In the fourth of our weekly instalment’s of Author and Cryptozoologist – Richard Freeman’s articles, we visit from Russia with Hominids and the Almasty.

I first heard of the Ukrainian biologist Grigory Panchenko in Dimitry Baynov’s book ‘In the Footstep’s 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, albasy, dev or gul. Is said to be a man like, hair covered beast. It is smaller and more human in it’s 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 sometime 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. 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 ten meters 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 pervious foreign 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 hominids 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 at 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 sparten 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 slaves 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 to 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 4 meters away. It was under 2 meters tall but powerfully built. It had grey hair ‘the colour of a popular tree’s bark’. Its head was domed with a sagital 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 7 meters long, swimming away in the water that fillled the cave. His farther had also seen such a monster snake many years ago in Kazackstan. 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 if 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 cliff 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 six foot nettles. The going was steep and slippy. 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.

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 2 meter 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 hare up to ten meters long. Have a dorsal fin and a wide head. Could they be some form of colossal fish?

Another river were he was told of a monster was the Don River that runs into the Black Sea. Here  he was told of a six meter 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 5 metres long. I have seen a 2.5 meter 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 of 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 whose 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 think 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 Goria 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 are were 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 are 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 minuet 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 slippery as a politician stretched out over huge areas.

The path disintegrated and the way grew ever more treacherous and steep. 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 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, Indian 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 god 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 are 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 dayglow 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 ceiling 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 it’s head. The eyes were red but the old man thought his father had meant red veined rather than glowing red. The creature threw it’s head forward and the long hair fell in front of it’s 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 4 meters long and as thick as his arm, slithering away.

Later we talked 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 ago, 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, mank-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 Nutrino. We had rented a small, sparten flat in tower block. 8 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 Nutrino. 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 are. There is a 90% unemployment rate. The bleak, eastern block 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 round 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 were 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 shepherd up and gently put him to one side before jumping 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.

A still from a YouTube video claining to have captured the Almasty on film.

“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 it’s lips were scorched. It soon resumed fire scoffing. It was obviously enjoying it’s meal as it was drooling prolifically! Perhaps the cow was trying to eat the ash and charcoal for it’s mineral content.

In conversation Grigory revealed two more priceless cryptozoological gems. Whilst researching in 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.

The photograph showed the hunters with the skull and hide of the creature. The skin looked like that of an elephant seal but was hairy. The skull was thickset and had eight interlocking teeth. The hunters set details of the creature to Moscow University and received a letter saying… “Thank you for this information. No such an animal exists.”

Another story related by Grigory involved a friend of his who had been a geologists specializing in searching for oil deposits. In the early 1980s he had been in eastern Siberia carrying out investigations into possible deposits. He was working north of Vladivostok when some locals informed him that something like a ‘dead crocodile’ had washed up on the beach. He took a look at the carcass and photographed it several times. It was a large, elongate creature with only four teeth. These were arranged two on the upper and two on the lower jaw. The teeth were at the very tip of the jaw. He did not no the significance of the find and it was soon washed back out to sea.

Sadly, after the break up of the Soviet Union, he lost his job and subsequently his house and family. He ended up drinking himself to death. Grigory however has copies of the photographs and thinks that they might be the remains of a primitive whale or archaeocyte. I am currently waiting to see the pictures myself.

At the farm Anatoly said he had heard a male almasty vocalizing to attract a mate. Adam had heard some weird crashing noises but no one had seen anything. The camera traps they had set up around the farm and it’s out buildings relaid nothing but branches and grass moved by the wind.

Next day I resolved to join them on a second vigil at the farm. During the day Grigory, Chris, Dave and I  set out to climb up a mountain called Gobisanty to investigate an avalanche. Avalanches kill mountain animals such as wild goat and yak that the almasty will then feed on.

