Posts Tagged ‘Everest

When Climbing Mount Everest Just Isn’t Enough

- March 1st, 2012

 

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Meet Sano Babu Sunuwar, left, and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa, the National Geographic Society’s 2012 Adventurers of the Year.

In a world of stupendous feats undertaken by crazy, daring people, how do you win an accolade like Adventurers of the Year?

Well, you start with a first tiny step — at the base of Mount Everest.

Reaching the summit of the world’s highest mountain last May was a little ho-hum for Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa — the Nepali climbing guide had been there three times previously.

It was a bigger deal for his pal and climbing companion, Sano Babu Sunuwar, a paragliding instructor who was making the Everest ascent for the first time.

But the unbelievable thing is that the two men’s extraordinary adventure had only begun when they reached the highest point on earth about 8:15 a.m. on May 21, 2011.

 

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How high is the highest point on earth?

 

That’s a good question — and there are at least half a dozen answers.

 

When British surveyor George Everest did the first trigonometric survey of the mountain named after him in 1856, he came up with a height of 8,840 metres (29,002 feet) above sea level.

 

The most recent survey, done by China in 2005, put Everest’s elevation at exactly 8,844.43 metres (29,017 feet) with another 3.55 metres of ice cap on top of that.

 

A survey done by India in 1955 figured the mountain was 7 cm higher than the later Chinese calculation.

 

Wikipedia lists Everest’s height as 8,848 metres (29,029 feet) — which is the 2005 Chinese height including the ice cap.

 

The measurement I prefer (mainly because it’s the highest and techiest) was done by a U.S. team using GPS technology in 1999, coming up with a rockhead elevation of 8,850 metres (29,035 feet) plus another metre of ice on top of that.

 

Nepal, which shares ownership of the mountain with China,  is currently in the middle of a two-year geodesic survey using GPS instruments to determine once and for all exactly how high Everest is. The Nepali team should have a new number for us before Christmas 2013.

 

But no number is ever accurate for long because Everest is growing all the time. Continual upward pressure from the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates grinding together pushes the mountain upward about half a centimetre each year.

 

For that reason, if for no other, I say we go with the nice round 1999 American figure: 8,850 metres (29,035 feet).

 

 

Meanwhile, back on Everest, Lakpa and Babu savoured the view from the top of the world for a few minutes (with his oxygen tank stolen at Camp 4 just before their final push for the summit, Lakpa had been climbing without an oxygen supply for almost an hour at that point) — and then stepped into space.

 

And thus began their record-breaking descent 8,850 metres (29,035 feet) to sea level.

 

Don’t forget, Sano Babu Sunuwar may have been a novice on Everest but he is a professional paragliding instructor.

 

After taking a few photos on top of Everest, the two strapped themselves into a tandem paraglider they had lugged up the world’s highest mountain and launched themselves off Everest.

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It was the third time Everest climbers had jumped off the mountain with a paraglider, but probably the first time anyone sang all the way to their landing 45 minutes later. As they swooped through the frigid Himalayan air over glaciers and sheer rock faces, the two joyous men waved at and serenaded other teams of climbers still making the hard, dangerous ascent.

 

Their landing site was the Sherpa village of Namche Bazar about 5,000 metres (16,400 feet) below the summit of Everest. But in their descent, the pair had flown 8,865 metres (29,084 feet), setting a world record for free flight with a paraglider.

 

So half of their descent from the highest point on earth to sea level took them 45 minutes. The other half would take more than a month.

 

 

Most of the photos in this blog post were taken by Sano Babu Sunuwar and come from the National Geographic Society’s announcement of Babu and Lapka as winners of NatGeo’s 2012 People’s Choice Adventurers of the Year award a few days ago.

 

I’ve used a few shots for illustrative purposes, but here is a link to National Geographic’s full gallery of photos from the May-June 2011 adventure, now known as The Ultimate Descent.

 

Here’s a link to the partial transcript of a National Geographic interview with the pair.

 

 

And here is a link to a video showing their paraglide descent from the top of the world. And also showing what wonderful, real human beings these two guys are.

