Friday, April 1, 2011

Yeti—fact or fiction?

Ketchum adventure travel guide and explorer seeks answers

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum resident Gerry Moffat works on location in Bhutan as he travels through the Himalayas on a search for the yeti for a National Geographic Channel show “Hunt for the Abominable Snowman,” which will premiere on Monday, April 4, at 9 p.m. Yeti—fact or fiction? Photo by Jed Weingarten.

The idea that there are real creatures roaming the earth as half man and half ape have long been considered a figment of the imagination. Across the Himalayas and in parts of the rugged wilderness of North America, Ketchum resident Gerry Moffat set out on an adventure to seek the truth behind the myth of the yeti, also known as the abominable snowman, and Bigfoot. Moffat's explorations and discoveries will be revealed in the premiere of the one-hour show "Hunt for the Abominable Snowman" on the National Geographic Channel on Monday, April 4, at 9 p.m. The show is part of the National Geographic Channel's Expedition Week.

"It's cool," Moffat said. "I didn't know if I wanted to do a show on the yeti, but it turned out to be an insight into the Sherpa culture. It's an amazing intricate culture that is still alive in the Himalayas. Searching for the yeti tells the story of these people's belief systems. The yeti is very much a part of their lives."

The idea of an abominable snowman, yeti or Bigfoot is a mystical one. "Hunt for the Abominable Snowman" explores and discovers why the mystical notion of these creatures is an intricate part of Himalayan culture.

"It's in their art and spiritual beliefs," he said. "It's similar to stumbling upon a church in Europe where you would find the bones of a saint."

Moffat said the most amazing discovery in his exploration was how the stories from Native Americans were exactly the same as those of people in the Himalayas even though neither group of people has any connection to the other.

"These people are separated by oceans and continents, but have identical stories to tell about a creature that lives in the wilderness and up in the mountains," he said.

Moffat's skepticism was met with never-before-seen evidence including a yeti scalp kept under lock and key at a remote Himalayan monastery and stories by eyewitnesses.

"The yeti scalp is not just a museum piece, it's a sacred object," he said. "We were following leads and went to the Everest region and to the Sherpa people, where various people have claimed to have encountered a yeti or knew someone who had. We married these stories with Western science and used top trackers and scientists and analyzed data as to what was fiction and what was real."

Moffat first arrived in the Himalaya region to Nepal on a British kayaking expedition in 1983 at the age of 18. Over the next 20 years, he became the first person to descend all the major rivers in the Nepalese Himalayas. In 1990, he established the first river company in northern Pakistan. He is a white water consultant to the Kingdom of Bhutan. National Geographic regards him as "the most experienced river guide in the Himalayas."  

He's reached the top of  Mount Everest on two occasions for film productions. In June 2007, he climbed the north face via Tibet as the behind-the-scenes television presenter for the motion picture "The Wildest Dream," which retraces the life of George Mallory and the tragic 1924 Everest Expedition. In May 2009, as head of film production for Eddie Bauer's "Return to Everest Expedition," Moffat climbed Mount Everest from the Nepalese south side. 

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