Sierras (parasites, viruses, and bacteria that can cause
similar types of sickness and diarrhea) which are brought into the Sierra
high county by alpine cattle operations after the snow melt, and all those
microbes flow downhill.
If you stumble across something that looks like the snow mounds described
and pictured above, please photograph it as soon as possible, before it
melts, and then please contact us at Contact@BFRO.net to let us know.
If you would like to discuss these formations with the folks who found them,
please join the BFRO's
free discussion board.