I'm here to settle the debate over Bigfoot. Somebody's got to do it, so it may as well be me. Bigfoot is real, and I'm tired of hearing otherwise, because I've seen it. I've even waved to it -- and it waved back.
It was 44 years ago this September that I developed a sudden interest in cryptozoology. I don't even think the phrase was coined yet, but the Patterson-Gimlin film had been making the rounds, and a few people had reported seeing strange creatures in Montana. If you think you've never seen or heard of the Patterson-Gimlin film, you're wrong. It's as iconic a piece of 20th century footage as, say, the Zapruder film. Picture Bigfoot, and you're picturing the Patterson-Gimlin film.
I had gotten a day job to supplement the ranch, as a lot of ranch families have to do. It was as a railroader for the then Burlington-Northern, and it was an industry that hadn't hardly hired anyone in twenty years, so everyone had seniority on me, and I got last pick of vacation time, which ended up being September, which is how I remember that it was September when I saw her.
My brother Neal, one of our friends, and myself, we took off on a Montana backcountry vacation to the Madison Range over by Ennis. We backpacked into the mountains by way of one of the creeks that drain into the Madison River. The exact creek shall remain anonymous to protect the creature I am shortly to describe, which is the reason for my interest in cryptozoology.
The hike in was a grueling 13 miles that, even to my then 20 year old body, seemed straight up. By the time we reached our camp site on the shore of a small lake, I had a blister on the heel of my right foot about the size of a dollar. Now, that's a paper dollar and not a silver dollar, you understand. We dined on T-bone steaks, cooked over an open fire, carried in just for the occasion. In the early morning, my fisherman brother and friend got ready to go on up and over the ridge to a hidden lake reputed to hold some of Montana's golden trout. Due to my afore-mentioned blister, I decided to pass and lick my wounds, so to speak. So off they went on their adventure and thus began mine.
When they reached the very top of the ridge they turned and waved goodbye to me. I noticed that the trail they were on passed beyond some rocks that were almost exactly at the height of their cowboy hats. Then they disappeared down the other side of the mountain, leaving me sitting on a log staring into my coffee cup. But no more than a minute later, I glanced up to the trail where they had just disappeared and to my complete shock, I saw a creature standing there. In the exact same spot from which they had just disappeared! The thing is, the rocks, which were at cowboy hat height for my brother and pal hit this monster at about mid-chest, making the creature about 8 or even 9 feet tall.
Now it needs to be noted that the reason for the blistered heel is the fact that the day before I had carried a heavy pack to the camp. I was camped next to the little lake at timberline with a bright red REI brand four-person mountain tent which the creature, from its vantage, could hardly have missed. The contents of the pack also included a pair of Zeiss 10 power binoculars, so I raised them. Anyone who has ever looked through a pair of Zeiss optics will attest that they bring things almost stunningly closer and into focus. So I grabbed the binoculars and glassed the creature only to make direct eye contact.
She was looking back at me.
Yes, a she. Clearly a she, because she had breasts that any twenty-year-old boy could immediately recognize as furry, but clearly that of which I had so little direct knowledge as a young tenderfoot, save through a few collegiate fumblings and the pages of the odd National Geographic. These were of the National Geographic variety.
I jumped up from the log and waved my arms. Then, to my even greater surprise, she waved back.
We stared at each other for probably the better part of three minutes. I notice how human she looked at first glance, though covered in brown fur except for the breasts and the face. I could not get my head around what I was looking at. She had a flattened nose and a slight brow ridge, and the top of her enormous head came to a slight point. I think Bigfoot scientists call that an occipital ridge.
And if I haven't made it sufficiently clear, I'll repeat that this was a big girl: I would guess her weight to be 600 to 700 pounds and she carried no fat. She was pure muscle. She could have torn me limb from limb, torn those limbs in half, and stacked them all in a pile. I'd like to think that she wouldn't have, but who knows?
After a moment longer, she decided she had been delayed long enough and started down the same trail the boys had just gone up: straight toward my camp.
Fearless, and in the interest of science, I hurriedly put my boots on and hot-footed on up the path so as to cut her trail and get a closer look. However, after 44 years of thinking about what I saw, maybe foolhardy is a better word than fearless.
But I never found her.
It was the third week in September, and it had snowed that night as it is wont to do in the Montana high country that time of year. The morning sun was already thinning the snow in the open areas. Drifts remained in the shade, but she was stealthy enough not to leave a track anywhere!
Somehow she just disappeared, which is probably something that they must be pretty good at doing by now, with all the hikers and hunters and daytrippers getting closer and closer, more and more coming all the time.
Nor did I succeed in finding her tracks, even though I had seen her come down the mountain. I do, however, vividly remember a potent and earthy, even beastly smell on the trail. I think she must have been near, hiding.
So I didn't know what to think of what had happened. Over the years, I have told the story to family members and hiking companions at the time, and I sometimes get the sense that listeners question the reality of the tale.
But I know what I saw. And I know that somewhere out there, she still traverses those woods, hidden. Maybe every now and then someone gets a glimpse, but not many.
And I have to wonder, has 44 years done the same number on her as it's done on me? Has her fur gone silver? Have her breasts grown pendulous with age? Do her knees and back protest as she strolls through the woods?
And does she remember a tiny figure sitting by a red tent, waving at her one September morning, long ago?
Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy. Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV. Hell, scratch that. Enough to buy the whole RV. He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations. Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.