Climbed: the north face (ED+: M6, 1800m) of Chang Himal (6802m), Kanchenjunga Himal, Nepal. The wall was one of Asia’s great unclimbed alpine walls until Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman made a four-day ascent from October 29 to November 1. [Photo] Andy Houseman
Earlier this month, British alpinists Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman completed one of the finest alpine-style climbs of the decade: the north face of Chang Himal (6802m) in the Kanchenjunga Himal (first reported in the November 5, 2009 NewsWire).
The 1800-meter face, coated with steep snow flutings, had come to be admired as one of Asia’s most striking unclimbed objectives. Lindsay Griffin brought further attention to Chang Himal when he wrote about the north face in Alpinist 4’s “Unclimbed,” an expose of the world’s most coveted uncompleted climbs.
“This face is not death, it is not the living end, the best, the biggest, the highest, the boldest or the baddest,” Bullock wrote in a trip report. “What it is and what it was, was a step into the unknown, a challenge to surpass other mountain challenges we have experienced, a step on to the largest mountain face that both Houseman and I have had the balls to walk to the base of and start.”
Houseman starts up the first pitch of the second rock band (ca. 6000m) on Day 2. [Photo] Nick Bullock
But perhaps more striking than the prominence of the line itself is that the trip was Houseman’s first major Himalayan expedition. Only 27 years old but no stranger to bold ascents, Houseman is known for his staunch first repeat of North Buttress Couloir (aka French Route, Alaska Grade 6: ca. 6,000′) on Mt. Hunter (14,570′) in Alaska as well as numerous new lines and fast ascents throughout Europe.
Bullock has attempted the unrepeated Boardman-Tasker Route on Changabang (6864m) in India and made the first and only ascent of Fear and Loathing (ED3, 900m) on Jirishanca (6094m) in Peru.
Their north face route (ED+: M6, 1800m) was the result of two days of travel by jeep, 10 days of trekking to base camp, and four days of climbing “sweeping snow shoots, cones and ice fringes, seracs the size of semi-detached houses, bulging rotten rock, flutings and a pointy summit,” Bullock said. It took the pair one long day to descend.
At 2:30 a.m. on October 29, Bullock and Houseman set out from their cave bivy, at the base of the north face, despite Houseman’s mild case of giardia. The two climbed a large snow cone at the right of the north spur through an ice and rock gully. From there the two climbers soloed the narrowing on the left side until they were level with the top of the first buttress. A 70-degree unconsolidated slope led them to the first rock buttress. After a steep pitch right of the spur, they simulclimbed another 120 meters. Exhausted at this point (6000m), the two carved out a bivy for the night. While Houseman carried a small single-wall tent, the two did not use it for the entirety of the climb.
Bullock begins the crux pitch, just above 6000 meters. [Photo] Andy Houseman
On October 30, Houseman led a steep runnel and an unprotected bulge then handed the lead to Bullock, who pulled through an overhanging corner of ice. They continued through rotten snow and ice (70 degrees) in search of a place to sleep; it wasn’t until 7 p.m., at 6200m, that the men cut a 30cm step to bivy for the night.
The next day they simuled for 2.5 hours up a broad, right-slanting snow ramp. They followed this line to rejoin a crest beneath the final headwall of rotten snow and rock. They finished the day on a fluting that offered no protection and could have been a dead end. At 6550m they dug a bivy and hoped the fluting would lead them to the summit the next day.
On November 1, they found the summit crest 180 more meters up the fluting. They reached the “knife edge summit” at midday. They spent a half hour there then downclimbed to their bivy, where they spent another night.
They descended the next day over the better part of 15 hours. Bullock credited the quick descent to Houseman’s “tour de force” in constructing abseil anchors from little to nothing.
Houseman (left) and Bullock on the summit of Chang Himal. [Photo] Nick Bullock