I recently returned from a week in the NAWAC’s primary study area. This area, dubbed Area X years ago, has proven time and again to be a place where odd things happen. The NAWAC is firmly convinced a number of wood apes make this mountainous region of southeastern Oklahoma their home. Events of this past week did nothing to change my mind.
I, along with two other NAWAC members, arrived on site on Saturday, July 27th. A fourth member joined us the next day. Saturday afternoon and evening was spent getting settled into camp and prepping for the week’s activities. Nothing of note took place and we managed to all get a good night’s sleep.
Sunday, we took several day hikes in the hopes that any apes in the vicinity would take note and become curious about what we were up to. In the past, day hikes seemed to have enticed apes to follow members back to the camp site where all manner of behaviors have been documented. Nothing unusual was noted on any of the hikes, but we were hopeful that, if nothing else, any apes in the vicinity were now very much aware of our presence.
One of the strategies we planned on utilizing during the week was to conduct overwatch on a nightly basis. Basically, overwatch consists of half the team staying up all night and scanning the area around camp with thermal devices in the hopes of spotting an ape. It would be a dark camp, no fire. We had heard a loud bang up on the mountain slope earlier in the evening and were hopeful that it was a sign an ape was observing us in camp. Shortly before midnight, the two of us on overwatch duty were surprised to hear a loud sound just to the west of the camp’s small hunting cabin. The sounds were quite unlike anything I have ever heard in the woods before. It sounded like someone beating the ground repeatedly with a large stick. You could hear the stick – or whatever it was – cutting the air just before striking the ground. This went on for nearly a full minute. My partner and I stayed in place and scanned the area from whence the sounds seemed to be emanating, but could not see who or what was responsible.
A few minutes after this initial flurry of activity, the sounds started again. The maker of the sounds had changed locations slightly to the northwest in the area where a metal carport-like structure, nicknamed the hooch, sits. The hooch is open on three sides and provides a protected area for people and equipment during the frequent rain storms that occur in this corner of Oklahoma. I would have sworn that whatever was making these sounds was under the hooch and mere yards from us. The impact sounds were louder this time, as if the striker was swinging his “club” even harder than before. Whap! Whap! Whap! Despite how close the sounds seemed, we could still not see the sound maker through the thermals. The impacts went on for about 25 seconds and seemed to be increasing in intensity. Finally, I hit my head lamp, firmly convinced I would see an ape underneath the hooch. Instead, I saw nothing and the impact sounds stopped.
We were astounded that we could not see whatever was making these sounds. Literally, it sounded like it was RIGHT THERE and uncomfortably close. We were more frustrated and amazed than shaken at this point and decided to move on to the porch area of the cabin. The hope was that whatever it was, it would think we had gone inside and might be emboldened to come in close enough for us to catch a glimpse of it. We did not have to wait long. Within 2-3 minutes of our sitting on the porch, the impacts started again; however, things had really intensified. I find it difficult to express just how loud and powerful the ground strikes were. Over and over again, the impacts were repeated. Finally, something struck the side of the hooch with terrific force. We were stunned at just how loud the impact was and how the hooch reverberated for several seconds afterward. We came off the porch immediately, scanning with thermals and then white lights. Nothing. Whatever it had been was now gone. How it could have been so close and yet remained concealed was something we just could not fathom. The remainder of the night was quiet.
While I cannot say for sure an ape was responsible for the noises we heard that night, I simply do not know what else it could have been. Something was swinging a heavy stick or log and beating the ground and hooch with it. A bear cannot do that. A cougar cannot do that. Even playing devil’s advocate, I cannot think of an alternate explanation that is not more outlandish than the possibility it was an ape. Some will say it must have been a person, someone messing with you. Two things on that. First, I do not think a person could have pulled these incidents off without being seen in the thermals and heard approaching and retreating into the bush. Second, anyone who tried such a stunt would be placing themselves in serious danger. We were heavily armed and ready should trouble arise. To pull such a stunt would be suicidal. I believe it was an ape, bigfoot, sasquatch; whatever your favorite term.
Later in the week, one of my teammates had a likely visual. I will not go into the details of how we were attempting to lure an ape into view, but will say that our efforts seem to have been rewarded. He saw a 5 1/2 – 6-foot tall figure covered in black hair peaking up over the bank of a dry creek bed. The animal was standing in the creek bed and seemed to be looking up the trail at something at the level of the forest floor. My teammate watched if for a minute or two, but it did not move. He could not make out a face or other distinguishing characteristics. He could only tell it was lean, upright, and covered in black hair. My friend decided to change his position in an attempt to get a better look at the animal. He hoped a new angle would allow him to positively identify it. In the process of moving, he lost sight of it for a few seconds. Those few seconds were all that it took for the animal to vanish. He did not hear it leave. Was it a bear? We talked about it, but it did not seem to act like a bear. It was quiet and still. Bears tend to roam about sniffing and seem to care little about being seen or heard. This animal seemed to be attempting to stay hidden and quiet as it peaked over the edge of the creek bed. Maybe bears do this, but if they do, I have not heard about it. Make of this visual what you will, but personally, I have serious doubts that what my friend saw was a bear.
I have heard skeptics say things along the lines of, “You guys seem to see bigfoot behind every tree,” and “All these visuals, but no video or photos.” Truth be told, we hardly ever see anything at all. Take this last week, for example. Four men stayed in Area X for six days. That is a total of 144 man hours or 8,640 minutes. Out of the entire week – combining the weird ground striking sounds and the visual – only an estimated 25 minutes of high strangeness took place. That is only 0.2% of the time on site. To be clear, that is not 2%, it is 0.2% of the time spent in Area X. That is a miniscule percentage of time. This despite our best efforts to annoy, irritate, and embolden the apes of the area to react to our presence. As you can see, the reality is that the vast majority of the time in Area X nothing out of the ordinary is going on.
Other than the two events discussed above, the week consisted of hikes, conversation, and dehydrated camp food. Oh, and sweating. Lots of sweating. As always, Area X gave us enough to make us want to get back there as soon as possible, but nothing more. It is a beautiful, wild, and unforgiving place. A place which I believe will yield the evidence necessary to officially document the wood ape.
I hope to return soon.