Shipton's Arch (阿图什天门) – Kizilsu, China - Atlas Obscura

Shipton's Arch (阿图什天门)

Kizilsu, China

The world's largest natural arch was forgotten for over 50 years after its discovery. 


The famed British mountaineer Eric Shipton was well-known for a quip he once made with his climbing partner that they could “organize a Himalayan expedition in half an hour on the back of an envelope.”

In 1947, when he was the British consul in Kashgar, it was this attitude he brought on hikes around the area and that eventually led him to the largest natural arch in the world.

In the Uyghur language, the huge arch was known as تۆشۈك تاغ‎, - töshük tagh, or Hole Mountain. After three failed attempts to approach it from the south, Shipton and his wife Diana finally found a local guide to lead them to it from the north, the same way by which most travelers still reach it today. Despite Shipton’s dramatic discovery, the arch was seemingly forgotten until the year 2000 when National Geographic magazine sent an expedition to relocate it for foreign tourists. It was only then that the arch was measured and surprisingly, it was found that it was tall enough to put the Empire State Building underneath.

Since this geological wonder was rediscovered in 2000, several hundred people per year have visited the remote arch, but they each had to work for the pleasure since reaching it is still no easy feat. After an hour or two of driving from Kashgar, travelers will be dropped off at a visitor’s center where an entrance ticket costs 45 RMB. Explorers must then hike uphill for at least another 45 minutes, climbing several steep staircases before actually getting in sight of the massive stone hole. 

Today, there are several travel agencies around Kashgar that will rent a car and driver for the trip, although it’s not cheap. Some explorers try to subsidize the trip to Shipton’s Arch by finding a hiking partner to split the costs, but given that it took over 50 years to convince a second team to rediscover the rocky wonder, they may be searching for a long time.  

Know Before You Go

Bring plenty of water for your hike. It will take at least an hour or two to get to the arch and if you're hiking in the middle of the day it can get hot.

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January 5, 2014

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