Supported by the BMC, MEF, Shipton/Tilman Award, Mark Clifford Grant and the 2009 Nick Estcourt Award, Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman have made the much coveted first ascent of the North Face of Chang Himal (6,802m), close to Kangchenjunga in Far East Nepal.
Ever since this objective featured in the article ‘Unclimbed’ in Alpinist 4, which detailed nine of the most spectacular, major virgin objectives in Asia and South America, the 1,800m mixed wall has been on the wish list of numerous parties.
Prior to this year only Alex Kozelj and Mitja Sorn had managed to step onto the face. In the post monsoon of 2007 this talented Slovenian pair reached a point less than half way up the Central Spur before retreating due to terrible conditions - considerable amounts of deep soft snow over rock.
Bullock and Houseman managed to cross the sometimes chaotic Kangchenjunga Glacier below Pangpema without much difficulty and climbed the Central Spur of Chang Himal in four days, summiting on the 1st November.
Although generally steep snow and ice, the main difficulties were found crossing a series of rock bands. On the second, which proved to be the crux, the pair spent a whole day gaining 200m, climbing approximately five taxing pitches with difficulties up to Scottish 7 (mixed).
However, technical grades have limited meaning on such a face, where the climbing is often precarious and runout, and sports typical Peruvian-like, steep unconsolidated flutings in the upper section. The overall grade was ED3 and the amount of climbing nearly 2,400m.
Descent was made down the route, rappelling where possible and down-climbing when solid anchors were unavailable.
According to Bullock, 'the weather throughout the climb was very favourable, all be it a tad windy and slightly cool. The rock was generally poor and protection neither easy to find nor place. The ice was sometimes good and sometimes bad, and the snow was often rotten… all in all we had a pretty amazing time'.
Brought onto the official list of permitted peaks by the Nepalese Government in 2002, Chang Himal was formerly referred to as Wedge Peak by the 1930 Kangchenjunga expedition.
It is also known as Ramtang Chang, which is likely the most accurate naming of this summit: chang simply means north and Ramtang Chang does indeed rise north (actually, north west) of 6,601m Ramtang, a peak in the shadow of Kangchenjunga, first climbed in 1930 by Frank Smythe.
Smythe, commenting on the beauty of Chang Himal in The Kangchenjunga Adventure, remarked, '.....its very aggressiveness challenges the mountaineer to pit himself against it, yet what mountaineer would accept the challenge?....'.
Bullock and Houseman's ascent, perhaps surpassing any of their previous in the big mountains, was 'officially' the first of this mountain. However, the summit had been reached as long ago as 1974.
In the spring of that year a large Slovenian expedition climbed Kangbachen, the western subsidiary summit of Kangchenjunga. Taking time out from the ascent, Janez Gradisar, Bojan Pollak and Michael Smola made an unauthorized climb of the long snowy South West Ridge of Chang Himal. Other members of the team also made first ascents of Jaho (c6,500m) and Mojca (6,024m) on the main ridge running west.
And as for the Alpinist article, five of the nine objectives still remain unclimbed.