 

 

 

Once on the ground again, the plan was to bicycle to the headwaters of a mountain stream which flowed into Nepal’s Kosi River which in turn flowed into India’s sacred Ganges River which in turn emptied into the Bay of Bengal, part of the Indian Ocean — sea level, in other words. The river route would be a journey of more than 850 km.

 

This plan was hatched only a few months earlier. Lakpa and Babu had no corporate sponsorship (apart from a little logistical and supply help from the paragliding company that employed Babu) and very little money of their own, but they had guts and expertise in different areas and an incredible spirit.

 

Lapka’s main expertise was in getting the pair to the top of Everest and Babu’s was getting them down to the ground again.

 

Back on the ground, a second area of Babu’s expertise came into play. As well as being a paragliding instructor, Babu is also an expert extreme kayaker. Lakpa, on the other hand, had only been in a kayak a few times under Babu’s tutelage before the Everest ascent and to this day cannot swim.

 

After being feted for a night as heroes by the locals in Namche Bazar, Lakpa and Babu cycled to where their borrowed double kayak was waiting and began a river journey which would end 37 days later, at the Bay of Bengal.

 

The first part of their river ride was down sometimes torrential mountain watercourses with among the most difficult sections of navigable rapids in the world. So for the river part of the journey Babu and Lakpa were accompanied in a second kayak by Babu’s brother, Krishna Sunuwar, who acted as a spotter in rough water.

Kosti-River-rapids

On more than one occasion Krishna pulled Lakpa — who can’t swim, remember — from the raging river while Babu fought the capsized double kayak out of whirlpools and Class V rapids.

 

You’d think that would be the hard part, but in many ways the high-mountain Nepalis found their trip on the relatively placid Ganges more dangerous and disturbing than the Himalayan section of their trek.

 

Here’s what Lapka had to say when asked by National Geographic what he found the most intimidating part of the journey to be:

 

“The bugs. The ants. All animals—so active. Insects—so active. They are all so busy. People so active. In the mountains, all creatures move slowly. In India, all the animals and the people move so fast. They are not still. I did not like the bugs. When we reached the ocean and took the kayaks to shore, the beach was covered in giant red scorpions. I was scared then, but we learned later that they were crabs and harmless. I also had a hard time breathing in the low elevation.”

And then there were the dead bodies and knifepoint robbery.

Lapka: “We were not used to seeing dead bodies. In Nepal, we burn our dead. In India, they are put in the river. We would see two or three bodies a day.”

Sabu: “Sometimes whole villages would come down. We were robbed. They came with knives. We protected the camera, but gave them money. They left, but we paddled very fast. We could hear them coming with a motorboat. We found an island with tall grasses and hid. We slept in the kayaks the whole night.”

But finally on June 27, 2011, Sano Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa reached the Bay of Bengal. They had become the first people to descend under their own power from the highest point on earth to sea level.

Bay-of-Bengal

They’re such amazing guys — and nice, too — as I think you’ll attest when you watch the video of them talking about their adventure.

Congrats, Babu and Lakpa, and good on ya, National Geographic, for sharing their incredible story with us.

 

The Yeti’s Hand, Part 2

- July 11th, 2011

 

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the latest from the BBC (Dec. 27, 2011) on their investigation into the yeti’s hand.

 

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Now where was I before I was so pleasantly interrupted by wilderness wanderings through islands, woods and waterways?

Oh yeah, the yeti’s hand of Pangboche —  a mysterious relic kept for decades, perhaps centuries,  in a Himalayan temple near Mount Everest before it was stolen in the 1990s.

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If you haven’t read Part 1, you should probably get up to speed. Here’s a link to the first blog post.

When we left our story at the end of Part 1, explorer and adventurer Peter Byrne (working for American oil tycoon Tom Slick) had just managed to acquire one skeletal finger of the (possible) yeti’s hand — either through duplicity or a charitable contribution, depending on which version of Byrne’s story you want to believe.

