In November 1951, Eric Shipton, Michael Ward, and Sen Tensing Sherpa crossed Dinjung La, a high pass between the Kingdom of Nepal and Chinese-occupied Tibet. While surveying the vast Menlung glacial basin along the central spine of the Rolwaling Himal, the mountaineers were awed by two peaks dominating the headwaters of the Menlung Chu. A 23,440-foot massif formed the south rim of the basin, known to the Nepalese as Gauri Sankar and to Tibetans as Jowo Tseringma. To the north, a sheer granite monolith—invisible from Nepal and previously unexplored by Westerners—towered over the crackling glacier. Shipton christened this 23,963-foot double peak “Menlung-tse,” unaware that the locals had already named it Jowo Garu, “Goddess of the Saddle,” about a millennium or so prior to his visit.
Up ahead, I hear Karma’s loud call, and move quickly to where he stands frozen in the evening mist. High above the Khampa’s broad silhouette, above a dark shroud of dispersing clouds, the sun’s last kiss ignites Jowo Garu’s saddle. In that intoxicating moment, I can forgive Eric Shipton’s hubris, his desire to claim the Goddess as his own. She radiates like fire and ice, but her beauty belongs to a world where mortal men are not welcome.