Expedition Everest — Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – Part One

Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

Expedition Everest Logo

Like so many of my articles, I must start this one in Anaheim, California. You see, the yeti at Expedition Everest isn’t the first such creature to inhabit a Disney mountain. In 1959, Disneyland saw a major expansion with the opening of the Disneyland/Alwig Monorail, the Submarine Voyage, and the Matterhorn Bobsleds. This was a big year for Walt and he was proud of how his fledgling park was shaping up.

Monorail, Submarine, and Matterhorn

But there is an interesting side note to one of these new attractions that many are too young to remember. In the early years, the interior of the Matterhorn was one large cavernous opening where girders, chicken-wire, and wooden beams were easily seen during the ascent and ride. It would be an understatement to say that these construction materials broke the illusion of actually bobsledding down a real mountain.

An elaborate interior was always planned from the very beginning, but cash was short and it was decided to hold off and complete the inside in a year or so. Then the New York World’s Fair came along and consumed most of the company’s time and money. Following soon after that, the acquisition of land for Walt Disney World began. Not to mention, the Matterhorn was one of Disneyland’s most popular attractions and management didn’t like the idea of closing it for an extended period. So for many years, riders of this “E” ticket attraction had the illusion of a real mountain shattered the moment their bobsled ventured inside the structure.

In the mid ’70s, it was finally decided that this eyesore needed to be corrected and the Imagineers dusted off the original plans and added some enhancements. After an extensive rehab, the Matterhorn reopened in 1978. Gone were the girders and chicken-wire to be replaced with a network of ice caves – and the abominable snowman.

Abominable Snowman

Affectionately called Harold by some, I wouldn’t actually call the Matterhorn’s Abominable Snowman scary, but his presence and the ice caves added a much needed lift to this Disneyland favorite.

When the Animal Kingdom was being designed and promoted, it was billed as having real, prehistoric, and mythological animals. As we know, the real animals live throughout the park and the prehistoric ones can be found in Dinoland U.S.A. But for a number of years, there were no mythological creatures to be found in this park.

A never built land, to be called Beastly Kingdom, was to be home to these mythological creatures. The premier attraction for Beastly Kingdom was to be a dragon-themed coaster. But like the interior of the Matterhorn, budget constraints got in the way and it was decided to make Beastly Kingdom a Phase Two project and open it at a later date. However, without Beastly Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom would feel incomplete so the Imagineers threw together The Festival of the Lion King Show using old floats from Disneyland and created Camp Minnie/Mickey as an inexpensive place holder until finances facilitated replacing it with Beastly Kingdom.

Camp Minnie/Mickey

The Festival of the Lion King Show

Have you ever noticed the unusual rock formation off to the right while crossing the bridge into Camp Minnie/Mickey? If you look closely you’ll discover it is in the shape of a dragon’s head. That’s because this area was to be Beastly Kingdom.

Dragon Waterfall

In the meantime, Islands of Adventure opened at nearby Universal Studios with a Lost Continent area that featured twin coasters called Dueling Dragons. Since Disney likes to be a leader, not a follower, their planned dragon-themed coaster lost some of its appeal. In addition, the “temporary” Festival of the Lion King show had become extremely popular, making it difficult to justify closing Camp Minnie/Mickey to make room for Beastly Kingdom. Yet the park still needed to feature mythological creatures as originally advertised and it also desperately needed to add another “E” ticket attraction for this ride-deficient park.

Remembering the Matterhorn, the Imagineers started to think how the abominable snowman had breathed new life into this already popular attraction. Continuing with this train of thought they wondered if a similar mountain and creature in the Animal Kingdom might be just what the park needed. Of course, the European continent is not represented at the Animal Kingdom so duplicating the Matterhorn was not an option. Instead, the Imagineers decided to introduce the abominable snowman’s cousin, the yeti who is fabled to live in the Himalayan Mountains of Asia, a land that already existed in the park. Yeti is a Sherpa word meaning “magical creature.”

When people think of the Himalayan Mountains, they automatically think of Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world. But unfortunately, this mountain lacks a distinctive shape like the Matterhorn. In fact, it’s rather unremarkable in appearance. So lead Imagineer Joe Rohde decided to create a “range” of mountains and place Everest in the background. By doing this, Everest didn’t need to be the “tallest” mountain in the range since it was “far off” in the distance. This also allowed the Imagineers to come up with a more interesting peak to build their story around – Forbidden Mountain.