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Peter Byrne in the 1970s, above,

and Tom Slick in the 1950s, below

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As we begin Part 2, it is just before Christmas 1958 and Byrne is trying to figure out how to get the yeti finger back to London, England, for study by Slick’s scientific team there. As a possible antiquity or, at least, anthropological oddity, the finger would have to be smuggled out of India somehow.

Let’s let Byrne pick up the story in an excerpt from a letter he recently wrote to New Zealand commercial pilot and adventurer Mike Allsop:

“Another cable arrived from Slick and in it was a further instruction…  go to Calcutta, take the finger with you, get there soon, and plan to meet with a Mr. and Mrs. Stewart at the Grand Hotel, on Chowringhee Road;  they will be expecting you and they will take the finger and get it to Osman Hill in London.

“So I hiked down to the border again, took another train to Calcutta, took a taxi to the Grand and booked in. A few hours later I knocked on the door of an upstairs suite and was warmly greeted by the famous and quite delightful Stewarts, Jimmy and Gloria.

“I handed over the finger, after which we had a most enjoyable evening together and a very good dinner at the Grand’s Casanova restaurant.”

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The Grand Hotel in Calcutta (now Kolkata)

Yes, according to Byrne he handed over the fingerbones of an abominable snowman to Hollywood legend James Stewart in a Calcutta restaurant, from whence the movie star — at the height of his fame — and his wife would smuggle the relic out of the Indian subcontinent and on to Europe, like some kind of pre-Indiana Jones fantasy escapade.

The most amazing thing about the story is that it is true.

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Jimmy and Gloria Stewart at Rhein-Main airport in Germany in February 1959 after they had delivered the smuggled yeti finger to London for examination.

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Years after the event, Stewart recounted the same story in Loren Coleman’s 1989 biography of Tom Slick, the oil man, adventurer, philanthropist, yeti hunter, CIA confidante, pilot, and friend of fellow celebrity pilots like Howard Hughes and Jimmy Stewart.

And Gloria Stewart told the story of how she and Jimmy decided to smuggle the finger out of India in her lingerie case. Yes, as well as smuggling antiquities out of sovereign countries, celebrities and other women of a certain social strata used to travel with special baggage for their undies, etc.

As Gloria later told the story, the lingerie case was missing when the Stewarts finally arrived at the Dorchester Hotel in London. A few days later, Her Majesty’s Customs Service contacted the Stewarts to arrange a meeting.

At the appointed time and place, a young Customs official appeared — with Gloria’s lingerie case in hand. After due courtesies, the awe-struck young movie buff gave Gloria the case, shook the Stewarts’ hands and took his leave from the Hollywood royals.

As he was about to exit, stage left, Gloria impulsively asked the young man: “Did you open my luggage?”

The red-faced official turned, rose on all his official dignity, and addressed the beautiful, rich, influential Hollywood doyen: “No, madam, Her Majesty’s Customs Service would not trifle with a lady’s privates.”

Or words to that effect.

Anyway, the Stewarts  retrieved the finger and turned the specimen over to  Dr. Osman Hill, Britain’s leading primate anatomist, for examination.

Osman Hill was no cryptoscientific quack.

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Here’s the start of his Wikipedia entry:

William Charles Osman Hill (13 July 1901 – 25 January 1975) was a British anatomist,primatologist, and a leading authority on primate anatomy during the 20th century. He is best known for his nearly completed eight-volume series, Primates: Comparative Anatomy and Taxonomy, which covered all living and extinct primates known at the time in full detail and contained illustrations created by his wife, Yvonne. Schooled at King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys in Birmingham and University of Birmingham, he went on to publish 248 works and accumulated a vast collection of primate specimens that are now stored at the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

So, no slouch.

But before we get to Osman Hill’s examination of the finger, let’s finish up with the Stewarts.

The Stewarts had been in India in December 1958 for a little tiger hunting — a grotesque concept now but something considered rather romantic and heroic then — when pal Tom Slick contacted them for a little adventure of the cloak-and-dagger sort.

Stewart’s back-to-back films with Kim Novak — Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo and the romantic comedy (last of Jimmy’s romantic roles) Bell, Book and Candle — had just been released before the India trip and Jimmy needed to get away from it all.

