Shishapangma officially Xixiabangma is the fourteenth highest mountain in the world and the lowest of the eight-thousanders. It was the last 8,000 meter peak to be climbed, due to its location entirely within Tibet and the restrictions on outside visitation to the region imposed by the Chinese during the 1950s and later. The mountain has two summits, the commonly climbed Central summit that the Chinese say is 8013m (7999m on old maps) which we have reached four times. Naturally, we will be aiming to climb to the higher true summit, 8027m (26,335ft), let’s see if we can get there!
Before the Chinese opened Tibet to western mountaineers in 1978, little was known about Shishapangma. The only 8,000m peak to lie entirely in Tibet, it lies tantalizingly close to the Nepalese border, shrouded behind the great, but less high, border peaks of Langtang. Enterprising individuals sought mere glimpses of it during the period that other 8,000m peaks were receiving their first ascents! It is perhaps not surprising that it was the last of the 8,000m peaks to be climbed. Not that its ascent by the North-West Ridge presents any great difficulty. On the contrary, it is now regarded as one of the most straightforward 8,000m climbs and its summit is frequently achieved.
Regarded as a ‘holy’ mountain by the local Tibetan population, and lying on the route to Mt. Kailash, Shishapangma continues to baffle us. Historians cannot fathom her names – Shishapangma, Xixabangma, Gosainthan. Yet, the mountain is perhaps the most accessible of her genre, rising only a few miles west of the Kathmandu-Lhasa Highway. It was 16 years before the mountain received its second ascent, by a West German team in 1980, and it has been climbed every year since.