Everest and Forbidden Mountain

Although most people call this attraction Expedition Everest, its full name is Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. This can be seen on the banner and partially hidden poster near the entrance of the attraction.

Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain Sign

In an effort to make Disney’s Himalayan range as authentic as possible, the Imagineers made a number of trips to Nepal, Tibet, and China to study the topography, architecture, and myths of these areas. What they brought back with them was knowledge of a rich culture and heritage that they hoped to recreate in the Animal Kingdom.

When the Animal Kingdom was in its planning stages, Michael Eisner insisted that the park portray an environmental message — a message that promotes harmony between man, the planet, and the animals that coexist with us. While researching the yeti, the Imagineers learned that this creature was far more than a ferocious beast. It was the protector of the mountains and its surroundings.

Much thought went into the design of the yeti. The Imagineers wanted to create a realistic animal that might actually live in the high altitude and cold environment of the Himalayans, not a sci-fi monster. A number of primates, including the golden monkey and orangutan, were studied and various aspects of each were used, along with other practical adaptations, to create what we see today. When these concepts were transitioned from paper to machinery, the largest, most dynamic, and fastest AudioAnimatronics figure ever created was designed and built. So intense is the yeti’s movement that he had to be placed on a separate foundation that did not touch the track or mountain’s structure.


Designing the mountain range was another arduous task. The Imagineers created twenty-four models before they settled on a final design. Then, using laser technology, their six-foot model was scanned into a computer. Once digitalized, the Imagineers could fine tune the ride sequence and create detailed drawings that would be needed to construct the attraction. What we see is an accurate depiction of the northwest face of Mount Everest

I mentioned earlier that the yeti stands on his own foundation. In addition to this, the track and mountains also stand on their own, separate foundations and do not touch one another. The designers endeavored to put six inches of space between the track and the mountain. This was necessary to insure that the vibration of the trains rumbling through the mountain and the swaying of the track did not shake, crack, and damage the mountain’s structure. Unfortunately, the yeti’s intense movement proved to be too much for its foundation and it cracked sometime ago. Because of this, the yeti has been switched from Mode “A” operation (movement) to Mode “B” operation (stationary with strobe lights and fans). It’s my understanding that the damage is great enough that repairs will need to wait until the attraction is closed for rehab.

The mountain range sits on six acres of land and was crafted using more than 3,000 prefabricated “chips” created from 25,000 individual computer -molded pieces of steel. The mountains contain 1,800 tons of steel. That is about six times the amount of steel used in a traditional office building of this size. The mountains’ surface contains 18.7 million pounds of concrete and 2,000 gallons of paint. The track length is approximately one mile and reaches a top speed of 50 miles per hour at the bottom of the 80 foot drop.

Artist Concept Drawing

At the base of Disney’s Himalayan Mountains is the village of Serka Zong. Serka Zong means “fortress of the chasm.” This community was based on the styles of several locales but mostly on the Kali Gandaki region of the Annapurna Conservancy in Nepal. Building techniques (or the appearance of which) remained true to the area by using stone and hard packed earth as building blocks.

Stone Construction

Hard Packed Earth Construction

Artists used hammers, chainsaws and blowtorches to “age” wood and buildings in the village to give the appearance of being longstanding parts of the landscape. More than 2,000 handcrafted items from Asia were used in the queue and surrounding area.

Careful attention was also given to the surrounding plant life. More than 900 bamboo plants, 10 species of trees, and 114 species of shrubs were planted around the mountain to simulate the lowlands surrounding the Himalayas.

Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain officially opened April 7, 2006. Before this date, everyone raced to be first in line for Kilimanjaro Safaris. But now the morning crowd splits at the tree of life, half heading off to Africa while the others scramble to get their first adrenaline rush of the day on this great coaster.

That’s it for Part One. Check back tomorrow when we will walk the queue and then take a ride on Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain.

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22 Replies to “Expedition Everest — Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – Part One”

  1. Hi Jack,
    Have you ever written a blog about the store windows at WDW?
    It almost seems like they go un-noticed.



  2. Hi Jack. One minor correction: should be the Disneyland-AlwEg Monorail, ALWEG being an acronym for company founder Dr. Axel Lennart WEnner-Gren’s name.

    Also, in answer to a few of the questions posed above, you are correct in your suspicion that the facades for the buildings in Serka Zong are not actual ‘packed earth’. The packed earth is a formed/carved concrete to approximate the rustic Himalayan look called for by the art design. The stonework is a facing (some real, some a concrete product that looks like stone) applied over a building that would look quite ordinary underneath.

