The Call of Changuch

Dhruv Joshi

History of the peak

Unsuccessful attempts were made in the years 1987, 1997 and 2007. All these expeditions were through Pindari valley. The Indian British Changuch expedition of 1987 was led by B. Mukhoty which was forced to retreat. The expedition of 1997 was led by G. Murray. This expedition also failed to reach the summit and the third attempt on this peak was led by Naval Commander S Dam1 – it was a joint expedition of the Indian Navy and IMF2. The expedition was again unsuccessful due to an avalanche and the death of two members at a height of 5200 m.

In 2009, a British expedition led by Martin Moran3 approached the peak from Lawan valley, an easier route compared to the one taken by previous attempts. They made a successful ascent on 9 June 2009.

Changuch straddles the Pithoragarh and Bageshwar districts of the Uttarakhand state. Situated at the head of Pindari glacier, this mountain is flanked by the Traill’s pass to its west and Nanda Kot to its northeast. While the Pindari glacier provides the hitherto unclimbed access from the south, the Lawan glacier grants access from the north - which provided the route to its first ascent by a British team led by Martin Moran in 2009. Reading through Martin Moran’s account of the first ascent I revived an old childhood memory: that of my uncle
Col. J. C. Joshi pointing to Changuch in one of my Pindari trek photographs and telling me of the challenging nature of this mountain. That day I made myself a promise: One day I would climb this mountain. That was in 1996. After lying dormant for over 14 years, the call burst forth with an intensity that forced me to submit a proposal to the IMF. When the IMF asked me to lead an expedition to Changuch in the pre-monsoon period of 2011, the true enormity of the challenge dawned upon me: Here was a mountain that had defied all earlier attempts since 1987, including one ill fated expedition that ended in a tragic loss of lives - it was still awaiting the first Indian ascent.

I was asked to select an eight-member team from the list of volunteers. It would have to be a strong team as the previous five attempts to the peak from Pindari glacier region had been unsuccessful. The final selection included Bharat Bhushan (Shimla), K Wallambok Lyngdoh or Wall (Shilong), Takpa Norboo (Leh), Chetan Pandey (Almora), Mahesh S. Dharmsaktu (Munsiary) and Harish Kumar (Pithoragarh) as the climbing members and Dr. Anand Vaidhya (Surat) as the medical officer. We left for Bageshwar on 25 May 2011. We moved to the road head, Saung and started moving towards base camp the next day. The whole team reached base camp on 29 May 2011.

Trek towards Pindari glacier and base camp

We trekked for 46 km from our road head, Saung, to base camp over a period of three days. The area was rich in flora and fauna, including a wide variety of conifers, cedar, rhododendrons and oak. The area of Pindari also serves as paradise for bird watchers and abounds in wildlife like the Musk deer, bharal, snow fox, barking deer, Himalayan thar, the Himalayan black bear and the elusive snow leopard. There are breathtaking views of the snow clad summits of Nanda Kot (6861 m), Maikotli (6803 m), Nanda Khat (6611 m), Panwali Dwar (6663 m) and Changuch (6322 m).

The base camp was a pleasant alpine meadow at an elevation of 3565 m on the true right bank of the Pindar river on an old lateral moraine. To reach the base camp one had to cross the Pindar river either by a small wooden bridge or by walking in knee-deep flowing water, but we were lucky to have found an exceptionally strong snow bridge to cross over.

Base camp to advance base camp (ABC)
The route began with a 300 m traverse towards the north of base camp. At an elevation of 3565 m, the route climbed up a 40° to 45° grassy slope of 800 m, traversed 300 m right across a rock band, further went up 50 m along with a small stream and after another traverse of around 50 m ended in a climb of 80 m to reach a small grassy meadow. After crossing the meadow rightwards the route entered a 30 m long and narrow gully connecting to another a 50° grassy slope of 150 m that finally brought us to the foot of a gully and placed us on the Buria top.
From Buria top there was a down climb of around 200 m on an old terminal moraine of Buria glacier. After crossing the Buria nala, which was generally snow covered during the pre monsoon season, the route climbed up a 500 m long rising traverse with many boulders to reach the final nala connecting the final climb of 300 m, which needed some ropes to be fixed on its semi rocky face to arrive on the ridge line. The ridge line launched a 300 m traverse that led towards the north direction to attain advance base camp at an elevation of 4477 m. ABC was pretty big grassy ground large enough for a helipad.

