Tales of hairy monsters existing in the Asian wilderness can be found in the writings of several venerable Chinese scholars who linked these creatures to the "time of the dragon," the presumed genesis of Asian civilization. Despite an occasional report by a European visitor to the region, the apelike creatures did not receive any sort of widespread notoriety until the beginning of the twentieth century.
During an expedition into the Himalayas in 1906, botanist H. J. Elwes was astonished to glimpse a hairy figure racing across a field of snow below him. The scientific establishment dismissed his report until several scholars discovered the journals of Major Lawrence Waddell, who, during his 1887 expedition, reported having found humanlike tracks in the snow.
The First Everest Expedition was launched in 1921, led by Colonel C. K. Howard-Bury. The climbing party of six British men and 26 native porters was crawling slowly up the north face of Everest, near the Lhakpa La Pass, when Howard-Bury spotted tracks in the morning snow. Most of them were easily recognizable as those of rabbits or foxes, but one set of indentations was peculiar, appearing as if a man walking barefoot had made them. A Sherpa guide identified the tracks as belonging to the Yeti or the "mehteh kangmi," the man-beast of the mountains who lived in the snow.
Later, when Howard-Bury telegraphed his reports to Calcutta, he mentioned the incident briefly. Unfortunately, the telegraphic facilities were very primitive and the words "mehteh kangmi" were garbled into "metch kangmi." The expedition's assistants in Calcutta were confused by the term and asked a Calcutta newspaper columnist to translate the term. The columnist told them that "metch" was a term of extreme disgust, so it might be translated as the "horrible snowman" or the "abominable snowman."
A reporter for one of England's most sensational newspapers was in the office when the telegram was translated. He raced for the cable office in Calcutta, wiring his paper that the First Everest Expedition had encountered a frightening creature known as the "abominable snowman." Thus the hairy wild men of the Himalayas were named in error and the term has persisted to this day. When Howard-Bury and his unsuccessful mountain climbers admitted defeat on Mt. Everest, they returned to civilization and discovered that newspaper reporters were eager for more information about the abominable snowmen.
In the 1930s scientists studied the reports of explorer Frank Smythe's discovery of Yeti tracks in the snow at 14,000 feet. The footprints measured 13 inches in length and were five inches wide. Famed mountaineer Eric E. Shipton claimed that he saw similar tracks on his expedition to Everest in 1936.
World War II (1939–45) stopped mountaineering and scientific exploration of the formidable Himalayas, but in 1942, Slavomir Rawicz and four other men escaped from a Communist prison camp in Siberia and struck out on a "long walk" toward India. They reported meeting two Yeti during their incredible journey.
Sightings of Yeti mushroomed in the 1950s as several scientists seriously investigated the snowmen. In 1950, natives reported Yeti in three different locations, including a sighting by a large group of monks near Thyangboche. A Yeti also ventured out of the forest and hung around the Thyangboche Monastery until it was finally chased away by monks who blew bugles, struck gongs, and shrieked at it. The following year, Eric Shipton discovered tracks and photographed them while on his way to Everest with an expedition.
In 1952, Sir Edmund Hillary and George Lowe found "snowman" hair in a high mountain pass, and tracks were reported by a Swiss expedition. In 1954, an expedition financed by the London Daily Mail set out to capture a Yeti. They found tracks in several different locations, but returned without their prize. Three other scientific groups also reported finding tracks.
In 1957, the first expedition sponsored by the American millionaire Tom Slick found hair and footprints at several locations. Two porters said Yeti had been sighted in those regions earlier that year. Peter and Bryan Bryne said they had seen a snowman when the Slick Expedition was in the Arun Valley. In 1958, Gerald Russell and two porters with the Second Slick Expedition encountered a small snowman near a river, and in the following year, tracks were reported by the Third Slick Expedition, as well as by members of a Japanese expedition.