Here’s what he told The Associated Press about his Indian sojourn after dropping off the yeti’s finger in London:

“The idea of taking a vacation and lying in the sun somewhere has never appealed to me. Also, I don’t like the idea of dashing from one foreign city to another.

“I have found that the world’s big cities are mostly alike these days. They are all packed and all of them have traffic problems. The first thing most American tourists do is look for an American-style restaurant or hotel.

“If you’re going to do that, you might as well stay at home. But with hunting and fishing it’s different. You really get to know the people.”

Here’s the link to that Associated Press interview, conducted after the Stewarts left London and visited pre-Wall Berlin, which Jimmy had bombed as a U.S. Air Force pilot during World War II.

And now, as we bid a fond adieu to Jimmy and Gloria Stewart, here’s what Osmond Smith had to say about the (possible) yeti finger dropped in his lap.

Maybe yes. Maybe no. But not human. And not ape. Something in between. Osmond Smith’s  first finding was that the finger bones were “hominid” — the broad anthropological category of upright walkers that includes modern humans and Neanderthals. He later refined that verdict to say the sample was a closer match to Neanderthal than modern human.

Don’t forget, this is  back in 1959 and 1960, loooong before DNA testing.

However, another member of Tom Slick’s scientific team, American anthropologist George Agogino, also received a portion on the Pangboche finger. And in 1991, Agogino turned it over to an NBC program called Unsolved Mysteries — and they did tests.

I’m sorry to say nothing conclusive came from these studies either — not human, not ape — but if you don’t have a yeti to compare your sample to, how ya gonna know it’s a yeti?

Here’s a link to the 1991 Unsolved Mysteries broadcast.

So nothing enlightening came from the Unsolved Mysteries investigation and publicity but something bad did: The yeti hand and skull were stolen from the Pangboche monastery.

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Photos of Pangboche and its monastery by FELISHJ, courtesy of TravelPod.com

By the 1990s, Everest trek tourism had become big business in Nepal. For every one mountaineer with a permit to climb (or attempt to climb) the highest mountain in the world, hundreds of others got travel permits allowing them to hike into the restricted zone for a one-day (no stay) visit to Everest Base Camp.

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As a result, many more people were making their way up the Lukla-Everest trail, passing through Pangboche, visiting the monastery and seeing the yeti hand and skull. And one day they were gone.

In 1999, either on a klepto whim or to fill an order from an esoteric collector, someone stole the Pangboche yeti relics. They have never been recovered.

Cut to 2007.

Mike Allsop, a mountain climber and commercial pilot for Air New Zealand, was on his way to Everest when he stopped in Pangboche and heard the legend of the yeti’s hand for the first time from the monastery abbot, Lama Gershe.

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Mike Allsop, Air New Zealand pilot, above,

and Everest mountaineer, below

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Without the yeti hand and skull to attract paying customers,the monastery’s number of visitors had dried up — and so had the income that supported the monastery community.

Allsop continued on to make his unguided ascent of Everest, but he also determined  he would do what he could to find the yeti’s hand and return it to Pangboche.

The public face of Allsop’s mission is a website called  returnthehand.com.

Here’s what Allsop has to say:

“The inspiration for this website is to reach out to anyone who may have the original artifacts or has knowledge of their whereabouts. If they could find it in their hearts to return these original artifacts, the small village of Pangboche would be forever grateful. Lama Gershe had a stroke in September 2010 and is slowly recovering in Kathmandu.  I know he would be very happy if they were returned to their rightful home.

“I can provide a service to collect or personally pick up the artifacts anywhere in the world with absolutely no questions asked. In fact, I’ll buy the beers.

“If you have them please find it in your heart to contact me and return them, good things happen to good people.”

I should point out here that most of Allsop’s focus is on the Pangboche Hand, since photos of the supposed yeti skull show it to be very similar to other Himalayan “yeti” heads which have been identified as the skulls of mountain antelopes. But the hand is a different matter … much more up in the air.

