The 18-strong band of Indian Army soldiers had planned their ascent of Mount Makalu meticulously, deciding in the process that they would establish six camps as they made their way up the mountain. The men had trained for half a year prior to the expedition, too, meaning they should have known exactly what lay before them when they set off on their trek.
But the Indian Army’s careful planning couldn’t account for everything that Mount Malaku would throw at them. And one of these unforeseen events practically stopped the soldiers in their tracks, too. You see, on the journey, the group stumbled across a set of gigantic footprints – and they became convinced that a mythical beast had left the marks.
At 27,838 feet high, Mount Makalu in the Himalayas is the fifth-tallest mountain on the planet. And owing to Makalu’s steep inclines and precarious ridges, the peak is among the most dangerous for climbers to tackle. Nevertheless, the potential peril didn’t stop a team from the Indian Army from setting off on an expedition to the mountain in 2019.
And according to legend, the soldiers on the trip had the potential to bump into the mythical Yeti – also known in some quarters as the Abominable Snowman. The infamous creature – who is said to live in the Himalayan mountains – is supposedly ape-like in appearance with reddish-brown or gray fur. In addition, the biped is apparently taller than the average person at somewhere around six feet.
It should be noted, too, that stories of the Yeti have existed in Himalayan folklore for thousands of years. When Alexander the Great invaded the Indus Valley in South Asia in around 326 B.C., for example, he reportedly ordered that the local people show him an example of the creature. Unfortunately, though, that request was apparently denied; according to the residents of the valley, you see, the beast could only survive at higher altitudes.
But it was perhaps for the best that Alexander the Great didn’t encounter a Yeti – not least because it had gained a reputation in Himalayan mythology as a creature to fear. In traditional stories, at least, the Yeti tends to be associated with danger, although this is perhaps for good reason.
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.”
Regardless of how the Yeti earned its fearsome reputation, however, its legend ultimately spread. During the 1800s, you see, tales of the mythical beast began to infiltrate Western culture. And in the decades since, the creature has since been largely depicted as a sharp-toothed, shaggy-furred giant – an imposing presence indeed.
However, stories of the Yeti took on another dimension after Westerners began trekking to the Himalayas. During an expedition to the region in 1921, for example, British politician Charles Howard-Bury noticed some giant footprints in the snow that his guides informed him belonged to the “metoh-kangmi.”
And when Howard-Bury and his fellow explorers relayed this story to Henry Newman, the journalist correctly translated “kangmi” as “snowman.” But while Newman mistakenly believed that “metoh” meant “filthy,” this barely mattered in the long run, as he in turn made up his own nickname for the creature supposedly responsible for the footprints. Thus, the moniker “Abominable Snowman” came into being.
Since then, there have been numerous reported sightings of the Yeti. And 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. There, Shackley claims that a pair of hikers had once spotted two figures “not much less than eight feet” in height.
Shackley’s account of what the hikers saw continues, “The heads [of the creatures] were described as ‘squarish.’ And the ears must lie close to the skull [as] there was no projection from the silhouette against the snow. The shoulders sloped sharply down to a powerful chest covered by reddish-brown hair. [This] formed a close body fur mixed with long straight hairs hanging downward.”
Meanwhile, by the middle of the 20th century, interest in the Yeti was higher than ever before – so much so that even a noted film star appeared to want a piece of the action. Yes, Hollywood great James Stewart apparently owned a Yeti finger that he tended to keep tucked away in his baggage; in 2011, however, DNA testing confirmed that said digit had once belonged to a human.
And advances in technology have similarly unearthed the rather prosaic origins of hair samples, bone fragments and skulls that have all been deemed Yeti-like in their appearance. These have since been matched to less elusive creatures such as bears and monkeys. Nonetheless, eyewitness accounts of the mythical beasts have persisted over the years, while some people have even captured film footage and snapped photographs that have been interpreted as showing Yetis at large.
So, while the creature’s existence is yet to be definitively proven, this hasn’t prevented some people from going in search of the mythical beast in the hope of confirming its presence in the Himalayan mountains. And when a Yeti-related event was reported in the area in April 2019, it caused somewhat of a stir online.
The story began when that group from the Indian Army’s mountaineering team embarked on an expedition in March 2019. And, as previously mentioned, the soldiers intended to climb the fearsome Mount Makalu. The mountain itself is similar in shape to a pyramid, with its four sides rising upwards to form the distinctive “Big Black” peak from which Makalu derives its name.
Makalu is situated in a picturesque part of the world, too – 14 miles from Mount Everest and on the boundary between Tibet and Nepal. In addition, the peak is surrounded by a designated National Park and Conservation Area that spans 580 square miles and contains ecosystems ranging from alpine tundra to tropical rainforests.
