machapuchare portrait

This majestic peak in the Himalayas is called Machapuchare, also known as “Fish Tail Mountain.” At 22,943 feet it’s considerably less tall than Mt. Everest, but this mountain is definitely in illustrious company–legendary peaks such as Annapurna (which actually has three summits) and Manaslu, both in the “8,000-meter club,” are not far away. If you’ve read National Geographic for a couple of years or even been to an IMAX movie you’ve probably heard a lot about those mountains, along with Everest and the others, being climbed frequently. You probably have never heard of anyone who’s climbed Machapuchare, and that’s for a very good reason: no one ever has…at least we think not.

Fish Tail Mountain is a sacred peak in the Hindu religion, associated with the god Shiva. Lord Shiva is supposed to live on the peak, which evidently gets is name from the shape of the summit seen from a certain angle. As one of the last places on Earth where human beings had never set foot, naturally it was a target for Western mountaineers, particularly the British, who had conquered the big Kahuna of no-humans-allowed places–Mt. Everest–in 1953. In fact, it was a member of that expedition, one Wilfrid Noyce, who came the closest anybody ever has to the summit on a 1957 expedition. The king of Nepal had asked Noyce to respect Hindu religious customs and not set foot on the summit. He and his climbing companion, A.D.M. Cox, turned back 150 feet short of the summit. This expedition produced the only climbing record of this mountain, a very rare book called Climbing the Fish’s Tail.

machapuchare

Machapuchare as seen in Google Earth, April 2013.

So is Machapuchare really one of the very few places left on our planet where no human has ever set foot? It would be romantic and wonderful to suggest unquestionably that it is, but sadly it may not be true. It appears to be an open secret in climbing circles that a New Zealand climber named Bill Denz climbed the mountain, alone, sometime in the early 1980s. He also seems to have made a few other illegal climbs in his career before he was killed in an avalanche on Mansalu in 1983. The truth about whether he really did set foot on the peak of Fish Tail Mountain died with him 30 years ago.

Today, as the environmental impact of alpine climbing is becoming much more understood–especially on heavily-trafficked sites like Everest, which is being completely ruined by climbers, according to a recent National Geographic article–Machapuchare’s religious status may work an environmental benefit by leaving it as the only pristine mountain left in the Himalayas. I can’t imagine that no one will ever go to the top, as human beings just have to ruin everything, but I’d like to think that it won’t be for a long, long time. Some places on Earth are meant only for the presence of God, not man, and Fish Tail Mountain seems to be one of those places.

Trivia: Machapuchare is mentioned in the Choose Your Own Adventure book The Abominable Snowman as one of the possible habitats of the Yeti.

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