(A True Story)
By Dr. George Moore, M.D.
Exclusively published in Sports Afield, May 1957
readers will enjoy this eyewitness novelistic account
by the first American to meet face to face the mystery animal
of the Himalayas, the yeti.
It was at 11,000 feet, I remember that we had left Tarke Ghyang, the last village of the grateful Sherpas. We were heading south now. The foothills of the Himalayas that surrounded Kathmandu, 28 miles away were visible from the tops of the mountains. This was the area of the “Home of the Gods,” a holy place to the natives. Our footsteps followed the same path two or three thousand devout Hindus take on the annual pilgrimage to worship in the Himalayan heights. A scant two or three hundred return from these journeys; the rest die along the way. On our journey up, smoke from countless funeral pyres were a reminder of the rigor and mystery of the area.
The trail was less steep now but slick with red mud. Mossy pines closed over us and thrust their sprawling roots across the way. Bloodthirsty leeches, lurking under the rocks and awakened by our sounds, crawled on our boots and up the coolies’ dark nude limbs at every step. Only speed and more speed would enable us to leave this dismal, lonely, God-forsaken range of mountains.
Brooks, as we called him and I pushed as hard and as fast as we dared. Abrasive soled boots and six-foot balancing poles cut from the timber enabled us to make excellent time on the ribbon of web mud.
It was not long before we had left the coolies far behind. Not even their cries and shouts could be heard. The forest was deathly still. Fog banks, raw and cold drifted through the tall pines and left their boughs dripping and slimy.
Rounding a sharp turn in the trail, Brooks stopped abruptly. He leaned against a large rock to extract a leech that was at the point of disappearing over the edge of his boot. I stood there watching Brooks and fumbling for my pipe when an almost imperceptible movement in a clump of tall rhododendron caught my eye.
Something had moved, I was sure. There it was again! This time a few leaves rustled, more than mere chance could move. Brooks, sensing something was wrong, quickly forgot about his leech. Almost simultaneously we both slipped our revolvers out of their holsters. On our right, the slope was dangerously steep. Behind us the slope climbed upward. There was a large boulder by the side of the trail and we eased over to it, glad for the protection from the rear that it afforded us. We waited, – tense and expectant. The stillness was awesome.
The fog and mist seemed to form weird shapes writhing and twisting through the dense foliage. Suddenly, from in front of us, a raucous scream pierced the air. Another followed from the right of us. The ghostly quality of the mist and the unreality of the situation had a nightmarish tinge.
“God!!” Brooks whispered, “What was that?”
My spine was tingling in high gear now. I gripped my .38 Smith and Wesson more firmly. About 20 feet away, somewhat in front of our rock was the clump of rhododendron where the first scream broke the stillness. This time it seemed as though it was behind us.
“Brooks, ” I managed to whisper, “Let’s get on this rock and in hurry!”
Brooks did not need a second invitation. In an instant we scrambled on top of the massive boulder. From our new perch, we carefully searched in all directions for the next move. Our movements must have been closely watched, for a loud chattering immediately assailed us from the bushes in front. The angry chatter filled the raw air as new cries joined in the chorus from all sides. We were definitely surrounded.
Brooks muttered, “Oh my God, how many of them are there? And what are they?”
We got some idea of what was there when a hideous face thrust apart the wildly thrashing leaves and gaped at us. I shall not long forget the faces. Grayish skin, beetle black eyebrows, a mouth that seemed to extend from ear to ear and long yellowish teeth were nerve shattering enough. But those eyes, beady, yellow eyes that stared at us with obvious demoniacal cunning and anger. That face!
Weird ideas were beginning to force their way into mind. Perhaps, but no, damn it, it has to be! This was the abominable snowman!
A chill sent gooseflesh along my back. The thought of these creatures had often been in my mind when we had trekked over the snows and high places. No European or American had ever proved the existence of the snowmen, although the natives certainly believed in them. Our boys had entertained us many an evening around the campfire with horror tales of the snow beasts or “yeti” as they called them. They told how solitary travelers had been found torn to bits in the vast reaches of the mountains; how huge footprints had been found leading away from the murders. A few Sherpas had even met the monsters face to face and lived to tell the tale. We considered these accounts unlikely “hill stories” although I admit now they had left us somewhat uneasy.
No, I insisted to myself, there is no such creature as an abominable snowman or yeti. This face has to be an ape, or a man, or a demon,. . . .- Or the snowman!!