As we set out to the foothills the air was split by a loud, inhuman sounding bellowing emanating from behind some bushes. Grigory immediately said that it was no animal he knew of. The harsh noise continued and got louder. Chris, Dave and I fanned out around the bushes in a pincer movement cameras at the ready. Could we have desturbed a sleeping almasty? As we drew closer something loomed from the bushes. It was Alexey and Humma. He had taken a short cut ahead of us and then hid and made some spectacularly inhuman noises to scare us!

Grigory had warned us that we might have to cross some streams on the way up Gobisanti. These ‘streams ’were in fact increasingly dangerous rapids that we had to cross on foot. On either side we had to navigate endless legions of rocks and boulders. It was slow, tedious and exhausting. We finally reached the avalanche are. The snow had retreated and frozen but hundreds of pulped trees lay strewn around like matchsticks. The only dead animal was a rancid cow too foul for an almasty to eat.

After a quick lunch beneath the snowline we headed back down. The rapids were getting ever more fierce and crossing them harder. One area was particularly savage. We got a large log and braced it over the rapids. They were not wide but very fast. With Grigory holding one end and Dave the other I tried to haul myself across. Halfway the pull of the cascading water sucked me down and my grip faltered. Grigory wrenched me out and onto the bank saving me from being smashed into the rocks by the thundering cascade.

Next Chris tried his luck. He came even closer to me than death and was plucked out by Grigory. We finally staggered back to Nutrino damp and shaken.

That night Anatoly, Dave, Adam and I did a stake out at the abandoned farm. The building consisted of three rooms, two of which were locked. Around this in a ‘L’ shape ran a veranda with a door at one end. The main building was surrounded by other smaller outbuildings.

We set up camera traps in four different locations around the grounds of the farm. Anatoly brewed up red wine and honey on an old stove in the hope the smell would attract the creature. We also laid out bread and honey.

We all took up posts in various places on the veranda as night fell. The hours seemed to go quickly as I sat staring out into the darkness, listening for the slightest sound. Around 10.30 at night something made a bird-like twittering noise. Shortly afterwards one of the camera traps fired. The almasty is said to make a twittering sound. One of the specimens Grigory saw was making such a noise. Anatoly went out to investigate and did not return.

Dave fell asleep on one of the manky beds in the open room. Adam and I sat on the other one listening intently. A lull in activity was supposed to occur around midnight to 3 o’clock in the morning. Hence Adam and I had entered the room to warm ourselves around an old stove. The 7 foot door of the room was open an inch or two and starlight from the clear night was pouring in. At around 2.30in the morning Adam and I heard a deep, gutteral vocalization. The nearest phonetically that I can write this is ‘bub-ub-bub-bub’.

“Did you here that?” I whispered?

Adam nodded solemnly.

Shortly after something passed by the door blocking out the light momentarily. Whatever it was was large enough to put the 7 foot door in shade and it seemed to be walking along the veranda.

“Did you see that?” I asked

“Something is on the veranda” said Adam.

Adam and grabbed our digital cameras and rushed out to find only darkness and science. We did a circuit of the building with our torches but found nothing. Did an almasty pass by us only 12 feet away on the veranda? I don’t know. If it did it was as fast and silent as a cat. But something blocked out a slit of starlight 7 feet tall only seconds after the weird vocalization.

At first light we looked for Anatoly. We were worried that he might have fallen in the dark and hurt himself, or even been attacked by a bear. We found him asleep in one of the out buildings. We took the camera traps back to the flat and download the images onto Alexey’s laptop. They showed sunrise, sunset and branches moved by wind.

The twelfth day was to be the last for Adam, Keith and Dave. Surgit phoned telling us that the friend he had given the almasty tooth to was a wise woman who was using it as a charm. She worked in a restaurant in a nearby village and he would take us to her. He duly arrived and we set off.

The wise woman was not the crone that the phrase ‘wise woman’ counjours up but a fairly normal looking middle aged woman. We had a pleasant meal in the restaurant whilst Surgit spoke with her. Apparently she had given the tooth to her daughters in the city of Nalchik. They had mislaid it and were now tearing apart their flat in order to find it. I found it very odd that an object used as a ‘charm’ was being treated so off hand.

