by D. Trull
The elusive shaggy man-beast known as the Yeti has been pursued and sighted by countless Himalayan mountain climbers over the years. Aside from some giant footprints in the snow and a few blurry photographs, mountaineers have brought back no tangible evidence of the supposed creature. But now a prominent explorer claims that he can reveal the truth of the Yeti's existence.
Reinhold Messner, a native of the Alpine region of South Tyrol, is a legendary figure in the world of mountain climbing. He was the first person ever to scale Mt. Everest without bottled oxygen and the first to climb all fourteen of the world's highest mountains. He is also a longtime Yeti enthusiast, claiming to have met the creature face to face in the Tibetan wilderness in 1986.
"I came across this indefinable, big, stinking exotic animal," Messner recently recalled. "I stood still and he walked off. If he had come towards me I would probably have died of a heart attack before he got to me."
The animal, which had dark fur and walked upright on two legs, left footprints behind for Messner to study. He found that they were very similar to a supposed photo of a Yeti footprint taken by mountaineer Eric Shipton during a 1951 Mt. Everest expedition. The Yeti became an object of passion for Messner, who has returned to the Himalayas on repeated occasions in search of the creature. He reported a second Yeti sighting during an outing at the Karakoram range, and this time he said he took photographs. Messner withheld the photos, promising to release them in a forthcoming book.
Messner has written a large number of books on his climbing experiences, and now he is set to release his first book specifically devoted to his quest for the snow creature, entitled Yeti, Legend and Reality. Previewing the volume at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Messner revealed his startling conclusions about the Yeti: the monster is not a giant gorilla or an unidentified humanoid primate, but a large bear.
"It's clearly a Tibetan bear, similar to a grizzly but with longer hair," Messner said. The bear frequently walks upright on its hind legs, as well as on all fours, and can stand a towering eleven feet tall. It lives at altitudes of 12,000-18,000 feet and is only nocturnally active, making it fairly uncommon for humans to encounter. The bear is known to attack people if they disturb or provoke it, and is considered a sign of bad luck in local folklore.
Messner estimates that there are about 1,000 of them living in the mountains of Tibet and Nepal. His book will use photographs from his second "Yeti" encounter to back up his argument that the bear has long been mistaken for the mythical creature. Messner is intent on debunking the notion that the Yeti is an unknown primate species, such as Gigantopithecus or some other kind of apelike ancestor of the human race.
"This is a false story nourished by the Nazis, who wanted to find the missing link in the chain of human evolution," Messner argued. "The real legend dates back 3,000 years and is still popular among the Himalayan people."
Messner is confident that the Tibetan bear fits with both the traditional stories and the modern sightings by western explorers. But his opponents have already voiced their dissent, with some in the German media questioning the validity of his Yeti identification.
"I can't help it if people expected King Kong and didn't get him," Messner said in his defense. "As sure as I sit here, you will agree with me in 10 or 20 years."
As an intriguing postscript, some of Messner's acquaintances have noted that his personality seemingly changed after he endured a series of high-altitude climbs without oxygen tanks. He was called a lunatic for tackling Mt. Everest without the aid of bottled oxygen in 1978, despite medical experts' warnings that such a feat brought a high risk for dangerous brain cell loss. Others have intimated that a Sherpa guide introduced Messner to the profound mind-altering effects of smoking hashish at high altitudes. The suggestion, then, is that some degree of brain damage from Messner's risky exploits could be what caused him to get so interested in hunting Yetis.
Be that as it may, at least Messner's Tibetan bear hypothesis is a reasonable one, and much more likely to be correct than the missing link stories. It may not be as exciting an explanation as monster-hunters might hope for, but one thing's for sure: the Yeti Bear is smarter than the av-er-age Bigfoot!
Sources: Reuters; Discovery Communications; The Climbing Heroes web site.
© Copyright 1998 ParaScope, Inc.