Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I can’t help it. I cringe every time I hear the word Yeti. Mention Big Foot, and I’ll hide my face in shame. Go so far as to utter the words Abominable Snowman and I’ll flee in embarrassment.

I want to believe. I do. It’s just…an Abominable Snowman! For a guy who loves to talk conspiracy theories to three in the morning, who devours reports of UFO sightings over Phoenix and tapes all the reruns of the X-Files, admitting even a modicum of maybe about the existence of hairy ole Harry Henderson tends to discredit everything else I espouse.

There’s a thin line between true believer and gullible idiot.


So, it was with queasy stomach I read reports of fresh Yeti footprints in the Himalayas. This time the find was made by a US TV crew, filming for Destination Truth, a show investigating evidence of the fantastical.

That these tracks were witnessed is no surprise – mountaineers and local herders often claim such discoveries. No, it’s that these reports still garner media attention that befuddles me. I mean, our modern world is so small. When you can eat a Big Mac in Moscow, sip Starbucks coffee in Beijing and discuss Bay Watch in Bhutan, you wonder if this jaded world has any natural secrets left to divulge.

I was born a pleasant Sunday drive from the banks of Loch Ness and spent many childhood nights reading about Nessie and the possibility that dinosaurs might still roam this planet. As a child, the concept is easy to accept. There’s a magic to monsters that can’t easily be dispelled. Yet, as an adult, cynical reality stamps its scientific authority. Few places remain unmapped. Civilization’s thirst for expansion threatens every corner of the globe. Creatures once abundant now face extinction. Surely, there’s no chance that a beast as large as Yeti could avoid detection for so long?


Josh Gates of Destination Truth told the BBC in early December that his team discovered three prints, one a pristine right paw mark, 13” long, with a wide spread of five toes. Commentators familiar with such discoveries are quick to suggest the prints may belong to a Himalayan bear, native to the banks of the Manju River, where Gates and his crew were operating, some 100 miles northeast of Kathmandu.

As always, this latest sensation fell far short of proof. The history of the Yeti is filled with brief glimpses, mysterious prints, unearthly howls and legends aplenty. Missing are the physical clues, the substantive evidence that might peak the curiosity of Gil Grissom and his CSI colleagues. Primatologist John Napier, author of The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality, claims Yeti evidence to be circumstantial. “…there is little uniformity of pattern,” he states, “and what uniformity there is incriminates the bear.”

Perhaps it’s our deep desire to cling to the mystical magic of youth, which enables us to see what surely cannot be. Whether it is the Yeti, Nessie, or dinos in the Congo, the evidence always, rightfully, favors the skeptic.

If such creatures do exist, they are to be found in remote wilderness. Our ocean depths are reluctant to reveal their secrets, but surely harbor the majority of what remains to be discovered. While our jungles and isolable realms still reveal a few surprises, they tend to come in smaller packages: frogs, insects, fish. The Yeti, you see, is just too damn big!


And yet, there’s just enough doubt to make me want to believe…

In 2001, a local Yeti-hunter and guide (yes, there are such things) led investigators into the Bhutan forests, where they took hair samples from a cedar tree hollow. Scientists at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford, England, were able to extract DNA samples.

“It’s not a human, it’s not a bear, nor anything else that we’ve so far been able to identify,” said Bryan Sykes, a professor of human genetics. “We don’t know what it is,” he confessed.

The remote Everest region warrants further investigation, if only because eye-witness accounts go back thousands of years.

The Yeti has long been worshipped in Tibet and Nepal, in scrolls, relief and annual festival. Alexander the Great wanted one until locals explained that the creature could not breathe properly at lower altitudes.

Pliny the Elder, in 79AD, wrote of the Land of the Satyrs where lived things able to run on two or four legs. They had “human-like bodies and because of the swiftness can only be caught when they are ill or old.”

In modern times, many renowned explorers share stories of the Yeti. The title of Abominable Snowman was coined in 1921 and resulted in a Royal Geographical Society expedition to find the animal. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reported large footprints while scaling Mount Everest in 1953 – hardly the location for a hoax. Many Sherpas claim to have seen the beast, typically during the winter or summer months when herds are taken to pasture, and Sherpas, you would expect, could spot the difference between a bear and a Yeti.

So, for now, I continue to cringe when tracks in the snow suggest the wily Yeti still roams unseen. I’ll be the first to say I told you so whenever science disproves these wild, outrageous claims. Or I’ll be the first to nod and say I knew it along, should one day someone prove my childhood convictions right and produce a Yeti in the flesh.

Until that day, I’ll go on doubting. In public, anyway.


Anonymous said...

First of all, dude... who tapes anything anymore. Time to jump into 2008 and break out the DVR or TiVo. And second of all maybe the Earth is still bigger than we think it is or maybe we just think we know everything. I would guess there are still fishies deep in the sea that we don't know about or tribes living peacefully in the Amazon that we don't know about, and a cure for Cancer that we don't know about.

I think it's good to go through life with a healthy skepticism. Maybe the Yeti is shy or smarter than us or the 13" footprints belonged to Shaquille O'Neill who had been running through the mountains in his off season at a secret celebrity rehab hopped up on Vicodin, Speed, and Red Bull. Hmmm?

Don't you think maybe anything is possible and we are just all in the wrong pay grade? Anyway, I'd rather go through life thinking those mysteries are still out there. Let's face it, some of us are Mulders and others settle for being Scullys.

gilbavel said...

According to the book you cite in your blog, "Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality", John Napier says something along the lines of, "Sasquatch, probably, Yeti, No". He goes on to say that "The Yeti of the Himalayas has little going for it. Eyewitness accounts are quite valueless as primary data. Sherpa reports are suspect because Sherpas do not distinguish between the 'reality' of the real world and the 'reality' of their myth-ridden religious beliefs.

"So-called Yeti footprints, thou useless in proving the existence of a Himalayan Bigfoot, do at least offer some hints of the origins of the folktale. Unlike the Sasquatch, there is little uniformity of pattern, and what uniformity there is incriminates the bear".

Napier continues, "I am convinced that the Sasquatch exists, but whether it is all that it is cracked up to be is another matter altogether. There must be something [emphasis his] in north-west America that needs explaining, and that something leaves man-like footprints. The evidence I have adduced in favour of the reality of the Sasquatch is not hard evidence; few physicists, biologists or chemists should accept it, but nevertheless it is evidence and cannot be ignored."

Napier is indeed the foremost authority on the topic of Sasquatch vs. Yeti. The aforementioned book is probably the finest volume any student or researcher could posses, and in my opinion no respectable enthusiast could admit to having a working knowledge of the subject without having read it at least once.

As for Destination Truth: It's a good show; I like it and find it both entertaining and operating somewhat near the use of scientific method--however--if they had truly come upon some Earth-shattering evidence, they would not have been able to wait to process it into their show.
They would have had to bring their findings to the scientific community and share it with the world if only to skyrocket the ratings of the episode in which they did so.

While the destination may be truth, the journey is still on, and the jury is still out.

--Gil Bavel

AJ Lavender said...

Gil, thanks for the feedback. Napier's book is excellent, a thoroughly comprehensive and well-researched work. I agree that it is truly essential reading for anyone interesting in either Sasquatch or Yeti.

I also agree that Destination would most certainly not have waited to reveal any truly startling revelations unearthed during filming. The old adage, there's no such thing as bad publicity, certainly holds true for the series.

Thanks again!