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From the Vault: Expedition Yeti, No, We Are Serious
Posted on April 28, 2016

1958. Bryan and Peter Byrne dig out after an overnight snowfall.

Pressed by a New York Times reporter in 1923 on why he was so interested in climbing Mt. Everest, George Mallory replied with the three most famous words in mountaineering lore: “Because it’s there.” Mallory’s exploits and his disappearance along with climbing partner Andrew Irvine high on Everest’s Northeast Ridge in 1924 have become the stuff of legend.

1958. The 1958 Slick-Johnson Snowman team. Norman Dyhrenfurth is the sixth from the left in the back row.

Words by Colin Berg

Decades later, a much lesser known expedition headed into the Upper Arun Valley of Nepal with equal resolve, if a more tenuous motivation: “Because it might be there.” The 1958 Slick-Johnson Snowman Expedition (SJSE) went into the High Himalaya in search of yeti, the Abominable Snowman.

Tom Slick was a Texas oilman who had become fascinated with cryptozoology, the study of and search for creatures whose existence is unproven. Kirk Johnson was a friend of Slick’s, a fellow oilman from Texas, and a financial investor in two of Slick’s expeditions in the Himalaya.

When Western mountaineers first began venturing into the Himalaya, they encountered local legends of a mythological creature, the yeti. The legends took on more substantive dimensions when the climbers themselves began to report sightings or came across what appeared to be oversized hominid tracks in the high snows. Then, in 1951, British mountaineer Eric Shipton photographed one of these footprints. It fired the imagination and gave the Golden Age of Himalayan Mountaineering an air of mystery to go along with its spirit of adventure.

1958. Ang Dawa inspects the “yeti bed” that he and Norman Dyhrenfurth discovered in the upper Dudh Kosi valley.

In 1958, Tom Slick assembled an expedition whose goal was to find and, if possible, to capture a live yeti. Leading the expedition were Peter and Brian Byrne, big-game hunters from Ireland; Gerald Russell, an American naturalist who had been on a similar expedition in 1954; and Swiss mountaineer/filmmaker Norman Dyhrenfurth. They wore Eddie Bauer down-insulated gear.

Complicating the 1958 SJSE’s effort to definitively prove the existence of the yeti was how deeply embedded the creature was in local mythology. Monasteries, including Tengboche and Pangboche, had relics that were purported to be yeti remains. Some of these relics were used in rituals and had clearly been created with the remains of other animals—not to deceive, but for use in these symbolic rituals. But at least one of the relics, a skeletal hand at Pangboche, was not readily disproven or easily dismissed. It was a tantalizing hint, but the searchers wanted more. They wanted a live yeti.

The group broke up into small teams to explore different valleys and to follow leads on reported sightings and artifacts. Dyhrenfurth and Ang Dawa Sherpa went into Solu Khumbu, spending ten days exploring the upper Dudh Kosi valley. There they discovered one of the most significant finds of the expedition—a cave with a rough bed, scattered remnants of rodents, and scat. Dyhrenfurth and Ang Dawa believed it was a yeti cave.

1958. Eddie Bauer catalog page touting the Slick-Johnson Snowman Expedition.

One of the other small teams was given strands of reddish-brown hair, suspected to be the yeti, that a local man had found in another cave. Late one night, one of the Sherpas, Da Temba, along with a local man saw what they described as a small yeti standing in a stream. The next morning Gerald Russell, the American naturalist, examined the spot and found tracks.

But after weeks of traversing high passes, interviewing villagers and monks, and huddling in caves waiting for signs of the elusive creature, the expedition had to abandon the effort…for the time being. While disappointed that they hadn’t captured a live specimen, Tom Slick was encouraged by the clues discovered, and was determined to continue the search. He immediately began to plan a second expedition in 1959.

Norman Dyhrenfurth and Eddie Bauer did not participate in that second Snowman Expedition, but Dyhrenfurth submitted an expedition report to the American Alpine Journal for the 1958 project. He closed that report with the following:

“All evidence, including the 350-year-old scalp and skeleton-hand of a Yeti at Pangboche lamasery, seems to establish beyond a shadow of doubt the existence of possibly two types of Yeti: a small species which lives in the Himalayan rain forests between 8,000 and 12,000 feet, perhaps only 4½ feet in height, and a larger animal of 6 to 8 feet in height in the higher regions between the villages and the glaciers. When shown photographs of the Yeti hand, British and Russian scientists state that this may be the very clue to the Yeti mystery. Tom Slick now has another small group in the field, and there are said to be four Russian teams roaming the Pamirs in search of the Snowmen. Competition between the two most powerful nations in the world would appear to be limitless!”

Five years after the 1958 Slick-Johnson Snowman Expedition, Norman Dyhrenfurth and Eddie Bauer returned to Solu Khumbu, where Dyhrenfurth led the American Mount Everest Expedition to the first American ascent of the world’s highest mountain.

To learn more about Eddie Bauer’s fascinating corporate history check out this article in the Seattle PI.  







Author: - Thursday, April 28th, 2016

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