The other team, headed by Adam, who is a presenting officer for the Home Office, interviewed Surgit. Adam’s job basically means cross- examining people who want to stay in the UK to see if they have any case. Hence, he is an expert at interviewing. Surgit claimed to have found the body of a female almasty in 1996. It had been crushed under a rockfall on a mountain known as Kashkatash. He had retrieved a tooth that he had given to a friend. Surgit said he could lead us to the place in question. Adam seemed convinced he was telling the truth.
Anatoly told us some interesting cryptozoological snippets. Some years ago, a friend of his was on a boat in the Lena River in Siberia when he encountered a strange creature. It had a black, humped back and a six- foot- tall fin. It reminded him of a killer whale, but they were thousands of miles inland at the time.
A man on the boat took two shots at the beast with a rifle. It turned and swam at speed towards the boat. The man pumped three more bullets into the creature, and it dived under the boat and swam away. The description recalls creatures described from Lake Vorota in Siberia. The beasts here are up to 33-feet-long. Have a dorsal fin and a wide head. Could they be some form of colossal fish?
Another river where he was told of a monster was the Don River that runs into the Black Sea. Here he was told of a 20 wells catfish that had overturned a boat and ate a man and a woman. The wells catfish is a contender for the largest freshwater fish in in the world (along with the Chinese paddle fish). The largest known specimen was 16 feet long. I have seen an 8 foot one and that was spectacular enough to be called a ‘monster’.
Grigory too had some tales to tell, and not all of them about monsters. Grigiory told us why he avoids vodka and only drinks a little beer. Whilst in national service in the Ukraine in 1986 he was involved in a fight. The older soldiers had attacked the new interns and Grigory was punched in the temple with a knuckle duster. He woke up in hospital only to find that the rest of his platoon, including the man who attacked him, had been sent to Chernobyl! The plant had gone off pop whilst Grigory had been out cold in a hospital bed!
His files on the almasty were extensive and he shared some of the more unusual stories with us. One story involved a farmer whoes’ savage; Caucasus shepherd dogs were going wild. On opening the door of his house he was alarmed to find a young almasty apparently trying to escape the dogs. It punched the man in the shoulder and knocked him down. The creature ran away pursued by the dogs. The hounds later returned with blood on their fangs.
On another occasion, an adult almasty approached a house and was attacked by a big dog. The almasty used a club to bludgeon the dog to death. It then entered the house and stole a large Balkarian cheese.
The strength of the almasty far, far exceeds that of any modern human. On one occasion, one was observed fighting a bear. The almasty punched the bear, which tumbled over then retreated. Grigory thought it was a young bear as an adult male would be more than a match even for an almasty. Indeed, almasty hair has been found in bear droppings in the Pamir Mountains. He has also been told of almasty remains from a specimen killed by wolves.
One man saw an almasty close to his house and worried about it stealing food he threw a stone at it. The almasty retreated behind the house and soon after a huge rock was hurled right over the house narrowly missing the man. In the morning it took two large men to lift it.
Another man struck an almasty that had entered his house. The creature hit him back and knocked him fully 15 feet.
Grigory also noted that the almasty seemed to be left -handed.
Anatoly told us that there were, in fact two man- like creatures in the Caucasus. The almasty that is the smaller and more human-looking of the two, and the much bigger, more ape-like mazeri. The mazeri more closely resembles the larger type of yeti and the sasquatch. It stays away from humans whereas the almasty will approach humans and human habitation.
The next day we decamped and headed for the Elbrus area were the body was supposed to be. This was near the borders with Georgia, so we had to get border passes. We stopped in a campsite for mountaineers that consisted of a number of alpine shacks of Moominesque cuteness. Surgit arrived and introduced himself. He looked a little like Farther Ted. He, via the translation of his beautiful daughter Tanya, explained that the area where he saw the body was only half an hour’s walk up a nearby mountain. He was dressed in slip on shoes and a shirt. With only half an hour’s walk the body must have been in the foothills and easily accessible. We all set off immediately apart from Keith who stayed in the wooden shack.
