10 Secrets Revealed About Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

Expedition Everest
Credit: Disney

Animal Kingdom’s only roller coaster opened in April, 2006, 8 years after the park opening. Why is there a coaster based on a mythical animal at Animal Kingdom? Because Disney’s Animal Kingdom rightly gives both mythical and real animal encounters for their guests. AK opened with Countdown to Extinction, which is currently known as DINOSAUR, then in 2000 they added Kali River Rapids giving us the desired water ride in each park. Now to 2017, when Avatar Flight of Passage was added with a mystical flying banshee! Pre-Avatar however, Animal Kingdom needed a good thrill ride. Many ideas were tossed around while deciding what the image of the new thrill ride should be and Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde chose that of a mountain. Mountains are popular with Disney guests and what more powerful mountain than Mount Everest?

10. What is the story behind Expedition Everest? What do we commonly hear about when we hear Mt. Everest stories on the news? It is about survival. We hear incredible tales of how people came to the desire to climb the mountain, their preparation, and their survival, or possibly their demise on the mountain.  The Disney Everest story is also one of survival. We discover that the Anandapur Tea Company used to run their train into the lower mountain regions, in this case, the Forbidden Mountain, but they don’t use it anymore due to problems with the Yeti who guards the Forbidden Mountain. But entrepreneurs and business partners Norbu & Bob got together, rebuilt the steam train, and put together train rides for thrill seekers that would take them to the base of Mt. Everest where they could mount their dramatic climbs to the summit. They call their new business Himalayan Escapes-Tours & Expeditions.

9. The train is not actually driven by steam, as that would have been impractical for the course this train follows. Watch as the steam comes out from the train tracks, shortly before the train departs.

8. Notice the details: Today your journey begins in the town of Serca Zong and you make your way past the Shangri La Trekkers Inn & Internet Café, Gupta’s Gear, where you can pick up supplies. The highly themed queue also shows fields of tea plants. You continue on through old buildings that used to be part of the Royal Anandapur Tea Company processing including lamps overhead that were actually used to dry tea leaves, but today is used by Norbu & Bob. You make your way through a permit office, and you approach a pagoda. You may stop and stare for a moment at the shrine to the Yeti that is housed there. Your mind may begin to believe this Yeti thing could be real. You remember all the prayer cloths outside and the countless tiles and carved slates that pay tribute to the Yeti. Could these villagers believe the legend of the Yeti is true? What have they seen?  At Tashi’s Trek and Tongba Shop you can pick up any last minute supplies you don’t already have, then on toward the train. Before you board, you are guided through a museum dedicated to the Yeti, giving you pause again, that just maybe…

7. What is that? So we board our former tea train and head out of the station. Our train climbs toward the lower Himalayan’s, under a fortress, where we see even another shrine to the Yeti. We slowly climb, our track high over a chasm, waterfalls beside us, and bamboo forests beneath us. Did you notice the Yeti footprints in the snow on the nearing mountainside? We are steadily climbing toward the icy rock above us. We enter a mountain tunnel that is full of ice, safely chugging along until we suddenly come to a stop. We can see train track in front of us that is mangled and twisted grotesquely in the air, as if torn apart by some giant force. Gravity takes hold and we are suddenly falling backwards down a track, and we are in darkness, but clearly hear a deafening roar all around us.  We stall in a large cave like area, and see the shadow of what has to be the Yeti as he pulls apart more train track.

6. Disco Yeti- When the attraction first opened you could clearly see the Yeti’s face as he looked down at the train and his long arm swiping at the train travelers, barely missing their heads. (Now, strobe lights and fans are used to blow his fur around to make it appear as if he is moving. This is referred to as “Disco Yeti”.) The train itself wants to get away from this humongous beast and it drags us down again, into darkness at furious speeds to take us back inside the mountain, through tunnels, caves, until at last we find ourselves safely returning to Serka Zong. In 2013 Joe Rhode said “I will fix the Yeti someday, I swear” while speaking at a D23 Expo panel. The giant AA caused a crack in its foundation shortly after the ride opened and it has been evaluated from time to time and no fixes have taken place, and no movement either.

