What Do We Know About the Yeti?

Illustrated by Manuel Gutierrez
The What Do We Know About? series explores the mysterious, the unknown, and the unexplained. Does the ape-like Yeti really roam the Himalayan mountain range?

Not quite human and not quite an animal, the Yeti has been the subject of speculation for centuries. In modern times, the Yeti has become a popular cryptid, appearing in movies, books, and TV shows. Although there are many claimed sightings of the Yeti, there is no real evidence that it exists. This elusive cryptid, also known as the Abominable Snowman, remains a mystery. Does the Yeti truly live in the snowy Himalayas? Have the Sherpa who live there spotted him at the highest altitudes? Here are the facts about what we really know about Yeti sightings, research, and lore.
What Do We Know About the Yeti?
 
At around 4 a.m. on September 22, 1921, explorers found mysterious footprints near the world’s highest mountain. By the light of a bright moon, the tracks were large, and led up a snowy pass ahead. The team was high in the Himalayan mountains, close to 21,000 feet above sea level. Few animals were known to live at this altitude (height)—especially ones with such big feet!
The climbers wondered if the tracks had been made by a gray wolf.

The explorers were part of a British expedition to find a way up Mount Everest. At 29,032 feet above sea level, Mount Everest has the highest peak on Earth. It is a dangerous place. The mountain is made up of dizzying slopes of rock and ice, where temperatures can drop to minus seventy-six degrees and winds gust at over 100 miles per hour. That’s like the South Pole in winter. No one had yet found a way to the top of Everest. However, the mountaineers in 1921 believed they had discovered a new route. It was a snowy pass called Lhagba La that was located along the southern border of Tibet. This was a remote place that few people knew existed.

It made the discovery of the footprints even more curious. But the British team had no animal experts. They wondered what creature could exist in a place that was so cold and isolated.

Not everyone was puzzled by the footprints, however. Sherpas, expert climbers in Tibet and Nepal, were working as the expedition’s guides and support team. They were skilled mountaineers who knew the area well. The team’s Sherpas explained that the footprints belonged to a type of creature few had heard of outside the Himalayan mountain range. This creature lived in the mountains, walked on two legs like a human, and had long, matted  hair.

When the team descended from the mountains, the Sherpas spoke to British journalist Henry Newman about the creature. Newman said that they called it Metoh-kangmi (say: MI-toe KANG-me), which means “humanlike bear of the snow.” However, Newman decided to call it the “Abominable Snowman” (abominable means something unpleasant or horrifying). This was the moment that the legend of the Abominable Snowman was born. When British newspapers reported on the footprints, the story became highly exaggerated. One article in the Times of London had the headline “Tibetan Tales of Hairy Murderers.”

But the climbing Sherpas had not described the creature as “abominable,” or a “murderer.” To them, it was simply a wild mountain creature that everyone in the Himalayas knew about. For people outside the region, what was now being called the Abominable Snowman was a brand--new discovery, even though there was very little proof that it actually existed. The only evidence was the Sherpas’ stories and some large footprints in the snow.

Was it real? Explorers would spend more than one hundred years trying to uncover the truth. Many have searched far and wide to find the mysterious creature we know today as the Yeti.
 
Chapter 1
The Local Yeti
 
After the 1921 newspaper reports, the Abominable Snowman developed a reputation as a savage, murderous monster with superhuman strength. It has held this reputation ever since. After all, it was right there in the name: “abominable,” a word often used to mean brutal and beastly. But the people living in and near the Himalayas had a very different view. Their Yeti was certainly real, but not necessarily a violent people--killer.

The Himalayan mountains stretch for around 1,550 miles through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, and Myanmar. Nepal and Tibet are the places most associated with the Yeti. The Himalayas contain ten of the world’s fourteen highest mountains! At altitudes above 16,000 feet, the tops of the mountains are covered in snow and ice year--round. This freezing environment is difficult to survive. Only a few animals, such as snow leopards, brown bears, and yaks, can live at such heights.

Below the snow line (the altitude above which snow is on the ground for most, if not all, of the year), the Himalayan landscape changes. On the lower mountains and valley floors there are forests, shrublands, grasslands, and alpine meadows. The wildlife here includes monkeys, red pandas, goat antelopes, deer, bears, and even elephants in some parts of Nepal.

