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  Field Notes From
Shipton’s Arch

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From Author

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 Photographer
Gordon Wiltsie
An elderly man who knew Eric Shipton years ago when he was in Mingyol moved me. When we asked if he also knew Shipton’s guide, Usman Akhun, he started to cry. We wondered what was wrong. He told us that after World War II when the Chinese took command of Xinjiang Province, Usman tried to join the Communist Party. He thought it would be important for his future. But Chinese officials refused his requests because he had associated with an Englishman. That caused an enormous amount of grief later in his life, emotions still shared by his aging friend. Just before crossing the range, we were camped in a deep canyon. We realized that we had no place to hide if a hard rain caused flash floods or if wind loosened buzzers, what we called falling rocks. As luck would have it, both happened.
The first thing I did was put all my exposed film and cameras into a waterproof bag, which I tied to a bush on a hill so it would be safe. Then a buzzer the size of a baseball came whizzing down and landed right between Jeremy’s and my tent. We heard it smash into the ground. It would have killed us if it had hit us.
Our tents couldn’t protect us from those things, so I took my camera bags and a pack and built a tunnel out of the stuff. Then I wedged my head and shoulders in. I figured if I got hit on the body, I could still survive. Nestled inside, I felt so secure that I managed to go to sleep.
Three camels carried our equipment in the Pamir Mountains after finding Shipton’s Arch. One of them had been taken away from her offspring, and she was just heartsick. All night, every night, she bellowed and wailed. It sounded like a haunting foghorn. Until we thought to move her away from the tents, nobody got any sleep.

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