Friendship and a hunt for the yeti

By Juliet Rowan

Auckland doctor Mike Gill spent nine months in Nepal with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1960, marking the start of a friendship spanning almost 40 years.

Dr Gill read that Sir Ed was organising an expedition to the Himalayas seven years after his record-breaking climb of Mt Everest, and needed a couple more to make up the team.

The keen climber volunteered.

The expedition aimed to test how well humans could acclimatise to high altitudes and whether they would acclimatise better if they lived at such altitudes for a long time.

Sir Ed had an American sponsor lined up to pay the hefty sum for the expedition, but the sponsor, World Book Encyclopedia, was not completely sold on its purpose.

"They also said, 'We want something that's not quite as dry as that, so could you please try and find a yeti for us'," Dr Gill said.

He said that although Sir Ed likely had little belief in the yeti, he spent a fair bit of time trying to find one and "did as well as most people did".

Dr Gill said his friend "offered money to anybody who had yetis dead or alive and anything that moved was brought in".

"He certainly got foxes, there were a few pandas, a lot of bear skins came in, and there was a yeti hand which you didn't have to be terribly good at anatomy to recognise as a dessicated human hand."

In the end, Sir Ed persuaded a village to lend him what they believed was a yeti scalp. "He took it back to Chicago, and all the experts took bits of it and pored over it and said 'It's made from a goat'."

Dr Gill said Sir Ed stood out from other mountaineers of his era, who tended to be professionals or university types from the British Alpine Club.

As well as being extremely fit, Sir Ed also possessed an ability to say exactly the right thing.

"As far as being the perfect person to climb Mt Everest, he was the man from central casting."

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