As you would have noticed from the cover of it, the book is an account of the author Peter Boardman’s inspiring climb of the west face of the 6864m Changabang along with his teammate Joe Tasker who also provided some of the photographs for this book. It is a narration of how climbing a peak had become an ultimate goal. The book was referred to me, as a source of mountaineering information about the region, by not one but multiple sources in the Himalayan Club, Mumbai.
First things first: Peter lucidly presented a personal, engaging as well as an honest account of his daring expedition. The book is a riveting story full of guts and mutual trust of how the two member team together solved the great mountaineering puzzle without any assistance or aid from porters as well as professional route or camp setting. It was the author’s maiden book and was critically acclaimed not only in the mountaineering circles but in literary world as well.
The expedition was set in the post-monsoon season of 1976 when the acclaimed climbers Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker made the first ascent of the West Wall of the shark tooth shaped Changabang in the central Himalayas in Garhwal. The sheer scale of the 5000ft white granite wall of the mountain’s west face continues to present one of the greatest challenges of mountain-climbing in the region. Relying on big wall techniques in the dangerous and unpredictable high Himalayan environment, the Boardman-Tasker team almost took a month in successfully climbing the peak. To this day, theirs remain to be the only successful attempt in climbing the peak from the life-threatening west face. In the debates that followed, by many accounts it was considered to be a tougher climb than that of the Everest. “It’s a preposterous plan. Still, if you do get up it, it’ll be the hardest thing that’s been done in the Himalayas” retorted the legendary Chris Bonington, before the expedition, who was the first to climb the peak in 1974 through a different side and regarded the west-wall to be “not a married man’s route”.
It was Peter’s first visit to the Garhwal Himalayas. Apart from the knowledge acquired through hearsay and reading mountain literature, he counted on his partner Joe Tasker’s experience who had successfully climbed the neighbouring Dunagiri just the previous year. The badass rock climber got a culture shock of his life on his first visit to the “muggy smelly” India. Egoistically self-assured of their mountaineering skills and experience, the duo discarded the company of “social chameleon” Flt Lt DN Palta, an IMF-assigned liaison officer, during the initial stages of the expedition itself. As an outcome, the team adopted to course-correct its Himalayan inexperience and overshadowed their rawness with absolute dedication.
High up on the face, Boardman and Tasker resorted to makeshift tentage instead of the hand-crafted hammocks, an unrealistic decision in the high-altitude Himalayas at that time of the season. The climb demanded an extraordinary level of dedication from the men for a full month. “Every technique I had ever used was tested and applied, half consciously – bridging, jamming, chimneying, lay-backing, mantle-shelfing, finger pulls, pressure holds all followed in a myriad of combinations”, accepts the author. Every morning they would fix ropes and ferry loads up the face and descend to a lower camp. Operating in capsule style, the team hauled its own supplies and equipment up the mountain. Later on, the successful climb of the Changabang had changed the attitude of Peter towards these mountains. After the descent the duo compassionately volunteered to retrieve dead bodies of members of a US team that unsuccessfully attempted the Dunagiri.
Boardman’s detailed technical expression of climbing conditions on the mountain face has made this book not only a mountaineering classic but a literary gem as well. The book may not provide any additional information about the region but is a high quality work as far as mountaineering is concerned. Supplemented by valuable references from Tasker, the book perfectly captures the personal and physical challenges involved in the climb. Subsequently, the duo became best climbing partners, popular authors as well as legends in the mountaineering circles before their tragic death at Everest’s Northwest Ridge in 1982.
In about 190 pages, with the decorating aid of about 15 black-and-white photos, 2 map sketches, the author has absorbingly summed up his capsule style expedition to the central Himalayas. First published in 1978, the book continues to be out of print for a long time now. Although, I was able to buy the book online from a store based in England, the e-editions of the book are available at both Flipkart as well as Amazon.