The road to Changabang has been rather long and winding. It all began over 3 years ago and came to an abrupt end as the COVID pandemic closed international borders and stopping most plans for overseas climbing. However, the mountain was still waiting and we were still thinking of the unrepeated West Ridge. As part of our build up for this expedition our five strong expedition team has headed to Chamonix for one month prior to leaving for India. James Hobson, Kim Ladiges, Matt Scholes, Tim Macartney-snape and Daniel Joll began the process of re acquainting themselves with cold winter climbing and pre acclimatizing before Changabang.
We began our trip with two days camping near Pointe Lachenal. Some moderate mixed climbs of Modica Noury and the Pellissier Gully were are great way to kick things off. We all seemed to have forgotten how to dress correctly for climbing in the cold and these first couple of days helped iron out any issues with our clothing and bivy systems.
From there we decided to head to the rarely visited ( in winter ) South Face of Mont Blanc. With no information as to what might be in condition we set off to Eccles Bivouac to see what we could find. The forecast was for rather extreme cold. -30 with strong winds on our summit day. This would surely test us out and help get our systems sorted for Changabang. It would also be a fairly interesting indication if the two days we had spent camping was enough acclimatization for a trip over Mont Blanc! Sitting at Eccles the ice conditions actually looked quite good. After some debate we decided to stick together and all head up the same route. This was James first time climbing above 4000m and we thought it best to make sure we had a bit of extra man power if anything was to go wrong. We began up the Cascade Notre Dam before breaking left and following a lovely sustained ice gully to the Brouillard Ride. Its fair to say we slightly underestimated just how long this ridge is. It is the longest way to reach the summit from Eccles and after 400m of steep sustained ice we broke trail over endless pitches of moderate mixed terrain. I have no idea if the line we climbed has even had an integral ascent to the summit in winter, we could find no real information on this. It is however a good long day with some stunning views over the Aosta valley as we slowly moved across the Brouillard Ridge.
Battered by strong winds and extreme cold we made our way over the summit ridge, 3 of us suffering some very minor frost nip on fingers, toes and noses. This ended up being quite a full on outing over 5 days. We were all happy to be finished with the route and back down safely to warm beds and plenty of food. A rather brutal initiation for James and a good look at what a tough winter ascent is all about. Without the bigger objective coming up next month I would happily have put my ice axes away after Mont Blanc and gone sport climbing for a couple of weeks.
There is no rest for the wicked though and after two days we are back at it. This time spread out across the Midi with Matt and myself testing our portaledge, Kim climbing with another mate Rob Smith and James off again on Pointe Lachenal with Graham Johnson.
Next up came the North Face of Les Drus. Kim and Rob attempted to make a second free ascent of the Guides Route. Tom Livingston had recently freed this impressive line with multiple pitches in the M7-8+ range. Rob and Kim planned 3 days on the route. This was cut short at the end of day one when Kims crampon bail snapped. Matt and myself climbed the North Face via the Pierre Allain. The outing was another cold affair taking a bit longer than we thought with 22 hours on the route then a long descent complicated with some stuck ropes and extra climbing to recover them. A few more nights out sleeping high and preparing for India.
Unfortunately all the cold weather climbing was leading to some annoying persistant dry coughing. This is extremely problematic when your thinking of heading to altitude in ten days time so Matt and myself decided to focus on recovery and take a break from our climbing plans to try and get this sorted. Dry coughs , cold tired bodies and a few days down in the valley re testing equipment / portaledges and buying gear for the expedition soaked up the next few days.
James who had sat out the Dru teamed up with an Australian climber Ben for the Super Couloir on Mt Blanc du Tacul. The pair completed their ascent sleeping the night back in the Midi lift station. This was a great confidence boost for James who had been battling with fatigue from the Mt Blanc ascent and the recovery of his recently fractured shoulder. Tim who had arrived a bit later than the rest of us to Cham also arrived and started off his pre acclimatization with a trip up the Midi.
Update #2 31/3 Departure for India in 5 days.
While Matt and myself sat out most of the last week due to a dry cough Kim, James and Tim have been busing continuing the process of acclimatizing and reacquainting themselves with winter alpine climbing.
After Kims broken crampon and failed attempt at the guides route on Les Drus he backed this up with an aborted trip to the South Face of Mt Blanc. ( His third trip there for the month! ) Unfortunately they arrived to find the pillars we had seen earlier in the month had all fallen down ! very surprising they all melted out so fast considering it was still fairly cold. Undetered he headed back to Chamonix for a second time up the Juttnar on the Midi. He followed this up with what he called a morning of alpine walking with a solo climb up the Mallory on the North Face of the Midi combined with the Midi Plan ridge then back and over to the Cosmiques Arete. Not bad for a mornings work. Meanwhile Tim was busy “frothing” as he would put it to be back in the mountains. Starting his trip off with a climb on Pointe Lachenal, and a trip up the North Face of Aiguille Du Midi with James and Graham. Currently as I write this looking out the window of the Aiguille Du Midi café I can see James, Tim and Graham trying to build up motivation to throw their ropes off the Midi bridge and rap in to climb Vent Du Dragon. Its snowing and pretty windy and they sure don’t seem in a rush. Kim and Matt had found this moderate classic in great conditions two days ago so they are keen to go and check it out.
For myself sitting out the last weeks climbing and nursing the a dry cough is quite frustrating but at least its settled down enough to somewhat continue my pre trip acclimatizion by drinking hot tea in the Midi café at 3800m. Not the most efficient way to go about it but still a good option for keeping the cough in check and making some progress towards being ready for India.