The going was a little steep but after half an hour on a decent path, we reached an area of scree and snow that I assumed was were the body lay. To my surprise, we passed this area and carried on climbing. We passed a huge boulder that had about a dozen or so plaques on it. They were memorials to people who had died on Kashkatash! We had expected an easy 30 minute jaunt up a hill. Instead we were climbing to the top of a mountain that had killed a considerable number of people whilst dressed in a fashion more in keeping with a walk in the park!
To one side of the mountain was a retreating glacier that had carved out treacherous cliffs. Masses of loose scree coated the sides of the mountain and great sheets of frozen snow, a sslippery as a politician, stretched out over huge areas.
The path disintegrated and the way grew ever more treacherous and steeper. In such situations a group should stick together but that is exactly what didn’t happen. Some forged on ahead whilst other lagged behind. We were led across a field of ice and snow that sat atop jagged boulders. Chris managed to walk across it but I am twice his weight. My leg went through the ice and I lost balance. In a flash I was sliding on my belly down the steep ice sheet towards spiky boulders 300 feet below. Realizing that cryptozoologist puree was soon to be on the menu I swung my body around jammed my boots onto the rocky outcrops at the side of the scree pile I had been walking on prior to venturing onto the ice. This stopped me after about 30 feet instead of the three hundred that would have ended in a sticky splat.
I crawled back onto the rocky are and decided that the ice was impassable for me. I stayed put whilst the others carried on to the area with the body. We had not started until 4:00 in the afternoon and now the sun was getting dangerously low. Being stuck on the mountain after night fall would be as dangerous as French kissing an industrial meat grinding machine, so I began to get concerned. The others returned after a cursory look at the place in question. Then we began our return journey.
On the way down we got split up again. Taking a wrong turn, I found myself walking along a wasp waisted path next to 50 foot sheer cliffs constructed of a particularly loose and crumbly soil. At one point this gave way beneath me and I had to grab onto tree branches and hang, Indiana Jones style, over the cliff. I managed to pull myself back up and continued gingerly on my way. I was glad to finally get to the bottom having nearly died twice in one day!
Back at the camp we had beers and shish kebabs and talked about the need to stick together. The next day we returned to Mount Doom (except for Keith who had more sense) and climbed up a route that avoided the ice. Why Surgit had led us up the ice festooned way the day before no one knew. This route took us higher and we climbed up through swathes of dwarf rhododendron.
At a height of nearly 10,000 feet I began to suffer from altitude sickness. On a steep area my vision failed like a camera iris closing. Blackouts at 10,000 feet are not go0d so I decided to stay put. I sat down to try to get myself together as the others carried on higher. After about two hours Chris and Adam returned. The area was so steep and cramped that not everyone could work on it safely. They left Dave there with the guides and Surgit as he dug holes for a living. The three of us wearily returned to the camp.
Sometime later Dave and the others returned. Dave was holding a large day-glow orange body bag. He had found a high-altitude cave with a nest made of rhododendrons inside. He had stuffed the nest into the bag and brought it down. Donning plastic gloves Adam, Chris and myself began a careful sifting of the vegetation. We found and bagged over 20 hairs with medullas as well as two pieces of dung.
The following day, we headed for Elbrus village (except for Dave, who like a glutton for punishment had decided to go up the mountain for a third time). We were to interview an elderly man who told Grigory that he had seen an almasty in his youth. However, when we interviewed the man, who was 85, his story had changed. He said that it had been his father who had seen the almasty at the age of 14. This would have put the event in the 1890s!
The old man recounted what his father had told him. It had been around noon and he had opened a door into a room in part of the house were the celling had collapsed. He saw a young almasty sitting in a chair. It seemed to be basking in the rays of the sun that fell through the roof. It was covered with hair. The hair on the face was reddish. It had long, fine hair on its head. The eyes were red, but the old man thought his father had meant red-veined rather than glowing red. The creature threw its head forward and the long hair fell in front of its face. The witness quickly shut the door and retreated.