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5. I see Red:  Notice the totems around the base of the mountain, they were hand carved pieces from Nepal.  At the entrance you will see a life-size model of a Yeti footprint. This is also the height stick to measure children. They must be one Yeti-foot high to ride EE. Notice the buildings in Serka Zong. The roofs have firewood on top, as an indication of the wealth of the owner. (You may also pick up on the Mulberry Trees that the villagers have harvested tree limbs from. The tree grows new limbs, and then they are cut off again.) You see a lot of red here in the village, including the buildings. The villagers believe in magical powers and red is the color for protection. They live in fear in this village so close to the Yeti, and knowing that he is angry they perform every ritual they can to protect themselves. They respect the Yeti as the Spiritual Protector of the Mountain and it is only because people insist on going into the mountain that the Yeti does what he does.  You will see hundreds of statues of the Yeti, and notice the red mark on his forehead that suggests honor paid to him. Disney Imagineers traveled to the region several times to collect props, ideas for construction, and to immerse themselves in the culture.  While they were there they came across a temple, actually the same one you see in the queue. It was dismantled and shipped back here from Nepal where it was found. It has artistic renderings of the Yeti fighting a Yak.

4. Is the Yeti real? Scientists say no, yet this legend has been around for hundreds of years. World Book Encyclopedia sponsored a trip up Everest to finally prove or disprove the legend. They had trip-wire cameras and found nothing. The legend lives on today in Nepal, either for spiritual reasons, or for bringing tourist dollars their way.  The story of the Disney Yeti though, is a Legend that becomes real in front of our very eyes.

3. The Expedition Everest: Journey to the Forbidden Mountain is an extraordinary feat of Disney Imagineers. The Mountain, the ride, and the audio-animatronic Yeti, are all separate and mounted in the base. They do not touch each other. Walt Disney had a habit of creating new technology whenever he needed it to do something outside the bounds of what was currently available to him. His Imagineers follow suit, especially when creating this attraction.  They developed a brand new way of computer engineering that would allow them to plan for all three of these structures to remain as separate elements. When constructing the mountain, they also developed what they call “matchstick scaffolding” where steel beams and platforms are attached to the ride frame that enabled them to build the mountain, having convenient platforms on which to build and for artists to paint, then cut the platforms off as the work was completed.  We watched this same type of building process on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train recently, but was also used on every other major attraction following EE.

Just as Imagineers before him did when creating a model of the Matterhorn, Joe Rhode and his team made one for Expedition Everest, but this time they used digital imaging to speed the process along. Imagineers used this to lay down the track scheme before any bit of metal was touched. They actually created 24 different ride models before settling on the one we have.  They created a virtual model after scanning with laser technology, one of their earlier models. Tibetan monks were consulted on shades of color, using natural ingredients, to get the shades used in the buildings correct.

2. The Design Team traveled everywhere the legend of the Yeti was alive: Tibet, India, Nepal and southwestern China. They looked at the scientific makeup of animals that resembled parts of the Yeti drawn and described in the past. The Team had to create a Yeti that was immediately believable and frightening in a short period of time to riders.  There are Character Concept Designers on board that decide what appearance/movements they think the audio-animatronic character needs to do in order to meet the goal of being immediately believable and frightening to us. Then the rest of the team figures out all the other elements required to make this show happen. They consider things like what materials to use, what movements need to move in that way, joints needed, power supplies, structure, motor controls systems, etc., because this Yeti is equipped with enough hydraulic force to propel a 747 jet! That thruster was recharged within 20 seconds each time.  The Yeti is suspended from a boom-type structure inside of it. The Imagineers job was to make this giant machine behave like a giant snow creature. There is almost as much creating that went into this Yeti as the rest of the ride.  There are 19 separate functions to the Yeti figure, and it is the most advanced audio-animatronic figure ever made.

