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India, Himachal Pradesh, Eastern Garhwal, Changabang (6,864m), North Face Attempt

Changabang (6,864m), north face attempt. The Korean Changabang North Face Expedition was led by Chung Seong-kwon and had as members Ha Ho-sung, Kim Ji-sung, Lee Keun-tak, and Lee Min-sook. They arrived at base camp (4,600m) on May 3, established advanced base (5,200m) below the face, and on the 7th began fixing 250m of line up a moderate ice face that lay roughly 350m above the bergschrund and to the right of the 1998 Russian-American Lightning Route. Deteriorating weather made progress difficult, and the Koreans didn’t reach the site of Camp 1 (5,700m) until the 16th. On the 18th, despite depressing snow conditions, they fixed more rope and hauled food and gear to Camp 1. They then made little progress until the weather finally cleared on the 24th. During the intervening time they ferried more gear to Camp 1. They reached Camp 2 (5,850m) on the 25th.

Although provisions were sufficient, the climbers realized that their remaining time was running short, and faster progress would be needed to reach the summit. They established a portaledge at Camp 2 on the 26th. The following day the weather remained clear enough for two members to work the route toward Camp 3, while three others rappelled to retrieve more rations from base camp and advanced base. The weather deteriorated again halfway through the ninth pitch, and the two lead climbers rappelled to the portaledge hoping for a positive forecast for the next day.

After a night of subzero temperatures, they were up at 4 a.m. in promising weather. However, the next two pitches (70m) proved a struggle. There were plenty of hook placements, but the thought of running it out for great distances was overbearing, and they opted to bolt every 8m until they reached more ice. From there, they climbed two more 50m pitches, at the top of which they placed two more bolts where the ice had thinned enough for granite to show through. Eventually, however, snowy weather again prevailed, and they rappeled into the night.

They spent the following days sitting out bad weather and trying to haul the portaledge to the next camp, but to no avail. On June 2 the weather cleared, allowing Kim Ji-sung and Lee Keun-tak to jug through pitch 14 and Ji-seong to lead another 50m aid pitch, before worsening weather forced him down. Soon after he returned to the portaledge, the snow showers ceased. The following day Ha Ho-sung aided pitch 16 using a plethora of exquisitely solid skyhook and talon edges. Although the proposed site for Camp 3 was still some distance away, it seemed attainable.

However, once again that cruel joke called snowfall returned. The expedition leader, Chung Seong-kwon, sat there feeling the toll of attrition, staring over at his partner, watching the snow fall even harder at their high point of 6,100m, and guessing how cold Ho-sung must be. Despite sufficient provisions, hope of good weather, time, and the will to stay on the wall had all gradually withered away with the falling of the snow. He knew they must go down.

The Korean Changabang attempt was graded VII WI5 A2. The team wishes to thank The North Face Korea and Korean Trango for their sponsorship.

Lee Young-jun, Mountain Magazine, Korea (translated by Peter Jensen-choi)