Among the high peaks of the Pacific Coast Ranges that extend throughout the Northwest, only the most intrepid climbers will have crossed what is known as the Homathko Icefield. One of the largest regions of interconnected glaciers in the Pacific Northwest, this impressive frozen feature is a 19-mile area of elevated plateau absent of the many peaks that ascend above its outer rim.
Beyond the ice field to the southeast is the Southgate River, and further westward one will find the Homathko River, which shares its name. Along with its scenic, and at times nearly science-fiction landscapes, the Homathko Icefield is located in a region of Western Canada that is also rife with legendary figures. Among these is the Sninik, recognized by the Bella Coola or Nuxalk First Nations People, as well as the Boqs, each of these names for what is more commonly known throughout the region as Sasquatch.
It is fitting, therefore, that at the Homathko Icefield there is a particular area known as “Sasquatch Pass,” making it one of many places throughout the Pacific Northwest named after creatures like apes, or as with the location in question, in explicit reference to the humanlike bipedal hominid believed by many to exist in this part of the world.
I was curious about what might have led to the area being named after Sasquatch, which brought me to a report written by Vincent R. Lee that appeared in the American Alpine Journal in 1978, commemorating the second group of climbers to ever cross the Homathko Icefield. In his report, Lee gives the following account of the group’s journey:
“Camped below the Alph Glacier, we found the snout melted back a full quarter-mile from its position in aerial shots 10 years ago. What can only be described as a Sasquatch track turned up in camp next morning and reminded us that the 1957 party, too, had found tracks several miles up the glacier. The Alph forms a highway onto the eastern edge of the Homathko via Sasquatch Pass, discovered in 1957. At our camp in the pass, the weather cleared. Fine weather remained unbelievably for the rest of the trip.”
This was a surprise, since my hope had merely been to gather any information about the geographic location that might turn up in such niche publications; even referenced in passing as it was, I was quite surprised to find Lee’s inclusion of “What can only be described as a Sasquatch track” that was discovered in their encampment along the same path where, as he notes, the initial 1957 crossing had been made by another group of hikers.
This brings us to the real story of how the pass got its legendary name. The events occurred in 1957, as Lee noted earlier, when a group of hikers with the Appalachian Mountain Club made the sojourn up the rugged mountains to the Homathko Icefield, and at that time succeeded in being first to cross it. The journey was logged in the club’s publication, The Appalachia Journal, in 1958, at which time it was noted that a peculiar set of footprints had been discovered by the club members during their excursion.
Tracking down copies of the 1958 Appalachia Journal proved more difficult (the Hathi Trust Digital Library has a number of the old edition digitized and available online, but only up until 1921, after which U.S. copyright laws prevent the entire contents from being featured online). Searching the archives of local university libraries in my region also turned up a few hits, although there was some confusion on account of similarities between the name of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s journal, and that of others which used variations of the word “Appalachia” or “Appalachian” in their names.
Fortunately, Earl Whipple with the Kootenay Mountaineering Club produced an excellent guide, “The Northern Coastal Ranges of British Columbia: A Climber’s Guide“, which includes an excerpt from the original 1958 article featuring precisely the information required to flesh out what the 1957 party observed.
The account Whipple quotes for us is as follows:
“[The tracks] appeared as depressions 8 inches wide and 4 inches deep, and about 3 feet apart. The odd part was that they were placed in a long single line, one exactly in front of the other, as if someone had been walking a tape.”
The final line in this short excerpt is key since this peculiar “in-line” orientation of purported Sasquatch tracks has been a common feature over the years. In fact, among the most recent cases where Sasquatch footprint discoveries were made, we have this report from Medical Lake, Washington, as well as the more recent news of the Indian Army’s discovery of what they believed to be “yeti footprints”, both of which display the in-line orientation described by the Appalachian Mountain Club members in their 1958 report.
Why is this significant? Because I think there is a better explanation for what makes these curious in-line footprint paths: rather than a large bipedal creature walking on two legs (and awkwardly placing one foot directly in front of the other), I believe these were made by a smaller quadruped moving through the snow using a distinctive kind of locomotion called bounding.
When snow accumulation becomes fairly deep, it can actually be difficult for some animals to pass through it unless they resort to tunneling, or alternatively, actually moving over the snow. Bounding allows these animals to move in short, quick leaps over the snow, where their front paws nearly meet their hind paws as they strike the ground together before initiating the next leap that propels them forward. Depending on the size of the animal in relation to the depth of the snow, this can often be performed in continuous, fluid locomotion that allows the animal to maintain visibility, and also keep its body mostly out of deep snow.
The result of this kind of locomotion is that it also leaves large, indistinct impressions since the animal’s entire body contributes to the prints it leaves, rather than just the footprints (for examples of this, just do a YouTube search for something along the lines of “dog bouncing through the snow”). A variety of animals may use this mode of locomotion through snowfields, including canines, large cats, badgers, raccoons, various species of deer, and a number of other kinds of animals. Add to this the common feature of snowmelt that distorts the impressions these animals leave, and the large, amorphous impressions that remain could easily be mistaken for Sasquatch “footprints” to an untrained eye.
Hence, I think that based on the description given by the party of the 1957 climbers, it seems more likely that a bounding creature left the print impressions noted in their report, rather than a one-legged “Hopsquatch.” Of course, this doesn’t necessarily account for the footprint described by the second group of climbers that ascended the Homathko Icefield in 1977, as reported in the American Alpine Journal the following year. However, no photographs were published with the report at that time, nor were there any additional details provided on its appearance; all we are left with is an anecdotal report of a footprint, or what resembled one, made by something.
In any case, we now know how “Sasquatch Pass” got its name, which makes for an interesting story… whether or not it had really been a Sasquatch that left the impressions that inspired it!