avalanche, everest

Mount Everest has expressed its deadly wrath once again, with an avalanche striking an advance party of Sherpas heading up past the Khumbu Icefall under the hanging glaciers of the West Shoulder (this is the standard approach to the South Col route taken by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and the majority of present-day expeditions). Thirteen bodies have been pulled from the snow, while the search has been abandoned for a further three. Numerous Sherpas were injured. Helicopters were used for evacuation, and ironically discussed as an alternative to climbing this treacherous stretch in the future. The only surprise was that this was the biggest loss of life in one accident, in a place where, even with the advent of big business and new technology, death is a regular occurrence, especially among the Sherpas.

Believers of one of the oldest and most mystical forms of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma school, Sherpas have deep reverence for the power of natural forces, which they feel can be also incarnated as gods and animals. This is a carryover from the pre-Buddhist beliefs of many Himalayan cultures. One of these, the Lepcha, worshipped a “Glacier Being” hunting god, quite possibly the pre-cursor to the ‘Yeti,’ one of the most famous creatures of cryptozoology over the two most recent centuries.

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The Snow Creature (1954) was the first Hollywood film to deal with the Yeti, in the wake of the historic Hillary-Norgay ascent of Everest the previous year that put Himalayan cultures at the top of the news (there were also uncorroborated sightings of Yeti tracks). The film was directed by W. Lee Wilder, the older brother of Billy Wilder, who was obviously well connected to take advantage of the media craze.

The resultant production visually manages to bear references to classics such as King Kong (1933), Lost Horizon (1937) and even Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949),while actually being shot, among other SoCal locations, in and around the same Bronson Caves that would house Adam West’s Batcave a decade later. Paul Langton (later famous as a Peyton Place patriarch) plays Dr. Frank Parrish, a botanist whose expedition in the Himalaya to collect local flora get hijacked on a number of levels when the ‘woman’ of lead Sherpa ‘Subra’ (played by Teru Shimada, Japanese and also appearing in The Bridges At Toko-Ri and Samuel Fuller’s House of Bamboo, along with other actors who play Sherpas here) is kidnapped by what turns out to be the Abominable Snow Man (or is it Snow Creature’ – later an important plot point).

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The definitely quirky script was written by W. Lee’s son, the wonderfully-named Myles Wilder, who would soon establish a successful career in television as a writer or story consultant for shows such as McHale’s Navy, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, Hong Kong Phooey and Dukes of Hazzard.

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