Naturally, then, Makalu and its surrounds are home to an array of wildlife. Among the animals that inhabit the area are more than 440 different kinds of bird and nearly 90 species of mammals, including the snow leopard, the red panda and the increasingly rare Asian golden cat. However, as of April 2019, the Yeti was yet to be confirmed as a resident of the mountain.
And it should be noted that anyone attempting to climb Makalu in search of the Yeti is up against the odds, as the mountain is notoriously difficult to summit. There are challenging steep inclines and dangerously sharp ridges that leave even the bravest adventurers entirely exposed to the elements, while the final part of the ascent to Makalu’s peak also requires some expertise in ice or rock climbing.
Nevertheless, the perils involved in tackling Makalu haven’t put off the most intrepid. The first ascent of the mountain occurred in 1955, when Frenchmen Jean Couzy and Lionel Terray became the first climbers to make it to the top. Along with their team, the mountaineers traversed the peak’s north face – and in doing so, they established the typical route that climbers still use today.
And since then, a number of people have followed in Couzy and Terray’s groundbreaking footsteps by reaching the peak of Mount Makalu. Not all of the expeditions have gone according to plan, however. In 2006, for instance, 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. And as the 40-year-old had purposely embarked on his expedition without a team, he may have cut a solitary figure as he set off in winds gusting at 30 miles per hour and in temperatures lower than -30 °F.
Prior to venturing out, however, Lafaille had placed a call to his wife, Katia, back home in France. On that occasion, the climber informed his spouse that he would call back in three hours once he had reached the French Couloir gully. Yet Katia never heard from her husband again, and no trace of the mountaineer has ever been found. Theories about his disappearance range from being caught in an avalanche to getting swept away in high winds.
Meanwhile, when the Indian Army announced its expedition to Mount Makalu in March 2019, it marked a step into the unknown for the soldiers. At the very least, no Indian military unit had ever ascended the mountain before. Even so, 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, tall.
The team tasked with tackling Mount Makalu, then, consisted of 18 people from different ranks – among them two junior commissioned officers and five officers. 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] Mount 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 then set off from New Delhi and establish half a dozen camps as they made their way towards the summit of Makalu.
So, it appeared that the expedition team had their ascent all worked out. As the unit scaled the mountain, however, they made a surprise discovery. You see, during their hike to the summit, the climbers came across what they believed to be a Yeti’s footprints.
And the news of potential evidence for the Yeti’s existence went public after the Indian Army revealed all on its official Twitter account in April 2019. The post in question proudly announced, “For the first time, an #IndianArmy Mountaineering Expedition Team has cited mysterious footprints of mythical beast ‘Yeti.’”
The tweet went on to describe the suspected Yeti footprints, claiming that they measured “32 inches by 15 inches.” In addition, the post revealed that the trackmarks were found “close to Makalu base camp on April 9, 2019.” And it appeared that the prints were the first physical evidence of the Yeti found in the area. The Indian Army message went on, “This elusive snowman has only been sighted at Makalu Barun National Park in the past.”
In addition, 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 to which the original announcement was referring. And in all, the news and the accompanying snaps have since received almost 15,000 retweets.
What’s more, owing to 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. In fact, the tweet soon solicited a stream of bewildered responses from the wider Twitter community.
One such reply came from writer Siddharth Singh. Posting 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, either.
Questioning the legitimacy of the Indian Army’s Yeti claims, a fellow Twitter user wrote in response, “[The footprints] must be vetted thoroughly before the decision to declare something as ridiculous as this is made.” Another person suggested – although seemingly in jest – that the prints could belong to a very different fictional creature: Game of Thrones giant Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun.
And Kushal Prajapati – whose Twitter bio describes him as a scientist – also took to the social media site to launch a 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.
But the frosty reaction to the Indian Army’s announcement could all be down to one thing: there is practically no scientific evidence to suggest that the Yeti exists. Indeed, as previously mentioned, most DNA tests carried out on samples that are alleged to have come from the mythical Himalayan beast have ultimately been matched to other creatures.
And if anyone were to have found the Yeti, it would likely have been mountain climber Reinhold Messner. The Italian explorer claimed to have 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 come 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.
But despite scientific evidence to the contrary, the Indian Army stood by its theory. The institution had apparently even exercised some caution before making its Yeti claim, with an army representative claiming to The Times of India that it had waited ten days before posting the “photographic evidence” of the Yeti prints. Nevertheless, the military organization chose to share the images with the world after deciding that they matched with previous theories surrounding the creature’s existence.
In a statement obtained by The Times of India in April 2019, an army spokesperson said, “We thought it prudent [to go public] to excite scientific [minds] and rekindle interest [in the beast].” And while admittedly this “evidence” doesn’t prove the existence of the Yeti, 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 collective imagination. 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 [that] there has never been any evidence [of the Yeti] hasn’t stopped people from searching.”