    Jack’s Comment:

    And thank you for the clarification about the building materials around Serka Zong. I appreciate the verification.

    As for the monorail, you are 100% correct. The monorail was originally called the Disneyland-Alweg monorail. In fact, I was just having a discussion about this with another reader. I was telling him that Alweg eventually came to regret their association with Disney. In the beginning, they were hoping that a monorail at Disneyland would help promote this vehicle as a viable new option in the transportation arena. Unfortunately, the reverse happened. After seeing the monorail at Disneyland, people associated it with “theme park rides” and didn’t take it seriously.

  3. Hello Jack!

    The Matterhorn brings back great memories as a kid living in SoCal, but alas I live on the East Coast now. I thoroughly enjoyed EE when I brought my children to WDW last summer and will make it a point to read this article to them when we go back this Christmas. Maybe one of them will dream of becoming an “Imagineer” someday!

  4. Hey Jack thanks for the blog, I finally know what happened to the Yeti. Every time I ride Im left wondering why they would do that to the Yeti, now I know. I was about to write to the Imagineers lol.

  5. You have to ride it on the front row. My husband and I will ride it twice in a row. First we will ride where ever they put us then we will wait to ride on the front row. They are totally different experiences! The front row is so much more exciting and it is beautiful to look over at the other parks when the coster stops when the Yeti broke the tracks. You can see the Tower of Terror! It is quiet and beautiful for a second….then you fly backwards!!!! This ride is the BEST!!!

  6. Hi Jack,

    Thanks for the insight into the Yeti and for sharing your keen eye for details with us! I’ll be checking out Expedition Everest for the first time later this month and am even more excited now than before.

    Do you know if the Imagineers actually used stones and hard packed earth to create the buildings in Serka Zong, or is it concrete that’s just molded to look that way? The first picture of a stone building looks authentic, but the second one looks questionable.

    Jack’s Answer:

    I can’t give you a definitive answer, but here’s what I believe. I’m fairly certain that the stones are real. However, I’m sure modern building techniques were used beneath the stones. But like you, I doubt that the “packed earth” bricks are authentic. I suspect they are carved concrete.

    I can tell you that the pagoda, that looks like it’s built out of wood, is actually concrete. This makes me believe all the more that the “packed earth” is not real.

  7. Hi Jack

    EE is one of the most detailed rides and queues at WDW. Every bit of it is breathtaking. I’ve heard the stories of the Yeti’s A and B mode, and hope for the riders’ sake that they take EE offline and fix the Yeti’s foundation. The trouble with AK, of course, is the lack of other E-ticket rides, so maybe EE will have wait for another big ride, just as the Matterhorn had to wait for Space Mountain to open.

    (Unfortunately, I won’t be one of the riders in either case. I rode EE for the first time last September, and suffice it to say that my stomach says: never again! Brilliant ride, but Not For Deanna. I wish there was another way to see the yeti!)

  8. Hi Jack! My entire family LOVES this ride. It’s one we tend to do over and over again. I think Disney really does an awesome job with getting their guests into the spirit of the ride. You are drawn into the Yeti, it’s myths, legends, and background, as soon as you enter the turnstiles. And the ride itself, is mindblowing. I love the part when the train goes backwards in the dark!!!
    PS Where are the answers for the A-Z quiz????

  9. I first went on this ride over and over again last year and couldn’t understand why I kept “missing” the Yeti. Thanks for the news-to-me update! I hope one day I’ll finally get to see “Plan A”!

  10. Hi Jack,

    Our staff voted this ride as ToddsOrlando’s #1 Top Ten Thrill Ride at Walt Disney World.

    If you can find our Top Ten Thrill Rides at Walt Disney World under our “Info” button, thats me on the left with an orange shirt on.

    My wife Penny took this picture.

    Thanks for another great blog Jack!!!

