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The smallest of the 14 8000-metre peaks, just squeaking into that exclusive club at 8,027 metres, Shisha Pangma was also the last one to be climbed. This has nothing to do with its difficulty - in fact, it is one of the easiest of the great Himalayan mountains to climb - but rather the fact that, being located entirely inside Tibet, a few kilometres from the Nepalese border, outside visitors were subject to severe restriction by the Chinese government from the 1950s onwards.

The name Shisha Pangma is Tibetan, from shi sha sbang ma, or "Mountain over grassy plains". It is often written as one word - Shishapangma, or, as per the official Chinese name, Xixiabangma) - however, I have chosen to use the two-word version as it is more common. The official Chinese name is simply a phonetic rendering of this name, which is often translated into English, however, as "Bad Weather", while there is also a Sanskrit name, Gosainthan or "Place of the Saint". Wikipedia gives "Sherpa Woman" as an alternative translation of the two-word version, "Shisha Pangma" - however, there is no reference or explanation given for this meaning, and all instances of it found in Google seem to refer to the same article.

The summit was first reached in 1964 by a Chinese team led by Xu Jing and consisting of Zhāng Jùnyán, Wáng Fùzhōu, Wū Zōngyuè, Chén Sān, Soinam Dorjê, Chéng Tiānliàng, Migmar Zhaxi, Dorjê and Yún Dēng - an unusually large number of members for a summit team, perhaps reflecting the lack of technical difficulty for most of the climb. It was not until 1980 that the mountain was finally opened to foreign climbers, and by 2003 there had been 201 successful ascents to the Main Summit, with 19 deaths in total.

There is a false summit, called the Central Summit, which is only a few metres lower than the main summit, at 8,013 metres. The majority of climbers in fact stop at this point, since the main route up the mountain (via the northwest face and the north ridge) passes through the Central Summit first, and the Main Summit can only then be reached by traversing a knife-edged ridge covered with unstable snow - not too much of a problem for experienced mountaineers, but quite daunting for amateurs or people who took on Shisha Pangma for an "easy" 8000-metre climb and aren't bothered about the extra risk and effort needed to reach a point only a few metres higher. As of January 2000 the Central Summit had been reached 434 times. The main route up Shisha Pangma is so gentle overall that it is has frequently been skied - one can travel by vehicle to the base camp at 5000m, and the only challenging part in mountaineering terms is the final ridge traverse.

There is a more difficult route up the South Face, a 2200-metre ascent at a slope of 50 degrees over snow, ice and protruding bands of rock. Almost all ascents of this route have been done alpine style, with a notable climb being made by Jean-Christophe Lafaille alone and in winter, although since December was not technically winter by the calendar, he later had to say that he made the climb "in winter conditions". Mountaineers get more upset about this kind of distinction than one might suppose.

SummitPost: http://www.summitpost.org/mountain/rock/150807/shisha-pangma.html
Alan Arnette's climbing account: http://www.alanarnette.com/alan/shishapangma.php
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shishapangma
The Knife Edged Ridge: http://www.summitpost.org/images/original/31874.jpg

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