It is among Nepalese Sherpas that the word Yeh--teh (say: YEH-tay) first appeared. This is where the modern word “Yeti” comes from. Yeh--teh roughly means “cliff-dwelling bear,” although there are two types of Yeh--teh. The first one is known as Dzu-teh (say: ZOO-tay), or “livestock bear.” It walks on four legs, preys on goats, cattle, and yaks, and looks like a Himalayan brown bear.

The second type of Yeh--teh goes by the name Meh--teh (say: MEH--tay), or “human--bear.” It is apelike in appearance and can be more than eight feet tall. It has long arms, a powerful chest, a conical head, and brown or reddish hair covering its body. It has a hairless face and flat nose, and can move on two or four legs. However, it commonly walks like a human. Its feet have five toes, including one round big toe.

In some parts of Nepal, this Yeti is also called Nyalmo (say: NI-alm-o), Dremo (say: TAY- moo), and Chemo (say: KEM-o). In central Tibet it is sometimes called Migoi (say: ME-goy). In China the Yeti is known as the Yeren (say: YEAH-rin). These are just a few of the names used for the upright--walking type of Yeti. Different Himalayan countries have their own names for it.

People in the Himalayas believe the Yetis live in forests below the snow line. During the coldest months of winter, Yetis are thought to move to lower altitudes and close to human settlements. They steal food from these settlements and also eat mosses, frogs, and mouse hares (also called pika). Yetis are rarely spotted and thought to be nocturnal (that is, they hunt at night and sleep during the day). Some Bhutanese people even believe that Yetis have the power to become invisible!

A lack of sightings doesn’t mean they can’t be heard. People have said that they make a piercing whistling sound, similar to a high—pitched scream.
 
The Yak
 
The yak is a long-haired ox-like animal that lives on the high plains of Tibet. Related to the cow, the yak has a humped back, large horns, and a shaggy coat. Wild yaks are a black-brown color and can weigh up to 2,200 pounds.

Centuries ago, the wild yak was domesticated (tamed) by the Tibetans. The domesticated yak is smaller than its wild cousin, has a longer coat, and can be red, brown, black, and white. This yak is used for its meat and milk and also to carry heavy loads. Yak skin and hair are used to make rope, clothes, tents, and blankets. Some people believe yaks have sometimes been mistaken for Yetis.
 
Yetis can be seen in the artwork in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and Tibet. Here, the Yeti is often depicted as a smiling, friendly creature. Some paintings show a “Yeti realm”: a place between the worlds of humans and animals.

Many Himalayan people believe the Yeti is both a real, physical animal and a spirit, similar to a ghost. There are Himalayan stories about Yetis that are hundreds of years old. These are recorded in monastery texts, which also describe the mythical origins of Tibet.

A thirteenth-­century Tibetan Buddhist text called the Mani Kambum (say: MAN-­ye bu-­KA-­bum) says that Tibet was once inhabited by creatures that were a mix between humans and monkeys. They had flat faces, were covered with hair, and walked on two feet. This story says that over time, these creatures evolved into the modern Tibetan people. But some stayed as wild, hairy people: the Yetis.
 
Buddhist Monasteries
 
Buddhism is a religion that follows the teaching of the Buddha, a holy man who lived in India sometime between the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. Buddha’s teachings are called “dharma,” and the most important are about wisdom, kindness, patience, and compassion. Buddhist monks usually wear long robes and have shaved heads. They typically live alone, or in monasteries, the buildings built to house their religious communities.

There are dozens of Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan mountains. Each monastery is the home of monks, who spend their time praying, studying, and teaching Buddhism.
 
Stories from Tibetan folklore describe Yetis as being kind and gentle. These Yetis supposedly even cleaned the monasteries at night when the monks were asleep. In one famous story, a Tibetan mystic (someone who seeks a connection to a spiritual realm), called a Yogi, was wandering through the mountains. His leg began to hurt, and he soon found a hillside hut to stay in. On the other side of the hill, the Yogi saw a large figure walking around. He went to investigate. In a crumbling shed, the Yogi found a Yeti lying on the floor. The Yeti had fangs, was covered with hair, and was running a fever. The Yogi then saw the Yeti had a swollen, infected foot. A sharp splinter was sticking out of it. Although he was afraid the Yeti would attack him, the Yogi removed the splinter and bandaged the wound.

A few days later, he saw the Yeti walk to the river to get water. At that moment the Yogi’s leg was suddenly healed. As the Yogi walked toward a nearby monastery, the Yeti jumped down from a tree right in front of him. The Yeti carried a dead tiger on its back, which it gave to the Yogi as a present. It then ran away into the forest. The Yogi arrived at the local monastery and donated the tiger hide (skin and fur) to the monks who were living there.

