Charles Howard-Bury, one of the most heralded explorers of his time, never needed to rough it. Born in 1881 at his mother’s ancestral home — Charleville Castle, Ireland — Bury was the only son of Captain Kenneth Howard-Bury (of the aristocratic Howard family) and Lady Emily Alfred Julia (daughter of Charles Bury the 3rd Earl of Charleville). Young Charles grew up in the castle, a Gothic-revival architectural masterwork. But it was the surrounding ancient primordial woods, once the grounds of Ireland’s druids, which first incited the young boy’s interest in exploration. Or perhaps it was the confining effects of a traditional education at Eton that inspired Charles Howard-Bury’s desire to set out and explore. By the time he had reached The Royal Military College at Sandhurst, his love for exploring unknown territories, especially mountainous regions was in full force.
Demonstrating unusual linguistic gifts (reportedly fluent in upwards of 27 European and Asian languages) and an encyclopedic knowledge of natural history and cultures, he quickly caught the attention of British military leaders intent on charting remaining blanks on the map. Howard-Bury was recruited by Sir Francis Youngblood in 1920 to lead the first reconnaissance to Mount Everest. Members of the Howard-Bury expedition, which included George Mallory, succeeded in reaching in the vicinity of 23,000 feet without the knowledge of what lay before them or use of oxygen cylinders — not to mention more modern technology routinely used today. The expedition, which garnered worldwide notice, yielded important results including survey material invaluable to ensuing Everest expeditions. An unexpected outcome was the coining of the term “abominable snowman” allegedly based on a mistranslation. Howard-Bury had recorded numerous footprints at high altitude which he believed were the result of a loping animal most likely a wolf. The porters to the expedition described the tracks source as that of a “metch kangmi” or “filthy snowman.” This term was later interpreted by a British journalist stationed in India to mean “abominable snowman” and so a legend was born.