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Of Grey Wolves and Wild Men: An Early 20th Century Yeti Encounter

As many of us recently heard, the famous Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas seems to have reared its shaggy, frostbitten head once again, after a peculiar (and perhaps a bit premature) proclamation by the Indian Army that they had recently discovered the beast’s footprints across a patch of snow.

When we look at the history of encounters with the Abominable Snowman, or the Yeti as it is known in the region, far more often it is the spoor (i.e. footprints) said to have been left by the creature that is found, rather than any observations of the creatures themselves. As I’ve also pointed out recently here at Mysterious Universe, even many of the earliest discoveries of such footprints were taken with a grain of salt by those reporting such finds (which, though honestly intended, may not have always been included by the later writers who featured these accounts in their later pro-Yeti writings).

This underscores the necessity for historical research when it comes to cryptozoology (or any other subject, really) since primary sources often do convey a slightly different account than later writings, and the even later re-writing of those writings. Humans are seldom able to escape their biases, it seems.

With that in mind, another famous early case involving the discovery of “Yeti” footprints in the Himalayas involves one Lt. Col. C. K. Howard-Bury, who had been on a reconnaissance expedition to Mt. Everest in 1920 when he and his company found a set of strange footprints. 

“Even at these heights,” Howard-Bury wrote, “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.” 

Upon noticing the apparent humanlike resemblance these footprints possessed, some of the local Indian members of Howard-Bury’s crew became very excited, proclaiming that these footprints belonged to none other than the Metoh Kangmi, or the “Wild Man of the Snows.” It was, as Howard Bury reports, the very same Abominable Snowman which, by this time, had already made quite a splash in newspapers in the West. 

“On my return to civilised countries,” Howard-Bury later wrote, “I read with interest delightful accounts of the ways and customs of this wild man whom we were supposed to have met.”

However, like Major L.A. Waddell more than three decades earlier had done, Howard-Bury chalked the manlike prints in the snow up to being the mere misidentification by his porters of another, more commonly known creature.

“These tracks, which caused so much comment,” he said, “were probably caused by a large ‘loping’ grey wolf, which in the soft snow formed double tracks rather like those of a barefooted man.” This assessment was both correct, in relation to many reports of “manlike” footprints that have been discovered in relation to mysterious hairy bipeds in various parts of the world, and a bit ahead of its time. Even in recent years, it is not uncommon to see experts in various television programs and documentaries commenting on this aspect of the mystery, and how easily overlapping prints of known animals can look very different after the fact (especially if you add in a few days worth of melt and re-freezing to help blur the edges before the eventual “discovery” is finally made). 

Howard-Bury gives us one final nugget of interest in his account, as it relates to local beliefs about the Yeti, whereupon he notes the following: 

“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 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.” 

There is a humorous (and pretty bizarre) variation on this story about children being advised on how to escape the creatures. Among some of the Sherpa, it is similarly said that if chased by a female Yeti, running uphill will cause her dangling breasts to get in the way, and she will be immobilized. Conversely, as with Howard-Bury’s version of the tale, children are advised to run downhill if the creature is a male; doing so will cause the creature’s lengthy member to become caught in his footsteps, tripping him and allowing the children to escape.

The stories change slightly with time, but what Colonel Howard-Bury’s account really drives home more than anything is that, after all these years, very little has changed in our views of the Yeti.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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