British ascents of Changabang
After the 1950s and 1960s when all the 8000m peaks had been summitted, the focus turned to harder routes up these mountains. Some aimed for the South West Face of Everest and Annapurna South Face. For others however, the challenge of summiting an unclimbed peak still remained most important.
Changabang, based in the Garhwal Himalaya in India, also known as the Shining Mountain is only 6864m high. Compared to other Himalayan peaks it would appear to be quite small. Do not let this fool you. Changabang may be smaller than its neighbours but it is a formidable peak, with sheer rock faces and steep ridges. Changabang is a Himalayan big wall.
The First Ascent
Led by Sir Chris Bonington (GB) and Lt. Col Balwant Sandhu (India), the team summited Changabang on the 4th June 1974. The other members of the team consisted of British climbers Martin Boysen, Doug Scott and Dougal Haston, and Indian mountaineer Chewang Tachei.
The approach almost took as long as the climb itself. The team walked 10 days from a roadside village named Lata to Base Camp due to some trouble with the shepherds and porters. The ascent from Base Camp took 13 days via the South East Face, which then led to the East Ridge and to the summit.
Lt. Col Balwant Sandhu, also known as Ballu wrote the following in Changabang (Pub. Heinemann, 1975) about the day they summitted the mountain:
“Dawn, a beautiful dawn- like the morning of life: no cloud and no wind and a lot of big mountains and some cold. Where on earth are my toes?”
At this point on the 4th June the team had been watching Chris Bonington tackle a steep ice bulge. It was a relief for the team to follow Chris up this section of the route into the early morning sun.
Chris, Ballu and their team all arrived on the summit by 5am on the 4th June. There was a feeling of anti-climax and tension. All were looking towards to descent off the mountain.
The West Wall
This is where the climbing partnership of Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker began. After climbing Dunagiri in 1975 Joe Tasker needed a new project, and a new climbing partner as Dick Renshaw, his partner on Dunagiri, was still recovering from frostbite. Joe visited Pete at his BMC office and put his idea forward. Pete became the other half of the two man expedition.
“Outside the night roared. Winds were breaking around the great white rock of Changabang, and then retreating, drawing in their breath with anger, gathering their frustrated powers beyond the mountain, to return again through the darkness. And the mountain rolled on. Only dreams of the summit helped us cling to its side.”
Pete Boardman, The Shining Mountain, 1978
Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker summited Changabang via the West Wall on the 15th October 1976. Boardman writes in The Shining Mountain about not wanting to leaver the summit, it appeared to be a mixture of dreading the descent, but also a feeling of being omniscient “above the world”. The pair had to descend, and quickly, for a storm was approaching from Tibet. They stayed on the summit for half an hour until the snow started falling.
The Direct South Face
It seemed that the 1970s was the great era for climbing Changabang. In 1976 the South West Ridge was climbed by a Japanese team in a 33 day effort, this was also the year that the West Wall was climbed by Boardman and Tasker. The next available unclimbed face was the South Face, climbed direct.
The 1978 team consisted of Polish climbers Wojciech Kurtyka and Krzysztof Żurek, British climber Alex MacIntyre, and American/ British climber John Porter. They summited Changabang on the 27th September 1978.
Their route via the South Face has not seen a repeat ascent for 40 years. It may have been the luck of the weather, 11 days without a storm, or maybe it is because the route is still a full Himalayan experience that requires portaledges or hammocks alongside full alpine and technical rock equipment.
The North Face
In 1997 Andy Cave, Brendan Murphy, Mick Fowler and Steve Sustad alongside Julia-Anne Clyma and Roger Payne separated into teams of two for an assault on the North Face.
Mick Fowler wrote the following in an article for High magazine regarding a conversation he had with his Partner Steve on the route:
“Enjoying your holiday, Michael?” “Most rewarding,” I responded contemplating our remaining food.”
Mick and Steve made it to the summit ridge but no further, Roger and Julie-Anne had been caught out in horrendous weather and retreated from the third ice field. On the 2nd June 1997 Andy Cave and Brendan Murphy successfully summited Changabang and gained the first ascent of the North Face.
Unfortunately, this success was marred by a terrible tragedy.
While descending the mountain Brendan Murphy was swept away by an avalanche. Changabang was one of Brendan’s great successes as a mountaineer.
“Climbed in pure alpine style, it epitomised his approach to mountaineering and the character traits demanded by such an outrageous route, climbed in weather conditions that could only be described as character building. It will remain as a monument to one of the finest mountaineers of the last decade.”
Andy Perkins, High Magazine, October 1997
Written by Nicole Reeve for Mountain Pro Magazine.
©Changabang, Joe Tasker