Outdoor Report

Down the Fenn treasure rabbit hole

Posted 1/23/20

Here it is, Sunday morning and I’m heading down an online rabbit hole on a quest to find Forrest Fenn’s treasure.

First video: Toby Younis and the “Church of the Search.” …

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Outdoor Report

Down the Fenn treasure rabbit hole


Here it is, Sunday morning and I’m heading down an online rabbit hole on a quest to find Forrest Fenn’s treasure.

First video: Toby Younis and the “Church of the Search.” It’s a two-hour program on YouTube streamed on Saturday night. “If you’re looking for forgiveness, I’m here to grant it,” Younis says.

He admits it sounds “cultish,” as he drinks an adult beverage on air.

About 6,000 people subscribe and more than 800 were on hand for Saturday’s broadcast. Within the first 20 minutes of the video, a woman going by the handle Kpro calls in to tell those listening that a man who ran into some trouble in Yellowstone, Dave Christensen, is a searcher. “It’s probably going to hit the press in a couple days,” she says.

That’s a reference to me. I wasn’t willing to let the story of a guy rappelling into Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon end without asking him why.

Through some digging, I found his phone number and called him after getting my wits about me Saturday morning. “Do you want to talk about Fenn’s gold?” I asked.

We proceeded to talk for more than 90 minutes over four separate calls. Text messages and emails followed. The entire time we talked, Christensen was convinced the treasure was at the bottom of the canyon — absolutely positive. Kpro tells Younis she feels Christensen, “like a lot of new searchers,” interpreted the poem in a very simplistic way. Others took jabs, some quite cruel.

I know Dave was watching from Indiana. I could feel him cringe from a 25-hour-drive away.

“They beat me up pretty good,” he said Monday.

Participants in the show said what many of you may have already been thinking.

Christensen isn’t a bad person. He may have made some poor decisions, but I like him. He’s not unlike many of my friends; passionate about their pursuits. Before tuning into the Church of Search I had already received a call from a friend, with whom I discussed this story. He had spent hours — long into the night — doing research and formulating his own theory, or solve, as they call it.

I agreed to go on the 15-mile hike my friend proposed, should he ever make it back to the Rocky Mountains, where Fenn said he hid the treasure. Just writing the words makes me wonder if there’s something missing in my life that would send me to the edge of a precipice and think to myself, “maybe it’s down there.”

What is it about the promise of gold that makes humans immediately want to risk their lives to find it?

The story of the Chilkoot Trail, a 33-mile mountain pass between Dyea, Alaska, and the Yukon Territory is littered with human remains. Those who made the trek carried 1,500 pounds of provisions over the pass just for a chance to search for the precious metal. Personally, I’m not fond of carrying 10 pounds of groceries from my parking spot at my home to the kitchen 40 yards away. And yet, I’ve now agreed to a remote hike to look for about 40 pounds of gold — if it even exists.

Searchers aren’t just looking for riches. From what I’ve seen and heard about Fenn’s Treasure, collecting the gold isn’t where this ends. There are about 750,000 references to the treasure on a Google search. Proving your “solve” to be correct would let the world know you were clever enough to crack the clues in Fenn’s poem — something hundreds of thousands have tried and failed. Notoriety is available to the average man. You just have to find the treasure.

Christensen, I believe, is different. I’m convinced he wasn’t seeking notoriety. After publishing his story he told me his searching days are over. “I’m done. I’m never going back,” he said Wednesday.

Yet, he is still convinced he has solved the mystery. If the treasure is found in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, it will be his only saving grace. But that won’t help him legally. He’s prepared to accept the consequences of his actions.

If I find it, I might hide the treasure under my bed until I figure out how to cash in the bounty without anyone knowing. And there’s the rub: Should it ever be found and not divulged, the search will continue. Fenn may well go to his grave before the treasure is found. But in the meantime, he profits.

This could be a immensely successful public relations stunt. Put a treasure hunt out there and people will look for every advantage to find it, including buying maps and books. Unfortunately, people believing this is the answer to their problems will continue to put their lives in jeopardy and the body count will continue.

People buy lottery tickets in the same sort of search. Though they know the chances of winning are less than being hit by lightning, they still play with the hope of solving their and their friends’ financial problems. I often daydream of sharing my lottery riches. I’ve probably spent more time daydreaming of the possibility than doing constructive things like writing my next story.

But then again, I actually have a friend who has been hit by lightning. That reminds me — I think I left my compass in someone’s truck recently. Call if you find it.

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