SIGNED LETTER AND PLAN RELATING TO HILLARY'S YETI EXPEDITION

One page typed letter to John W. Dienhart on printed notepaper headed with Hillary's Auckland address and signed in ink, concerning his proposal to mount an expedition to prove/disprove the existence of the yeti. Attached to four single-sided typed pages titled 'Himalayan Expedition of 1960/61', laying out his plan for the proposed venture. Condition is very good with just a few old staple holes to the top left corner, a little rusting to the present staple, a few old minor folds and creases, and a splash mark to the blank reverse of the final leaf slightly affecting one word of the text on the other side - otherwise the text remains clean and bright.

"I am enclosing herewith a plan on a fairly large scale. It involves a search for the Abominable Snowman, an extensive physiological and scientific programme, and an ascent without oxygen of Mt Makalu 27,790 ft." In 1960 Edmund Hillary embarked upon an expedition to establish once and for all whether yetis roamed the mountains of Nepal, as well as to carry out important scientific work regarding acclimatisation and the effects of climbing without oxygen at high altitudes. The expedition was composed of scientists, journalists, and mountaineers, including Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who had accompanied Hillary when the pair became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. In September 1960, the bulk of the scientific team headed to Mount Makalu, while those searching for the yeti travelled to the Rolwaling Valley and Solu Khumbu area, close to where the famous 'Yeti tracks' photographed by British explorer Eric Shipton had been discovered in 1951. The expedition gained significant global media attention, including 'tremendous interest in the United States (Hillary, "View from the Summit"). However, despite finding several yeti artefacts, most notably yeti 'scalps' and 'skins', as well as tracks, their investigations proved everything found to be the remains or result of other native animals. Indeed, in addition to its broader scientific achievements, which were well-received, the expedition ultimately concluded that there was no solid proof for the existence of the yeti. In the present letter Hillary seeks financial support for the venture, describes the scale, scope and timing of the expedition, and provides a plan detailing the arrangements that needed to be made. Despite his own yeti-scepticism, Hillary foregrounds the hunt in his proposition, knowing this to be a more successful means by which to raise the $120,000 required to fund it. The recipient, John W. Dienhart, who became a member of the expedition, was a Chicago-based journalist presently working as the public relations director of the Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, publisher of the World Book Encyclopedia. As Hillary describes in his autobiography ("View from the Summit") he had met and dined with Dienhart - "a very confident and effervescent person who seemed to have an unending supply of beautiful girlfriends" - in Chicago in 1959. As he further recounts, during dinner "I got rather carried away and said how I would like to do another Himalayan expedition that would be a happy blend of science and mountaineering. We would investigate, I said, the secrets of high-altitude acclimatisation, about which little was known, and also search for the yeti, the Abominable Snowman, to prove whether it really existed". After returning to New Zealand, at "John Deinhart's request", Hillary worked "out a plan for the expedition...and sent it off to him" (the present letter/plan). "Somewhat to [Hillary's] astonishment [he] received a cable almost immediately" asking him to return to Chicago to discuss the expedition's commencement, with full funding provided by Dienhart's company. As the first outline of the expedition's programme, and the very document which convinced the funder to support Hillary's endeavour, the present letter thus formed the genesis of Hillary's 1960-61 Himalayan expedition. As the letter demonstrates, it was an expedition of great significance to Hillary, as he writes to Dienhart: "There is no doubt that from the viewpoint of the mountaineer and the scientist this expedition would be of considerable interest...[It] would fill many an ambition of mine and I would take great pleasure out of organising it". Notably, the plan accompanying the letter reveals a genuine seriousness of purpose to the yeti-hunt, and gives some credence to existing Yeti mythology, describing sightings of "tracks...which are quite unusual and would indicate a creature of considerable weight, walking upright on two legs, and with feet similar to a large and abnormally broad human foot". "It is obvious", Hillary continues, that "this creature is very elusive and that the slightest sound or smell of humans is enough to send it to ground". The failure of past attempts, he argues, was "due to a wrong technique and the wrong time of year", outlining his own rigourous and detailed "Yeti hunting policy". Interestingly, as well as with a view to a future attempt at climbing Everest without oxygen, Hillary also situates his investigations into acclimatisation in terms of the growing contemporary interest in space travel: "Man is reaching out to the stars, and research into the technique of how to live in air of low oxygen content could well prove useful on some other planet in the not too distant future". An important manuscript documenting a fascinating episode in the history of mountaineering as well as in the life of one its greatest figures.

Stock code: 17186

£4,500

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Published:

Original manuscript.
1959

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