That night we all drank beer, wine and vodka to see the three lads off. Alexey drove the them back to Mineranye Vody and picked up his girlfriend Natasha.

Next day there was still no sign of the elusive tooth. Chris, Grigory and I staked out the farm again. This time adding pungently smelling fried onion to the bait. Nothing happened but I had re-occurring nightmares. Each time if fell asleep I dreamed that something with long, bluish fingers and dressed in a blue / black monk-like robe, was trying to strangle me. They were lucid dreams in which I struggled to wake up.

Back at the flat in the morning Surgit arrived an told a strange story. He said that the spirit of the almasty had made the tooth vanish as well as the body on the mountain. However, he announced proudly, djinn (Islamic spirits) had given him a red hair from the queen of the almastys. He presented us with this item. It looked more like a vegetable fibre to me.

What were we to make of this wild tale. Grigory was rolling his eyes whilst translating. Surgit never once asked for money. He also trekked up the mountain again and again and worked hard looking for the supposed almasty corpse. The only conclusion we could come to was that he believed his own story and must have had some kind of mental problem. The promising lead of a corpse and a tooth vanished in a puff of smoke.

We phoned a man called Saeh Kumbunov who’s number Surgit had given us. He said the man was with him when he found the body. The 70 year old was much surprised at Surgit’s claim and said there had never been a body in the first place.

Later that day a gaggle of local women burst into the flat jabbering excitedly in Balkarian. They looked like stereo-typed peasants in some cod film. It turned out that the person we were renting the flat from was not it’s owner. It looked as if we were going to be ejected onto the street! Gigory seemed to pacify them after a bit and they relented and let us stay. After they the electricity went out.

Alexey returned with Natasha, the editor of a furniture magazine. We were also joined by two Russian body builders called Sasha and Victor. We departed for an area called Gushgit. We drove as far as we could then walked up a long, winding steep path to the hills. We made camp then went off to explore a kosh or Shepherd’s house. The almasty is often said to lurk around these as some shepherds put out food for them. This one was a long abandoned and malodorous shanty that no self respecting relic hominid would be seen dead in.

In the morning we set off to explore a series of shallow caves in the high mountains. We found some hair and a lot of dung. Gigory also unearthed what may have been finger bones. We carefully bagged all the material. We came upon another abandoned kosh. This was in a worse state than the first but it had an interesting Balkarian tribal symbol on the wall.

The following day I felt totally drained and had to turn back . I got to camp and collapsed into the tent. I made the right decision. A violent thunderstorm struck and the others returned soon after apart from Anatoly who had vanished once again.

In the morning Anatoly returned. He had found a cheese factory deep in the mountains! There were guards with dogs and machine guns that were often fired randomly into the night. He thought that any almastys would have long left the area. We returned to Nautrino.

We visited Elbrus village again on the track of eyewitnesses. Gigory was hoping to track down the shepherd who had been lifted up by the almasty in the old farm in 2005. We found out that this man was away at a funeral and wake for several days but we did find some other witnesses who we interviewed.

One old man called Bahua Tilov had seen almastys on several occasions since the 1970s. The first time was whilst he was working in irrigation near Nautrino. He saw a large black almasty with two smaller grey coloured ones sitting amongst the rocks. As he approached the trio of beasts retreated. Another time he was with two German tourists when they saw a large male almasty walking into an abandoned house. It turned and scowled at them. The Germans were too afraid to take pictures or follow it into the house. More recently he had seen a family group of them. He had tried speaking to them but they fled back into the forest.

Rumagha Kulmesov and his wife were a delightful couple who invited us into their hose and gave us tea, beard, cheese and delicious home made yogurt. Rumagha had seen a juvenile almasty in his back yard only 2 years before. One night someone threw a people at his window. Thinking it was his some come to visit he called out telling him that the door was open. There was no answer but sometime later someone knocked at the window. On investigation he saw what he at first thought was a sack of wool in the corner of the yard. Then he realized it was a young almasty. He didn’t get a good look at the face but he said it was hair covered with pale, human-like hands. It made gestures as if it wanted food. Rumagha brought it some bread, which it took. It then made gestures that Rumagha interpreted as meaning that it had a friend who also wanted it. He brought a second piece of bread and left it in the year. He saw the shadow of the first almasty leaving then he when back inside. In the morning the second piece of bread was gone.

