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Changabang

by Oliver Lloyd

Joe Tasker the mountaineer held, an audience of four hundred in the palm of his hand for two and a quarter hours.  He was delivering the Seventh Paul Esser Memorial Lecture in the University of Bristol on Wednesday 15th February 1978.  He was giving us a step by step account of his ascent of the West Face of Changabang in the company of Peter Boardman, illustrated by over two hundred excellent pictures.

The mountain is well over 23,000 feet in height and was clearly to be the most difficult climb, either of them had undertaken.  Neither would admit to the other that he had any doubts about the possibility of success, but it was not until after 25 days, when they got to the "half-way" snow field at 20,000 ft.; that they knew it was possible.  I think most of us would have given up before that.  At that height climbing is exceedingly arduous. It was only possible to go up five to ten feet at a time before stopping to get one¬ís breath.  They were averaging four hundred feet a day.  The whole climb lasted 40 days and not unnaturally they ran out of conversation.

Their technique was to establish a base camp at 16,000 ft., to which they would return from time to time for more gear.  Their return from camp to camp was facilitated by leaving a fixed rope and abseiling down.  They had two other camp sites on the way up, each being made by cutting a narrow platform in the snow.  The outside place was not an enviable one, but they belayed themselves to pegs, in case of rolling over.  Repeated journeys to and from these camp sites was necessary to get all the necessary gear up.  Leading was, a very tiring and responsible business, so they took it in turns. Finally after spending a day at Camp 2 they made a dash for the summit with light leads.

The descent was not without incident.  There was the piton that got bent to an uncomfortable angle; while Joe was abseiling down a rope belayed to it.  Pete was not sure whether to remain belayed to it or not.  Each of them had an occasion when he lost the rope on the way down. For Peter it left him in a very difficult position, attached to it upside down by one foot in a sling.  You have to be quite good at single rope work to be able to rectify a position such as this.

After they had got down they were called upon to assist in sorting out four fatalities, which had just occurred in the next valley.  It was necessary to establish the identity of the victims and to bury the bodies.