Sir Edmund Hillary, the man who conquered Mt. Everest, created a sensation when he returned with the alleged scalp of a Yeti. Hillary later proved that the so-called scalp was actually goat skin, and he declared that snowman tracks were made by foxes, bears, and other animals that became enlarged when the snow is melted by the sun.
In August 1981, Soviet mountain climber Igor Tatsl told the Moscow News Weekly that he and his fellow climbers had seen a Yeti and that they had attempted a friendly, spontaneous contact with the creature. Tatsl went on to state that his team had made a plaster cast of an imprint of a Yeti's footprint that they had found on a tributary of the Varzog River. This particular river rushes through the Gissar Mountains in the Pamiro-Alai range of Tadzhik in Central Asia. In Tatsl's considered opinion the Yeti may quite likely be humankind's closest evolutionary relative. He further believed that their senses were more highly developed than those of the human species.
Russian scientists have sponsored serious efforts to track down the Yeti for more than a quarter of a century. Although each Russian province may have its own name for the mysterious giants of the mountain—in Dagestan, "kaptar"; in Azerbaijan, "mesheadam"; in Georgia, "tkys-katsi"; while the Chechens, Ingushes, Kabardins, and Balkars call it the "almasti"—each startled eyewitness seems to describe the same strange beast.
The Chinese call the snowman "yeren," and in 1977, 1980, and 1982, expeditions searching for the manbeast set out to track down their quarry in the Shennongjia Forest Park in western Hubei province. In September 1993, a group of Chinese engineers claimed to have seen three yeren walking on trails in the Shennongjia Forest Park.
In October 1994, the Chinese government established the Committee for the Search of Strange and Rare Creatures, including among its members specialists in vertebrate paleontology and palaeanthropology. A loose consensus among interested members from the Chinese Academy of Sciences maintains that the yeren are some species of unknown primates. The largest cast of an alleged wildman footprint is 16 inches long, encouraging estimates that the yeren itself would stand more than seven feet tall and weigh as much as 660 pounds. The scientific committee has also studied and examined eight hair specimens said to have come from yeren ranging through China and Tibet. The analyses of the hairs, varying in color from the black collected in Yunnan province and the white collected in Tibet to the reddish brown from Hubei, indicate a nonhuman source, but no known animal.
In April 1995, a yeren expedition of 30 members led by Professor Yuan Zhengxin set out for the Hubei mountains. Although the enthusiastic Professor Zhengxin expressed confidence that the well-equipped group would capture a yeren within three years, by July most of the expedition members had returned to Beijing with little more than some possible hair samples to show for their three-month safari.
In January 1999, Feng Zuoguian, a zoologist for the Chinese Academy of Sciences, announced through the state-run China Daily newspaper that China was officially proclaiming its firm opposition to any outsiders who attempted to organize expeditions to capture the Yeti or the yeren. According to the official proclamation, after much debate in December 1998 the members of the Chinese scientific community had decreed once and for all that the creatures do not exist.
However, in spite of the official pronouncement from the Chinese Academy of Sciences that neither the Yeti nor the yeren exist, anthropologist Zhou Guoxing reminded his colleagues that unidentifiable hair specimens and 16-inch casts of footprints had been found during scientific expeditions to the Shennongjia region. In his opinion, even if 95 percent of the reports on the existence of the wild man are not credible, it remains necessary for scientists to study the remaining five percent.
In April 2001, British scientists on the trail of the Yeti announced the best evidence yet for the existence of the mysterious creature of the Himalayas—a sample of hair that proved impossible to classify genetically. Dr. Rob McCall, a zoologist, removed strands of the Yeti hair from the hollow of a tree and brought them back to Britain to be analyzed. Dr. Bryan Sykes, Professor of Human Genetics at the Oxford Institute of Molecular Medicine, one of the world's leading authorities on DNA analysis, stated that they could not identify the DNA that they had discovered in the hair and that they had never before encountered DNA that they couldn't recognize.