At 27,838 feet high, Mount Makalu in the Himalayas is the world’s fifth tallest mountain. And with its steep inclines and precarious ridges, it is among the most dangerous peaks for climbers to tackle. However, that didn’t stop a team from the Indian Army setting off on an expedition in 2019.
The team of 18 had planned their ascent of Mount Makalu meticulously. They trained for six months prior to the expedition and confirmed they would establish six camps as they made their way up the mountain. With that in mind, they’d know exactly what lay before them when they set off on their trek.
But the Indian Army’s careful planning couldn’t account for all the eventualities that Mount Malaku would throw at them. So when the soldiers stumbled across a set of gigantic footprints, they stopped in their tracks. And they became convinced that a mythical beast had left the marks.
The Yeti – or Abominable Snowman, depending which name you prefer – is a mythical creature that allegedly lives in the Himalayan mountains. It supposedly walks on two legs, is ape-like in appearance with reddish-brown or gray fur. In addition, it’s taller than the average person, standing somewhere around six feet in height.
Stories of the Yeti have existed in Himalayan folklore for thousands of years. In fact, when Alexander the Great invaded the Indus Valley in South Asia around 326 B.C., he reportedly ordered that the local people show him one. They said, however, that they were unable to complete his request. According to the locals, the fabled creature could only survive at higher altitudes.
According to Himalayan mythology, the Yeti is a creature to fear. In traditional stories, the animal tends to be associated with danger. With that in mind, tales of the Yeti help to teach the local Sherpa community about the risks involved when approaching threatening animals.
Talking to the BBC in 2015, writer Shiva Dhakal explained, “Perhaps, folktales of Yeti were used as a warning so that kids wouldn’t wander far away and would be always close and safe within their community.” He added, “Some say that [the] Yeti is just a fear that has been built inside the head of mountainous people to make them stronger and more fearless.”
So, stories about the Yeti may have been created to keep rural Himalayan communities safe. The creature’s fearsome reputation, however, later spread beyond its Sherpa origins. During the 1800s, tales of the mythical beast began to infiltrate Western culture. And in general, it has since been largely depicted as sharp-toothed, shaggy-furred giant, with an intimidating nature.
With that in mind, stories of the Yeti became even more sensational when Westerners began traveling to the Himalayas in the early 20th century. During an expedition to the region in 1921, Charles Howard-Bury, a British politician, noticed some giant footprints in the snow. He was then told by his guides that they belonged to the “metoh-kangmi.”
When Howard-Bury and his fellow explorers relayed this story to journalist Henry Newman, he correctly translated “kangmi” as snowman. However, he mistakenly believed “metoh” meant filthy. Using his imagination, Newman made up his own nickname for the creature supposedly responsible for the footprints. And as a result, the legend of the abominable snowman was born.
Since then, there have been numerous reported sightings of the Yeti. One such encounter, which apparently occurred in 1943, is outlined by Myra Shackley in her 1983 book Still Living?: Yeti, Sasquatch and the Neanderthal Enigma. In it she describes how some hikers spotted two figures “not much less than eight feet” in height.
Shackley’s account of what the hikers saw continues, “the heads were described as ‘squarish.’ And the ears must lie close to the skull because there was no projection from the silhouette against the snow.” The shoulders sloped sharply down to a powerful chest covered by reddish-brown hair which formed a close body fur mixed with long straight hairs hanging downward.”
By the middle of the 20th century, interest in the Yeti was higher than ever before. So much so that even film stars were trying to get a piece of the action. Hollywood great James Stewart apparently owned an alleged Yeti finger, which he kept in his baggage. However, in 2011, years after his death, DNA testing confirmed the appendage was that of a human.
Thanks to advances in technology, other hair samples, bone fragments and skulls deemed Yeti-like in their appearance have been matched to less elusive creatures, including bears and monkeys. However, eyewitness accounts of the mythical beasts have persisted over the years. And some people have even captured film footage and photographs appearing to show the creature at large.
Despite all the stories surrounding the Yeti, the existence of the creature is yet to be proven. But that hasn’t prevented some people from going in search of the mythical beast in the hope of confirming its presence in the Himalayan mountains. So, when a fresh sighting was reported in the area in April 2019, it caused a stir online.
It all began when a group from the Indian Army’s mountaineering team embarked on an expedition in March 2019. They intended to climb Mount Makalu, which is the world’s fifth tallest mountain, with an elevation of 27,838 feet. The mountain itself shaped a bit like a pyramid. And its four sides rise upwards to form its distinctive “Big Black” peak, from which the mountain gets its name.
Located 14 miles from Mount Everest and located in the Himalayan region of Mahalangur, Makalu straddles Tibet and Nepal. The area surrounding the peak is a designated National Park and Conservation Area. As a result, this protected area spans 580 square miles and contains ecosystems ranging from alpine tundra to tropical rainforests.
With that in mind, Mount Makalu and its surrounding area is home to an array of wildlife. Among the animals that inhabit the area are nearly 90 mammal species and more than 440 different kinds of bird. These include the snow leopard, red panda and the Asian golden cat. The latter is categorized as “Near Threatened” on the Red List of Threatened Species published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However, as of April 2019, the Yeti was yet to be confirmed as a resident of the mountain.
Mount Makalu is, as you might imagine, notoriously difficult to summit. This is down to the mountain’s challenging steep inclines and dangerously sharp ridges that leave climbers entirely exposed to the elements. What’s more, the final part of the ascent to Makalu’s peak requires some expertise in ice or rock climbing.
The first of ascent of Mount Makalu occurred in 1955, when Frenchmen Jean Couzy and Lionel Terray became the first climbers to reach the mountain’s summit. Along with their team, the mountaineers traversed the peak’s north face. In doing so, they established the typical route that climbers still use today.