In another story, the Nepalese Lama (a high priest) Sangwa Dorje (say: SANG-­wa DOR-­gay) lived for many years in a cave meditating. A local Yeti cared for Sangwa Dorje by bringing him food, firewood, and water. When the Yeti died, Sangwa Dorje kept one of the Yeti’s hands and its scalp (the top of the head, including the skin and hair). In 1667, Sangwa Dorje left his retreat and founded the Pangboche (say: PANG-­bo-­chay) Monastery. The Yeti hand and scalp were kept at the monastery as sacred objects. They were displayed during religious parades around the village. This practice continued until the hand was stolen from the monastery in the 1990s.

In these stories, the Yeti is a friend to humans. However, in other Himalayan folklore, Yetis are feared and avoided. Some Himalayan people believe that every mountain is a type of god, called a deity. If the mountain becomes angry with the people living there, it can punish them by sending out a Yeti, who is able to cause crops and livestock to die, or to capture and kill humans. People who believe in the mountain gods also believe that seeing a Yeti is a bad sign. Even photographing a Yeti could bring bad luck, or even death. These superstitions have made some Himalayan people cautious about the very idea of searching for a Yeti. Why look for trouble?

In European and North American cultures, however, finding and photographing a Yeti was seen as an exciting goal. After the 1921 reports, waves of expeditions began their treks up the Himalayas, hoping to find evidence of the truth.
© Ben Hubbard
Ben Hubbard is an accomplished nonfiction author for children and adults with over 160 titles to his name. He has written about many subjects, from space, the samurai, and sharks, to poison, pets, and the Plantagenets. His books have been translated into over a dozen languages and can be found in bookshops, schools, and libraries around the world. He currently lives in British Columbia, Canada. View titles by Ben Hubbard
Who HQ is your headquarters for history. The Who HQ team is always working to provide simple and clear answers to some of our biggest questions. From Who Was George Washington? to Who Is Michelle Obama?, and What Was the Battle of Gettysburg? to Where Is the Great Barrier Reef?, we strive to give you all the facts. Visit us at WhoHQ.com View titles by Who HQ

About

The What Do We Know About? series explores the mysterious, the unknown, and the unexplained. Does the ape-like Yeti really roam the Himalayan mountain range?

Not quite human and not quite an animal, the Yeti has been the subject of speculation for centuries. In modern times, the Yeti has become a popular cryptid, appearing in movies, books, and TV shows. Although there are many claimed sightings of the Yeti, there is no real evidence that it exists. This elusive cryptid, also known as the Abominable Snowman, remains a mystery. Does the Yeti truly live in the snowy Himalayas? Have the Sherpa who live there spotted him at the highest altitudes? Here are the facts about what we really know about Yeti sightings, research, and lore.

Excerpt

What Do We Know About the Yeti?
 
At around 4 a.m. on September 22, 1921, explorers found mysterious footprints near the world’s highest mountain. By the light of a bright moon, the tracks were large, and led up a snowy pass ahead. The team was high in the Himalayan mountains, close to 21,000 feet above sea level. Few animals were known to live at this altitude (height)—especially ones with such big feet!
The climbers wondered if the tracks had been made by a gray wolf.

The explorers were part of a British expedition to find a way up Mount Everest. At 29,032 feet above sea level, Mount Everest has the highest peak on Earth. It is a dangerous place. The mountain is made up of dizzying slopes of rock and ice, where temperatures can drop to minus seventy-six degrees and winds gust at over 100 miles per hour. That’s like the South Pole in winter. No one had yet found a way to the top of Everest. However, the mountaineers in 1921 believed they had discovered a new route. It was a snowy pass called Lhagba La that was located along the southern border of Tibet. This was a remote place that few people knew existed.

It made the discovery of the footprints even more curious. But the British team had no animal experts. They wondered what creature could exist in a place that was so cold and isolated.

Not everyone was puzzled by the footprints, however. Sherpas, expert climbers in Tibet and Nepal, were working as the expedition’s guides and support team. They were skilled mountaineers who knew the area well. The team’s Sherpas explained that the footprints belonged to a type of creature few had heard of outside the Himalayan mountain range. This creature lived in the mountains, walked on two legs like a human, and had long, matted  hair.

