“No way.” Josh to me, and me to Josh
My buddy Josh and I had been eagerly awaiting to go on our next camping trip. Our last trip, to John Pond, was in very early February (in which I lost my wedding ring, and then returned with my wife a few days later to find it), and then COVID caused the shutdowns in March. We both wanted to get back into the Adirondacks sooner, but it just wasn’t feasible. But since the numbers in New York have gone way down, we figured it was a good time to hit the trail again, this time to Ross Pond in the Hudson Gorge Wilderness. Joining us was Josh’s German Shepard, Jax.
Josh, Jax, and I got on the trail a little before 11:30am on August 25th. We got into camp at around 2:45pm. We were also carrying a cooler in, with beers, bottles of water, plus a bag and a half of ice. We were under the impression that the trail was relatively flat and easy. We were wrong.
Now, Josh and I may not be hardcore, professional hikers, but we are also far from amateurs. We’ve hiked some pretty long and rough trails, especially the hike into John Pond in about 6 inches of snow in late January. This trail was much more rugged – lots of steep hills, rocky embankments, a stream with slippery rocks, lots of deadfall trees that had not been cut yet (so we had to climb over), and tons of smaller rocks embedded in the trail itself, with multiple rock scrambles. This is a very tough hike when carrying a 60-pound pack on your back full of gear. We were hot, dehydrated, and sore. Additionally, we decided to stash the cooler at about the halfway mark, so about 1.5 miles before reaching camp, with the idea being we’d come back and get it after we set up our camp.
We started scouting the campsite area for the best place to pitch our tents, but we didn’t have much time. We noticed immediately that some storm clouds were rolling in. It had started drizzling, and the wind had picked up. We quickly scrambled to get our tents up and covered with tarps, to ensure we had dry shelter for the night. Once we had set up the tents, the storm passed (thankfully it just glanced us), we rested for a bit, and started our long trek back to grab our cooler. It took us about 2 hours, but once we got back to camp, we knew we could relax and soak in the wonderful view from our pond. The storm clouds had cleared and it was a beautiful, sunny evening. As I started collecting firewood, Josh explored around camp. Just to the north of our campsite, I could hear Josh yelling for me. There was something he needed me to see. I rushed over and found Josh down a hill, in a small inlet of water from the pond that looked like it may have been a stream in wetter seasons. It was muddy, and covered in bear prints. Fresh bear prints. We know the Adirondacks are full of bears, but this was the first time we ever camped with tracks so fresh and so close to our tents. We’d have to be extra careful.
We got a fire going, had a cold beer each, and cooked up some cheese-filled sausages for dinner, one of our recurring food traditions now. I couldn’t finish my sausage, and gave the last piece to Jax, ensuring that he would be my buddy for life. The sun was going down, it was a beautiful night, but we were both exhausted. By 7:30, we decided to throw in the towel and lay down in our tents. We talked for a while, as we weren’t fully ready to sleep, but it was good to be off our feet and relaxing. We threw some wood on the fire, and Josh monitored it from his tent. The evening was mostly quiet, with only the wind blowing our tarps as the only noise we would hear. By about 9pm, we were both dozing.
We woke up about 8am on Wednesday, neither one of us having had a great night’s sleep, but feeling refreshed and rejuvenated nonetheless. We cooked a hearty breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, and cheese, on toasted onion bagels (another tradition for us). We knew today we could just relax, explore around camp, hang with Jax, and do some fishing. And that’s exactly what we did. Honestly though, this kind of camping is never fully relaxing. Josh and I had to find some good deadfall to drag back to camp for firewood, and anytime Josh was cooking, I was cutting up firewood. We ended up with a nice pile, as we planned on staying up much later than the first night.
We filmed some videos too – me trying (and failing) to make a fire just with my knife and ferro rod (the wind and a very curious Jax made it much more difficult), us drinking some filtered pond water, and some of Josh fishing. The pond is allegedly stocked with trout, but we didn’t even get a bite. We explored around the south side of the lake, where the trail in leads to camp, and found nothing there except some animal dens and coyote scat. More predators we had to be on the lookout for. We headed back to our little fishing spot on the lake, shared some beers and trail mix, and just enjoyed the beautiful sunny day.
