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  Field Notes From
Shipton’s Arch

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View Field Notes
From Writer

Jeremy Schmidt

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From Photographer

Gordon Wiltsie

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Gordon Wiltsie (top) and Jeremy Schmidt

In Western China

Field Notes From Writer
Jeremy Schmidt
Eric Shipton was a reliable observer, but even he understimated the arch’s height. It is half again higher than the 1,000 feet (305 meters) he judged it to be. It was more than we had hoped for.
The most splendid moment was after we traversed the range of pinnacles and came out through the other side knowing we’d finally solved the mystery of the maze. It was as if Shipton’s spirit was there. More than any other day during the whole trip, I’m sure he would have loved to have been with us that day.
I have borderline claustrophobia, so being in the bottom of a very dark narrow canyon with no idea how far we were from the exit was a lot to take. We knew we couldn’t go back and had no choice but to negotiate through this tight maze. I not only struggled with the fear that the canyon would narrow to the point where we couldn’t get through, but I was worried about being caught in a flash flood. While waiting for our driver to arrive, we sat outside the village of Mingyol in the dark. After a while an elderly couple took pity on us and invited us inside. They wanted to give us a meal, but what they offered was a bowl of flour so team member Nancy Feagin—the only woman in our group—could make noodles for all of us men. They were quite confused by her inability to do so.
When the driver showed up, we had no choice but to leave. It was awkward because, without an interpreter, we couldn’t explain. We felt like we had been terrible guests.
Gordon and I went back a couple of days later, armed with an interpreter and gifts for the couple. They explained that they had had no idea what sort of food we foreigners would eat, and thought it best to give us the option of making whatever we wanted. We all had a good laugh over it. The gifts and explanations—along with stories about our adventure to the arch—seemed to make up for our previous bad manners.

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