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Bella Coola, British Columbia, Bigfoot Country

This is one of those places you can’t get to from here, unless you’re willing to lay out a big chunk of change. I learned this the hard way when, in 1990, I put an ad in BACKPACKER magazine to run a BFRO type expedition to Ape Lake, high in the glacier fields south of Bella Coola .

I received over 60 enthusiastic responses, all of whom backed out when they learned how much it would cost just for the air fare.

I had been reading about the Bella Coola Indians and their constant interaction with Sasquatches who, according to the newspaper, brazenly came into town night after night to steal deer meat hanging on back porches. This interaction goes back a long way. There are petroglyphs there, dating back some 10,000 years, of giant ape-like faces, some making the familiar pursed lip whistling expression.

Ape Lake, I reasoned, had been named by a prospector who had stumbled into town at the turn of the century, half dead from hunger and fear. Between bites of seal blubber fed to him by the friendly Indians, he would have stuttered out a tale of being chased by giant apes, up by the lake in mountains. I was hooked.

My best friend, a very smart guy from MIT, volunteered to go with me.
We flew by Wilderness Airlines from Vancouver 450 miles North through an endless succession of rugged snow covered mountains, with glaciers filling the valleys, to Bella Coola, where we chartered a Beaver floatplane to fly us up to Ape Lake. $500 for a fifteen minute ride .

“Hmmm”, the bushpilot said,” No one ever goes up here. The glacier at the top of the lake blew out a few years ago, causing a flood which wiped out a logging camp 20 miles downstream.” This was sounding better and better.
The flight up to the lake was more of the same wild country, only a lot more close and personal, as you can see from the video.

Now you have to remember that this was in my early squatching days; days when I thought a serious effort would produce some concrete results rather quickly . A vetenarian friend had given me two prescriptions for the tranquilizers used by zoos and big game trappers, Rompon and Ace Promazine.

I had calculated the dosage for 800 lbs and loaded these into the darts and fastened them onto crossbow arrows, since the range of the available tranquilizer guns available was only about 50’.

As a Private Pilot I had a VHF walkie talkie with me and had arranged with Wilderness Airlines to be able to communicate with their planes flying up and down the coast. My naïve plan was to tranquilize a Bigfoot, call Wilderness Airlines and charter a big logging helicopter with a winch to haul me, my friend, and the Squatch back to Bella Coola, where I would charter a boat and take him south ( The plan got hazier and hazier from there; I was figuring one step at a time) . Looking back on this plan makes me laugh. The time spent planning a trip and anticipating possible outcomes gives one the opportunity to really get caught up in the fantasy of “What ifs” . Not only is it great fun ,but like a lot of things in life, the anticipation of forthcoming events is usually filled with wonderful possibilities that in the end do not come to pass.

Such are the dreams squatching is made of.

As we topped the pass and leveled out Ape Lake looked like a reservoir at the end of a long drought. It was very low. It normally drained to the South but a few years back the bottom of the glacier at the northern end had been undermined by water and had busted loose, reversing the lakes draining from South to North.

The glacier had crept back, but as you can see, the runoff from the lake continued to make a tunnel through its base, never allowing it to return to its previous level.

We set up camp at the South end on a shelf of rock overlooking the lake, loaded up the tranquilizer darts and set out to explore.


You will see me carrying a rifle. This was a .308 M1A, the civilian version of the M-14 and was carried for protection from Grizzlies. I also hoped to shoot some small game to supplement our freeze dried and canned rations. Tree huggers may wring their hands, but this far from help for 10 days is no place to be warm and fuzzy. Some of my additional equipment included a Vietnam era PVS-2 gen1 scope, predator game calls, scent masking dope , came screens, 35mm camera and Sony camcorder.

What a spot!!

The mountains on both sides of us, but especially to the West were deeply covered with snow and ice. Often ,as it warmed up during the day, we would hear distant roaring and look up to see avalanches tumbling down their sides.

Our camp placed us a very safe distance from any danger. However, when we went up to where the woods ended and the snow began, the destructive power of these avalanches was overwhelming. Trees and rocks knocked into giant jumbled piles, smashed down the slope for hundreds of feet in an impassable tangled mess.

The pine forests were deep with moss and the rather swampy fields had large patches of wildflowers. Glacial runoff provided countless rushing streams to feed the lake.

The edge of the lake, and the fields, and sides of the streams were great for tracking , and we found then in abundance; except of course the ones we were looking for. When we found the fresh Grizzly tracks in the mud near camp I decided to move up above the tree line to a glacial pond surrounded by small boulders and wildflowers.

I wanted more open space during the night. This also proved a great spot for Hairy Marmots…. very tasty slow roasted over an open fire. Sort of like Woodchuck, for those of you who have tried it.

During the summer ( it was August) it rains a lot and there were several days spent cooped up in the tent. I was reading PILLARS O F THE EARTH, by Ken Follet. My friend hadn’t brought a book and was starting to a little unhinged with nothing to do, so , as I finished 20 pages of my book, I’d rip them off and pass them to him.

We were pretty far north, where daylight lingers until late in the evening. On most nights, when it finally started to get dark, we would move perhaps a quarter mile from our camp and set up a hideout blind and use the predator calls . Days were spent looking for sign and exploring. The piles of scat were everywhere, and digging into them revealed crushed up bones, hair and teeth.

While in the end I regret that we found nothing of interest I would return in a heartbeat.

In the ensuing years I have learned so much about Squatchng; knocks, whoops, bait, thermals, gamecams, gen3 NV, the list goes on and on.
I have learned to put away my darts and replace them with patience and a real respect for the creature we are all seeking. This long learning curve has finally paid off with the thermal video.

Given the opportunity to return to Ape Lake I feel confident that the knowledge I have acquired in the years since the trip would pay off big time.
They are there. They just gotta be.

 

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