Bigfoot Tracks In BC's
Yoho National Park

By Charles Reid
Charlottetown Guardian

November moonlight shone through the overhanging trees onto a pair of large human-like tracks headed for a waterfall's frozen pond.

The first track was sharp, the second was scuffed as if the maker had slipped before walking across the ice.

Because Islander Robert Jones (not his real name), 23, had camped and hiked throughout his life and he had seen animal tracks, he said he had no doubt the one-inch deep tracks in the fresh snow belonged to a sasquatch.

"No animal makes that kind of track. It was clearly five-toed. (You could) see the individual toes. I put my shoe ? it's size 11 ? next to it and it was half that still. It looked like a big human foot, about the same size as mini-snowshoes."

The sasquatch is a mythical, large, hairy, gorilla-like creature witnesses say lives in the northwestern part of Canada and the United States. Its name comes from B.C.'s Coast Salish First Nation term, sasqits or hairy man.

Witnesses say it walks on two legs like a human, but has a flat, ape-like face. Sasquatch sightings and tracks have been reported in North America for 200 years.

It's called Bigfoot in the United States and Yeti in Nepal, an country in Asia's Himalayan mountains.

For Jones and a co-worker he calls Kelly (not his real name), who was along for the hike, reality and folklore suddenly mixed that late fall day in 2000. They were five kilometres from civilization and panic washed over them in a wave, Jones said. "There's a sense of fear that comes over you. Kelly's a tough fellow. He grew up being a boxer. He was freaking out and getting all anxious. Kelly grabbed a large stick." For several minutes they stood in the clear, cold night and listened to the forest. It was unbearably quiet, said Jones. "You have to understand it's a deafening silence. There's almost too much noise because there's no noise. By this time we were a little freaked out. There was a sense of uneasiness, a sense we were being watched."

Jones, originally from Bedford, N.S., worked as a bellman during the summer and fall for the swanky $700-a-night Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park. Kelly, from Vancouver, B.C., had been at the lodge several months before Jones arrived.

Just over the Alberta border, B.C.'s 1,310-square-kilometre Yoho butts up against Banff National Park. It would fit into the area between Charlottetown and Summerside from east to west and Cavendish and Tryon from north to south.

The Emerald is part of a resort chain in the Rocky mountains. It sits about 210 kilometres northwest of Calgary, about 15 kilometres along an access road linked to the Trans-Canada Highway.

Trails into the mountains lead from employee residences and Jones and Kelly would often hike them after their 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. Both wore headlamps similar to miners' lamps that night, but bright moonlight lit the trail so they didn't need to use them.

Jones said they'd been on this offshoot of the main trail before and decided to walk the metre-wide path to a 10-metre high waterfall. A tiny stream trickled down the almost frozen waterfall. Behind it was a cave about three metres up in the rock.

At the pondside they saw the tracks. They vanished on the pond's frozen surface.

Snow had fallen about 12 hours earlier, Jones said, so there was no chance this was an old animal track which thawed and refroze into a distorted shape.

The men returned using a different trail. Before they headed back, they paid close attention to the ground and when he saw the same track again he knew it wasn't a dream.

"We could clearly see it again coming back down. If you'd seen it you'd know this wasn't a shadow."

When they got back, Jones told his co-workers what they had seen. People who had worked at the lodge for several years weren't shocked because stories of sightings and reports of weird noises in the woods had floated around the lodge for years.

A sighting like this doesn't surprise wildlife biologist John Bindernagel either. The sasquatch is a real animal and he's got the tracks to prove it, he said in a telephone interview from his British Columbia home.

In 1988, he found sasquatch tracks near his house on Vancouver Island.

He poured plaster into the prints and when it dried he pulled out casts 15 inches long and eight inches wide ? about a man's size 20 shoe. A man who wears size 11 shoes usually has a foot about 10 inches long and four inches wide.

Bindernagel said because wildlife biologists have routinely used tracks as evidence an animal exists, the hundreds of prints found in Canada and the United States point to an undiscovered animal living in North American forests.

"We can be pretty sure there's a large mammal in North America we haven't seen before. We do have a lot of evidence we have to work with."

In North America there's a database of over 3,000 items, including reported sightings, hundreds of plaster casts of tracks and pictures and film of the animal.

It's this evidence that prompted Bindernagel to publish his book, North America's Great Ape: the Sasquatch, in 1998. It's a field guide to the sasquatch's habits and behaviours. It also includes drawings of what it looks like based on evidence he's gathered since 1963 when he was an undergraduate at Guelph University.

Because the sasquatch doesn't fit into a neat slot for scientists to study, there wasn't categorized information available for witnesses to identify what they saw.

And that's why, Bindernagel said, he wrote the book.

"It doesn't fall into anyone's bailiwick, so to speak. I'm not saying it should be in a field guide but if it was, people can say that's what I saw. It's those people I think I can help."

The argument for the sasquatch being a large ape instead of a primitive human is based on witnesses' reports of it throwing rocks, swinging sticks and vocalizing when they were noticed.

Jane Goodall, a scientist who studied chimpanzees in the wild, documented similar behaviours when chimps perceived a threat.

Research of African mountain gorillas found they occasionally release a rotten egg smell from glands when threatened. Many people have claimed they've smelled this scent before or after seeing a sasquatch.

So if wildlife biologists ignore evidence, they're not doing their job, Bindernagel said, and new animals aren't discovered.

"It's very frustrating. With my colleagues, I'm just getting very, very tired. They're not looking at the evidence. Wildlife biologists shouldn't ignore it. We're stuck with not just disbelief, but denial. It's not a matter of belief, it's not a matter of faith. This is mainstream biology. We will look bad when we find it."

But for Neb Kujundzic, a UPEI philosophy professor and department chair, the validity of Bindernagel's research depends on how it stands up to long-term scientific study.

All scientific discoveries are theories until another scientist comes along and proves or disproves it, he said in an interview in his book-lined UPEI office.

"Theories are respected solely because they haven't been refuted yet. The essence of science is refutation."

Using the scientific method, a scientist presents a hypothesis then tries to find evidence to prove it. For the scientist's theory to be valid it has to always return the same result and stand up to new evidence. This means a hypothesis implies a correlation.

Kujundzic used 400 bowls of chili as an example.

He always gets a headache after eating a bowl of chili ? that's the hypothesis. If he still gets a headache after 400 bowls that's the correlation. This correlation should be provable no matter where or when he eats the chili.

But, said Kunjudzic, if the person eats bowl 401 then doesn't get a headache, the hypothesis isn't valid. Something has changed and the hypothesis gets retooled.

This is how the scientific method is supposed to work, said Kujundzic.

"There you see it, others you don't. If you see it, it should be all over the world."

And it's the difference between science and pseudo-science. It's like a straight line versus a circle.

Open-ended science is a straight line on which a theory is presented and evidence given to prove or disprove it, while close-ended pseudo-science is a circle in which a theory is presented, but it can't be refuted because there's no evidence.

As an example of pseudo-science, Kujundzic used theories that extraterrestrial knowledge helped ancient Egyptians and Central America's long-dead Aztecs build pyramids.

But, he said, it doesn't mean discoveries like the H. Pylori ulcer-causing bacteria, once laughed at by scientists who thought ulcers were caused by stress, won't eventually be accepted.

"It emerged from kookland to mainstream science."

As for Jones, the sasquatch has become mainstream. "I'd always had that thought, but never thought I'd see anything. I'm not a fool, I know what I saw."

But, Jones who now lives in Winsloe, said he'd like to return and hike the trail again.

"I believe we saw something. I'd like to go back."

Copyright 2002 Charlottetown Guardian