Now I’m going to tell you a story that illustrates just how differently things work in New Zealand than elsewhere in the world:

Early last year, pilot Allsop was sitting around in a pub having a beer with his boss, Rob Fyfe, CEO of Air New Zealand (see what I mean — where else in the world does the CEO of an international corporation go out for after-work drinks with one of the frontline grunts who works for him?).

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Air New Zealand’s Rob Fyfe

Allsop was explaining that he hoped to have replicas of the hand and skull made so the Pangboch monastery would have something to show until the originals were (hopefully) returned.

And here’s another example of how things work differently in New Zealand: Fyfe picked up the phone and put Allsop in touch with Fyfe’s good friend, Sir Richard Taylor.

Taylor, in case you don’t recognize the name, got his knighthood for creating Weta Workshops — the now-giant artisan design and fabricating operation that produced all the fabulous weapons, armour, costumes, monster masks, claws and other special doodahs for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies. Weta’s craftworks are in high demand around the world for film productions and other special-effect events.

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Sir Richard Taylor, centre, with director Peter Jackson, right, and one of Taylor’s Lord of the Rings creatures, left

And Taylor, like Fyfe, became an enthusiastic supporter of Allsop’s mission, putting Weta Workshops on the job of reproducing replicas of the Pangboche hand and skull based on photos taken by the Slick expeditions in the 1950s.

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Here’s what they created.

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Mike Allsop, above, with the Weta Workshops yeti hand. Below, another view of the hand with the reproduction of the supposed yeti skullcap

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Allsop began preparing to take the replicas back to the  Himalayas to present them to the Pangboche monastery. With Air Zealand sponsoring the trip, Allsop was also going to take along a group of 15 Air New Zealand employees, including Fyfe, and lead them to Everest Base Camp.

The target date for this expedition was April 2011.

Then nature intervened. Another thing that makes New Zealand different from much of the rest of the world is earthquakes.

And New Zealand had two bad ones only six months apart, a magnitude 7.1 quake that hit the South Island on Sept. 4, 2010, and a 6.3 quake that did even more damage to the city of Christchurch and killed more than 180 people on Feb. 22, 2011.

With the whole country in disaster mode, an expedition to the Himalayas bearing yeti replica artifacts dropped waaaay down the priority list for Allsop, Fyfe and Air New Zealand.

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It was about this time that I became aware of  — and started following — Allsop’s quixotic mission. So I waited in vain for more details of the expedition while New Zealand dug itself out of the rubble, mourned its dead and began putting Christchurch back together again.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Allsop was getting his Pangboche expedition back on track — but with virtually no fanfare because it just didn’t seem right, given the enormity of the earthquakes aftermath that New Zealand was still dealing with.

Finally, in early June, I e-mailed Mike Allsop and asked him what was happening.

Here’s Mike’s reply, which I received on Monday, June 6:

Hi Alan,

Last month (May) the replica yeti hand and skullcap were gifted to the Pangboche monastery. We met with the head teaching Lama called Lama Geshe (sic) and asked him for his guidance and blessing.  After a good discussion he liked the idea and thought they would help the monastery attract visits.

We then had a small ceremony at the monastery and presented the replicas to the monastery’s  lama. A few locals had heard that something was going on and turned up. There were a few gasps when the replicas were unveiled.

Hopefully they will attract visitors to the monastery and a few donations.

Regards Mike Allsop

Here are some photos  of the presentation ceremony that Mike sent along.

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So the Weta Workshops version of the yeti hand is now in the Pangboche monastery, from whence the original was stolen more than a decade ago.

Mike Allsop still hopes to recover the original — and is willing to fly anywhere in the world to pick it up. If you want to give Mike a hand in finding the hand, go to his website, www.returnthehand.com.

As for the future, Mike tells me the BBC has found a portion of the finger acquired by Peter Byrne in 1958, smuggled to England by Jimmy Stewart and examined by William Charles Osman Hill. A BBC radio documentary is in the works.

“Hopefully it (the finger bone) will be returned (to Pangboche) one day,” Mike says in conclusion.

Stay tuned. Something tells me this story is far from over.

The Yeti’s Hand — A True Tale of Himalayan Mystery, Intrigue and Adventure

- June 12th, 2011

UPDATE (SORT OF): Here’s a link to the latest on Mount Everest

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I will make this story as true as I can.

