The image depicted in the previous brief post is one of those famous iconic photos that many people have seen but few know anything about: it’s an alleged yeti track, photographed by Eric Shipton and Michael Ward on the 8th November 1951 on Menlung Glacier during their exploration of the Gauri Sanker range in the Himalayas (Heuvelmans 1995). Together with the Sherpa Sen Tensing, Shipton and Ward apparently followed a trail of large, human-like tracks for about a mile but, unfortunately, only photographed one track. There have been several efforts to interpret this track as one made by a giant, unknown primate. I regret to say that I have come to a different conclusion…
While Shipton and Ward failed to photograph more than one track from the alleged trackway, they did take more than one photo of the now-famous track, as both an ice-pick and a boot can be seen acting as scale-bars. Based on this data, and on the description provided by Shipton and Ward, the track was 31.2 cm long and 18.7 cm wide, meaning that its width was 60% of its length (McNeely et al. 1973). The track is not only proportionally broad, but also has a broad, rounded heel. There appear to be five digit impressions, with a large hallux impression being offset relative to the other four digits, and a long second toe impression that’s separated both from the hallux impression, and from the impressions of the other digits. Three small, rounded digit impressions appear to present digits III-V, but the fact that only the toe tips are visible suggests that the digits were united at their bases (whether a ‘digit V’ is really present depends on your interpretation).
A reconstructed foot sole, based on this track, has often been depicted in the literature (see adjacent image: the Shipton yeti foot is in the middle, with a human foot to the left and gorilla on the right). Because this foot morphology looks fairly plausible when compared with the feet of gorillas and other apes, yet is unique enough to support the idea that the yeti is a distinct species, there has been a willingness amongst cryptozoologists to regard the track as firm existence for the yeti’s reality. Heuvelmans (1995: though first published 1955) used this reconstructed foot morphology to help characterise the unknown species that he dubbed Dinanthropoides nivalis, for example (though he noted the possibility that this species might prove congeneric with Gigantopithecus).
However, I’ve always eyed the photo with suspicion. In fact, I suspect that it’s a fake. As several of you noted previously in the comments, the track is made unrealistic by the strange, irregular depressions that occur at the left and right edges, and particularly at the heel. These cannot be reconciled with real structures that occur on a primate’s foot, and they can’t be taken as evidence for melting because the very sharp edges of the track must mean that – as Shipton and Ward noted – it was fresh and undistorted by sublimation. It looks to me as if a depression in the snow (not necessarily a track of any sort) was modified, and augmented by the addition of fake digit impressions. What appears important in view of this is that the oft-reproduced versions of the photos – the one shown at the top for example – are cropped. However, the full photo (reproduced as Plate 1 in Napier 1974, and shown here) shows just such a depression (viz, one less foot-like and lacking digit impressions) below and to the right of the good one.
If the good track really was one track from a trackway, why didn’t Shipton and Ward photograph more tracks, or at least take a photo of at least part of the trackway? Actually, the photo has often been reproduced together with a photo depicting a trackway (e.g., Heuvelmans 1995), the implication being that this trackway consisted of a whole string of tracks identical to the good one. But no, the tracks in the photo are amorphous and rounded (not subrectangular and with digit impressions), and were clearly not produced by a bipedal primate. Meldrum (2006) noted that the tracks were produced by a quadruped, and Eberhart (2002) stated that ‘Shipton and Ward are said to have later admitted that the trail had nothing to do with the photographed Yeti print and may have been made by an Ibex (Capra ibex) or Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus)’ (p. 611). So I conclude that the famous, iconic image is a fake. There are indications that others have thought so too: Edmund Hillary apparently ‘chalked Shipton’s tracks up to a runaway practical joke’ (Meldrum 2006, p. 37).
However, the Shipton track isn’t the only alleged yeti footprint that has been reported and photographed, nor does its rejection have any bearing on the body of eyewitness evidence. Contrary to popular opinion, the yetis reported by eyewitnesses are not pure white snow-beasts that live on icy peaks, but are reddish, brownish or blackish apes that dwell in the montane Himalayan forests. They seem about as remarkable as mountain gorillas are. Does anyone want to give me the funding to go find one?
For brief previous thoughts on yetis see the ‘Is cryptozoology monster hunting?’ article (go to the comments, where you can find a discussion of Messner’s bear theory).
Refs – -
Eberhart, G. M. 2002. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Volume Two. ABC Clio, Santa Barbara.
Heuvelmans, B. 1995. On the Track of Unknown Animals. Kegan Paul International, London.
McNeely, J. A., Cronin, E. W. & Emery, H. B. 1973. The yeti – not a snowman. Oryx 12 (1), 65-73.
Meldrum, D. J. 2006. Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. Tom Doherty Associates, New York.
Napier, J. 1974. Bigfoot. Readers Union, Newton Abbot.