Paul Guest, Luder Sain (India) and Leon Winchester, with guides Rob Jarvis and Martin Moran, have recently returned from Kumaon in the Indian Himalaya, where they made the first ascent of the much-admired Changuch (6,322m), one of the last major unclimbed summits in the region.
Moran’s team was the first to attempt the mountain from the Lawan Valley to the north, a much easier approach than the Pindari Glacier to the south. They found a feasible line from the upper Lawan Glacier to a col on the North West Ridge and then followed the crest at Alpine D standard to the summit.
The elegant and sharp-edged snow and ice spire of Changuch lies in the Eastern Nanda Devi Group, a little south east of Nanda Devi East.
It first came onto the radar when an attractive picture of the south west side from the Pindari Glacier appeared in Soli Mehta and Harish Kapadia's seminal book, Exploring the Hidden Himalaya, which has become a work of reference for mountaineers planning trips to the Indian Himalaya.
In 1987 Geoff Hornby's joint Anglo-Indian team became the first to take a serious look at it. Approaching via the Pindari Glacier to the south, they decided the South West Face was impractical and turned instead to Laspa Dhura (5,913m), making its first ascent.
Ten years later a Northern Ireland team led by Gary Murray climbed part way up a neighbouring peak in order to reconnoitre a line on the South West Face of Changuch. Unfortunately, the weather then broke, with serious snowfall making an attempt on their main objective impossible.
Another 10 years would elapse before the next attempt. This time it was an Indian expedition jointly organized by the Navy and the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Led by the accomplished Satya Dam, the expedition was one of several sponsored by the IMF to promote technical climbing by nationals in the Indian Himalaya.
These climbers made far more progress than the previous two attempts, climbing the left side of the South West Face towards Traill's Pass, then more directly through the Pindari Icefall to gain the crest of the North West Ridge. Members reached a height of 5,600m on the ridge but retreated when a bad storm moved in.
Next day an avalanche, caused by serac fall, hit Camp 1 at c5,000m, killing two Sherpas and leaving a third critically injured. The surviving occupants of this camp were subsequently airlifted to safety in a daring helicopter rescue and the expedition abandoned.
During the night of the 6th-7th June this year, Jarvis leading Guest and Winchester climbed a couloir and snow ramps to gain the 5,850m col. They rested there for 36 hours, allowing Moran and Luder Sain to join them during the second night.
At 12.30am on the 9th all five set off with Moran in the lead. After 130m of mixed terrain, Jarvis took over and led the exposed snow/ice slopes above, culminating in four steep pitches (55-60°) to the summit. The highest point was reached at 9am and the whole route descended that same day.
The expedition's original goal was the South Ridge of Nanda Devi East from Longstaff's Col (5,910m), which they attempted to 6,100m after first making an acclimatization ascent of Nanda Lapak (5,782m).
Lacking manpower and resources for this long route, they decided to switch to nearby Changuch. The IMF allows a switch in objective in return for an additional 50% of the royalty for the alternative peak. In the case of Changuch this was only $450. Fortunately, as the Liaison Officer was also a member of the summit party, there were no bureaucratic difficulties making the change.