Paul Guest: Climber who was first to conquer the great Changuch peak
In the Cordillera Real range in Bolivia he came down some slopes by bicycle
Tuesday 10 April 2012
Paul Guest was one of Britain's most talented young mountaineers, and before his untimely death at the age of 32 he had climbed some of the highest peaks on three continents as well as mastering a virgin Himalayan ice spire. "He was keen, resourceful and very strong, a climber who would have gone on to achieve great things," Martin Moran, leader of the 2009 British/Indian Nanda Devi East expedition said. "He was the ideal sort of guy." Guest died in a 1000ft fall from the Zero Gully ice-climb on Ben Nevis.
He had climbed the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and the Eiger, and more recently had set his heart on conquering North America's highest peak, Mount McKinley in Alaska. A climbing career begun little more than a decade ago included more than 500 ascents, and on a trip to the Andean Cordillera Real in Bolivia, during which he reached the summit of the region's highest mountain, Illimani (21,122ft), he braved his way down some slopes by bicycle.
The elegant pinnacle which made Guest's name was Changuch (20,741ft), one of those peaks that surround the western summit of the twin-pointed "Bliss-Giving Goddess", Nanda Devi in India's Kumaon region. The British Mountaineering Council recorded the successful ascent of Changuch by Martin Moran, Rob Jarvis, Leon Winchester, Paul Guest and Ludar Sain as an important British first. It came after attempts since 1987 by British and Indian climbers, most notably the former Indian Navy commander Satyabrata Dam, who conquered Everest in May 2004, but was thwarted by a storm on Changuch.
"We were the first footsteps in the snow. It's nice to know you were one of the first ones to look over the sides," Guest said. "There were some great views up there. I loved India." The area is rich in legend and mountaineering history, and before he left England, Guest researched the career of his predecessor, the explorer Dr Tom Longstaff, who served with the Gilgit Scouts and the King's Royal Rifle Corps, and in 1907 was the first to climb the 23,359ft highest peak of the triple mountain Trisul, "Shiva's Trident".
Longstaff's daughter, Sally Amos, became a firm friend, finding in Guest's adventures an echo of her father's triumphs; and Guest and his colleagues in 2009 were to pitch tent on a six-foot wide perch on the precipitous feature named for him, "Longstaff's Col", at above 18,000ft. From there, as Rob Jarvis shows in his film of the adventure, the team could gaze into the near-impenetrable "Sanctuary" round Nanda Devi's 25,643ft western higher peak.
The lower eastern peak, at 24,391ft, however, is considered more difficult than Everest, and the group tested themselves on the 18,970ft summit of Nanda Lapak over two days in preparation. Only when they had climbed the first three pinnacles of the South-East Ridge did they judge the ascent would prove too long for the resources they had with them, and switched their energies to reaching Changuch's steep, narrow point.
A moonlit glacial walk on 6 and 7 June brought Guest, Winchester and Jarvis to the foot of the challenging face, crossed with icy old avalanche runnels and covered with aerated snow, that guards the North-West Ridge where Dam met defeat. It took the three men until after dawn to break through the cornice on to the ridge, and there they devoted some hours to chipping ice in order to make just enough room for their tents so that they could spend the night on the vertiginous, sharp, narrow edge. Next day Moran and Ludar Sain joined them.
Half an hour after midnight, very early on the 9 June, all five set out in darkness against a cold wind to make for the summit, crossing 400 feet of mixed terrain with Moran leading, before Jarvis took over to lead the group up the exposed snow and ice slopes above. Jets of spindrift glowed the colour of flame in the dawn, and Changuch presented them with an icy face, steepening to pitches of 55 and 60 degrees; but they achieved the peak at 9am, and got down the same day.
To reach the Pindari Valley they made what was only the fifth crossing ina century of the cloud-wreathed Traill's Pass, named after GW Traill, the first British Deputy Commissioner inKumaon after the Gurkha War of1814-16, whose hopes of a establishing a trade route that way to Chinawere dashed because it was too high and hard.
Guest, a farmer from Rock, near Kidderminster in Worcestershire, came from a family keen on outdoor pursuits, though he was its first mountaineer. He took part in local shooting events, volleyball, and circuit-training, and had been a pupil at Lacon Childe School in Cleobury Mortimer. His parents, Peter and Christine, said that they were immensely proud of their only son, the eldest of three children.
Paul Guest, farmer and mountaineer: born Bridgnorth, Shropshire 29 September 1979; died Ben Nevis 19 February 2012.
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