The old man also said his father had seen a big snake near the house the man currently lives in. It was in 1964. His horse had reared up and he saw a, grey-green snake 13 feet long and as thick as his arm, slithering away.
Later we talked to a man of about 30 named Tahir, who was the vice president of Elbrus national park and a doctor of Geographical Science. He told us that three years before, whilst hunting for some lost sheep, he had encountered a big almasty. He had been walking through a sparsely wooded area at twilight when he saw what he thought was a cow lying down. Then the ‘cow’ stood up revealing itself to be a tall, man-like figure. Thinking it was a human (the figure was in silhouette) he asked in Balkaria if he had seen any sheep pass by. When no answer was forthcoming, he asked the same question in Russia. Still there was no answer. As he drew closer, he saw that it possessed a high, dome shaped skull. Then he realized that it was an almasty. He decided to fetch his uncle to show him the creature. Looking back, he saw the almasty walking off into the hills. By the time he returned with his uncle it had gone.
Our next port of call as the small town of Neutrino. We had rented a small, spartan flat in tower block. Eight adult men in a tiny flat was a squeeze. There was rarely any hot water and the electricity supply was not very reliable either. I have never been to anywhere as depressing as Neutrino. It is not mean or dangerous like Georgetown or full of beggars like Banjul, but it has an air of decay and hopelessness quite unlike anywhere else I have been to. The tower blocks are crumbling and peeling. Many stand empty and some were never finished before the collapse of the Soviet Union brought economic degradation to the area. There is a 90 percent unemployment rate. The bleak, eastern bloc architecture is totally at odds with the lovely looking mountains that rise up as a backdrop to the town.
Adam and Dave went with Anatoly to stake out an abandoned farm house about a mile out of town. The house had a weird history. In the early 1970s it was supposedly the scene of a triple murder. An old man had some money put away. He had decided to spend it. Three of his relatives got wind of this and went around to his house to try to force him to hand over the cash. There was a struggle and the old man was killed. His wife stabbed the killer to death but was then killed by the remaining two brigands. They ran into the mountains but were later found by the police. The farm has stood empty ever since.
It was the building where Anatoly had his almasty sighting back in the 1980s. In 2005 it was the scene of a very close almasty encounter. Three shepherds had been using it to have a drink in. The door to the veranda opened and big male almasty walked in. It picked the nearest Sheperd up and gently put him to one side before leaping off the veranda.
Grigory, Chris, Keith and I went to investigate some caves were Grigory had uncovered some human like bones but left them in situ. The caves had filled with earth over the past few centuries and were now little more than crevices. Grigory crawled in with a trowel and started excavating. There were two collections of bones, but both were clearly human. One was an old woman with only one tooth left in her lower jaw. A coccyx and some ribs from this individual were also found. Grigory reckoned that they dated back about 200 years. Upper and lower leg bones from a man of an earlier age were also found. All were packaged up for testing in case they had any odd markers in their DNA that might suggest hybridization with almasty in past generations.
In the early evening, back at the flat, Keith was on the porch, looking down at the street below when he beheld an amazing sight.
“There’s a cow here, eating a fire” he said. It was true. A brown cow was munching happily away at a small bonfire lit on some waste ground below the flats. Another cow tried to join in the igneous feast but was jealously chased of by the first cow who defended her flaming snack ardently. At one point the cow withdrew momentarily as if its lips were scorched. It soon resumed fire scoffing. It was obviously enjoying its meal as it was drooling prolifically! Perhaps the cow was trying to eat the ash and charcoal for its mineral content.
In conversation Grigory revealed two more priceless cryptozoological gems. Whilst researching in a Moscow library some years ago he came upon an amazing story, complete with a photograph in a 1928 edition of a magazine called Knowledge is Strength. The story told of two strange creatures encountered on the coast of the Barents Sea by hunters. They were otter- like in shape and bounded across the land and into the sea. The hunters managed to shoot one of the large creatures but the other escaped. It was, apparently, very hard to kill.