Colonel Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury was a man who played a notable role in terms of what we know about a certain cryptid ape. In this case, in relation to a creature that has become popularly known by two names: the Yeti and the Abominable Snowman. Howard-Bury led the very first Everest Reconnaissance Expedition in 1921. It was while at a height of around 20,000 feet that Howard-Bury came across some unusual footprints in the snow. While he suggested a down to earth explanation for the prints, his comments make for notable reading. And, there is no doubt that regardless of what the tracks were really made by, the Howard-Bury affair was a defining moment in Yeti history and lore.
Howard-Bury recorded the following: “On September 22, leaving Raeburn behind, Mallory, Bullock, Morshead, Wheeler, Wallaston and myself started off to Lakhpa La camp. We left the 20,000-foot camp in 22 degrees of frost at four o’clock in the morning, accompanied by twenty-six coolies, who were divided up into four parties, each of which was properly roped. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and the mountains showed up nearly as brightly as in the daytime. We rapidly descended the 200 feet from our terrace to the glacier, when we all ‘roped up.’
“The snow on the glacier was in excellent condition, and as it was frozen hard we made good progress. Dawn overtook us on the broad flat part of the glacier, the first of the sun falling on the summit of Mount Everest, which lay straight in front of us, and changing the color of the snow gradually from pink to orange, all the time up sharp and clear in the frosty air.
“We mounted gradually past Kartse, the white conical-shaped peak climbed by Mallory and Bullock a month ago from the Kama Valley. We wended our way without much difficulty through the ice-fall of the glacier, below some superbly fluted snow ridges that rose straight above us. Then followed a long and at times a somewhat steep climb over soft powdery snow to the top of the grass.”
And then, normality was utterly shattered, when something very strange occurred, and as Howard-Bury duly recorded in his diary: “Even at these heights we came across tracks in the snow. We were able to pick out tracks of hares and foxes, but one that at first looked like a human foot puzzled us considerably. Our coolies at once jumped to the conclusion that this must be ‘The Wild Man of the Snows,’ to which they gave the name of Metoh-kangmi, the Abominable Snowman who interested the newspaper so much. On my return to civilized countries I read with interest delightful accounts of the ways and customs of this wild man whom we were supposed to have met.”
As noted above, Howard-Bury was not personally convinced he had stumbled on real Yeti prints, even though he personally described them as looking like “a human foot.” On this issue, he elaborated: “These tracks, which caused so much comment, were probably caused by a large ‘loping’ grey wolf, which in the soft snow formed double tracks rather like those of a barefooted man. Tibet, however, is not the only country where there exists a bogey man. In Tibet he takes the form of a hairy man who lives in the snows, and little Tibetan children who are naughty and disobedient are frightened by the wonderful fairy tales that are told about him. To escape from him they must run down the hill, as then his long hair falls over his eyes and he is unable to see them. Many other such tales have they with which to strike terror into the hearts of bad boys and girls.”
While Colonel C.K. Howard-Bury was not someone who bought into the saga of the Yeti, there’s no doubting he was one of the key players in the development of the controversy.