  11. How I look forward to your blogs, Jack. Thanks so much! Back in early 2007 I was on a train in The Docklands area of London on my way to The London Book Fair. Sitting opposite me were two nice men having a conversation about Disney World and being such a huge fan my ears pricked right up! “Have you been recently?” I asked, ” Oh yes” they replied and continued to fill me in on their trip. What I was itching to find out about was “Expedition Everest” and they didn’t disappoint me, telling me with great gusto about how much they had enjoyed the ride (all this time my colleague sat next to me was convinced I was mad!). My next visit to Florida was April 2008 so I had a while to wait before I got my chance to encounter the Yeti! Hubby and I ran to get our Fast Pass tickets and while we were waiting for our time window to come round we watched the other folk taking their turn on the ride……and then I chickened out!!! My Hubby got to ride twice using his and my fast passes….I couldn’t believe it, I had waited so long for this moment and then Everest got the better of me…gutted 🙁 Now, since your blog, I feel I know the Coaster better maybe next time I will go for it!! My Hubby tells me I have really missed out and we can’t have that can we??!!
    Keep up the good work Jack, you bring my favourite place closer x

  12. Jack, I just wanted to say that I love your blog! I am going to Disney World with my family in the end of May. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blogs because they are so insightful, and point out very interesting things around the parks. I have been getting so excited about our trip over the last few months. I am constantly looking for things to read about Disney World to help quench my excitement. Many articles and blogs I find repeat the same things over and over, or talk about things I don’t need to read (i.e. choosing the right resort). When I found your blog I was so ecstatic because they are so original, and have a lot of information I never knew. I just wanted to say thanks for writing such wonderful pieces of work, and I look forward to your new blogs every week. Sincerely, Sarah

  13. Were you aware that I was sick? Because if doing all these posts about my favorite Disney attractions is your way of making me feel better, it’s working.

  14. What a great article! I have loved this ride since it opened. I saw it being built in 2004 and thought how I needed to go back and ride it. I was fortunate enough to ride it in May 2006 with great anticipation. And it lived up to it. The queue is one of my favorites of all parks. And can’t wait for tomorrow’s blog. Well done! And thank you!

  15. hey jack
    thanks for the great blog on Expedition Everest. It is one of my favorite attraction at AK. the technology that they use is amazing and there is so much detail. can’t wait for part two and as always, keep up the great work.

  16. Another great and interesting blog Jack!!! My wife and I had the opportunity to ride Expedition Everest twice in a row in late October of 2008, because of the Disney magic Hours, so we didnt have to wait to much in the queue.

    I have a question, because I didnt quite understood if there are still plans to build the beastly kingdom in the future or if Disney gave up that idea because of the success of Camp Mickey and the Lion King Festival.

    Jack’s Answer:

    Disney is very secretive about their future plans. I hear rumors occasionally that Beastly Kingdom is still on the horizon, but I’ve never heard anything official. I love the Animal Kingdom, but I think it could use a few more rides. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but I can’t give you any news one way or another.

  17. Very interesting! I love all the history and back-story that you bring to WDW attractions. I did not realize that the yeti had switched functions, but that probably explains why he looked different on my two visits. On my more recent visit (May 2009) I did not even see the yeti at all! I asked a cast member about this when I was exiting the ride and he told me that sometimes the light does not hit the yeti at the right time and some guests do not see him at all. This was definitely the case for me–it was completely dark when we passed the yeti so my friends and I could not see him. Do you know if this is a commonly reported problem and if they have remedied it?

    Jack’s Answer:

    I’ve never heard anything “official” about the strobe light, but I do know that the Yeti is easily missed in its current state. I rode with a gentleman while filming the attraction and he completely missed the Yeti. Let’s hope they can fix this great effect sometime soon.

  18. Another great blog! I find these types of blogs so interesting-I never realized exactly how much work goes into designing these rides. I also never knew about the Everest vs. Forbidden Mountain. I think the Yeti was in A mode when I was last there in February 2007, but I guess this time (next month!) it will be in B mode =( Can’t wait for tomorrow’s blog!

  19. I was thinking something was different the last time I rode. I remembered him moving the first year I went, and then the last time i went it didnt seem as scary lol.I hope they do fix it. It was an awesome experience when he was moving. Another great blog Jack. cant wait for part 2.

  20. Hey Jack- Great blog!!!

    This is absolutely one of the best executed rides at Dis. I was aware that the Yeti was operating in B mode, and I wouldn’t mind a rehab to fix up the structure and the AA. Do the Imagineers have any intention of closing it any time soon? When the Yeti swoops his big claw down toward your train, it makes for an awesome experience. 🙂

    Jack’s Answer:

    I have not heard of any plans to close Expedition Everest anytime soon. But you can be certain it won’t be until after summer at the soonest. Disney does not like to close major attractions during busy periods.