The Abominable Snowman

The North American continent was not the only source for hairy hominid stories in the early twentieth century. Many of the most important accounts from the period came from the Himalayan Mountains. Ivan Sanderson's retelling of the Himalayan accounts from 1920 is usually regarded as the classic version. He wrote:

In that year an incident occurred that was impressive enough but which might have been either wholly or temporarily buried had it not been for a concatenation of almost piffling mistakes. In fact, without these mistakes it is almost certain that the whole matter would have remained in obscurity and might even now be considered in an entirely different light or in the status of such other mysteries as that of 'sea-monsters.' (10-11)

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1. 1957's Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas: 'A shock-fest for your scare-endurance'.

According to Sanderson, the hairy hominid of the Himalayas first came to widespread public attention in the west following a telegram sent by Lt. Col. C.K. Howard-Bury concerning the results of a reconnaissance expedition in the region of Mount Everest. Approaching the northern face of Everest, at around 17,000 feet, the expedition witnessed a group of dark shapes moving about in a field of snow higher up the mountain. After considerable effort the expedition made their way to the field. The creatures were long gone, but several well-defined footprints were found in their place. These prints were three times larger than normal human prints. Howard-Bury assumed that they were the tracks of large wolves. The Sherpa guides, however, disagreed. They claimed that the tracks were from a human-like creature sometimes seen in the area. The name given by the Sherpas to this hominid seems to have been garbled, either by Howard-Bury or by Henry Newman, the recipient of the telegraph. Newman relayed the message to the world, translating the garbled name into English as 'Abominable Snowman.' A legend was born.

Paranormal researcher John A. Keel reports other examples of sightings from the 1920s and 1930s that served to reinforce the legend, including a 1924 expedition to Everest, led by General Bruce, that reported footprints and 'a great, hairy, naked man running across a snow field' at 17,000 feet (Keel 2002, 63). Visiting the area in 1955-6, Keel claims to have learned that the Sherpas accepted the reality of the phantom without question. They also greatly feared it, perhaps with good reason. According to Keel, a Sherpa herdsman named Lakpha Tensing was killed by one of the creatures in 1949 while in the Nanga Parbat pass. Fear of the creature was so great that mothers warned ill-behaved children that the monster will take them if they are not careful.

One interesting detail noted by Keel was the belief among the locals that the feet of the snowman are mounted backwards. This belief originates with an encounter with the beast from the early 1900s. According to the story, a group of local men employed by the British to install a telegraph line over a remote mountain pass never returned to their base. The next day British soldiers went in search of them. They did not find the missing men, but they did find a hairy, naked man-beast hiding in the crevice under some boulders. They shot the creature and hauled it to a small bungalow, where it was packed up and shipped back to England. Though the carcass was never seen again, one man that Keel interviewed claimed to have seen the remains of the animal when he was a small boy. He described the animal as being ten feet tall and covered with long shaggy hair. Its face was hairless, its mouth was filled with yellow teeth, and its eyes were red. Most striking of all, the man claimed that the creature's feet were attached backward, with the toes pointing to the rear. Keel speculates that the animal's feet may have been hand-like, like an ape's, and thus caused the confusion. (64-5)

At least two important expeditions would set out for Mount Everest with the express purpose of tracking the Snowman, soon called by another local name, the Yeti or 'mysterious creature.' In 1957, Texas oilman and self-proclaimed monster hunter, Tom Slick, explored the mountain with limited results. A few years later Sir Edmund Hillary would take on the challenge, producing a report of his findings in the October 1962 issue of National Geographic. In Hillary's assessment, Yeti tracks could be accounted for by the tendency of tracks in the snow to melt and elongate in the sun, and then refreeze when the weather turns colder. Such a process could transform something as mundane and uncontroversial as fox tracks into large, human-like prints. Hillary also examined what locals claimed to be the fur and scalp of a Yeti. The fur turned out to be from a Tibetan blue bear and the scalp from a serow, a goat-like animal. Hillary's negative conclusions did little to dampen the enthusiasm for the Abominable Snowman, however. Real creature or not, the name itself was certainly too dramatic ever to go away. Indeed, just two years after Hillary's report was published, 'Bumble,' 'The Abominable Snow Monster of the North,' was a featured character in the television adventures of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The Yeti has also continued to be seen in the wild, as well as on television, despite Hillary's claims. Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark report that the American Craig Calonica encountered two of the beasts in 1998, on the Chinese side of Everest. Calonica described the creatures, who were walking together, as having thick black fur, long arms, and large hands. Italian Reinhold Messner asserts that he saw the Yeti on four separate occasions in 1986 and 1997. Messner's claims about the creature's identity have gone against the grain of mainstream Yeti theories, however. Instead of a large ape-like creature, Messner suggests that the Yeti may be an as-yet-undiscovered species of giant bear.

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