We cooked up our traditional campfire fajitas for dinner (man, we are creatures of habit) and settled in to enjoy a nice night around the campfire. We cracked open another beer, and started getting into our conversations – family life, politics, and even a little paranormal stuff. After all, what’s a good campfire without some spooky stories? Just as it started really getting dark, Josh noticed that Jax was staring to our right (south) – his ears were up, and he was giving his full attention to something in the woods. We couldn’t hear anything, and we just figured he was hearing some of the nightlife of the woods – a squirrel, a raccoon, or something else small. We kept chatting, but Jack never relaxed. He kept staring off to the right. And the longer he did it, the more we were perplexed. After about 20 minutes of this, Josh and I heard a loud twig snap, and what sounded like branches moving. Something big was passing by our camp, probably about 35-40 feet from where we were standing. “Deer, maybe?,” I asked. Josh, who is far more experienced in the woods than I am, said (much to my dismay) “nope.” He said it was too big, probably a bear. Josh turned on his headlamp and started searching where we heard the sounds, the same place Jax was staring at, which was now directly in front of us. “I just saw eyeshine,” Josh told me, right by a large tree about 40 feet from us. He asked if I could see it, and I couldn’t, as I was a few feet to Josh’s right, and at a different angle. Josh said he saw it blink, and then it disappeared. Josh yelled out a deep, loud “Git!” but it didn’t move. Josh put his headlamp on again, and he saw the eyeshine again, a little more to the left this time, and again, it blinked. “Git!,” Josh yelled again, but again, it didn’t move. Josh stood up, and grabbed his stick, and pulled out his knife. I followed suit, picking up my the big stick near me and unsheathing my knife, all while staying focused on the tree where Josh saw the eyeshine. We started talking to one another, coming up with a strategy. Black bears usually avoid people, and will usually run off if they come across humans, especially if they realize they are outnumbered. We were afraid the bear might get bold, might come closer. We were also worried that Jax might charge at the bear, but thankfully he didn’t move. He seemed paralyzed. Josh and I were as well. We just couldn’t move. Then I yelled out, just a loud, guttural yell, trying to be as loud as I could, and nothing. Whatever was there wouldn’t budge. We were getting nervous. There was nowhere to run. Our tents provided no protection. We had no gun with us. Best case scenario, we could probably overpower the bear, but one of us would be severely injured, and it was a long, treacherous hike back in the dark to try to call for help. It would be hours before anyone could assist us. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity (but was probably around 6 minutes or so), it slowly started walking off, to our left, to the north of our campsite.
At that point, we decided we couldn’t sleep. Not well, and not anytime soon. It was only about 8:45pm, and we wanted to stay up and make sure our visitor never came back. We ended up staying up until 1am, figuring at that point we only had to go about 4 hours until daylight came and saved us. We couldn’t get into very deep conversation, as we were too frightened and startled. We talked a little strategy, about how weird it was that the bear didn’t get startled and run off, and how we’d handle the food that night. On the first night, we did a bear hang, but we figured this night, we’d put everything in the cooler, and push it far from camp, right where he walked into camp. If he wanted our food, he could take it, and stay far away from us. And that’s exactly what we did.
The rest of the night was quiet. As soon as we got into our tents, we had some owls trading calls for a bit, a few loon calls, but the rest of the night was quiet. Something odd was answering the owl, but we couldn’t tell what it was. If our large friend had returned, neither Josh, Jax, nor I heard him.
On Thursday morning, I got up around 7:30am, and started a fire, despite the fact that it was cloudy and lightly raining. Josh got up a little later, and we checked the cooler. Nothing had been touched. We thought that was a bit odd. We skipped breakfast, as neither of us were hungry, and started breaking down our camp.
Once we were mostly packed, we decided to check out where the bear was, how close he was to us, and how big he might have been. Josh said the bear seemed eye level with him, which would have put the bear at 6 feet tall, a decent but unsurprising size for a black bear. Josh pointed out the same tree as he pointed out the night before, a large tree with a white knot in it. I then pointed out to him that the tree was downhill, in a gully that sloped down beginning at the edge of camp. Josh thought it was only a small mound, and didn’t realize that on the other side of the mound, the ground sloped down at almost a 45 degree angle. The tree rooted into the ground at about 3 or 4 feet lower than our campsite. If I stood directly next to the tree, I could barely see our campsite. If the bear was standing there, on its hind legs and eye level with Josh, the bear would have had to have been 9 or 10 feet tall. Even if Josh’s estimate was wrong, either regarding the height of the bear, or if it was a little closer, we were still talking about a bear who was 8 or 9 feet tall, at least. Any closer to us, and he would have been in our camp, and not hidden in the trees. The most conservative estimate we came up with was somewhere between 7 and 8 feet tall, which while not impossible, is still very large for a black bear. We took some videos of the tree, Josh and I alternating standing by the tree for perspective, and ultimately, we came to a scary conclusion – either this was a HUGE bear, or this was Sasquatch. Josh joked that we should walk over to the muddy inlet, to see if there were any Bigfoot prints, and we laughed. We were really just looking for fresh bear prints. The ones we already found were big, but nothing extraordinary for a black bear.
As soon as we walked up to the muddy inlet, we saw it: a giant, human-shaped track. We were flabbergasted. We immediately started taking video, and I put my boot next to it. I wear a size 12, and this footprint was easily 14 inches long, and at least 1.5 inches deep. It was very clear, toes being visible, especially the big toe. It was not a bear, or any other animal. It was at least an inch deeper than any of my footprints, and I weigh a little over 200lbs. We considered the possibility that someone was pulling a prank on us. Then we realized how unlikely that was. The person would have had to have hiked in to our site, in the dark, without a flashlight, been quiet enough for me and Josh not to hear them, and not alert Jax (who definitely would have barked at a human). They would have had to have night vision goggles, water, and a fake cast, and have hiked 3 miles in treacherous terrain. They would have risked being shot by us (they didn’t know this was the one trip where Josh decided not to bring a firearm). They would have had to have known we were interested in Bigfoot. They would have had to have known we checked out the muddy inlet, which was far enough from our site that we may have never even gone that way. And then, after all of that, they would have had to hike back out, again, without alerting us or the dog, in the dark, for almost 3 miles.