But that doesn’t mean the existence of the legendary Yeti — the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas — is “true” … necessarily.

What is true is that something or some things is/are out there in the highest mountains of the world. There have been just too many sightings and encounters to dismiss. But “it” could be a Himalayan brown bear, a Tibetan blue bear, a langur monkey, an orang-utan or another high-altitude great ape … or it could be the classic humanoid “missing link” snowman we all really hope “it” is. Or it could be all of the above.

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There is no conclusive evidence either/any way — but there is a lot of disputed evidence which some reputable scientists believe is indicative of a currently unclassified creature genetically related to humans.

(Don’t forget: Europeans considered the African gorilla a native myth until 1847.)

A couple of those pieces of evidence were a yeti skull and skeletal hand kept as honoured relics by the monks of the oldest gompa or Buddhist monastery in the land of the Sherpas below Mount Everest.

Our story revolves around how those relics were “discovered” by Western explorers in the 1950s, how part of the hand made its way to a lab in London in the lingerie case of the wife of a Hollywood movie star, how the whole hand and skull were stolen by another mountaineer in the late 1990s and, finally, what a New Zealand commercial airline pilot and adventurer is doing today to try to set things right.

It’s probably a long story so we better begin … in fact, I’ve just decided to break the story into two parts so we don’t get lost forever in the mountains (of words).

Mount_Everest_by_Kerem_Barut

You won’t find the village of Pangboche on Google Maps.

But it’s there, 3,860 metres above sea level, about halfway between the town of Lukla (which you will see on Google Maps) and Mount Everest (or Everest Base Camp, to be more precise).

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You may have to zoom in on these maps, but in the one above A is the Nepal capital of Kathmandu; B is the town of Lukla a couple of hundred kilometres east of Kathmandu; and C is Mount Everest, about 40 km north of Lukla as the crow flies — but hundreds of kilometres up and down hills and mountains as the human walks. you’ll find the village of Pangboche on the map below showing the trekking trail from Lukla to Everest Base Camp.

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And Pangboche has been there a long time. Not as long as the mountains themselves, of course, but probably as long as the Sherpas have lived in eastern Nepal (they moved from Tibet in the mid-1600s). Pangboche is considered to be oldest village in the Khumbu, the Sherpa region watched over by Sagarmatha, which is what the Sherpas call Everest (and which is what we should probably call it too — either that or Jomolungma, which is what the Tibetans, who own the other side of the mountain, call Everest.)

Now Pangboche doesn’t have much — the people make most of their living by servicing the tourists who have the gumption and stamina to trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp — but they do have a Buddhist monastery, also considered the oldest in the region.

Here’s a link to a Flickr photo gallery of Pangboche taken by a guy named Richard.

The Panboche gompa or monastery is a modest affair, generally overshadowed by the showier Tengboche gompa down the road, but it did once have a claim to fame: The Pangboche Hand.

(NOTE: If the word “gimp” accidentally shows up in this blog post, that’s what the Mac automatic spellcheck on my current laptop seems to want to turn every reference to “gimp” into — this is really funny … I just wrote “gompa”  again and the stupid/oversmart machine turned it into what you see. I have to go back and type in “gompa”  a second time over every instance of  “gimp” to make it stick — I hope, or else this graf just says gimp, gimp,gimp, gimp … and, yes, I snuck a secret “gompa” in there against the wishes of my pushy computer. I think this is a case of technology being too big for its britches. I am really not crazy about a computer (hello HAL) overriding my decisions. Hmmmm, yes, master…. I don’t know if it happens on other systems, but if you own a Mac, try typing “gompa” and see what happens. )

Back to our story …

But first …

The British actually wanted to give Everest its “native” name but there were so many local variations for the world’s highest mountain they gave up in exasperation and resorted to naming it after a colonial bureaucrat (as usual) … who, God bless his soul, objected to the honour because his name could not be written in Hindi and his name was unpronounceable for locals. Despite his objections — “no,no, really, you mustn’t name the highest mountain in the world after me” — Britain’s Royal Geographical Society named the great lump of rock after Sir George Everest in 1865.

