Sunday, March 25, 2012

A trackway find, surrounded by more forest unknowns

In the fall of 2011, our group expedition was conducted in a vast wilderness area, in the southern Adirondacks.. where we had not held a group outing, before. This area, had some reported sightings before, and again after.. this outing took place.
Due to a very early cold spell in October, that threatened the east coast with heavy snow.. the attendance was low, and there were only three of us. We met up, and chose a campsite that we thought was suitable, that was naturally carved into a ridge line, with higher ground on each side of us. We thought it would be a great spot to be "observed" by anything that wanted to do so. It would not of been a great spot to set up tents, during a time when heavy rain was forecast.. but not the case here.
We kept one ear on the NOAA weather forecast, and set up our camp. Temps were only in the 20s, and did not break freezing, the entire weekend.
Taking an afternoon hike out of camp, we came upon an area we thought would be suitable for a night OP, that overlooked a grassy clearing, with the forest dirt road, and thicker forest on the opposite side . Upon investigating, we decided on a spot for a camera trap, and to hang pheromone bait. One investigator found a large area of matted down grass, that looked like deer had been using it as a bed down spot. Another, had found some questionable impressions on the roadside (in the softer ground) that resembled the shape of large human tracks, but did not offer much detail. Everything was carefully documented, as one investigator and myself started to slowly walk back to camp on the forest road, while the other finished photographing and measuring the impressions.
Branch snaps were heard, which drew my fellow investigator to the forest edge to listen, and then he walked a little ways in. More snaps were heard, that got him a little further into the thicker forest, while I watched him from the road. He then.. called us into the area, and sounded pretty excited. He explained how he had noticed a dark shape in the distance, that moved in between several trees, at around 70 yards or so away. Also, he pointed out what looked like several fresh tracks in the lite (half inch or so) of new fallen snow that still remained in the forest, from a day earlier. The tracks were quite deep (at least 1.5 " at the heal), and had a clear shape of a human-like foot, with the ball of heal clearly defined, and the outline of the toe area. No detail in individual toes were noted, due to the leaf and twig debris on the mossy mounds below the snow. It was also clear, that there was a higher (more shallow) ridge that was consistently noted at about 4-5 " from the back of the heal (seemed like a crossing high point.. break, or flex point of the tracks), on all the 12" tracks that were found.. as more were also found, that lead away from the road.. until we could no longer see anymore. This was impossible to follow.. in case anyone reading, is wondering why we didn't follow them (we did). We lost the trail, not far from the original find.
We were all convinced, that this was a fresh and substantial find, and it probably never would have ever been noticed, except for the investigator being drawn in by the branch snapping sounds, and the lite coating of snow.. that made the tracks pretty obvious, and easier to find. We were losing daylight fast, and decided to comeback the next morning, and continue to document and cast, the best tracks. It was very exciting, to say the least. It led us to think, that maybe something was watching us across the road in the clearing, from behind a tree and cover of the forest.. while we were doing our investigating and set up.
Back at camp.. we discussed our plans for the evening, while cooking some dinner. We all are believers in audio use in the field, so we all set up separate audio in various locations around camp, and I also set out a remote recorder, at another campsite.. that was next to the stretch of forest we found the tracks in. The weather forecast for the next day.. was sounding more "iffy", and we decided that we would listen more carefully in the morning, and decide or plans.. pending on the forecast, for the next days activities. We also decided not to pitch tents, with temps falling into the teens. We would all be in our vehicles, for the overnight. Also, being there was only three of us.. we decided against the out of camp night observation, because of the extreme cold potential.. and decided to just spend the night near a campfire, and act like campers.. and just see and note what happens.
During the evening, we made a few call outs and wood knocks, but heard no responses. There was a couple strange sounds, and a projectile of some kind.. that sounded like it bounced off the wooden privy outhouse. I decided to throw a small rock, back in the direction the projectile seemed to come from (up on the ridge above camp). I short while later, another was heard hitting in the same area, to our north.. near the back of camp, and outhouse. Maybe it was an acorn dropping on a calm windless night, or it was something being thrown. I don't think the right kind of White Oak trees, were up there, and not directly over the camp.. but it is something we will follow up on, if we do return.. which is very likely. We joked about this, and how the sounds were near the outhouse. A wide range of outhouse jokes, caused us to hurt our sides laughing.. obviously overtired from the drives, and the days activities and cold weather. The campfire, was a God sent. The sky was clear, and it was going to get.. even colder.
