Video and Reading: The Yeti

The Himalayas: the site of the world’s highest mountain and one of its most intriguing mysteries. For centuries, the Sherpa people, native to the Himalayas, have told frightening tales of a strange half-man, half-ape called the Yeti.

Announcer: “For the Sherpas, Yeti has always been very real and very much alive. Some western explorers agree. They have found convincing evidence that the Sherpas may be right.”

Several expeditions have uncovered mystifying stories of strange, human-like creatures who live in the Himalayas. In 1951, Eric Shipton, a world-famous mountaineer, came across a curious set of tracks. This was the first clear evidence that the Yeti might, in fact, be real.

Coleman: “The photograph of the Shipton footprint is very big-piece evidence because it showed toes, individual toes, it showed a square footprint, which a lot of the other expeditions had found but had not good photographic equipment with them.”

The footprint was fifteen inches long and eight inches wide. It didn’t look like it was made by a man or an ape.

In 1957, a Texas oil man named Tom Slick and Peter Byrne set off for the Arun Valley in Northeastern Nepal in search of Yeti.

Byrne: “Tom Slick’s interest in the beginning was to find out if the Yeti were really there, and that’s the reason he came on the first reconnaissance. I had been hearing about the Yeti for years, ever since I was a child, but I think what eventually convinced me that they were there was meeting with the Sherpas and talking with them face to face.”

(Greetings: “Namaste, Namaste.”

Byrne: “The Sherpas viewed the Yeti as a real, living creature, not as a mythical creature. They called them ‘hairy men who lived out there separate from them.’ On the first expeditions we took along with us 8” x 10” pictures of a chimpanzee, a gorilla, a primitive man, and so on. They used to point to the primitive man and say, “That’s the Yeti.” In fact, they thought we had a picture of the Yeti when they saw that. (A Sherpa speaks in his own language.) The Sherpas described the Yeti always as being man-like in form and about five-foot six, five-foot seven, five-foot eight, not very large, covered with hair, walking upright, the face was bare of hair, the palms of the hands, that sort of thing.”

Slick and Byrne decided to split up to cover a wider search area. Each made his own startling discovery.

Byrne: “We started out from our camp early in the morning, and we simply chose a mountain, and I came across a line of footprints.”

(Sherpa says “It’s Yeti.” Byrne says “Are you sure?”)

In Byrne’s photograph, the Yeti footprint is on the left. On the right is the much smaller boot print of one of the expedition members.

(Conversation between Sherpa guide and an actor playing Tom Slick.)

In another part of the valley, Tom Slick and his Sherpa guides discovered a similar set of tracks.

Actor playing Slick: “You’re saying these are Yeti tracks?”

Byrne: “The significance of the prints Tom Slick found is that they were in mud whereas in snow will distort with head and with wind and so on, mud will not. He only saw two or three because it is very hard to track in that stuff. In fact, he was very lucky to find them.”

A plaster cast of the footprint was shipped to the U.S. to be analyzed. The print measured ten inches long and seven inches wide. It was similar to the footprint discovered by Eric Shipton six years earlier.

Agogino: “It was a short, squat, almost square type of footprint. And I sent it to the various physical anthropology experts around the country. Usually the terminology that came back was ‘unique,’ that we don’t know what it is.”

In February of 1958, Peter Byrne embarked on another expedition. On this trip, he met a Buddhist monk who had an amazing story to tell.

Byrne: “He liked scotch, this old man, and one evening while we were sitting there, having a drink and talking, he said ‘You know that up in the temple we have a hand.’”

(“Yeti hand.”)

Byrne: “And he said, ‘Would you like to see it?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ So we went back up to the temple, and he showed me this hand, about the size of a human hand, cut off at the wrist, and I considered it very significant. So I took some pictures of it immediately, some flash pictures. I asked the lama, of course, could I have it, and he said no. He said it must never leave the temple, here. If it leaves the temple, various calamities will befall the community and so on.”

The photographs of the Yeti hand were unlike anything that scientists had seen before. Was it human, or was it ape? Or was it an entirely new species? They needed the actual hand, or at least a piece of it, to find out.

The next year, Peter Byrne returned to the monastery with another bottle of scotch for the monk, and an outrageous plan.

Byrne: “I cut the finger off, and I replaced it with the human finger. It took quite a long time to wire the whole thing together. I put it back in the box, and nobody ever knew anything about it. And everybody actually was perfectly happy, they still had the hand, they still had its fingers.”

The finger was brought back to London to be examined.

Agogino: “It was sent to me, and I sent it to the twenty experts which I thought should look at the hand, and they were about equally divided whether it was human, or whether it was some type of primate known or unknown.”

Dr. Agogino put a tissue sample from the bone fragment in an envelope in his desk. It remained there for more than thirty years.

When we learned of the bone fragment in Dr. Agogino’s desk drawer, we asked the University of California to analyze it. The results were inconclusive, but seemed to indicate that the tissue came from a human hand.

Lowenstein: “The problem with something as vague as the Yeti is that almost any result you have can be fitted into the theory, so I’m sure that most believers will say, ‘Well, this is great, this proves that the Yeti is some sort of sub-human species.”

Byrne: “I think that’s what we’ve always thought, that it wasn’t an animal, that it wasn’t an upright walking ape because apes don’t walk upright anyway; that it was a hominid, a human form of some kind.”

Meanwhile, the sightings of Yeti continue.

Fritzler: “I had made camp at 16,500 feet when out of the darkness, a very loud, piercing call began that sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. It moved around, it circled our campsite, it would get closer, it would get farther away. It would call intermittently, and the call was always very loud and very piercing, and very frightening.”

Messner: I was (??German accent, hard to understand) … it was my impression it was bigger than me, it was quite hairy, and strong, with (…) and its body was quite dark, dark brown and long hair, long, long hair, and he has quite a lot of hair on the head.”

Agogino: “I have to leave it open, that I do not know what the abominable snowman is, but I think there is a very good chance, maybe fifty-fifty, that something resembling what they are looking for does exist.”

Perhaps these mountains are home to an elusive, half-human species; or perhaps, Yeti is just a myth after all. Either way, we must remember that a new species is discovered almost every year. You never know; Yeti may still surprise us.

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