The Climbs We Don’t talk About – the Back Door to the Summit of Shishipangma

Sadly, the restrictions, the international borders, the permits, and the home of the world’s tallest mountains lie in some highly regulated areas.

Yet as we look at Nirmal Purja’s attempt to complete his incredible ascent of the 14, 8,000 meter peaks in a year, the options are getting thin, and dependent on the Chinese, to allow access to Shishipangma.

However, as he is now headed to Cho Oyu, perhaps the P.R. value of letting him into China will propel him forward. However, with all mountains, there are always alternatives.

Shishipangma from the Tibetan Plateau.

Looking at a half decent map, you can quickly assess that Shishipangma, while being entirely in China, isn’t far from the Nepal border. Actually it is just a very tiny ways over the border, a walk down the hill from a not particularily difficult pass.

If you simply trek up the popular Langtang Valley in Nepal, through the well know Kyanjin Gompa, you can continue up the trail, turn left onto the glacier, go right at the top, over a pass and…


…you are just below the South Face of Shishipangma.

For a climber of Nims abilities, a short rest and a climbing day, or perhaps two, would see him to the top.

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On the regular route up Shishipanga, from Tibet. A long ski up from Camp I to Camp II, leads to more exciting climbing leading up the final ridge on the left to the summit.

Climbing on one of the routes on Shishipangma South Face it is actually less problematical to get to the real summit, avoiding that scary, avalanche prone traverse you need to do on the regular route to reach the true summit.

In the fall season it could be a bit snowy, but there is a later monsoon season, with snow fading, winds clearing the snow, that can create ideal conditions on the South Face of Shishipangma. And even early winter can prove surprisingly warm, with crisp clear days, little snow and still low winds.

And the true summit of Shishipangma is what you need. Even Ed Viesturs had to go back and climb to the very top again to complete his 14 summits as detailed in a very fun historical post from Mountainzone. Liz Hawley wouldn’t allow anything less than the absolute summit of anything.

Finishing off the regular route to the real summit is hard work and dangerous, and actually not done by many. But going up the South Face gets you in a much better position. The climbing below is steeper and more fun, quite direct, and then the ridge is less problematical than coming from the North. Doug Scott did a very nice route on Shishipangma and wrote a very good book about the early days of the alpine style ascents they were doing in the Himalayas.

Just over the West Ridge and across the Lho La from the regular route on Everest, Khumbutse is a spectacular peak at 6,636 m (21,772 ft). Very good for acclimatisation before attempting the North Face of Everest.

There is of course a long tradition and little public discussion around bootleg peaks.

In anything but the high season of most big mountain regions, there are so few people around, that a ‘trekking’ permit to the right area can open up many incredible options.

And if you do the regular routes off season, or simply just scamper up an alternative route there will be very few people around. All that time training on climbing walls and ice competitions may as well be put to some use. When we first met Messner in Lhasa after doing the Kangshung Face, he had been off to the east of Everest looking for Yeti. He wrote a book about it, very well researched. He also carried an ice axe, maybe for defense?

Of course mountains form natural borders for countries, with varying degrees of porosity. When we attempted the West Ridge Direct, after a days climb to the Lho La, we spent the entire time in Tibet looking out over the plateau. It would have been only a short days walk down into the Rongbuk.

On the north side of Everest in Tibet, there were never any real mention of what one could do or not do. The Liaison officer was far below in Base Camp, and the wonderful slopes of the incredibly beautiful Lintren, Khumbutse and Changtse were simply treated as acclimatization climbs.

Prior to Loretan and Troillet’s remarkable two day simu-solo up and down the North Faces Super Couloir, they simply galloped up all the 6,000 meter peaks in the area, never actually going on the face itself.

These summits, either on your own or with a teammate or two certainly offered some of the high points of life. That the North Face of Everest is just over your shoulder and next on the list not withstanding.

Ed Webster’s solo of Changtse is mentioned only in passing – and as Ed points out when interviewed, “well I didn’t really go to the very top.” His photos did appear to have very expansive views.

Of course being discovered has penalties, and with as high a profile as Nims, an ascent of Shishipangma would undoubtably see him banned for life from the Chinese Himalayas. But then again, why go back?

A big peak with many faces and ridges, providing lots of options.

I’m well on the side of and supportive of the Chinese giving him a go. But the good thing about mountains, is they are climbed by climbers, and real climbers are prone to breaking rules. Otherwise they wouldn’t have taken up the activity in the first place.

Besides, the South Face of Shishipangma, and swishing up the couloir in the footsteps of Doug Scott for 2,000 meters, makes for a very good day out.

By the end of October, the winds have died, the deep monsoon snows have been blown off, the Yak herders have descended and that long lush valley at the base of the South Face of Shishipangma is decidedly lonely.

Disclaimer: All this information was second hand, mostly rumour, and it may be fake news.