Our reporter braves raging streams and slippery hillsides in quest for legendary beast of the Northwest. This is a fictionalized account of actual events
MEGLER - I arose to the sound of hail raining down on my tiny home in Ilwaco on what would be a fateful day for me - for today I would set out to find the elusive sasquatch - bigfoot.
It was made aware to me that there had been several sitings of the tall hairy beast in the hills to the north of State Route 401 along the Columbia River, not far from the Astoria-Meglar Bridge, many saying that they had seen him standing behind a tree above a landslide area.
In the days prior, I had the opportunity to contact an "expert" named Eric Fremstadt of Astoria, who said he could be my guide and take me into the woods to find the creature. Fremstadt is said to have had several encounters with this bigfoot. Some even say that it was he who was responsible for the creature moving into that area of the county.
I laced up my hiking boots, put my stocking hat on my head, placed a freshly made tuna-salad sandwich in a baggy, and was off to meet my guide - and possibly my destiny. I drove to our decided meeting place and met Fremstadt. He was a tall young man, wearing grizzled boots, ravaged from past adventures in Pacific Northwest forests.
We drove to an old logging road just off the highway. I got out of my car and prepped my camera in hopes of capturing the legendary creature on film. Fremstadt told me it was about a mile's hike - but how did he know this? What kind of knowledge did this man posses that gave him insight as to how far we would have to walk to find this bigfoot?
As we began walking up the old dirt - rather, mud road - I started asking questions of my guide, hoping to tap his brain and reveal his secrets. I found him to be a quiet fellow, only really talking when I talked to him. I found that bigfoot has been kind of a hobby for him, he having read several books on the subject.
After a few minutes Fremstadt stopped, looked upward, and said that we would be getting off the road and moving up - straight up. We trudged through the slop of the land, created by a night's worth of rainfall. This was about the time the first problem of our trip presented itself, in the form of a creek. The riverbed lay about four to five feet deep, with about two feet of water. This may not have been much trouble at another time of year, but today the waters were rushing at an accelerated pace, making it treacherous to wade through.
Fremstadt located an old log that had fallen across the gully, which we could use to walk across the six-foot-wide gap. He went first, using the few scraggly branches to help balance. Then it was my turn. Granted, it had been several years since the last time I "tight-roped" across a log, but I knew that the payoff would await me on the other side. I climbed up on the moss-covered log and began to slowly navigate my way across. Fremstadt noted once I was on land that if it hadn't been for that growth of moss, it would have made for a much more slippery trip.
Upon surveying the land that lay before us, Fremstadt had to change our course slightly, due to a few trees that had fallen in the wind storm of the weekend before. This meant us walking, almost vertically, up the side of the first hill. I followed my guide through the fern-covered grounds and up the slippery incline, falling several times only to be saved by protruding branches. Fremstadt was already at the top of this ridge when I was only halfway.
Once at the top we continued, "onward and upward," as the saying goes. We hiked in this fashion for approximately 20 minutes or so - being as this was the first time I had hiked like this in several years, I was already exhausted.
My breathing was deep, my lungs burned, my knees wobbling like so much jelly. But I kept moving, knowing that we must have been nearing the hallowed grounds of the sasquatch. I kept my eyes peeled, ears at point, nose at the ready, waiting for any signs of the tall, smelly beast.
As we came up over the final ridge I could see the Columbia River through the trees and knew we had made it to the top of the hill - I knew we were close. Fremstadt looked south through the trees, hoping to spot the beast. He started moving off the trail, moving toward the edge of the hill. I knew he saw him. I frantically tried to wipe away the water on the front of my camera's lens. I tried to quickly follow him, but was weighted down by pants soaked and muddied from the trek.
As I got through the first grouping of trees I could make out a figure on the edge of the hill, tall, standing next to a giant hemlock. Fremstadt approached fearlessly; I quickened my pace. As I got closer, I could see that the beast was not moving. Was he frightened by my intrepid guide? Was he communicating with him? Was he ... made of plywood?
My heart sank as I approached and saw it to be true. The creature that I had risked my life from certain death on the side of a hill on a logging road, was made of wood and old brown carpet.
"Somebody stole his mask," said Fremstadt. "His face was an old gorilla mask."
It was then that I found out how my guide was such an expert on this particular bigfoot - because he is the one who created him.
Fremstadt, on the urging of some of his friends, built the nine-and-a-half foot tall sculpture two summers ago. He scouted out the location well, driving by the area on his way to work at the Naselle Youth Camp. Once put together, Fremstadt hiked up the hill - twice, because he had to bring it up in two pieces - and attached it to a tree on the edge of a cliff above a landslide overlooking Hwy 401.
The "beast's" eyes were made from red reflectors, and its "fur" was that of some old carpet Fremstadt had gotten from a friend who was remodeling a house.
Fremstadt told me that his bigfoot was a big hit with many of his friends and associates, noting that many of them had made the trek up the hill to "meet" the beast. One time this even resulted in some females taking photographs with the monster in their birthday suits - for research purposes, I'm sure.
A grand hoax? Possibly. A good joke by a bigfoot enthusiast? Most probably. A nice hike on a Sunday afternoon? Well, that depends on you.