December 01, 1975 12:00 PM

For almost five years Peter Byrne has trudged through the mountains and wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, searching for “the most extraordinary creature left on the face of the earth.” It is the legendary Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, and, as skeptics insist, it may be as imaginary as the Cowardly Lion.

Byrne obviously believes Bigfoot does exist, and so do hundreds of others who claim to have seen it. Their descriptions are remarkably similar. Bigfoot, they say, is around seven feet tall, walks erect, and is covered with hair except for his palms, soles and face, out of which stare piercing dark eyes. According to Byrne, over the past 165 years there have been more than 300 sightings of Bigfoot in the territory ranging from the top of British Columbia to Northern California.

“The possibility of finding a fossil man in the 20th century,” says Byrne, “and finding it in one of the most sophisticated countries in the world seems ridiculous; yet the evidence is there.”

Byrne set up search headquarters in 1971 in The Dalles, Oreg. inside a neat white trailer that houses a Bigfoot exhibit and information center. He chose the modest town, some 75 miles east of Portland, because “geographically it’s in the center of what we call the area of evidence.” Though he says he has spent more than $80,000 of his own money, Byrne personally has still not seen one of the elusive creatures. His search has been steadfast and often dangerous. “I camp out quite a lot in the winter,” he says, “and once the snow comes, the only way you can get through these mountains is on foot. Two or three times I’ve been stormed in, but I take adequate equipment along and know what I’m doing.”

Convinced there is a pattern to Bigfoot’s movements, Byrne compiles evidence of sightings and, in some cases, footprints, and then goes back to check the area. “But we simply don’t have the money to do the job we should be doing,” says Byrne, who is convinced that if he had $200,000, he could find Bigfoot within two years. He has built up a network of scouts, including local and state police. He receives nearly 400 letters a month, some of them about Bigfoot sightings. Of all such reports, he categorizes 91 as credible. (One this year was from a brave camper who says Bigfoot watched him cook dinner for 45 minutes.)

Byrne, a tall, 50-year-old blue-eyed Irishman, spent 18 years as a hunter and safari guide in Nepal and northern India. He first heard about Bigfoot in 1959 while on a fourth and unsuccessful expedition to find the Abominable Snowman; the two creatures, by all reports, resemble each other somewhat. “By 1970,” he says, “there was renewed interest and the International Wildlife Conservation Society asked if I didn’t think we should start an investigation. It was as simple as that.”

Byrne’s only weapon in what he calls “the ultimate hunt” is a camera. How long will his quest for Bigfoot go on? “Until I’m 105,” he replies in his soft British accent, “or until I find one.”

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