When the team descended from the mountains, the Sherpas spoke to British journalist Henry Newman about the creature. Newman said that they called it Metoh-kangmi (say: MI-toe KANG-me), which means “humanlike bear of the snow.” However, Newman decided to call it the “Abominable Snowman” (abominable means something unpleasant or horrifying). This was the moment that the legend of the Abominable Snowman was born. When British newspapers reported on the footprints, the story became highly exaggerated. One article in the Times of London had the headline “Tibetan Tales of Hairy Murderers.”

But the climbing Sherpas had not described the creature as “abominable,” or a “murderer.” To them, it was simply a wild mountain creature that everyone in the Himalayas knew about. For people outside the region, what was now being called the Abominable Snowman was a brand--new discovery, even though there was very little proof that it actually existed. The only evidence was the Sherpas’ stories and some large footprints in the snow.

Was it real? Explorers would spend more than one hundred years trying to uncover the truth. Many have searched far and wide to find the mysterious creature we know today as the Yeti.
 
Chapter 1
The Local Yeti
 
After the 1921 newspaper reports, the Abominable Snowman developed a reputation as a savage, murderous monster with superhuman strength. It has held this reputation ever since. After all, it was right there in the name: “abominable,” a word often used to mean brutal and beastly. But the people living in and near the Himalayas had a very different view. Their Yeti was certainly real, but not necessarily a violent people--killer.

The Himalayan mountains stretch for around 1,550 miles through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, and Myanmar. Nepal and Tibet are the places most associated with the Yeti. The Himalayas contain ten of the world’s fourteen highest mountains! At altitudes above 16,000 feet, the tops of the mountains are covered in snow and ice year--round. This freezing environment is difficult to survive. Only a few animals, such as snow leopards, brown bears, and yaks, can live at such heights.

Below the snow line (the altitude above which snow is on the ground for most, if not all, of the year), the Himalayan landscape changes. On the lower mountains and valley floors there are forests, shrublands, grasslands, and alpine meadows. The wildlife here includes monkeys, red pandas, goat antelopes, deer, bears, and even elephants in some parts of Nepal.

It is among Nepalese Sherpas that the word Yeh--teh (say: YEH-tay) first appeared. This is where the modern word “Yeti” comes from. Yeh--teh roughly means “cliff-dwelling bear,” although there are two types of Yeh--teh. The first one is known as Dzu-teh (say: ZOO-tay), or “livestock bear.” It walks on four legs, preys on goats, cattle, and yaks, and looks like a Himalayan brown bear.

The second type of Yeh--teh goes by the name Meh--teh (say: MEH--tay), or “human--bear.” It is apelike in appearance and can be more than eight feet tall. It has long arms, a powerful chest, a conical head, and brown or reddish hair covering its body. It has a hairless face and flat nose, and can move on two or four legs. However, it commonly walks like a human. Its feet have five toes, including one round big toe.

In some parts of Nepal, this Yeti is also called Nyalmo (say: NI-alm-o), Dremo (say: TAY- moo), and Chemo (say: KEM-o). In central Tibet it is sometimes called Migoi (say: ME-goy). In China the Yeti is known as the Yeren (say: YEAH-rin). These are just a few of the names used for the upright--walking type of Yeti. Different Himalayan countries have their own names for it.

People in the Himalayas believe the Yetis live in forests below the snow line. During the coldest months of winter, Yetis are thought to move to lower altitudes and close to human settlements. They steal food from these settlements and also eat mosses, frogs, and mouse hares (also called pika). Yetis are rarely spotted and thought to be nocturnal (that is, they hunt at night and sleep during the day). Some Bhutanese people even believe that Yetis have the power to become invisible!

A lack of sightings doesn’t mean they can’t be heard. People have said that they make a piercing whistling sound, similar to a high—pitched scream.
 
The Yak
 
The yak is a long-haired ox-like animal that lives on the high plains of Tibet. Related to the cow, the yak has a humped back, large horns, and a shaggy coat. Wild yaks are a black-brown color and can weigh up to 2,200 pounds.

Centuries ago, the wild yak was domesticated (tamed) by the Tibetans. The domesticated yak is smaller than its wild cousin, has a longer coat, and can be red, brown, black, and white. This yak is used for its meat and milk and also to carry heavy loads. Yak skin and hair are used to make rope, clothes, tents, and blankets. Some people believe yaks have sometimes been mistaken for Yetis.
 
