India, Himachal Pradesh, Eastern Garhwal, Changabang, West Face, Boardman-Tasker, Attempt

Publication Year: 2006.

Changabang, west face, Boardman-Tasker Route, attempt. The boulders basked in the sun, 9½km of them, wave after wave of rock misery. Waiting. The chance of breaking an ankle, breaking a leg, or being trapped by two closing together like the doors of an aircraft hangar, was ever-present. I hated it.

A new route on Changabang’s west face sounded good a few thousand kilometers away, an age away with a team of four to spread the load. The intended team of four turned into a pair, Stu McAleese and I. A late arrival made it three. Olly Sanders was going to be in India, so it made sense to drag him along.

When we decided to climb the west face, we had the impression that the Nanda Devi Sanctuary had re-opened since its closure in 1982. This was not the case, and to climb on the west face we would have to approach from the north, via the Bagini Glacier. This caused several difficulties: we couldn’t see the west face; the approach was now 9km over possibly the worse moraine I have encountered; and to reach the Bagini Ridge we were faced with a 450m climb resembling the North Face of the Tour Ronde in the French Alps.

The type of climb and the overall cost dictated we had more gear than I was accustomed to. A capsule-style expedition is not one I would normally consider, but the $6,500 that the IMF and local government charged, the $6,000 the agent charged, the flights, the freight, and insurance charges, all made for a total bill of $15,000. I am not proud to say the cost had a direct effect on style.

We spent seven days carrying and establishing advanced base and three more ferrying and wading, carrying, climbing, fixing, and hauling, until the rope hung 100m short of the ridge.

The snow started as normal mid-afternoon. Seventy-two hours later, after 1½m had fallen, it stopped. I had developed a tooth abscess, and our tent was buried. The decision to go to base camp was easy.

Nine hours of snow-covered boulders and dreaming of base camp comfort passed. Camp was not the haven we had hoped. The tents were flattened and covered in snow. Our kit had been left inside and had become a soaked-sodden mess. Rivers ran under, around, and through the tents. The ground looked like a rugby pitch at the end of a game.

Sanders left with Dutch who had been attempting the north face of Changabang. After four days of high pressure had melted the snow and turned the meadow into a barren, dust-driven desert, the hill called. McAleese and I answered.

When we reached advanced base after five hours, a huge concern was alleviated. The tent was intact, although two broken poles called for improvisation. However, the food stash was beyond improvisation. Animals had raided it, and we were now on a time line imposed by starvation.

It took four days in freezing, bone-numbing temperatures to reach the Bagini Ridge and another three to establish a camp. The angle of the slope leading onto the ridge from the Nanda Devi Sanctuary was a lot less than from the north. Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker had repeatedly soloed this ground with loads, escaping to the comfort of base camp. This was a luxury not available to us on the steep and technical north side. The gendarme between the col and our present position, the same spot as Boardman and Taskers Camp 1 at 5,480m, looked difficult to pass, and I marveled at their tenacity.

The new route was not going to happen. Seven days of food remained if we followed a controlled diet. We decided to attempt the Boardman-Tasker line up the northwest ridge, knowing there was no chance to summit, but hoping for a miracle.

Miracles didn’t happen. The weather became unsettled once more, the temperature plummeted, my tooth abscess returned, and after three days on the ridge we had only climbed 200m. However, following in Pete’s and Joe’s footsteps had been liberating. Respect for their achievement grew with every step. Some of the climbing we completed was mixed Scottish IV, with the meat of the route looming above: 800m of technical rock, hanging arêtes, overhangs, and blank walls with no obvious way. Boardman and Tasker stuck at it until they found a way and reached the summit, an awesome achievement that still waits a repeat. But the approach from the north does add logistical and physical difficulties.

On day five we decided this sort of existence wasn’t fun and stripped the climb from our high point of 6,200m. On day six we descended, dragging all our kit to advanced base. On October 6 we left base camp.

Eight years have passed between the two expeditions on which I played at capsule-style. I find alpine-style gives more enjoyment and satisfaction, without the drudgery and monotony. You stick your neck out a little maybe, but there is much more in the way of reward—and it’s cheaper. We thank the Mount Everest Foundation, British Mountaineering Council, and the committee of the Nick Estcourt Award for their generous financial support.

Nick Bullock, U.K.