We made seven load ferries before shifting to ABC. On 5 June 2011, Wall, Chetan and I shifted to ABC for further route opening while Bharat joined us the next day. Takpa, Mahesh, Dr. Anand Vaidhya and Harish occupied ABC on 7 June.

We were surprised that the kitchen and temple made by us during our Nanda Khat expedition in 2010 were buried under the snow, but the tip of the temple flag had survived in such conditions. We opted for our alternative plan to make an igloo kitchen out of the snow.

ABC to Camp 1
On 7 June at about 09.00 a.m., the weather window opened for a while so we used the day to open the route for Camp 1. As we had left ropes and necessary equipment at the base of the gully, it was easy for us to move up and perform the task. The weather deteriorated but the ropes were fixed and the route for Camp 1 opened. We left Camp 1 in an almost whiteout condition and returned to ABC at 4.30 p.m. After the route was opened, we had to return from the base of the gully on three subsequent days on account of very poor weather conditions.

Enroute summit camp. (Chetan Pandey)

Enroute summit camp. (Chetan Pandey)

Summit ridge. (Dhruv Joshi)

Summit ridge. (Dhruv Joshi)

Time was running out rapidly and we were still stuck at ABC. We could reach Camp 1 only once in this long spell of time, due to volatile weather conditions and our maximum loads still lay dumped at the base of the avalanche chute below the 200 m high wall. Factoring these variables, on 11 June we decided to push up to Camp 1, come what may. Luckily the weather permitted us to do just that. We quickly dried out necessary clothes and packed our rucksacks. All essential food and equipment was up at the base of gully. Wall, Takpa, Bharat and I shifted to Camp 1, while Chetan did the load ferry till the base of the gully. Harish, Mahesh and Dr. Anand stayed at ABC. After reaching the dumping point we loaded our back packs with the dumped stuff. It was difficult to walk on the soft snow with heavy loads, but somehow we slowly kept on moving towards Camp 1, reaching there by dusk. We made an igloo kitchen again, had our dinner and rested. On 12 June, Takpa, Wall and Bharat went for a recce towards Traill’s pass but a sudden spell of fog forced them to turn back to Camp 1 at 2.00 p.m. The same day Chetan and Mahesh shifted to Camp 1 with heavy loads.

The entire route consisted of three segments. The first segment began with an elevated grassy slope up to the height of 4700 m, enveloped with snow that took at least one hour to cross. The second segment included a rightward 500 m traverse at 30°- 35° which was followed by a 150 ms long rock-strewn spur positioned in the northwest direction consisting of scree and lose rocks with snow on the rock-steps. This led to 600 m of four continuous snowy humps at an incline of 30° to 35° that were joined to a 100 m long avalanche chute of 30°. On the wall the route headed through a 100 m zig zag elevated climb on the slope angled between 45° to 50°, varying in different places. After a traceable outcrop on the slope at the middle of the gully the next 10 m climb up on the rocky slope directed to another outcrop, which was headed by a 50° slope of 60 m. The final 30 m was a rightward traverse that led the route to the top of the rock wall and to the 5380 m high Camp 1. The ropes were fixed on the difficult sections of the route for smooth movement between Camp 1 and ABC.

Walking on the summit ridge. (Dhruv Joshi)

Walking on the summit ridge. (Dhruv Joshi)

Camp 1 to summit camp

On 13 June Bharat, Chetan, Wall and I decided to execute a load ferry and route opening operation towards the Col camp, which was going to be our summit camp in the next few days. We left Camp 1 at 06.00 a.m. Weather was favourable - the clearest day since we came to this mountain. We reached below the Chota Changuch near a bergschund at 11.30 a.m.; Bharat and Wall crossed the bergschund by belaying each other and fixed three ropes of 60 m each. The summit camp was only about a rope length short from that point. The clouds had begun to cover the lower parts of the valley so we moved back to Camp 1 before the weather got poorer. Our effort was rewarding but we were totally exhausted, so we all decided to rest on 14 June, thus planning to occupy the summit camp on 15 June. Our plan was to leave Camp 1 as early as possible but at 03.00 a.m., the weather deteriorated. We delayed our movement starting finally at 09.00 a.m. with heavy loads. Wall, Mahesh and Bharat roped up together while Chetan, Takpa and I joined forces. We started in a whiteout, with snow conditions that were slushy and soft making our progress extremely slow. Sometimes the noise of a glacier sinking appeared to be quite frightening. Somehow we managed to occupy the summit camp with all the essential gear by 07.00 p.m. It had taken us over 10 hours to conclude the task.