Yetis can be seen in the artwork in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and Tibet. Here, the Yeti is often depicted as a smiling, friendly creature. Some paintings show a “Yeti realm”: a place between the worlds of humans and animals.

Many Himalayan people believe the Yeti is both a real, physical animal and a spirit, similar to a ghost. There are Himalayan stories about Yetis that are hundreds of years old. These are recorded in monastery texts, which also describe the mythical origins of Tibet.

A thirteenth-­century Tibetan Buddhist text called the Mani Kambum (say: MAN-­ye bu-­KA-­bum) says that Tibet was once inhabited by creatures that were a mix between humans and monkeys. They had flat faces, were covered with hair, and walked on two feet. This story says that over time, these creatures evolved into the modern Tibetan people. But some stayed as wild, hairy people: the Yetis.
 
Buddhist Monasteries
 
Buddhism is a religion that follows the teaching of the Buddha, a holy man who lived in India sometime between the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. Buddha’s teachings are called “dharma,” and the most important are about wisdom, kindness, patience, and compassion. Buddhist monks usually wear long robes and have shaved heads. They typically live alone, or in monasteries, the buildings built to house their religious communities.

There are dozens of Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan mountains. Each monastery is the home of monks, who spend their time praying, studying, and teaching Buddhism.
 
Stories from Tibetan folklore describe Yetis as being kind and gentle. These Yetis supposedly even cleaned the monasteries at night when the monks were asleep. In one famous story, a Tibetan mystic (someone who seeks a connection to a spiritual realm), called a Yogi, was wandering through the mountains. His leg began to hurt, and he soon found a hillside hut to stay in. On the other side of the hill, the Yogi saw a large figure walking around. He went to investigate. In a crumbling shed, the Yogi found a Yeti lying on the floor. The Yeti had fangs, was covered with hair, and was running a fever. The Yogi then saw the Yeti had a swollen, infected foot. A sharp splinter was sticking out of it. Although he was afraid the Yeti would attack him, the Yogi removed the splinter and bandaged the wound.

A few days later, he saw the Yeti walk to the river to get water. At that moment the Yogi’s leg was suddenly healed. As the Yogi walked toward a nearby monastery, the Yeti jumped down from a tree right in front of him. The Yeti carried a dead tiger on its back, which it gave to the Yogi as a present. It then ran away into the forest. The Yogi arrived at the local monastery and donated the tiger hide (skin and fur) to the monks who were living there.

In another story, the Nepalese Lama (a high priest) Sangwa Dorje (say: SANG-­wa DOR-­gay) lived for many years in a cave meditating. A local Yeti cared for Sangwa Dorje by bringing him food, firewood, and water. When the Yeti died, Sangwa Dorje kept one of the Yeti’s hands and its scalp (the top of the head, including the skin and hair). In 1667, Sangwa Dorje left his retreat and founded the Pangboche (say: PANG-­bo-­chay) Monastery. The Yeti hand and scalp were kept at the monastery as sacred objects. They were displayed during religious parades around the village. This practice continued until the hand was stolen from the monastery in the 1990s.

In these stories, the Yeti is a friend to humans. However, in other Himalayan folklore, Yetis are feared and avoided. Some Himalayan people believe that every mountain is a type of god, called a deity. If the mountain becomes angry with the people living there, it can punish them by sending out a Yeti, who is able to cause crops and livestock to die, or to capture and kill humans. People who believe in the mountain gods also believe that seeing a Yeti is a bad sign. Even photographing a Yeti could bring bad luck, or even death. These superstitions have made some Himalayan people cautious about the very idea of searching for a Yeti. Why look for trouble?

In European and North American cultures, however, finding and photographing a Yeti was seen as an exciting goal. After the 1921 reports, waves of expeditions began their treks up the Himalayas, hoping to find evidence of the truth.

Author

© Ben Hubbard
Ben Hubbard is an accomplished nonfiction author for children and adults with over 160 titles to his name. He has written about many subjects, from space, the samurai, and sharks, to poison, pets, and the Plantagenets. His books have been translated into over a dozen languages and can be found in bookshops, schools, and libraries around the world. He currently lives in British Columbia, Canada. View titles by Ben Hubbard
Who HQ is your headquarters for history. The Who HQ team is always working to provide simple and clear answers to some of our biggest questions. From Who Was George Washington? to Who Is Michelle Obama?, and What Was the Battle of Gettysburg? to Where Is the Great Barrier Reef?, we strive to give you all the facts. Visit us at WhoHQ.com View titles by Who HQ

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