There were several outings by Disney to the region, often accompanied by scientists, researchers, and conservationists. If you want to see more from one of their journeys, you can look up a special on Discovery Network entitled, “Everest: Journey to Sacred Lands” and the Travel Channel showed “Building a Thrill Ride: Expedition Everest”, and on Animal Planet was “Corwins Quest: Realm of the Yeti”.   The bells you hear, the prayer cloths you see hanging, are all a result of Imagineers going to the region and experiencing it themselves. This is just a small part of what brings the reality into Disney attractions. The team was also influenced by observing the way the native people added color to their homes. Imagineers are well known for their attention to the smallest details. Spiritual leaders in the region look at the Yeti as both real and immortal. As the forests are destroyed, the legend withers a bit. Conservation of all living things is very important in this region. One even claims that he was a young boy inside a Monastery in Nepal, when the Yeti actually came down as far as the Monastery, reportedly stood outside looking in while those inside the Monastery stood watching the Yeti, for about an hour.

1. This Yeti needs to be covered with something, fur, right? Right! He has 6,000 pounds of different furs that have been stitched together.  That gave them 1,000 square feet of “skin”. Then using 1,000 snaps, and 250 zippers, they gave the Yeti his “skin” overtop of an under covering of Spandex.

Attractions Details:

·       50mph top speed

·       80-foot drop

·       44” height requirement

·       Climbs 200-feet

·       1800 tons of steel

·       18.7 million pounds of concrete

·       2000 gallons of stain and paint

·       200,000 square feet of rock work

·       Yeti thrust: 260,000 pounds of force

·       Disney imported 8,000 items from Asia

·       Covers 6 acres

·       900 bamboo plants in the area

·       Serka Zong means “fortress of the chasm” in the Tibetan language

·       Listed in Guinness Book of World Records as most expensive roller coaster with a price tag of $100,000,000.00

·       2 ½ minute ride

·       Riders are two across in three rows making total of 36 guests on each train

·       Single Rider line is to the right of the main entrance.

·       First Disney ride to go both backward and forward on the same ride.

·       Yeti can move 5 feet horizontally and 18” vertically when functioning properly

Attraction Timeline:

·       March 2003-Attraction building begins

·       April 7, 2006-soft opening

·       July, 2006-Yeti fails to work in full operation mode

The work began onsite, March, 2003-it was the biggest construction project every begun by Walt Disney Imagineering. They had the ride program set, through studying models and finally selecting one. They used the graphics to form the steel track. The mountain range would be just under 200-feet high, just low enough to not need a red flashing light on top of it, and taking the “tallest mountain in Florida” title away from Big Thunder Mountain in Magic Kingdom. The ride system had to be flexible to allow for the constant activity of the trains going back and forth over it.  The shell of the mountain needed to be the opposite, so that it didn’t change or flex.

The shell is made from carved concrete, so keeping the train track at least 6” away from the mountain shell was extremely important or the mountain would crumble. The Yeti mechanism had so much force, that if it was attached to the rest of the structures, or came in contact with the rest of the mountain, it would easily tear it down. The shell of the mountain was created digitally into 6-square foot pieces that fit together like puzzle pieces. They did it, another ground-breaking Disney “mountain”, fulfilling the ultimate goal of driving park attendance to a new high.


About Cassie

Cassie L. I am a lifelong Disney fan. I attended Walt Disney World in 1971, and was there during the opening week of EPCOT, and have visited the Disney Parks for than 30 times. I have had the privilege of visiting Disneyland as a child, and then again with my children. My family recently moved from the northeastern United States to the Walt Disney World area. I now have cast members in my family and enjoy hearing the magical stories at the end of a shift. I love visiting all of the parks and getting to try more Disney food and being able to share it with you to help you plan your own magical day at Disney.