Everest-closeup

As for the pronunciation, it’s EV-rest, not EVER-est. Which is funny because George Everest pronounced his own name IV-rist. So I guess Sagarmatha/Jomolungma isn’t named after a British colonial bureaucrat after all.

As I said before, this could go on for a while …

Back to our story …

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A photo of the Pangboche Hand taken in 1958 by Peter Byrne

The yeti cropped skull and severed hand at the Pangboche monastery (yes, I’ve given up on gompa/gimp) were not particularly old — perhaps decades-old, not centuries-old when American-European intruders became aware of them in the 1950s. How old? Nobody knows … or is telling, but the best guess seems to be from sometime around 1890-1900 — the time when wacky Europeans first started going crazy over the long-time locally accepted phenomenon of yeti.

European expeditions — mostly British — into the high Himalayas were few and far between back then, but there was a steady drip-drip-drip of reports of unusual creature sightings, which local guides and porters usually explained away as being a yeti “man-bear” or “snowman.”

Here’s a quick illustrated survey of some reported yeti sightings from an article in the December 1957 issue of Popular Science magazine  entitled “Science Closes In on the Abominable Snowman.”

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The 1921 expedition, by the way, was the one that produced the phrase “Abominable Snowman” which seemed to capture the public’s fancy more than previous descriptions.

During that expedition, Lt.-Col. Charles Howard-Bury found a trail of footprints which he suspected were made by a loping mountain wolf but which, because of the effect of melt change, he described as “rather like those of a barefoot man.”

When the group got back to its Indian base at Darjeeling, journalist Henry Newman was waiting for them. When he heard about the tracks in the snow, Newman went to the porters for an explanation. They started talking about “metoh-kangmi” — “metoh” supposedly meaning “man-bear” and “kangmi” meaning “snowman” — but Newman (as the story goes) misinterpreted “metoh” as a similar word for “filthy,” substituted “abominable” for “filthy,” came up with “abominable snowman” and sent the story around the world.

(Newman later apparently said he didn’t believe in the yeti “but it made a cracking story.”)

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The 1950s was the golden age of yeti hunting, primarily because of one man: the aptly named Tom Slick Jr.

Slick Senior made a fortune finding oil in Texas, Junior increased that fortune — and then started spending it to set up philanthropic entities like the Southwest Research Institute, the Mind Science Foundation, the Tom Slick Professorship of World Peace … and mounting expeditions to investigate the Loch Ness monster, the yeti, North America’s Bigfoot and so on.

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Tom Slick the oil man and philanthropist, above, and the yeti hunter, below

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In his down time, Slick was also a world-roaming pilot who dabbled in intrigue with the likes of Howard Hughes and the CIA.

Really. All this is true, just as I promised.

Slick financed several Himalayan expeditions in the late 1950s and, when he wasn’t there himself, turned over the quest to fellow adventurer Peter Byrne. Slick died in a mysterious plane crash in 1962 but Byrne is still alive, telling tales of six decades of adventuring.

And one of his tales — supported by independent evidence — is Byrne’s discovery of the Pangboche Hand and later acquisition of a fingerbone from said skeletal yeti hand.

Byrne has actually told two different versions of the tale — the same in many ways but differing in a key component. I’ll tell you both and you decide which one you want to believe.

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Peter Byrne, above when he was hunting Bigfoot in North America a few decades ago and below a recent photo of the grand old adventurer

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Let’s let Byrne tell his story via a letter he wrote to New Zealand commercial pilot, mountaineer and adventurer Mike  Allsop a couple of months ago. (You can find the whole letter at this link, by the way.) We’ll break off when the story hits a fork in the road:

“In 1958, the second year of the three year American Yeti expedition, led by me and financed by Tom Slick of San Antonio, Texas, I and my brother Bryan were camped in a meadow close to the temple of Pangboche, in the Sola Khumbu region of the central Himalaya. One day, while visiting the temple, I heard one of its custodians talking in Nepalese. This caught my attention because lamas in the Himalaya  normally spoke only in the Sherpa dialect. Being fluent in Nepalese,  I introduced myself and we had a chat. Later the man came down to my camp and we had a chat and he told me that he was an ex-soldier of a Gurkha regiment of the British Army of India …  hence his being fluent in Nepalese. Later, when the conversation turned to my search for the Yeti, he told me that there was a hand of one in the temple and that he would  show it to me if I wished. Which of course I did, to where,  later that night, we went up to have a look at it.

