Whose tracks mountaineers met in Mongolian Altay?

Michael Trachtengerts

When surfing the Internet on yeti in Himalayas and in surrounding areas, I often found out photo shown lower with the legend "Yeti tracks". Neither the author of the photo, nor place or circumstances were associated with it. I was helped by researcher Hewie Dalrymple who sent me the link to a site of Polish mountaineers
where the story of the photo was presented. An article by Andrzej Skupinski, in which the photo appeared for the first time, told mainly about first ascend of the Polish climbers on some tops in Mongolian Altay in 1967 and ascends of British-American group in the same area in 1992. In 1992 the photo of track line was made by American climber Ed Webster on Alexandra glacier when the group was preparing for rise on Snow Church top (or, from Mongolian, The White Pagoda).

Andrzej Skupinski also wrote (translation to English, original text is unavailable):

"In call to me at 18 June, 2001 Ed Webster said firmly, that below Snow Church he has come across Almas tracks on fresh snow, made not more than several hours ago. Almas means yeti in Mongolian. On the photo tracks went precisely over that place where our tents took place 25 years ago. Tracks went from the East (glacier Grano), about 5 km along glacier Alexandra, then on the place of our former camp at bottom of a big flat rock, and after that they turned abruptly on ice slope to a col where the side of Snow Church begins.

From the col Almas aimed its way to Przewalsky glacier on the China side of the mountains. The sequence of traces on groups by three, as the creature helped itself by arm, was most surprising. It was unusual also that the tracks went directly up to the col, that was later named by Ed Webster as Yeti col, on a hard slope. It was so steep that climbers used climbing-irons there. A quarter of a century earlier on probably better snow, we reached this col on climbing-irons and made steps in the slope.

In 1963 when we worked in Aimak Kobdo territory (now Hovd) Mongols many times told me about Almas. In different and departed places descriptions of its appearance and behavior were identical. The creature is rare, peoples are afraid of it, but they respect it as a monster really existing and being met in Altay. My comrade from Monch Chajrchana with local assistant Zanhuu saw pair of Almases on small distance. Descriptions of this, apparently, hominoid , seem authentic for me, and I am inclined to trust them. Stories of Mongols for certain were not aimed to start any sensation in press.

Who wishes let him believe in Almases. "

Whether close examination of the photo confirms this hypothesis?

Yes, Almases inhabit those places, there are enough evidences to conclude it. It is seems easy to accept it at once without distracting on details and to conclude that these tracks are left by such creature. And the main evident feature of the track line, namely, that it composed by repeating groups with three prints each, may be tried to explain as arm support in hominoids walking.

But the careful analysis shows that the matter is not so simple.

Look: tracks aimed from the East to the West in direction to observer. All of them are alike ¾ rather narrow, in each of them there is a flat surface in heel part, and a deepening in forward part, as from the toes of a foot in a snow. We cannot definitely specify any of the three prints, as made by primate hand or fingers.

Let's admit nevertheless that one of prints is made by a hominoid hand, and we shall try to imagine possible movements of legs according to remaining footprints. It is hardly possible to appoint for this role the last of the three ¾ a hominoid should jump on tracks, using its arm as a pole. This is absolutely improbable. In the case that its hand made a middle track the hand would hinder movements of legs, a hominoid would hardly create additional difficulties to itself. So, the forward print from the three, allegedly made by left hand, remains. But imagine due to the other tracks the gait of a mysterious biped ¾ it makes big step by the left leg and puts the right one a little behind to it. Or, if to consider start with the right leg, it makes by right leg big step and puts the left leg only a little further. What an odd creature would be such biped hominoid!

There were expressed also some opinions that the tracks were made by two hominoids that had passed together. Or, if it was alone, it came back by the same tracks. The last idea is absolutely improbable ¾ coming back creature with accuracy of a machine puts one leg in the former tracks and the second beside on a clear snow. It would be too strange also if such gait with tracks were shown by a biped fellow-creature (one in a track and one beside). It was not mentioned anywhere that Ed Webster spoke about dividing track lines. So the creature for sure was alone and it had passed those ice fields once only.

Let us now analyze another hypothesis that arises as remnant after excluding of those considered before ¾ tracks are left by a quadruped animal. It is necessary to note that in publications about tracks by such known zoologists as A.N.Formozov (The Guide of Pathfinder, Moscow State University Publ., 1989) and N.N.Rukovski (On forest animals tracks, Agroprom Publ., 1988) such kinds of track lines are not presented.

Nevertheless, I observed how similar tracks had been left by a dog. This dog moved not swiftly, its body was somewhat turned to the line of movement. Its front and hinder legs moved in parallel, but one pair was a little aside from another. Dogs run often enough in such a way. In that case I tell about, right forward and left back paws left the single traces. Its right back paw was put exactly on a tracks left by its left front paw. As a result the track line left by that dog was very much alike to the track line in the photo though, of course, prints of paws were much less and their form was different from those in the photo. The middle track among the three was overlapped.

Let us look carefully at middle footprint in the photo (opposite to an edge of the ice ax). We can see that it is wider in the heel part than prints of other tracks. It may show that it is overlapped. Those, who assumed a second creature there, some time ago also paid attention to these prints. The fact, that tracks were in unchanged line for many kilometers, confirms the opinion that tracks were left by a quadruped.

Now we come to main question: what of quadrupeds made these tracks? Considering the size of footprints about 25 cm (by compare with near ice ax), the first candidate to this role is a bear. Bears are found in this area, as well as in nearby area of Altay in Russia. It is quite real for the animal to cross a glacier to get from one mountain valley into another. Bear tracks on a route are pointed a little bit inside to direction of movement. Human tracks pointed outside from this line. In the photo the first and the last tracks of the three are a little bit directed inside. But they missed the main attribute of bear tracks ¾ marks of long claws. Quality of the photo is so high that scratches from claws on the snow would be quite visible. So, the bear version of the photographed tracks also cannot be adopted as recognized fully convincing. Other bipeds ¾ large Felines, Canids, or Ungulates are excluded because of absolutely other forms of their prints.

It is possible one more hypothesis nevertheless ¾ it was hominoid that moved quadruped and put hands not on phalanxes, as gorillas do, but on its palms. Some primates go in such way. The solving of this riddle may be helped by photos of the tracks in other circumstances, for example, on steep snow side where prints would be seen at different view, but they are not available.