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One of the most stunning peaks in the Himalaya, Changabang, often called ‘Shining Mountain’ because of its dazzling white granite cliffs, rears up to 22,520 feet like a fang on the north-western edge of the Nanda Devi National Park. This beautiful peak was first climbed in 1974 by a joint Indo-British team led by Sir Chris Bonington and Lt. Col. Balwant Sandhu.
It was an impressive first ascent up the relatively easier South Ridge via Shipton’s Col from the Rhamani Glacier in the outer ring of the Nanda Devi sanctuary. The six members of the team who summitted Changabang in late June that year included some of the who’s who of British climbing. The first was Chris Bonington himself, already a worldwide star. With him were Doug Scott, Dougal Haston and Martin Boyson, who were to form the cutting edge of Himalayan ‘big wall’ mountaineering. Sandhu, on the other hand, would go on to become one of the finest ever Indian mountaineers. Sherpa Tashi Chewang, the other Indian to reach the summit, was a great mountaineer and rock climber, as well as a legendary instructor at Darjeeling’s Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
In many ways, this climb closed out the era of big expeditions and climbing Himalayan peaks on fixed ropes. Following a trail blazed by Reinhold Messner, and followed by the likes of Doug Scott, lightweight Alpine style climbs would become the norm for elite mountaineers within a few years. Changabang’s ascent was a milestone though, and not just because of the fact that there were absolutely no easy routes up the sheer ridges and cliff faces that swept up to the summit. Beaten back several times by technical difficulties and inclement weather, each of the 6 main climbers managed to reach the summit. This successful joint venture paved the way for further mixed nationality climbs by Indian and British mountaineers, led by Sandhu, Bonington, Scott and Harish Kapadia.
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