The next morning.. we ate, and packed up our equipment, and moved it over to the campsite closest to the forest area and trackway, while I retrieved my still running audio recorder. After another weather check.. the storm system ws predicted to dump 3-5 inches of snow in the county just to our east, and maybe even in our area, which was a downgrade from what was originally predicted. That made us decide to not spend another night in this forest, where a few inches of snow might make driving out, a real challenge on the steep rough roads, filled with large rocks sticking out, and the looming possibility of tree branches coming down , in a heavy wet snowfall.
Another trackway (that appeared to be coming from the south, and headed north, and an entrance to the area.. as the first one discovered ..was an exit..and headed south ) yielded a couple larger prints, also fresh.. that were Not there, the day before.. when the first trackway was found. This led us to think, another culprit (larger, as the tracks were in the 15-16" range) came back (maybe mama ?).. after we left, and went back to camp. It also demonstrated.. just how hard these impressions are to spot, without the lite snow (that finally melted from sunlight).. compared to the day before. These larger tracks, also ended up stopping, behind a tree. One track , that was cast, looked like at had smashed a branch down into it.. that would have caused a mighty sore foot, if it was a person in bare feet that did it. That notion.. is much more ridiculous, than thinking the tracks came from a sasquatch, IMHO. It was Very clear, that the tracks came from a barefoot, and not a boot.
We decided to stay packed, and get the trackway documented and casts made. This took much longer than expected, as the cold temps made ultracal 30.. take much longer than 30 minutes, like it normally would take to dry in warmer conditions. After hours of waiting, and going back (from the second campsite) and checking.. only one cast could be pulled out of the ground, while the other was just too tacky, to try and pull. We decided, it would be retrieved at another time, in the future.
Upon saying our goodbyes.. it was past mid afternoon. It took me until it just started to get dark, to get back to paved roads, and on toward home. The weather held nicely for the drive home, and the storm stayed well to my east, with the October snow dumping record amounts on New England and eastern NY, eastern PA, and NJ. I saw tons of deer on the drive out of the mountains, and narrowly missed hitting several, that bolted out near the sharp curves of the two lane road. In one larger town, I passed through (Old Forge).. they were walking right on the sidewalks, in the almost abandoned.. Saturday night, post tourist season.
Conclusions from this experience and outing..
Photos did not do the tracks any justice. Much more detail can be seen with the human eye, which is always the best camera. This is something to bare in mind, while researching.. to always document and describe what is found in as much detail as you can.. in the field, as the photos and casts ..will not only.. not impress viewers, but will not show details you noticed live in the field, with your own eyes.
The strangeness of the surrounding events, is uncertain.. from what could have been watching us before the trackway find, to what could of been thrown our way, when we sat at the campfire.
The audio results were interesting, as usual. My fellow investigator recorded some loud branch snaps and possible footfalls, from where he placed his recorder.. up on the ridge, above our first camp. Like most audio, it is inconclusive.. but confirmed the strangeness we experienced. The other investigator, took over.. because of the absence of our friend (do to his work place responsibilities) that usually records all our field events, at the base camp. He did a great job with this, noting and covering everything, and plans to compile a complete expedition report.. soon.
I recorded one vocalization, that was determined to take place after we all were in our vehicles, for the night. It was not audible from our camp, but recorded from the other camp, near the forest area that contained the partial trackways. I think it is consistent with other recorded audio from NY and PA, but is well within the human vocal range. The closet campers (hunters) to us, were at least a 10 minute drive away, so it being them.. was unlikely, but not impossible. Here is the link to the clip, from the overnight recording :

There was another report of a sighting, taken by a fellow investigator.. from the same general area, that confirms that this is an area, worth further investigation.. Indeed .