Mount Everest and the Savage Yeti

Article excerpt

A HALF CENTURY AGO humans first reached the top of the world's highest mountain--a feat that remains one of history's most daring and spectacular human accomplishments. Just before noon on May 29th, 1953, two explorer, Edmund Hillary (from New Zealand) and Tenzing Norgay (from Nepal) stood on the peak, 29,000 feet above sea level. This year, 2003, marks the 50th anniversary of the first successful climb of Mount Everest.

As the world celebrates Hillary and Norgay's historic accomplishment, a legend lingers in the shadow of Everest, almost forgotten among the fanfare. On the far side of the world, on the frozen slopes of the highest mountains on Earth, legends warn that a kind of hairy, half-human giant prowls the high places. The Western world calls this creature the "abominable snowman," and Himalayan locals fear the "yeti" more than any other animal.

According to stories told in mountain villages, a yeti is an incredibly powerful meat eater that can easily kill a yak or cow with a single blow and then drag it off to eat at its leisure. Although rare, these bear-men, or yea-tea, are said to be frighteningly smart, dangerous, and huge. Despite our modern Western images, which tend to show these animals as white, locals describe them as having dark red or black fur. They are said to walk on all fours, but can be 8 feet tall when standing upright on two legs. They steal yaks, sheep, and goats for food, and sometimes they eat human beings.

The Nepalese Sherpas, like other mountain people, are famously tough, but many of them are also devout Buddhists who cannot harm the dangerous animals that sometimes creep into their villages and camps in search of prey. At night, people there protect their yaks and other animals with guard dogs, charms, prayers, and fire, but they are still very vulnerable to the fierce animals of the region: the Asiatic black liar, the snow leopard, and perhaps even the giant yeti. …