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Friday, 20 June 2008

The Day I Didn't See A Yeti

A BBC reporter wrote earlier this week about his hunt for the mande barung, a jungle version of the famous yeti or Bigfoot, supposedly to be found in the jungles of eastern India on the border with Bangladesh. He interviewed eyewitnesses and came across some interesting footprints, but didn't see the creature itself. Go figure.

As an agnostic in all things both spiritual and mundane, I can't utterly discount the possibility of giant human-like creatures in the world's remoter regions, but my own experience in the Himalayas makes me doubtful.

Back in 1995, I hiked to the Annapurna Base Camp, at an altitude of 5,050 meters deep in the Himalayas. I'd already heard talk of the yeti, and even met a Sherpa who claimed to have seen one. He pointed to a rock just off the trail and said he saw one sitting on it. When I asked what it looked like he said, "It looked like a man."

Once I got to the base camp, I stayed in a stone hut nearby and the next morning went exploring. Pretty soon I came across some amazing tracks in the snow. They looked for all the world like the footprints of a barefoot man, except very large and strangely rounded. I followed them for about a hundred meters onto a part of the slope shielded by a high outcropping of rock. This part of the slope hadn't received any sunlight, and so the snow hadn't melted at all. The tracks there were different--much smaller and obviously animal in origin. I'm hardly an expert tracker, but to me they looked like a fox's. I retraced my steps and looked at the "yeti" footprints. They were obviously on the same trail and there were no other tracks in the vicinity, and nowhere for the yeti to run off onto the rocks and a fox to miraculously take up the trail.

So this is what happened: the snow on one part of the trail got warmed by the sun and the tracks partially melted, becoming wider and rounder. The claws became "toes" and the pads of the feet joined into one oval mass. I've read up on this phenomenon and apparently it's quite common.

Oh well. If I hadn't let my curiosity push me into tracking a yeti, I might have become a believer.

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