The Yeti (Abominable Snowman)

The Yeti, also known as the "Abominable Snowman," is a mythical human-like creature that purportedly makes its home in the higher elevations of the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.

The word Yeti comes from the Tibetan name for the creature yeh-teh which translates into English as “rock bear” while the idiom “Abominable Snowman” was a creation of western journalist Henry Newman.

There were only a few encounters reported in the 1800s, such as when explorer B.H. Hodgson’s guides reported a tall hairy creature that upon seeing them apparently fled in panic. Not having witnessed anything himself Hodgson summarily dismissed the sighting deciding it was probably an orangutan. In 1889, British army major L.A. Waddell reported finding unusual footprints which his guides attributed to a large apelike creature, after further investigation Waddell decided they were most likely bear tracks.

It wasn’t until the 1900s and an influx of western mountain climbers that strange sightings began to be reported on a regular basis:

In 1925 N.A. Tombazi a Greek photographer while on an expedition to the Himalayas allegedly sighted a bipedal like creature near Zemu Glacier. The fact that the creature was unclothed in what were extremely hostile conditions (the elevation was 15,000 feet with snow covering the ground) made a significant impression on the westerner, who by any standards would be considered a professional and learned observer. (He was an accomplished photographer and member in good standing of the Royal Geographical Society.) For over a minute, at a distance of only 200 to 300 yards, he quietly watched the creature as it walked in an upright position before stopping and uprooting some dwarf rhododendron bushes. Later he was to state “Unquestionably, the figure in outline was exactly like a human being.”

Afterwards while descending the mountain the expedition found what they assumed to be the creature’s footprints, describing them as “similar in shape to those of a man, but only six to seven inches long by four inches wide at the broadest part of the foot. The marks of five distinct toes and the instep were perfectly clear . . . The prints were undoubtedly those of a biped.”

In 1951 British mountain climbers Eric Shipton, a mountaineering legend involved with many Everest expeditions, and Michael Ward, doctor, researcher and both member and medical officer of two Everest expeditions found tracks on the slopes of the Menlung Glacier at an altitude of 20,00 feet (6100 meters). After first photographing the footprints (which were approximately thirteen inches wide by eighteen inches long) they followed them for over a mile before finally loosing them on hard ice. Scientists who later viewed the pictures were unable to identify them except to acknowledge that they were probably made by a biped. In view of Shipton and Ward’s reputations any notion of deceit was quickly dismissed.

Physical remains of the elusive creature can seemingly be found everywhere in the Himalayas, determining whether the remnants are authentic or not is the difficult part:

In 1954 Dr. Biswamoy Biswas, a member of the Daily Mail’s "Snowman Expedition," examined an alleged Yeti scalp one of the sacred relics housed in the Buddhist monastery in the village of Pangboche and somehow obtained hair samples. Later Professor Frederic Wood Jones, an anthropologist and expert in comparative and human anatomy, carefully analyzed the specimens and came to the conclusion that the hairs were in fact from the shoulder of a hoofed animal and not from a scalp at all.

Tom Slick [1] was an American millionaire and adventurer who sponsored a number of expeditions to the Himalayas in the 1950s and after learning of another artifact in Pangboche, a “Yeti hand,” visited and photographed the object. Unfortunately requests to examine the relic more closely were repeatedly refused, so during the expedition of 1959 a daring plan worthy of Indiana Jones was hatched and put into play. Peter Byrne, [2] a member of the expedition, removed a number of bones from the “Pangboche hand,” replacing them with human bones and spirited them out of Nepal into India, where Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart, who just happened to be visiting with his wife Gloria, smuggled them out of the country. [3]

The bones were taken to London, England, where a few pieces were examined by W.C. Osman Hill a primatologist. Hills' first impression was that they came from some sort of primate; in 1960, after further examination, he was more specific declaring them to be Neanderthal.

Later that year, Sir Edmund Hillary, while on an expedition to China, made a side trip to Nepal and investigated the “Yeti hand” for himself. Looking at the combination of human and original bones and unaware of Byrne’s tampering he declared the object a hoax and the Yeti a myth.

