Sunday, November 6, 2011

2011 North Georgia Expedition (GA EXP-1)

PREFACE: There were two (2) separate BFRO North Georgia Expeditions this year: Sept. 22-25, and Sept. 29 - Oct. 2. They were conducted in the same location, but will be referred to as GA EXP-1 and GA EXP-2, respectively.

LOCATION: The North Georgia Expeditions were conducted in a remote section of the Chattahoochee National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The base camp sat directly adjacent to a small tributary of a large river situated in a north-south running river valley, which extends for several miles and connects to many other small valleys. The location was easily one of the more remote and beautiful places in North Georgia.

In total, there were 22 GA EXP-1 participants. The participants came from OK, GA, TN, NC, VA, SC, FL, and OH.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon, as did Morris Collins (GA-BFRO), JE, JMc, JH, JH, GS, GH, SF, PV, RC, and LC.

After setting up camp, we made a plan to conduct a small night operation on the ridge to the northeast of camp. We didn't hear any responses during the preliminary operation.

-- DAY / NIGHT ONE --

On Thursday, Sept. 22, amongst several small rain storms, many of the new participants arrived. During a break in between the thundershowers, I lead a group north on a trail that paralleled the river. I was accompanied by JE, JMc, JH, GS, PV, RC, and LC. The area was dramatically beautiful, and the trail was conducive to sending one or more small teams to conduct night operations.

After our scouting exercise, LC used his mountain bike to explore another area. He had a wonderful find; a large meadow with an old, degraded road bed leading into a narrow section of the river valley south of camp. The road bed had been bermed years ago, and the old road bed had become an overgrown, narrow trail. He contacted me via radio to tell me about his find, and JE and I scouted the area with him.

After arriving back at camp, I conducted the first group meeting. I discussed LC's find, and began preparing for night operations. Unfortunately, more rain and thunderstorms were predicted to hit us sometime between 10PM and 1AM. JE and I made the drive up the ridge from base camp to the nearest cell signal every 30-45 minutes to keep an eye on the storms. We knew it would hit; but no one knew exactly when it would reach our section of the mountains.

The last thing that I wanted was to disperse people far away from base camp on foot only to have us all be caught in a heavy rain storm. I made the decision to stay in camp and wait out the storm. It certainly wasn't easy, as we were are very eager to head in to the woods. The rain hit us around 1AM, and it poured for almost five (5) hours.

-- DAY / NIGHT TWO --

Having lost a night to the storm, the expedition participants and I mobilized ourselves readily and energetically to scout the area that LC, JE, and I saw the previous day. A large group of us entered the area on foot and followed the degraded trail south until we hit a large, deep bowl in the terrain. We were very near the headwaters of the river that formed our valley. Now that most of us had seen the area during the day, we had a better understanding of how to move around in there at night.

During the second night's meeting we dispersed the participants into teams based on how far south into the river valley they would be placed. Since we would be strung along the same winding trail in a narrow section of the river valley, we used the NATO phonetic alphabet table to assign team names.

The teams were as follows:

"Alpha" - Matt Pruitt, MW, JE, RC, JMc (The Southernmost)
"Bravo" - LC, PV, DS, PC, BI
"Charlie" - KZ, JC, BC, KA, GH (The three females on the expedition were in this group.)
"Delta" - Morris Collins, CK, JH, JH, DH
"Echo" - GS, SF (The Northernmost)

After the teams arrived at their respective locations, we began coordinating sounds. The two northernmost teams ("Echo" and "Delta") could both hear sounds above them on the valley wall to the east. CK and DH briefly saw what appeared to be a large heat signature through CK's rented handheld thermal imager. The two southernmost teams ("Alpha" and "Bravo") could also hear faint, ambiguous movement along the eastern valley wall.

The most significant thing that occurred happened to "Charlie" team, who were situated on a section of the trail were a small feeder stream flowed out of the eastern valley wall, forming a small bowl in the wall itself. The feeder stream was lined with heavy rhododendron growth. From this point on, that spot will be referred to as the "Approach Location" in these expedition notes, as well as the GA EXP-2 notes.

Here is the narrative of "Charlie" team member KZ regarding the team's experience:

" 'Charlie' group arrived on scene with the following members - KZ, KA, JC, BC, and GH. Radios were insufficient, and the group quickly used three radios before selecting a unit that transmitted appropriately. During much of the event, 'Charlie' group communications were lacking and unable to be understood by nearby teams."

[Editor's Note - Matt Pruitt: This particular section of the river valley proved to be very problematic with regard to radio communications.]

KZ continues: "No noise reduction was practiced by the group, however red head lights were turned off soon after arrival, approximately 2300 hours. We were clearly in a most vulnerable position, having no clear escape route other than the way we came in.