Rumagha’s wife saw an almasty in 1955 at the age of 14. She and her family had been deported to Kazakhstan. She had been invited to a relative’s house. Upon getting there she found a number of children huddled in a corner crying. When she enquire what was the matter one of them told her to peek ot of the wooden shutters that covered the glassless window.

In the yard was a weird creature slightly taller than herself. From her vantage point, peeking through a crack, she could not see it’s legs. The upper part was covered with hair. The hair hung down obscuring the face, chest and upper arms. The description put me in mind of Cousin It from The Addams Family. It was slowly moving it’s arms up and down in a manner of a child imitating a bird. It made a whistling noise like a bird. From time to to time it paused to pick up mud and sling it at the wall and shutters. It was still there when she left sometime later. She found it odd that such a ‘crazy topic’ could be of interest to us.

We had heard a recent story concerning a derelict restaurant. A scant few days before, a group of armed police were camping there. When the night air was rent by inhuman screams they fled. We, armed only with cameras, decided to stay the night there.

The restaurant had been built on the lines of a Balkarian castle. It had a 45 foot tower, battlements, circular gardens and many out buildings. All were built from great blocks of stone. It fell into disuse in the 1980s. It was a shame because in it’s day it must have been spectacular. If someone had the time and money to do it up it could be a glorious attraction even today.

As it is it is inhabited only by cows and bats. Most of the rooms were covered in cow dung and we had to search for a relatively clean area to sleep. As the sun set we set up cameras and a campfire. We put out bait and waited. It was a spooky venue worthy of Hammer Horror, Dr Who, or Scooby Doo.

We took turns on watch, waiting for something to come lumbering out of the woods behind the buildings or for a wild scream to pierce the darkness. Nothing came. The camera traps picked up only bats.

In the morning we met Alexey, Natasha and Humma as they were going back to the Ukraine. Shortly after we journied back to Mineranye Vody. One the way we passed from the Balkarian are into the Karbodinian. The change was noticeable with less urban decay and filth. We passed through an area called Bidick, rich in unexplored caves. Anatonly and Grigory were think of this are for a future expedition.

An so we returned to England with the samples. At the time of writing these are being collated prior to being sent of for DNA analysis.

So what is the almasty? I believe it exists, both Garigory and Anatoly have seen it. It seems smaller and more man like than the classic yeti or sasquatch. Grigory thinks it may be a surviving strain of Homo erectus. As far as I know, however no fossil skulls of this species show the distinctive ‘domed’ shape. The almasty could, of course be a descendent of Homo erectus. This species begat many others such as Homo hidlebergensis, Homo floresensis, Neanderthals and modern man. Why could it not have another descendent, big, powerful and adapted for forest and mountain dwelling. The almasty seems very adaptable. Grigory says it can live were ever it’s ethological twin, the brown bear can.

On this expedition I felt closer to my quarry than on any other. It really felt that at any moment I could be staring into the eyes of man’s closest relative. Kabardino-Balkaria is a unique place. The almasty population is on the increase and it seems they are willing to approach human habitation on occasion. There seems a good change of habituation one and getting conclusive evidence. What this will mean biologically, ethically and even theologically remains to be seen. Different races of humans cannot seem to get along yet alone a different type of man.

Grigory’s project will continue and his investigations in the mountains of mystery will continue. I’m going to make sure that I’m part of it.

We are very grateful to Richard Freeman for allowing us to publish his articles. Richard’s recent book – Adventures in Cryptozoology: Hunting for Yetis, Mongolian Deathworms and Other Not-So-Mythical Monsters, is available to purchase here