Author Desmond Doig long time resident of the region and fellow expedition member wasn’t so sure. He believed that what were being observed by both locals and visitors were actually three separate creatures: “dzu-teh” was probably a Tibetan blue bear and “thelma” a gibbon, but it was the third creature called “mih-teh” a large hairy and sometimes savage ape living at high altitude that was the true Yeti of legend .

In 1991 experts commissioned by the television show “Unsolved Mysteries” obtained the remaining samples from Slick expedition consultant George Agogino and performed new tests. Their determination, the material though similar was not quite human.

The majority of those who have conducted serious research believe evidence about the Yeti to be flimsy at best and doubt the veracity of reports concerning its existence. On the other hand believers maintain that the creature is real, perhaps even a present day survivor of the giant ape Gigantopithecus, long thought extinct.

In recent years there have been many new sightings. The majority, however, were usually relayed second hand to foreign visitors by Sherpa guides, herders and other locals. In a region where tourist dollars are an important if not vital part of the economy, one can’t but wonder about their legitimacy.

[1] Tom Slick Jr. was the son of a Texas oil magnate, intelligent and well educated. (He graduated from Yale with honors in biology, later pursuing graduate studies at Harvard and MIT.)

His life was multi-faceted. He was a member in good standing of the Explorers Club, a trustee or governor of a number of universities, institutes and foundations, a businessman (owner of one of the largest herds of registered Angus cattle in the United States and discoverer of one of the largest oil fields in post war America), an inventor (co-inventor of the lift-slab method of building construction), the founder of several research organisations and the Mind Science Foundation in San Antonio, a peace advocate funding peace lectures at LBJ Library and the Tom Slick Professorship of World Peace at the University of Texas and as if that wasn't enough author of two books “The Last Great Hope” (1951) and “Permanent Peace: A Check and Balance Plan” (1958) the latter well received in both academic and political circles.

In the 1950s, the millionaire businessman, inventor, academician, author and philanthropist added adventurer extraordinaire to his resume. During a diamond-hunting excursion in the wilds of British Guiana a forced landing of his aircraft resulted in an unscheduled two week sojourn with a local tribe followed by either funding or participating in expeditions in search of both the Yeti and Bigfoot (he had already paid a visit to Loch Ness alleged home of another famous cryptid the Loch Ness Monster while a student at Yale in the 1930s).

Tom Slick died in a plane crash in in October 1962. He is buried in Mission Burial Park, San Antonio.

[2] Peter Byrne arrived in Nepal via India after serving in the Royal Air force during World War Two. After finding himself awash in Yeti folklore he decided to investigate whether the numerous stories about the legendary creature were fact or fiction thereby beginning an obsession with illusive and mysterious creatures that would span decades.

While a member of Tom Slicks 1959 Himalayan expedition it was Byrne who purportedly stole bones from the Pangboche hand and spirited them out of the country.

Byrne had impressed Slick a great deal and in 1960 the millionaire adventure brought him to America and placed him in charge of his Pacific Northwest Expedition and its search for Bigfoot. The expedition was already underway when Peter arrived, but an assessment of the situation revealed problems and unimpressed with many of the original members he quickly made changes replacing them with people he handpicked himself. Unfortunately it was all for naught, the expedition to be short lived ending with Slick’s untimely death in 1962.

There followed a book “The Search for Bigfoot - Monster, Myth or Man?” and a period of wandering in the wilderness, both metaphorically and otherwise. With the help of the Academy of Applied Sciences of Boston Massachusetts, Peter set up a research facility (the Bigfoot Information Center) on the Washington-Oregon border, published the Bigfoot News and maintained a 1-800 number so that anyone with relevant Bigfoot information could contact him. From 1992 to 1997 he operated something called the Bigfoot Research Project on Mount Hood a dormant volcano in north-western Oregon. Equipped with a plethora of land and air craft, thermal imaging, infrared sensors and sleep inducing dart guns he resolutely followed up on leads for hundreds of miles in all directions, but in the end, even with all that high tech hardware, nothing.

Today Peter enjoys the peace and serenity afforded by retirement, the occasional sighting might pique his interest but for the most part his life is one of travel interspersed with a little writing.

[3] Stewart was not only a great fan of cryptozoology but also a silent partner in Tom Slick’s Himalayan expeditions.

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