Since then, a number of people have followed in Couzy and Terray’s groundbreaking footsteps by reaching the peak of Mount Makalu. Not all the expeditions, however, have gone according to plan. Indeed, in 2006, French climber Jean-Christophe Lafaille disappeared on the mountain while attempting to complete its first winter ascent.
On the morning of January 27, 2006, Lafaille set off from his camp at an altitude of 24,900 feet. From there, he intended to climb the remaining 3,000 feet to Makalu’s summit. The 40-year-old had purposely embarked on his expedition without a team. So he must have cut a solitary figure as he set off in winds gusting at 30-miles per hour and temperatures lower than -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prior to venturing out, Lafaille had placed a call is wife, Katia, back home in France. He informed her that he would call back in three hours, once he’d reached the French Couloir gully. However, Katia never heard from her husband again and no trace of the mountaineer has ever been found. Indeed, theories about his disappearance range from being caught in an avalanche to getting swept away in high winds.
When the Indian Army announced its expedition to Mount Makalu in March 2019, it marked a step into the unknown for the soldiers. No Indian military unit had ever ascended the mountain before. However, the army had set its sights on conquering all 14 of the so-called eight-thousanders. That is, mountains that reach over 8,000 meters, or 26,247 feet, in height.
The team tasked with tackling Mount Makalu consisted of 18 people from different ranks. Among them, two Junior Commissioned Officers and five Officers took on the huge task. And according to a press release issued by the Indian Army in March 2019, the expedition was designed to “test the climbers for technical acumen, mental and physical courage and their determination to reach [the] top [of] Mt. Makalu.”
Consequently, the Indian Army team trained for six long months ahead of their expedition, which was due to get underway between March and May of 2019. They would set off from New Delhi and establish half a dozen camps as they made their way towards the summit of Mount Mukalu.
As a result, it appeared that the expedition team had their ascent of Mount Makalu all worked out. As they scaled the mountain, however, the unit made a surprise discovery. Because during their hike to the summit, the climbers came across what they believed to be a Yeti’s footprint.
The Indian Army’s discovery went public in the form of a tweet from their Twitter account in April 2019. Seemingly excited by the finding, the post proudly announced, “For the first time, an #IndianArmy Mountaineering Expedition Team has cited Mysterious Footprints of mythical beast ‘Yeti.’”
The Indian Army tweet went on to describe the suspected Yeti footprints, revealing that they measured “32 inches x 15 inches.” In addition, the post revealed that they were found “close to Makalu Base Camp on April 9, 2019.” The announcement pointed out that the prints were the first physical evidence of the Yeti found in the area. It stated, “This elusive snowman has only been sighted at Makalu-Barun National Park in the past.”
Alongside the statement, the Indian Army shared four images on Twitter. Among them, a group shot of the Mount Makalu expedition team. There were also three different photographs apparently showing the footprints the tweet was referring to. And they have since recieved almost 15,000 retweets.
Given the exposure that the Indian Army’s announcement received, #Yeti soon became one of India’s trending subjects. However, not everyone shared the organization’s opinion that the footprints belonged to the mythical being in question. The tweet, in fact, solicited a stream of bewildered responses from the wider Twitter community.
One such response came from writer Siddharth Singh. Posting some pictures that showed people walking through a frozen landscape wearing large snowshoes, he asked, “Can there possibly be a simpler explanation?” And he wasn’t the only person struggling to understand the Indian Army’s take on the footprints.
Questioning the legitimacy of the Indian Army’s Yeti claims, another user wrote, “[The footprints] must be vetted thoroughly before the decision to declare something as ridiculous as this is made.” Meanwhile, another person suggested the prints could belong a very different fictional creature. In fact, they suggested that a Game of Thrones giant might have made them.
Kushal Prajapati – whose Twitter bio describes him as a scientist – took to the social media site with scathing attack on the Indian Army. “Institutions such as yours should be more responsible and careful before going ahead and declaring the sighting of any footprints as [belonging to] ‘Yetis,’” he wrote.
The frosty reaction to the Indian Army’s announcement could be down to one particular thing. And that’s the fact that there is practically no scientific evidence to suggest that the Yeti exists. And most DNA tests carried out on samples alleged to have come from the mythical Himalayan beast have been matched to other creatures, including dogs and bears.
Mountain climber Reinhold Messner is perhaps one of the world’s most famous Yeti-hunters. The Italian explorer once encountered a large Yeti-like creature on an expedition to the Himalayas during the 1980s. And he has since returned to the region on dozens of occasions in an attempt to unravel the mystery.
But try as Messner might, he has never been able to confirm the Yeti’s existence. And he has since came to the conclusion that the creature he spotted all those years ago was most likely a very specific kind of bear. “All the Yeti footprints are all the same bear,” the climber told the BBC in 2015. “The Yeti isn’t a fantastic figure. [It] is reality.”
Despite scientific evidence to the contrary and the ridicule its tweet received, the Indian Army stood by its theory. A representative stated that they had waited ten days before posting the “photographic evidence” of the Yeti prints. But they chose to share the images with the world after deciding they matched with previous theories surrounding the creature’s existence.
In a statement obtained by The Times of India newspaper in April 2019, an Army spokesperson said, “We thought it prudent [to go public] to excite scientific [minds] and rekindle interest [in the beast].” Admittedly, this “evidence” doesn’t prove the existence of the Yeti. But the Army’s tweet certainly got the public talking about the fabled creature once more.
So for as long as we revel in myths and legends, it seems likely that the Yeti will be present in our imaginations. And the stories of the beast will probably persist even if science disproves its existence once and for all. As Ross Barnett from the University of Copenhagen pointed out to the BBC, “The fact there has never been any evidence hasn’t stopped people from searching.”