Of course I had no plaster with me to make a cast. Honestly, it was a dumb move, especially for someone hoping to encounter Bigfoot. Perhaps my more passive approach to finding Bigfoot is a little too passive. Lesson learned. But that wasn’t the only lesson I learned on this trip.
We had to head out. We wanted to stay longer, look for more evidence, but we couldn’t. The skies were getting darker, the rain was getting heavier, and we had a long, treacherous hike out of the woods. We grabbed our gear, said one final goodbye to Ross Pond, and were on our way. As soon as we hit the trail, the rain really started coming down, and never let up. We tired very quickly, as now the already primitive and difficult trail was muddy and slippery. My glasses kept fogging up, and I couldn’t see, a great way to ensure I’d break my foot. Josh and I took turns with the (now empty except for empty cans) cooler. Two hours later, we finally reached the trail head, soaking wet and chilled from the increasing winds. We’d never been so tired.
On the drive back to Amsterdam, we kept talking about what we encountered the night before, and the footprint we found. We took video of the bear prints the day prior, and couldn’t wait to get home to review the footage. If the print wasn’t there on Wednesday, then it 100% happened Wednesday night or Thursday morning. We were psyched.
Upon arriving home, I related the story to my wife, my son, my parents, and a good friend of mine. The picture of the footprint said it all, and it just looked too good to be true. Big, humanlike, and somewhat fresh. Once I had calmed down and rested my body (and mind) enough, I started reviewing the footage. And that’s when I saw it.
The track had been there on Wednesday when we filmed – prior to our nighttime encounter. And goofball that I am, I made the track myself. Well, not all by myself. It appears on video that there was a large footprint there prior, and I stepped onto the back of it. It’s hard to tell in the video, but it was probably an older bear print that had been a bit worn, and I must not have seen it, my attention on the very fresh tracks instead. My boot, along with the bear toes, made a very good facsimile of a Bigfoot track. Now, all my other bootprints had the treads in them, so why not this one? Well, it had been raining, however lightly, since very early morning. My best guess is that the old bear print, plus my bootprint, made a vaguely Bigfoot-like print, and then the rain just eroded enough of my treads to make it look like a smooth foot bottom. I still have an issue with the big toe, which even though it’s hard to see in pics and video, was clearly there. Bears don’t have big toes. And every other bear print we saw had the claws clearly visible. My son postulated (God bless him) that I had foolishly stepped in an already existing Bigfoot track. Not a bad theory for a 13-year old. But I feel like I would have been more aware of the print when we first visited. Even if it was an old, eroded Bigfoot print, I completely contaminated it by stepping in it.
So what did I learn? One, always bring plaster with me for casts. A cast could have revealed details I wasn’t seeing with my naked eye, and we could have debunked this a lot sooner. Two, it’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the moment. I had totally forgotten I stepped and made a footprint the day before, and I fooled myself due to the frightening events from the previous night. If we had more time, I could have reviewed the earlier video footage to make sure it wasn’t one of us, but sadly we didn’t. Lastly, I learned that even the best “evidence” can have a rational explanation. Josh and I, who are both more on the skeptical side, didn’t see anything in the footprint that would indicate anything other than Bigfoot. It was the right size, right shape, and had all the right details. If I didn’t have footage of it there the day before, and me stepping in it to make it bigger, I might still be convinced we encountered Bigfoot.
That being said, I’m still not 100% sure we didn’t have Bigfoot in our camp that night. I’m 99% sure it was a bear, but there are still some things that bother me about our encounter. For one, the size doesn’t seem right. If it’s where Josh saw it, and I believe him, because we were both looking at the tree that night, this bear would be one of the largest black bear ever on record – easily 8 feet tall if not taller. Second, it didn’t run off, even when we stood up and were making noise. Again, perhaps this bear is just used to people and not easily frightened. Lastly, the cooler remained undisturbed all night, despite the fact that it contained steaks, cheese-filled hot dog/sausages, a bag of shredded cheese, 2 eggs, and bags of buns and bagels. But then again, it’s entirely possible that the bear never came back our way and avoided our camp because we were there.
One other possibility? It could have been a bull moose. There are approximately 500-700 moose in the Adirondacks. And even though moose aren’t typically active at night (their vision is worse than a human’s, so they don’t like walking around in the dark), it would explain the eyeshine being seen at a much taller height than a bear, and would also explain why it didn’t dart off upon hearing us. Whatever we encountered – exceptionally large bear, moose walking around at night, or even Bigfoot – it was a rare and exciting experience. But with only eyeshine and branches breaking to go on, we may never truly know.
And so, our search continues. We are fairly confident we just encountered a bear or moose, but it’s still a cool story and a frightening encounter, and proved to us just how wild the wilderness can be. Check out our videos below. Maybe next time we will actually come across Bigfoot…