After a short while, movement was detected on the slope above our location. The group heard very subtle shuffling, moist leaf noises, and very stealthy travel interspersed with an occasional small stick snap. The noise seemed to move back and forth, up slope, down slope, behind us and even appeared to cross the trail at one point. It became apparent to the participants that noises were coming simultaneously from different locations. This led the group to believe that big guys were circling the group, evaluating, yet maintaining ample distance. Matt Pruitt registered requests for female screams from 'Charlie' group, gladly provided and most sufficiently by KA. Repeated use of the thermal imager produced no heat signatures - it was the group consensus that this tool destroyed what night vision we had, might ruin the experience and revealed our locations, so its use was limited to the end of the mission. Three wood knocks were administered by JC, the girls sang some gentle lullabies, KA sang a song parody (much laughter by group) and I let out a whistle; none of these efforts initiated any noticeable response.

Most of the participants admitted to hearing movement in the forest; I mentioned to others the oddity of distinct/complex bird songs in the night, seemingly originating from the areas that produced the subtle movements and traveling sounds. At one point I mentioned that a larger object was heard clattering down thru the trees, finally to land on the wet creek bed behind me GH noted that she had simultaneously heard the same object contacting trees above and behind her head, potentially thrown from up slope and soon coming to rest behind the group. 'Charlie' group members continued to try to observe what other members were seeing/hearing, and thus a predictable cycle of standing/sitting ensued. KA reminded us to refrain from pointing/head turning or otherwise acknowledging specific sounds with conspicuous bigfoot recognition.

After several hours of witnessing this behavior, the cold temperature began to play a detrimental role in the event. One member noticeably shivered as a result of this exposure. At 0130, I asked the group if an anticipated end was in sight and did we want to decide on a departure time. The group felt that 0215 was a good time to leave the site. The group continued to experience these local effects, and at approximately 0215, began loading up the gear to leave. Taking the first steps out were JC and BC, followed by GH, KA and lastly me. Suddenly, the group experienced a proximate explosion of large, snapping branches no more than ten feet to the right, in front of and up slope from the lead hiker. This dramatic display startled the group and BC/JC staggered backwards as the egress noises quickly ceased, moving away in the night. It was clearly a very much larger than human animal, estimated at well over 300 pounds, moving very quickly and with great agility. The group proceeded out, a bit shaken, however quickly met up with 'Delta' group up trail and passed along their findings."


When I returned to camp with my team, I was quickly filled in on the approach that "Charlie" team had experienced. A decision was made to return the following day to search for sign.

-- DAY / NIGHT THREE --

I interviewed the members of "Charlie" group to gain a better understanding of what occurred. After much discussion, it was decided that only a few people should return to the "Approach Location", while other should try to elicit responses from a different section of the river valley.

KZ and other expedition members returned to the "Approach Location" to search for sign.

More from KZ:

"Saturday 9/24/11, BFRO participant investigation of the approach area revealed 18" foot-like impressions in the forest floor, seemingly proceeding uphill and away from the trail area. Distance separating these impressions was measured at approximately 48" and assumed to be moving up the steep slope. A significant, well used game trail was discovered up slope and parallel to the main trail, potentially giving animals the vantage point with which to travel silently and observe trail users."

I explored a different section of the river valley to north with JE, JH, and JMc. The four of us found a strategically viable trail system that gave us access to the ridge above the western wall of the river valley, as well as a few smaller coves and hollows. It seemed that three (3) teams could spread out in the area and make sounds which would carry into the river valley in hopes of eliciting and documenting responses.

We met up at base camp and discussed the viability of the northern section, as well as the need to revisit the "Approach Location". We divided the expedition into two sections, "North" and "South".

The "North" teams were as follows:

"Alpha" - Matt Pruitt, GH, MW, JE, JMc
"Bravo" - DS, KZ, BI, JH, JH
"Charlie" - GS, SF, RC

The "South" team (who distributed themselves in and around the "Approach Location" members were as follows:

CK, KA, LC, MC, DH, BC, and JC.

The "North" teams coordinated sounds via radios, and after each coordinated sound, we heard (and documented) powerful responses from the river valley. The responses weren't consistent with known large mammals, but were amazingly consistent with purported sasquatch vocalizations and recordings. It was truly an incredible experience, and all of the expedition participants who heard the responses were very impressed. I am still in the process of going thru the hours of sound files to isolate and enhance all of the vocal responses that "Alpha" team's audio controller (JE) documented.

The "South" teams reported no activity.

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I'd like to thank all of the first-time participants for being so cooperative and friendly (not to mention brave) on this expedition. It is my privilege to spend time with you in the field.

I'd also like to thank my close friends JE, JMc, and MW for helping me so much during the expedition. JE had high-quality audio recordings running every night, and took over 1000 photos during the expedition.

Finally, I'd like to acknowledge one of my favorite field partners, and one of my favorite friends Morris Collins for scouting the area, and for representing the Georgia Chapter of the BFRO on the expedition. I am truly grateful.



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To discuss the 2011 Georgia Expedition (GA EXP-1), please visit this thread on the BFRO's Public Forum.

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