The science of yeti footprints

We're at last getting into spring, which means that whatever abominable prints that yetis have left in the snow this year will be melting away into nothing. Possibly, though, they'll be melting into existence before they return to nonexistence. Here's how a little melt can make a yeti track that could fool anyone.

Yeti history makes do with what it has. Before there were tv shows with production teams, there were blurry videos. Before there were blurry videos of brown-haired figures running behind trees, there were single snapshots. And before there were single snapshots, there were footprints. All throughout history, there have been tales of finding tracks in the snow that were far too big to be human, and far too oddly-shaped to be a bear. These strange tracks are one of the things that got bigfoot legends started. (And they may have also started the werewolf legends.)

The science of yeti footprintsS

One of the most famous of all of these tracks was the Shipton Snowman. The print was discovered in 1951, around Mount Everest, by Michael Ward and Eric Shipton. The two were part of an expedition to find new trails up Mount Everest, and were exploring when they noticed a very strange trail in the snow. Each track was as big as the men's boots, but the tracks appeared to be both humanoid and barefoot. It seemed to have extremely toe-like appendages on one side, but grow ever more bulbous on the other. Shipton took a picture of the clearest track, and the picture has been under debate ever since. Some people say that it could have been made by a group of people walking in each other's tracks - hence the blurring. Then there's the fact that what looked to Shipton like the clearest print - the one with the most delicate and sharply drawn toelike structure on it - was by definition the anomaly of the bunch. If a track is made and, out of twenty to fifty footprints, only one of them looks humanoid, it's an indication that the creature that made them probably wasn't humanoid.

Others argue that the men would likely have known about other people trekking around on Everest, and that they were not new to the snow. They probably wouldn't have bothered photographing the track if no other prints looked humanoid. How could an entire set of tracks look like they belonged to some huge humanoid creature?

The answer comes from Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb Everest in 1953, who went back in 1960 specifically to disprove the concept of the yeti. He came home certain that yetis did not exist. One of the reasons behind his conclusion is footprints like the Shipton track. At around 18,000 feet, Hillary's expedition would frequently find such tracks along sunny stretches of snow fields. The tracks were broad, long humanoid feet with clear toe marks. Their guides confirmed that they were yeti prints. They followed the track across the exposed fields, until it dropped down out of the sun. Hillary reported that the human tracks vanished, and in their place came the tracks of animals. Generally, the tracks were of canines, which were "bounding" through the snow. The hopping movement of the bounding left deep impressions of paws set close together, which were especially scalloped and clear at the front edge. Then there would be a break as the animal leaped again, and another set of prints as it came down again. When the sun hit these tracks, the tracks that were clustered would melt together. Because the bounding of the animal was regular, and because the sun melted the tracks all the same way, they came to look like long lines of humanoid foot prints. Hillary described them as "as fine a yeti track as one could wish."

These tracks, which would seem to change from human, to canine, to human again as they moved through patches of light and shade, served as the basis for the yeti rumors. They also may have started the legend of werewolves. All it takes to make a false track, apparently, is sun and snow.

Today people have found tracks in mud, but those are generally created by the physical forces of the commercial market and reality shows.

Via LIFE, Bigfoot Encounters, and Cryptomundo.