My search for the yeti started nearly forty years ago as a very young boy watching documentaries like “In Search Of” about hairy hominoids around the world. Never in my wildest imagination, even after I started doing my bigfoot research, did I expect to have the opportunity to travel to the Himalayas in search of the yeti for myself. Yet that opportunity did arise, thanks to my position on Finding Bigfoot.
In September, 2013 the crew and I traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal to start our investigations. Kathmandu is a busy, crowded city, overrun with swarms of scooters and merchants hocking their wares. The city’s population more than doubled over the first decade of the new century, and its infrastructure is struggling to keep up. Yet in the old market area, Kathmandu’s ancient charm persists.
It is fitting that the Nepal episode starts with footage of veteran researchers Peter Byrne. Peter, who is now retired and living on the Oregon Coast, was the first field researcher gathering evidence of the yeti back in the 1950’s. He was sponsored by Texas oil millionnaire, Tom Slick, who later died in a plane crash after going on to sponsor the Pacific Northwest Expedition in the Bluff Creek area in search of bigfoots. Loren Coleman has written two excellent books covering Tom Slick and his involvement in early efforts to prove hairy hominoids exist. One book is a biography of Slick himself, while the other focuses more on the Himalayan expeditions. Both are must-reads for any yeti enthusiast.
One of our stops in Kathmandu was a famous restaurant and bar called the Rum Doodle. This establishment is the traditional spot where expeditions to Mount Everest start and end. When “trekkers” (what they call hikers and mountaineers) come to the Rum Doodle, they are given a cut-out of a yeti foot to sign, which they later hang on the walls, ceilings, and any other available open space for all to see. The Finding Bigfoot crew signed one and it is placed among the others, so if you ever make it there, I’d love to see a photograph of it!
Also on our list of places to visit in Kathmandu was the Monkey Temple, dedicated to the Hindu god, Hanuman. Monkeys have the run of the place, and beg for food in the same plazas where ascetics beg for coins. The smell of incense permeates the air, and the sounds of vendors calling out us was incessant. Still, I can see how this would be a tranquil place for meditation, if it weren’t for all the people!
When I found out that we would be visiting the Pangboche Monastery, I was thrilled. For the undoctrinated, the Pangboche Monastery houses two holy relics that are said to be actual body parts of a yeti. The origins of the body parts are a bit clouded by myth and legend, but they seem to have come to the monastery around 400 years ago. It is said that Lama Sawang Duchi lived and meditated in a cave nearby Pangboche. A yeti befriended him, and even reportedly served him for a time before the yeti died. After the yeti’s death, Lama Sawang Duchi took the creature’s hand and scalp to Pangboche and founded the monastery where the relics have remained ever since.
Adding to the novelty of the Pangboche yeti relics is the role played by Peter Byrne and actor Jimmy Sterwart. In 1959 Peter Byrne visited the monastery to examine the relics. Somehow (and I have heard more than one version of how this was done) Byrne managed to switch out part of the hand (a finger bone) with a human bone. He later got the alleged yeti bone to actor Jimmy Stewart and his wife, Gloria, both friends of Tom Slick, who happened to be visiting Calcutta, India at the time. Gloria put the bone in her luggage with her lingerie (where no customs officer at the time would ever dream of looking), and brought the bone back to England. It was then given to Professor Osman Hill who, after a close examination, concluded that it was not of human origin. However, later DNA testing by Dr. Rob Ogden in 2011 stated that the DNA sequence was a “very strong match to a number of existing human sequences from China and that region of Asia.”
Hair from the yeti scalp was also tested, though much earlier than the DNA testing on the hand fragment. The tests seemed to indicate that it was a fabrication, probably made from parts of a local ungulate called a serow. This solidly reinforces earlier claims that the scalp was made in imitation of a real yeti scalp.
Much of the above, no matter how interesting, matters little at this point. In 1993, the two relics were stolen from the Pangboche Monastery, probably by some trekker making his or her way through the high altitudes. It is suspected that these artifacts were sold on the black market and probably reside in some wealthy person’s collection. However, in 2010 Weta Workshop (the company that did the special effects and artifacts for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series) made replicas of the hand and scalp. The following year Mike Allsop returned the replicas to the monastery. These are what we saw and filmed during our visit to the monastery.
This gift of the hand replicas to the Pangboche monastery is very important. Not only were ancient treasures stolen from a holy place, but it robbed the monastery of one of its only sources of income. Monks would show the relics to trekkers for the price of a few dollars. One might think that this couldn’t add up to much money, and they would be be correct. However, those few dollars were very important to the monastery, the monks who live there, and the entire community they serve. Now that the replicas were gifted to the monastery, this small trickle of income has been reestablished for the Pangboche community. Thank you to Weta Workshops for producing the replicas free of charge for the people of Pangboche.
Our first night investigation focused on the area below Pangom village in the Arun Valley. While no yetis were heard, we learned a few important things. First, there was a population of small deer in the area (probably the Himalayan musk deer, or Moschus leucogaster). If yetis are like the North American bigfoot, then they should prey upon such animals. Secondly, we heard Sherpas who happened to be hiking nearby answer our calls. This could be problematic, as I saw in Vietnam, where local people called out with bigfoot-like vocalizations to find each other. The local yetis might not respond to our calls if this was true. At this point, we weren’t even sure that yetis vocalized at all, but with the Sherpas answering, it muddied the waters even more.
