It was in August 1951 that renowned mountain-climber Eric Shipton embarked upon his fifth expedition to Mount Everest, along with climbers Sir Edmund Hillary, Earle Riddiford, Mike Ward, Sherpa Sen Tensing, and several others. As the expedition neared its end, and while the team explored an area to the southwest of Everest known as Gauri Sankar, mysterious footprints were found – and photographed. Shipton stated: “It was on one of the glaciers of the Menlung basin, at a height of about 19,000 feet, that, late one afternoon we came across those curious footprints in the snow.” He continued: “I have in the past found many sets of these curious footprints and have tried to follow them, but have always lost them. Sen Tensing, who had no doubt whatever that the creatures – for there had been at least two – that had made the tracks were ‘Yetis’ or wild men, told me that two years before, he and a number of other Sherpas had seen one of them at a distance of about 25 yards at Thyangboche.”
Shipton added that: “He [Tensing] described it as half man and half beast, standing about five feet six inches, with a tall pointed head. Whatever it was that he had seen, he was convinced that it was neither a bear nor a monkey.” And the idea that the prints were made by the famous Yeti was bolstered in the minds of Shipton, his colleagues, and the media of the day, as a direct result of the startling fact that they were an impressive 13 inches long and 8 inches wide.
Not everyone was convinced, however. Dr. T.C.S. Morrison-Scott of the Natural History Department of the British Museum was certain that Shipton had been fooled by nothing stranger than the tracks of a langur monkey – an animal that is common to the Himalayas, and that is not unlike the creatures reportedly seen by Sherpa Tensing. The flaw in this theory, however, was that the langur is five-toed and generally walks on all-fours; whereas the creature that made the prints in the Shipton photographs was clearly four-toed, massive, and appeared to walk exclusively on two feet.
Indeed, Shipton himself recognized the problems with the langur theory when he stated in The Six Mountain Travel Books: “Of the various theories that have been advanced to account for these tracks, the only one which is in any way plausible is that they were made by a langur monkey, and even this is very far from convincing, as I believe those who have suggested it would be the first to admit.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the controversy was never firmly resolved to everyone’s satisfaction and, as a result, has rumbled on at a steady pace in monster-hunting circles ever since. Moving on from the Shipton photographs, further intriguing evidence exists that leads many modern-day Yeti-seekers to conclude that the Abominable Snowman is far more than just the stuff of legend, fantasy and misidentification.
The creature has a long history in both Nepal and Tibet, and tales of encounters with the hairy animal have been reported for centuries. As far back as 1832, for example, explorer B.H. Hodgson reported in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal that the existence of a large, ape-like creature of the Himalayas had long been known to the people of Nepal. Similarly, in 1889, in the pages of Among the Himalayas, writer and adventurer L.A. Waddell recorded that he had heard countless stories of the legendary giant ape from those who lived among the mountains. Most feared of all by the locals of Tibet and Nepal centuries ago was the Nyalmo: a fierce and gigantic beast said to be related to the Yeti that reputedly inhabited the mountain-tops and supposedly grew to an astonishing height of fifteen feet.
The Yeti takes its name from the ancient Tibetan word yeh-teh, which literally translates as “rock bear.” For many Tibetans, however, the Yeti is not a physical animal. Rather, it is perceived as being a paranormal creature: a spectral animal that is most successfully seen while the witness is in a trance-like, altered state. The far more evocative term of Abominable Snowman originated in 1921, with Henry Newman, a writer for the Calcutta, India-based Statesman newspaper. It was in 1921 that Britain’s Royal Geographical Society launched an expedition to the Himalayas that was led by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Howard-Bury. During the course of the expedition, Howard-Bury came across unusual footprints that the local Sherpa guides claimed originated with what they called the metoh-kangmi – or “the man-bear snowman.”
When the story was told to Henry Newman of the Statesman, however, Newman mistakenly interpreted the word “metoh” to mean “filthy.” And while the term “filthy snowman” sounded merely amusing, Newman eventually came up with the far more headline-grabbing and ominous name of the Abominable Snowman. And, thus, the monster of the Himalayas quickly became a household word and sightings of the beast abounded. In 1925, Greek photographer N.A. Tombini claimed to have seen a Yeti high on the Himalayas. “Unquestionably, the figure in outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright and stopping to uproot or pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes,” he said, adding: “It showed up dark against the snow and, as far as I could make out, wore no clothes.”
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary reported finding large, unknown footprints while he climbed Mount Everest; and in 1970 British mountain-climber Don Whillans watched through binoculars as a hairy, ape-like animal apparently searched for food a short distance from his camp on Annapurna, a series of 55-kilometre-long peaks in the Himalayas. In January 1987, a small Yeti was said to have attacked a young boy in northern Kashmir, who reportedly proceeded to hit the creature on the head with a pot until it released him. And, in 2000, a woman claimed to have seen a giant, hairy, man-like animal roaming her land in Medog County, which can be found in southeast Tibet. Since then, sightings have dramatically declined.