The three kms long upper icefield of the Pindari glacier was crisscrossed by crevasses that were hidden under the thick layers of snow giving us an opportunity to walk over them until the bergschund formed by the rock arête rightwards to the Traill’s pass appeared. Starting from this spot the path meandered towards east along with the bergschund for the next two km on the upper section of the Pindari glacier. We arrived underneath the shadow of the west slope of Chota Changuch. We then followed a 300 m long moderate slope between the Chota Changuch and Nunatak. An exposed rocky element not covered with ice or snow on the upper middle section of the glacier brought us to a cirque (a concave amphitheatre or a bowl shaped formation within an ice field or glacier). The route turned leftwards led by a crevasse field (250 m) until the bergschund of Chota Changuch came into sight, which followed through a steep slope of Chota Changuch at an elevation of 45° to 50° for about 250 m to reach the summit camp.

The summit camp was on the rocky ridge, which was only around 2.5 m broad with loose rocks and cornices, facing Lawan valley, at an elevation of 5755 m. It appeared that the ridge was quite wide but it was not so.

Summit Camp to the summit
Now we were facing the sharp northwest ridge of Changuch. We were completely exhausted with the previous day’s ten-hour hike, so we decided to rest on 16 June. Chetan and Takpa went back to get the previously fixed ropes, needed for further climb. Now according to our calculations we had enough ropes to secure the climbing route.

Waking up at 11.00 p.m., we noticed that the clouds were ominously massing up from the Pindari valley thus creating the whiteout condition around the summit camp. Seeing that the clouds were intensifying, we delayed our start for the next 45 minutes. We all were ready to move except Mahesh, who had a severe headache and decided to stay at the summit camp. At around 00.15 a.m. the clouds began to thin and everything was partially visible, even the full moon. All five of us roped up in a single rope, and left the camp for our much awaited summit attempt.

We started from a 150 m march over a sharp rocky ridge continuing right on a long 200 m exposed traverse of 55° to 60° snow-ice slope. We fixed some ropes on the traverse, which we recovered while coming down. At the end of traverse there was a rightward kink led by a 120 m climb on 55° to 60° snow-ice slope that brought us to the top of the slope. On the way we found three rock boulders jutting out from the upper slopes nearer to the top. That top was connected through a 120 m long but narrow snowy turf to the final summit ridge. The final summit ridge narrowed in places and had two shorter slopes of 55° each - the first slope was 80 m long bisected by a crevasse linked with another snowy turf of 15 m followed by a 15 m second slope. This led us to the 20 m knife edge summit at 09.50 a.m. on 17 June 2011. We positioned the prayer flags and an imprinted snow stake in honour of Col J. C. Joshi, Col Balwant Sandhu, Chewang Norboo and Nawang Gombu on the summit of Changuch. We stayed for an hour on the top to get the pictures in whiteout conditions. We began descending at around 11.00 a.m. reaching summit camp safely at 04.00 p.m.

On 18 June, we wound up the summit camp and returned to Camp 1, Wall and Mahesh went for ABC with heavy loads whereas Bharat, Takpa, Chetan and I stayed at Camp 1. It took us almost two days to wind up ABC due to deteriorating weather conditions. On 25 June, we wound up base camp bringing the entire non biodegradable garbage with us. We reached Delhi on 28 June.

This IMF expedition is dedicated to Col J. C. Joshi, Col Balwant Sandhu, Chewang Norboo and Nawang Gombu.

An ascent of Changuch (6322 m) by an IMF expedition. They approached the peak from the Pindari glacier.


  1. HJ Vol. 64
  2. Indian Mountaineering Foundation
  3. HJ Vol. 65
Nanda Devi from the upper slopes of Changuch. (Dhruv Joshi)

Nanda Devi from the upper slopes of Changuch. (Dhruv Joshi)

Nanda Kot and Changuch from summit camp. (Dhruv Joshi)

Nanda Kot and Changuch from summit camp. (Dhruv Joshi)

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