World’s Tallest Natural Arch: Shipton’s Arch, which was discovered by English mountaineer Eric Shipton, is the tallest natural arch in the world, located in western China’s Xinjiang region. Near the village of Artux in the Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, west-northwest of Kashgar, at an altitude of 2,973 meters (9,754 ft).
Despite being well known to locals, the arch only became well-known to Westerners in 1947 after Eric Shipton wrote Mountains of Tartary, describing his discovery of the arch while serving as British consul in Kashgar. Locals used to access the arch by climbing shaky ladders, but China has since built a visitor’s center, staircases, and a viewing deck.
Despite many unsuccessful attempts, the Shipton conglomerate never managed to reach the arch from the south due to steep canyons and cliffs. After Eric Shipton discovered the arch, it was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s “tallest natural arch,” but when the editors of the book checked to confirm its height, they discovered that it didn’t exist.
Therefore, the listing was withdrawn. A steep slope with a dramatic drop into the canyon appears very deceptive from the top. You may find yourself past the point of no return if you take more than a few steps too far from the top due to the loose rocks. It is impossible to capture the beauty of this arch in a photo. It’s just a matter of being there.”
A National Geographic expedition rediscovering the arch occurred nearly fifty years later. Through the use of better maps and an electronic navigation system, this group was able to not only locate the arch that Guinness Book of Records editors had overlooked but also climb to its top.
Climbers reached the peak and took measurements to confirm that this was, in fact, the tallest natural arch in the world, measuring 1,500 feet (457.8 meters) high and 1,200 feet (366 meters) wide, about the height of the Empire State Building. This height depends on whether the rubble pile or the floor of the west side canyon head, 900 feet (270 meters) lower, constitutes the arch’s base. The rubble pile base is partially under the arch and of maximum width.
To reach the arch, you must drive for one to two hours from Kashgar and hike for another one to two hours. Visitors can enjoy the viewing deck, staircases, and visitor’s center currently constructed in the area.