The town hall meeting was full of interesting stories of yeti encounters, some of which were quite recent. However, most of the excitement centered around Bobo vomiting. He had been sick for a couple days at that point, and it just became too much for him. He had apparently eaten something at the Kathmandu airport (where we were stranded for two days waiting for the weather to clear so we could access the high country) that didn’t agree with is iron constitution. Luckily, we had a beautiful doctor with us who was specially trained in high-mountain medicine. Obviously, having a specially-trained doctor would be useful, but the fact that she was beautiful helped quite a bit. Bobo can be pretty stubborn when it comes to seeing a doctor, and the fact that she was pretty took the fire out of Bobo’s resistance to receiving medical attention.
My meeting with Parsang Namgel Lama was very important to our team. He was walking at dusk back in about 1981 when he saw a yeti at about 150 yards distance. It was dark brown or black in color, covered with a coat of short hair, and stood about six feet tall. After noticing him, the yeti let out a long vocalization that ended in a low growl. At that, the witness turned around and fled. This sighting verified for us that yetis do in fact vocalize (this has been previously noted in the literature), but most importantly, I got to hear someone actually imitate the noise (which cannot be adequately conveyed in writing, no matter how good the author). The noise was remarkably similar to the sounds often made by sasquatches in North America. That was good news for us. Perhaps yetis are not that different from their North American cousins after all.
Parsang Namgel Lama told me about another witness that heard a yeti vocalize. I thought it would be important to verify the sounds with this second witness, so I went off to meet with him. The man’s name was Ang Chring Sherpa, and about 30 years ago, he heard what he is positive was a yeti. The sounds were nearly identical to those shared with us by Parsang Namgel Lama, but he didn’t mention the low growl at the end of the howl. He heard it two or three times during the same week, and the sounds were loud enough to wake him up. He told me that he had never heard that sound before then nor since, he claims to know what all the animals in the jungle sound like. This information was enough for me to verify that those were the sounds that we needed to make to attract a yeti to us.
Matt, Ranae, and I met with another witness who had a close encounter with a yeti while returning from market just a few years ago. His name is Noori Sherpa, though he was incorrectly named Ngawang Dawa Sherpa in the episode. Around sunset, Noori Sherpa was walking back to his village from market after bartering his crops (the recreation shows him carrying potatoes, but he had exchanged these for millet at the market). While walking downhill towards his village, he turned a corner in the trail to come nearly face to face with a yeti walking the trail uphill in his direction. It was only 50 feet away (also incorrectly noted as 15 feet in the episode). Noori Sherpa was so overcome with fear that he immediately dropped his basket of millet and ran in the opposite direction. (The yeti also ran away.) He didn’t return until the next day to gather the food he dropped, and only did so when accompanied by friends.
Our second night investigation was without Bobo since he was out in the wilds on a solo expedition. Ranae and I tried to make our way as high as possible towards the lowest saddle leading out of the valley, while Matt explored some offshoot trails below us. Our efforts were largely thwarted by rain, but we got off a few calls in the brief breaks between downpours. At one point, I saw something in the thermal imager, but I assume that it was a bird perching in the tree tops because it seemed to be about owl-sized. I moved around a bit to try to get a better perspective on it, but I lost sight of it and never verified what it was.
The last night investigation was a pretty cool experience, but there was some intense drama that happened behind the scenes. In North America, we have found that bigfoots seem to show curiosity towards new sounds and sights. Hoping this might also be true for yetis, we invited monks from the local monastery to chant and play music in the woods. While filming this scene, two men from a nearby village came and told us we couldn’t be there. The monks told the men that they invited us there (the villages are kind of governed by the monasteries associated with them, as is the surrounding land), and that we had every right to be there. The men disagreed and started arguing with the monks. Through a translator, we found out that the men were blaming Bobo and Chad (the producer who filmed Bobo’s solo adventure) for the torrential rain storm the night before which caused a landslide, stopping the two men from returning to their village. Apparently, Bobo and Chad had angered the gods by camping nearby, and the gods showed their anger. Bobo was pretty happy that he was responsible for a landslide, claiming that this elevated him to the status of a minor diety.
The men and the monks continued to argue until the men showed the monks their fighting knives and homemade pistols. That was our queue to leave. We held the rest of the night investigation a mile or so back towards the Pangom village.
After restarting the night investigation, the two teams headed in opposite directions. Matt and I started howling a bit trying to get a response from a yeti, but instead we received yells and taunts consisting of Sherpa swear words from the lake below where the men had apparently stayed to make sure we wouldn’t return. Soon thereafter, the men started shooting their pistols into the woods in our directions. Again, we decided to bug out and move on to less fatal pastures.
Not much really happened during the last night investigation either, though Matt did hear something that he thought was following us. I never heard it, and we never figured out what it was. Despite my not hearing or seeing a yeti (though Bobo says he heard one, as well as found a possible yeti track that wasn’t well documented) the expedition to Nepal was simply amazing. The terrain was the most formidable that we have yet encountered, both in size and topography. It’s of little wonder to me why the yeti is still “undiscovered” by Westerners. The local people do see yetis and know they are there, but why would they care about what Westerners think? The local people are too busy simply surviving to care about the scientific discovery of an unknown ape species. I find this to be true in other parts of Asia as well, whether it’s Sumatra, Vietnam, or wherever. Hopefully more expeditions will try to uncover evidence of the yeti, and eventually the species will be academically accepted.