A hand pushed through the leaves. Then a quick movement and a shoulder. There before us, appeared the semblance of a body. Sweat was visible on Brooks’ face now as we crouched lower, hugging the rock for what it was worth. My hands looked white in the semi-darkness.
As the creature emerged through the dark leaves, we strained to make out his form. I felt blind panic start through me. Then I stopped. “Balls of fire.” I thought. “I’ve got to get a grip on myself!”
The creature was about five feet tall, half crouching on two thin hairy legs, leering at us in undisguised fury. Claws, or hands, seemed dark perhaps black, while his bedraggled hairy body was gray and thin. It shuffled along with a stoop the way a Neolithic cave man might have walked. Well built and sinewy, it could prove to be the most formidable opponent. Teeth bared, it snarled like an animal. Two long fangs protruded from its upper lip. Suddenly, a sharp flickering movement behind it caught our eyes. “George! A tail! Look there,” Brooks cried. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind at once. “Well, Brooks,” I replied, “this thing could be the abominable snowman but it also could be an ape, a large langur ape perhaps. Truthfully, I was more concerned with survival than identification. The band of animals was certainly aggressive, giving every indication that they meant to destroy us. But I couldn’t help thinking about the creatures themselves. They didn’t look like the common langur monkeys I’d seen in India. At the same time they had apelike characteristics. Scientific possibilities crowded their way into my mind even as I checked my revolver for the attack. Higher altitudes, fewer minerals in the water could produce less hair. Lack of heavy timber in the high regions, which would make climbing ability relatively valueless, could produce an erect species.
Mutations, the methods by which new species are created have occurred and are constantly observable in laboratories. Variations within a single species over a period of time can produce animals greatly different from the parent strain. I had no time to share these thoughts with Brooks. The best I could mumble was an unsteady “get ready!”
Other figures were now approaching from several directions. We could make out six of seven of them through the mist. One appeared to be carrying a baby around its neck. They seemed to mean business as they growled at each other. The one that had pushed through the foliage first was the leader. There was little question as to his authority as he led the attack.
“Brooks” I said hurriedly, “let’s try firing over their heads to see if we can scare them. Don’t hit them for heaven’s sake, or we may have them in a frenzy! A wounded animal – if they are animals – won’t stop. And if they are demons, the Sherpas will never forgive us if we kill them. The Sherpas, superstitious as they are, would rather be killed than offend their gods especially here.”
“Okay George, you say when” he replied softly.
We sighted carefully through the fog and waited until the repulsive faces were about ten feet away. We squeezed the triggers almost together. The blast swirled in the fog in front of us. Splinters of wood and torn leaves fell through the foliage. The creatures stopped abruptly. A deathly, fearsome silence pervaded the darkening air.
“Let’s give them another one, Brooks,” I shouted more confident now. The second volley resounded and we were definitely reassured. A third round this time convinced the demons. They turned, howling like wounded coyotes, and fled into the thicket. The excited chattering from the gray gloom told us however, that they had not gone far.
Brooks was reassured. As we reloaded he asked jauntily, “What’s next George?” “Shall we attack?” I felt as Brooks felt. We needed to do something and do it fast. On second thought, however, caution was required.
Slowly I said, “We’ll wait it out, I believe, until our coolies catch up. We wouldn’t have a chance if \we moved forward or even tried to make a break. I don’t believe that they’ll attack the whole party. Our problem now is just how far behind are the coolies? It’s getting dark and these pirates won’t miss the chance to eat us alive if I don’t miss my guess. In another 20 minutes we won’t be able to see at all.”
We sank back on the rock and waited there in the twilight, nervous as cats caught up a tree. We listened for the sounds of the coolies and we listened for the change in the growls from the thicket that might indicate another attack. At this point, we knew the demons were discussing our future and wondering how to play their cards. We tried to joke, but it was corny and useless. We were scared.
The fog was unbearable. It penetrated out wet clothes and chilled our bodies. I shivered suddenly. The rock was uncomfortable. We squirmed continuously as the rough edges dug into our muscles. Fog, now almost impenetrable, swirled slowly through the black foliage, throwing dark shadows here and there in wraithlike patterns. Grotesque forms appeared and gaped at us only to disappear and leave out eyes red and tear-stained from the strain.
