‘My men were delighted at the prospect of returning homewards from these wild regions, and started up hill with light hearts… some zest was added to our threading of the track down the lower slopes on the Nepalese side of the ridge, when we saw in the places where we crossed the thawing mud, between the rocks… some large footprints in the snow… these were alleged to be the trail of the hairy wild men who are believed to live amongst the eternal snows, along with the mythical white lions, whose roar is reputed to be heard during storms. The belief in these creatures is universal among Tibetans. None, however, of the many Tibetans I have interrogated on this subject could ever give me an authentic case… on the most superficial investigation it always resolved into something that somebody heard tell of…’
An account from Laurence Waddell from an 1899 trek across the Himalayas, through the wild and remote snowy reaches of Nepal. Waddell was convinced it was a bear of some kind, but he had only scratched the surface of a legend as old as the land he walked through. Folklore that’s a part of the history and mythology of the indigenous people of Nepal, a legend known as the Yeti.
Throughout the early part of the 20th century, intrepid western explorers spent their riches venturing to new and untamed lands across the world, and the mountains of the Himalayas, like sentinels supreme, were a huge draw. But soon, scattered reports began to emerge. Only a few at first, but over time, more and more were reported. Strange sightings of mysterious creatures and strange tracks from some unknown beast. They heard stories, too, from the locals, of an animal known as the Yeti, tormenting the souls of the brave and often stupid who crossed the creature’s path…
The creature gained fame in 1925 when photographer N.A. Tombazi saw it at an altitude of 15,000 feet near the Zemu Glacier, the largest in Eastern Himalaya. For a minute, he stared in wonder, the hairs on the back of his neck standing tall. “Unquestionably, the figure in the outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright and stopping occasionally to pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes,” he said. “It showed up dark against the snow, and as far as I could make out, wore no clothes.” Hours later, as Tombazi and his friends descended down the mountain, they saw unusual prints in the snow. “Similar in shape to those of a man,” Tombazi said. “But only six to seven inches long by four inches wide… The prints were undoubtedly those of a biped.”
Yeti mania reached fever pitch in the 1950s with numerous high profile sightings reported. Whilst attempting to scale Mount Everest in 1951, distinguished mountaineer Eric Shipton took photographs of strange and large footprints in the snow, convinced it was proof of the Yeti’s existence. In 1953, mountaineer, explorer, and philanthropist Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepali Indian Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay also saw mysterious large footprints whilst climbing the same mountain. Whilst Hillary was not a believer in the Yeti, Norgay believed it did exist and was a large ape-like creature. He said his father had seen it twice before.
In 1954, the Daily Mail newspaper reported with great vigour that expedition teams had obtained hair samples of the Yeti, found in a monastery in the village of Pangboche in Nepal. The hairs were taken to Professor Frederic Wood Jones, where they were examined in great detail. He concluded that the hairs did not come from the scalp of a Yeti, as was reported. He also said that he couldn’t tell exactly from what animal the hairs came from. Yeti enthusiasts cheered, but Jones was quick to quash the excitement. The hairs must have come from a hoofed animal and not a bear or an ape, he said. But some weren’t convinced.
By the late 1950s, expeditions were heading out regularly to hunt for the Yeti. So concerned about the endeavour was the American government that they issued a statement. Regarding an actual Yeti hunt. Three simple rules, including ‘do not harm the Yeti except in self-defence.’ Belief was growing and the expeditions kept coming. In 1970, mountaineer Don Whillans claims to have seen the Yeti whilst scaling the Annapurna massif in Nepal. He says he heard some unusual cries and saw a dark shape moving near his camp. And one night he saw it. Viewed through a pair of binoculars, an ape-like creature foraging in the wild…
Since, belief in the Yeti has declined, although expeditions on the hunt still go out and search the wilderness of Nepal, but could it really exist? Any photos, whether of the creature or its footprints, have always been subject to much scrutiny and debate. Most likely forgeries in the name of fame and fortune. Norgay later wrote about how his belief in the Yeti had faded over the years and how he had become much more sceptical. His partner, Hillary, even led an expedition in 1960 to analyse the physical evidence of the Yeti. Such things as the Daily Mail scalp ‘evidence’ were proven as fakes, manufactured from the skin of a serow. Further analysis of hair samples, samples that are still being found and collected to this very day, often come back as being from goral, including the samples from 1954.
Misidentified local animals are often the cause of many of the sightings, with hoaxes also common. Even the fanatics are prone to a spot of lying, with many encounters greatly exaggerated or flat out false. Some scientists have even fabricated results or lied about results, with DNA evidence ‘inconclusive’ but actually, rather obviously from a bear or some other such animal.
Of course, with stories from the natives about this beast so prevalent rattling around the head of a lonely climber, on top of a barren landscape draped in many yards of snow with a blizzard raging all around, is it really so hard to believe that many think they see things that aren’t there or hear things that can’t possibly exist? Nothing but a figment of delusion, perhaps?
The Yeti seems too improbable to believe. How could something so large go unnoticed for so long? Perhaps there are grains of truth in all this. There were other species of human living alongside us until rather recently, and perhaps one or two were feared by us. Perhaps the Yeti sprung from this, from a story of fear that evolved into a legend that became so warped and twisted that we can no longer discern fact from fiction. The Yeti is a wonderful story, but that is, most likely, all it is. An endearing story of a magical beast roaming about Nepal. Yet I love the Yeti. And I think we all should, regardless of the truth…
So I’ll give this cryptid a 79 on my patented Cryptid-o-Meter, putting it 47th in the list of 51, with Gef the Talking Mongoose still bottom and Beast of Gévauden still holding top spot.
The Yeti. A fascinating cryptid indeed.
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