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In Western China
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Journey to Shipton's Lost Arch

By Jeremy Schmidt Photographs by Gordon Wiltsie

Five adventurers travel to western China to become the first to climb this geologic wonder.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

For years I had read Shipton’s gripping accounts of mountain adventure from the Alps to East Africa, from Mount Everest to the untraveled glaciers of the Karakoram. I marveled at his achievements and admired his spirit.

Born in 1907, by age 22 Shipton had logged the first ascent of Nelion, one of Mount Kenya’s twin summits. In 1931 he and five companions were the first to summit 25,447-foot (7.756-meter) Mount Kamet in northern India, at that time the highest peak ever climbed. In 1933 he climbed within a thousand feet of the top of Mount Everest and later pioneered the route that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay used to reach the summit in 1953. He didn’t make a big fuss—he just climbed and explored everything in sight. Before he died in 1977, he set standards and laid out dreams for others to pursue.

People liked Eric Shipton. He made friends easily and kept the ones he made. Although he married only once, many women were drawn to him. Admirer Beatrice Weir was just 17 when she met him at a garden party in India. “Suddenly,” she later said, “there appeared this extraordinary brown-faced man, fairly small, with strong legs and a strong body, a shock of hair and slightly weak chin. He had blazing blue eyes everyone used to talk about; he just sat and looked. It was indefinable. I melted like an ice cube.”

Yet there was something distant about him, as if he held an important part of himself in reserve, as remote and wild as the mountains he loved so much. His greatest pleasure came from journeys into unknown, unmapped terrain, and he preferred to take the simplest way possible. Dismayed by the massive scale of a typical Everest expedition, he scorned the small town of tents that sprung up each evening, the noise and racket of each fresh start, the sight of a huge army invading the peaceful valleys.

Instead, Shipton and his climbing partner, Bill Tilman, joked that “they could organize a Himalayan expedition in half an hour on the back of an envelope.” Unusual in the 1930s, their no-frills style has since become the standard—lightweight, low impact, self-propelled, culturally sensitive, and motivated by the sheer joy of exploration.

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Photographer Gordon Wiltsie recounts the jaw-clenching dangers faced by the expedition team.

What is the value of facing down dangerous terrain in the name of exploration? Is this a waste of financial—and human—resources? Tell us what you think.

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

While on a 1951 expedition to uncover a southern route to the summit of Mount Everest, mountaineer Eric Shipton photographed some unusual tracks in the snow. The creature had “a big, rounded toe, projecting a bit to one side; the next toe was well separated from this, while three small toes were grouped close together.” Claiming to have seen such a creature, a Sherpa guide declared that the tracks belonged to the yeti.

Shipton’s encounter was only the beginning in yeti hunting. Edmund Hillary, who along with Tenzing Norgay was the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest, led an expedition in 1960 to search for evidence of the yeti. With the image of Shipton’s photographs in his memory, the famous alpinist Reinhold Messner collected evidence of the yeti, which he compiled in a book, My Quest for the Yeti. Trekking in eastern Tibet in 1986, Messner claims to have come across the seven-foot tall (two-meter tall) hairy beast. Yet without photographs or corroborated sightings, concrete evidence of the yeti’s existence remains elusive.

What is the Yeti? That is as open to debate as its actual existence. Shipton’s Sherpa described the yeti as half man, half beast, covered with reddish brown hair. Some claim the yeti is Neandertal man hidden in the cold recesses of the Himalaya. But skeptics contend that “yeti tracks” actually have been created by humans, bears, or falling lumps of snow.

Arches National Park
Located in southeastern Utah, Arches National Park preserves over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Learn more about natural arches on its website.

The Natural Arch and Bridge Society
The Natural Arch and Bridge Society’s site is packed with information on the world’s arches.

Travel China Guide
Find out everything you need to know to travel around Kashgar at Travel China’s Kashgar web page. You’ll find information on popular sites and attractions.


Shipton, Diana. The Antique Land. Theodore Brun Limted, 1950.

Shipton, Eric. Mountains of Tartary. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.

Steele, Peter. Eric Shipton: Everest and Beyond. The Mountaineers Publishing, 1998.

Shipton, Eric. That Untravelled World. Charles Scribner and Sons, 1969.


Amatt, John, ed. Voices From the Summit: The World’s Great Mountaineers on the Future of Climbing. National Geographic Books, 2000.

Messner, Reinhold. “Encounter with a Yeti,” National Geographic Adventure, May/June 2000, 130-138, 154-155.

Harris, Stephen L., ed. The Wonders of the World. National Geographic Books, 1998.

Gillette, Ned. “American Skiers Find Adventure in Western China,” National Geographic, Feb. 1981, 174-199.


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