The find — of what looked to me like a partially mummified primate hand, black and glistening from the oily smoke of the temple lamps — was very exciting and I immediately sent a runner off to India with a cable to Tom Slick, telling him  about it. Nepal in those days had no mail or cable system and so we used a post and cable office in India, close to the Indo Nepal border and about a hundred miles to the south. It also had no roads or transport of any kind and so all communication was by runners on foot, using the mountain trails. The runner I sent, a tough little Nepalese hill man named Sarbo,  usually took three days to get to the  border, covering the whole 200 mile round trip in six days. In this case , however, I  told him to stay down there and wait for a reply from the US. This  he did, arriving back at Pangboche ten days later with a cable from Tom Slick.

Slick said that it was imperative that we get  the hand and bring it to England, where it could be scientifically examined under controlled conditions. Failing that we should try and get at least one finger and then get it to London where an associate of his, a Dr. Osman Hill, a renowned British primatologist, would examine it and determine its authenticity.

I talked with the Nepalese-speaking lama about borrowing the hand for examination and he consulted with the other custodians. The answer was no. The hand must not leave the temple. Taking it from the temple would disturb the local deities and bring bad luck.”

And here’s where the story diverges.

According to the first version Byrne told decades ago, he solved the problem by getting the monk on duty that night drunk on rum and, when the monk passed out, switching a human fingerbone for one of the bones in the Pangboche Hand.

This is the alternate version Byrne told in his March 2011 letter to Allsop:

“So I made a  counter proposition, which was that they give me a just one finger and that this would suffice. They all sat down and pondered on this for a couple of days and then agreed to my request if two things were done. One, I would have to replace the finger with another finger. And, two, I would  have to make a substantial contribution towards the upkeep of the temple.

I told the custodians that I would have to consult with my expedition people and sent another cable off to Slick in Texas. His reply was an instruction for me to  come to London immediately for consultation with he and Osman Hill. So I sent another cable back saying that I would do this and could be in London in about a week. A few days later, leaving my brother in camp, I hiked down to the Indian border and took a train to Calcutta and from there flew to London.

A week later, at a luncheon meeting at the Regents Park Zoo-of which Osman Hill was Prosector at that time-attended by the Russian (Yeti) author, Odette Tchernine, Ralph Izzard of the Daily Mail, Tom Slick and Osman Hill, we discussed a strategy for getting the finger and replacing it with another one. The problem, of course, was getting a replacement. But this was quickly solved by Osman Hill who had brought a human hand with him…which he produced from a brown paper bag and, to Ms. Tchernine’s horror,  dropped on the luncheon table amongst the silverware. And so off I went, back to Nepal via Calcutta and another train to the border and another 100 mile hike across the rolling ten thousand foot hills of the middle Himalaya, to Pangboche, covering the 100 mile hike in three days.

We made a donation of ten thousand rupees to the temple-only about $160.00 in today’s rate of exchange but a large  amount for a community where the average income might be as little as $15 in a year- and the lamas then gave me a go ahead to take one finger and replace it with another…  from the human hand I had brought back from London. I did this, drilling and wiring the human finger in place of the one which I removed which (?) I believe was the index finger and my plan  then was to hold on to it until the end of  the year, when we were due to take a break, at Christmas, in Katmandu, and then find  someone there to get it to either the US or the UK.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where we will leave the story for a day or two.

When we return with Part 2, we will delve into the movie star smuggling the yeti bone back to Europe, what distinguished Dr. Hill had to say about the bone, what happened to the hand (and the the skull) after that, and how pilot and adventurer Mike Allsop ends up becoming the sort of hero of the story.