by Richard Freeman
I first heard of the Ukrainian biologist Grigory Panchenko in Dimitry Baynov’s book ‘In the Footsteps of the Russian Snowman’. It detailed a close encounter he had had in barn with the almasty, a relic hominid said to inhabit much of central Asia and the former USSR. Some years later I read about his long-term work in the Caucasus Mountains and the fact there were many reports from the Kabardino-Balkaria part of the range. Panchenko believed that the population of almasty were increasing in the area.
The almasty, variously known as almas, or albasy is said to be a man- like, hair -covered beast. It is smaller and more human in its appearance than the yeti or sasquatch but larger and more muscular than a man. It is generally thought to be of the genus homo rather than a pongid. Records of it go back hundreds of years in Central Asia and it was included it catalogues of local wildlife.
I thought I might be a good idea to contact Grigory and try to do a joint expedition with CFZ members and his own team. Getting hold of a number and e-mail for him took some time and it was the best part of a year before I was able to contact him.
We invited Grigory over to speak on the cryptozoology of the Caucasus at 2007s Weird Weekend, the yearly CFZ conference. Grigory had a vast amount of information most of which had never been aired in the west. As well as hominids giant black snakes up to 33 feet long had, for centuries, been reported from the area. His talk proved to be one of the highlights of the conference. Between us, we arranged an expedition for June / July of 2008. Grigory and his colleagues would be in the field for 2 weeks prior to the CFZ team arriving.
The British contingent apart from myself consisted of Dr Chris Clark, stalwart of most of the CFZ’s previous expeditions. Dave Archer a CFZ member who has organized his own expeditions in the past. Adam Davis, an experienced traveller and cryptozoologist of Extreme Expeditions. And Keith Townley, a friend of Adam’s who had accompanied him on some of his past adventures.
Shortly before we left, we were contacted by Professor Bryan Sykes of Oxford University. Professor Sykes is one of the world’s leading geneticists. He was interested in possible hominid survival and possible interbreeding between hominins and modern humans in past centuries. During his seminal work in mapping the human genome he was unable to find any DNA traces of anything other than modern man. He offered to do analysis on any samples we brought back and wanted us to carry out swab tests on Balkarian people.
After a mind- bending- ten- hour wait in Moscow, we flew to Mineranye Vody were we were met by Grigory and Alexey Ahokhov a very tall Russian computer expert and archaeologist. Alexey had a delightful dog called Humma, a cross between a red setter and a spaniel. She accompanied us on all our Russian adventures.
After a night’s stay in a spartan hotel in Tyranyauz, we drove up increasingly poor roads near crumbling cliffs and river banks to the area of our first investigation, White Rock. We were introduced to Anatoly the final member of the team. He was a Ukrainian archaeologist with a ginger beard, little English, a great sense of humour and an even greater love of vodka.
We made our camp in a small valley. When the road was first cut into this area of the Caucasus in 2000 the workmen sliced through many ancient tombs on the way. Around 1000 tombs are scattered around the area. Many, bisected by roads now spill their contents to the floor. Dozens of human bones and skulls were just sticking out of banks all around us. The remains were of Sarmatian people who originated in north Iran. The nobles were buried in cliff faces and slaves in the lower areas. The tombs dated from the 3rd to the 7th century. The slave’s skulls had an odd domed appearance due to ritual binding. Grigory said that when he first saw one, he thought it was an almasty skull but soon realized that the bone was not thick enough.
In the two weeks before our arrival, however, Grigory had uncovered what seemed to be skull fragments of an inhuman thickness in a cave in the cliffs of White Rock. On examining these I agreed that they did indeed seem too thick to be from a modern human. We bagged them up for analysis in the UK. We also took some of the Sarmatian bones in case their DNA had any odd markers that might hint at hybridisation with relic hominids.
White Rock itself rose, cloud- festooned and sheer above our camp. Behind it were a range of ragged mountains called ‘The Step Mother’s Teeth.’ The area was home to a she bear and her two cubs but we were not lucky enough to see them.
Anatoly told us of his own encounter with an almasy in the 1980s. He was staking out an abandoned farmhouse near Neutrino. From a hiding place he saw a specimen pass by at only thirteen feet away. It was six feet tall but powerfully built. It had grey hair ‘the colour of a poplar tree’s bark’. Its head was domed with a sagittal crest and its nose was human like but smaller. It had no chin, and a thick, short neck. It swung its long arms as it walked.
Anatoly had also seen one of the giant snakes in a cave in the south of Kabardino-Balkaria near a town called Sammakovo. He was being lowered down into the cave when he saw a black snake he estimated to be 23 feet long, swimming away in the water that filled the cave. His farther had also seen such a monster snake many years ago in Kazakhstan. Whilst in a marsh he saw what at first he thought was a man. As he drew closer he thought the tall, dark object was part of a dead tree. The he realized that it was a huge snake rearing up like a cobra.
The following day we set out to investigate he cave were Grigory had found the skull shards. Confronted with the massive climb Keith decided he could not make it and turned back to camp. The rest of us began on the long and winding path upwards. Eventually we left the path and climbed the increasingly steep slopes through flower strewn alpine meadows. We paused occasionally to catch our breaths and eventually we reached the cliff face.
We walked along a narrow path to the cave were Grigory had found the skull fragments. An excavation of the cave revealed no further bone remains were found but found some interesting dung samples. We spent the day exploring more shallow caves and then set up two camera traps. Dave tried to climb up the near sheer walls of one of the cliffs but the rising winds finally made him turn back.
The following day we climbed again (sans Keith) to retrieve the cameras. Plugging them into Alexey’s laptop they showed only the setting and rising of the sun. On the way back down Alexi saw a wild cat.
That night our camp was disturbed by the unearthly cries of a jackal. It came right through the camp in the wee small hours. We scrambled out of our sleeping bags in an attempt to photograph but by the time we were up it had vanished into the night.
The next day we split up. Keith, Anatoly and I investigated a wooded area whist Dave, Grigory and Adam when off to interview a man named Surgit who claimed to know the whereabouts of an almasty’s body.
On the way to the forest, we investigated some small caves. In one Anatoly had found 11 human skeletons dating back 3000 years. No evidence of the almasty was found there, just some badger droppings.
From a distance it looked like the woods were surrounded by grass. If fact it was a carpet of si foot nettles. The going was steep and slippery. At one point Anatoly pointed out scratch marks on a tree. The looked to be made by nails rather than claws. Close by Anatoly found a hair in a tree. It was long, stiff and bi coloured. At first I became excited, but then I found further clumps of hairs and they began to look suspiciously like the bristles of wild boar. I bagged them anyway just to be sure.