Yeti is the mysterious giant bipedal creature of the eternal snows of the Himalayas. The yeti (yeh-teh) has always been a part of the cosmology of Lamaistic Buddhist peoples of the Himalayas, who class it as not quite human yet more than human, and keep relics of it in monasteries. As early as the 1830s, “westerners” in Nepal began to bring back tales of the creature under the name “Abominable Snowman,” but it was not until 1951 that these really achieved international fame with the publication of a photograph by two mountaineers, Eric Shipton and Michael Ward, of a footprint in the snow, taken on the Menlung Glacier at 5,500 meters (18,000 feet). The footprint was about 50 cm long and 33 cm wide, with a large hallux and second toe, and three small side toes; and a second photo showed a whole trail of footprints leading into the distance.
In 1958 a Texas oilman, Tom Slick, obtained the mummified hand of a yeti in a monastery in Nepal and smuggled it out of the country. Two years later, Edmund Hillary, the “conqueror of Everest” in the 1953 expedition, was permitted to borrow a scalp from a monastery for scientific investigation. Other relics were examined in Himalayan locales but not taken for study.
There are similar beliefs in giant hairy bipeds in mountainous regions elsewhere, such as the almasty of the Caucasus, almas of Mongolia, yeren of Sichuan, and sasquatch (“Bigfoot”) of western North America. The Russian cryptozoologist Boris Porschnev argued that many of them are surviving Neandertals, whereas the American anthropologist Grover Krantz favored the explanation that Bigfoot and yeti, at least, are relict populations of Gigantopithecus. There is also a dwarf hairy biped, orang pendek (literally “short person”), in Sumatra.
It would be nice to be able to report that at least one of these creatures had been discovered and classified. Alas. The Slick “hand” proved to be the paw of a snow leopard (Panthera uncia); the Hillary “scalp” was the shoulder skin of a serow (Capricornis sumatraensis). Even the Shipton-Ward footprint photos are in question. Ward later admitted that the trail (in the second photo) was not associated with famous single footprint, but was from a yak. A journalist, Peter Gillman, discovered that Shipton had a reputation as a hoaxer, and noted that the footprint in the photo had incongruities, indicating that it had been “improved.” The one item that is still arguable is a film of a “Bigfoot” taken in 1967 by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin in northern California. Some have declared the film authentic, others that it is a hoax; the speed at which the film was shot is unknown, which has not helped. There is even a claim, by Hollywood director John Landis, that it was someone wearing one of the gorilla suits made by John Chambers for the original (1968) film of Planet of the Apes.
At the moment it does not appear that there is acceptable evidence for the existence of yeti and friends, though there are still plenty of earnest seekers for it. It is especially unfortunate that any reality that may be behind the stories has tended to get buried under a mass of forgery.