Brooks pulled out a cigarette and lit it nervously. I knew he wasn’t enjoying it. It couldn’t be worth the effort. Perhaps it gave him something to do with his free hand. It was then that I discovered that I was unconsciously clicking the cylinder release on my revolver back and forth. Brooks gave me a dirty look and I stopped.
The chattering and snarling from the thicket came only intermittently now. I tried to guess the leader’s plan. Was he waiting for reinforcements? No. Not likely. There couldn’t be too many of them in these hills and this no doubt was the entire pack. Planning to attack? This was more reasonable. No doubt they would hit us in one mad rush. Yes, a single massed attack at the time of their choosing. They would certainly wait until dark at any rate.
Damn those coolies! Where were they? The lazy, unreliable boneheads! Have they bedded down for the night, No, they would want a village with all the comforts attached. They’ll come.
It was almost dark now. We kept straining to see through the gray mist. We were cold and wet. Our close clung to us. A black and yellow striped leech crawling up the rock fastened itself on Brooks boot. The leech, unsure of its prey, stopped and listened, weaving its upright body slowly in the air. I reached down and plucked it off the wet leather. Half-consciously, I rolled the worm in my fingers trying to crush it. It was too rubbery. I flung it to the trail in sudden disgust.
The chattering around us was growing noticeably louder. Sudden loud and urgent growls portended something new in the offing. “Brooks, this is it.” Shoot to kill this time and pray.”
I remember giving him one last look. We had met in Kathmandu only the year before. Already he had become a friend that I could know forever. I cocked the .38 and waited. “George” Brooks whispered excitedly – “They’ve stopped talking.”
An uncanny and eerie silence pervaded the air. What was happening? I raised myself a bit higher on the rock. If they were crawling in for the attack, we had to make every shot count. In the bad light a .38 would not be a very effective weapon, and they wouldn’t be afraid this time. But not a movement was discernible. Not a sound could be heard. We waited anxiously; sweat adding to the soddenness of our clothes. “Damn it George, where are they?” Then a sound from the right, a cracking of a twig.
“They’re coming down the trail George, can you see them?” A form appeared moving cautiously toward us. There was another. I sighted the barrel of the .38 at the leading figure in the mist. Almost now, a bit closer.
“Sahib?” “Sahib,” a voice called in the darkness. I hesitated a moment and then came a sudden realization. “Brooks, Brooks! It’s the coolies.” Thank God. We’re okay now. “Shiva we’re here. Shiva, on the rock, come ahead.”
Beautiful, lovely Shiva…. my Gurkha foreman, boss of the porters. One of the finest men I’ve ever known – can ever hope to know. A loyal dependable quiet little man whose resource and strength lay deep within him. Not on the surface. A look from him had more effect on the Sherpas than a whiplash would have had. For me, he was always there when I needed him. I needed him now. He was here!
“Sahib, you okay? We hear shots. We come up quick.”
“God Almighty, we thank you,” Brooks murmured.
“Yes Shiva, we’re okay now,” I said.
“Let’s go home.”
My staff and friends back in Kathmandu got quite a laugh when we described our experience on the ridge near Gosainkund. Several wanted to go back immediately, but the monsoon was on us and the torrents made mountain travel out of the question. When the rains had spent their fury, my medical duties took me twice again through the same region. I never saw the animals again.
What was it that we saw?
A mutant species that man has not yet categorized? Some kind of ape; large, erect, adapted to the high altitudes; made antisocial by its self-imposed isolation, jealous of any invasion of its realm? Perhaps.
Or was it an entirely new species? An undiscovered animal? A leftover remnant of prehistoric day? A creature clever enough to elude the curiosity of man, inhabiting an area still almost wholly unpenetrated by even the Sherpas who seldom stray from the time worn trails?
From 1816 to 1951 the country of Nepal for all intent and purpose was close to the outside world. Even today only a handful of outsiders have explored but a tiny portion of this land. Yet it was this handful – more interested in climbing mountains than foraging for new species that brought back tales and evidence of a mysterious creature they call the yeti.
One thing is certain. Whatever science will some day discover it to be, the creature humankind has called the abominable snowman is there in the Himalayan heights.
I know. I met it there on the pilgrim trail from Tarke Ghyang.
George Moore, M.D.. October, 1952-3.
Artist Mort Kunstler reconstructed the scenes from descriptions furnished by Dr. Moore.
This story © Sports Afield 1957 was generously contributed by Tom Cousino