Day 13 Dhaulagiri Circuit - Dhampus Peak

Pasang went round the tents with the "early morning cup of tea" at 4.30 and it was very cold. Everyone sees the cup of tea as some sort of starting gun rather than a chance to gently wake up.  All around me there are noises of zips being zipped and bags being tossed out of tents and already I felt off the pace.

Everything seems harder to pack in the cold, bigger and less malleable. Even without the huge plastic boots it seems impossible to get everything into the bags.

Apart from Steve I'm the last person to get to the mess tent for breakfast.  The casualty list from last night has shrunk, Mandy and Andy are going to attempt to summit.  I manage two bowls of porridge but can't stomach the stodgy pancakes and Nick's discovery of a rotten one puts me off the eggs.  Despite the limited breakfast I'm still the last person to leave the table and have only had time to put on one of a decidedly suspect pair of gaiters from Shonas before we set off.

Everyone had their head torches on as we crossed the valley but within minutes the summits of the mountains to the south west were starting to glow from a sort of pre-dawn light.  The Swiss party had already left but there was no sign of them ahead or any indication of the route they had taken. Ominously one of the Sherpas was walking well to right of the group and may well have been looking for a trail. If he was he didn't find one.

As soon as we started to climb we were in deep snow, just less than a metre deep, and Pasang at the front was having to "break the trail".  It was hard going even when you managed to hit his footsteps but missing them and dropping into snow which was thigh deep (I'm not that tall!) was a frequent occurrence.  After about an hour, and in daylight but not yet sunlight, Mandy asked me if I was finding it tough going. There was only one answer but she was clearly deciding that enough was enough and shortly after turned back to camp.
Don't forget Nev

Approaching the steep snow field

There was a bit of tension in the group and, after some discussion between Pem who was at the back and Pasang, Pasang set off up towards a low ridge.  On top of the ridge we found the route taken by the Swiss and an already broken trail.  We had been walking for two hours and Chris complained that we should have got to this point in one.

The fittest man in Cornwall

The sun was now out and the trail across a beautiful snow field clearly visible.  It's like a railway line with the main line heading south across the Dhampus Pass and a branch heading east and up the mountain.  The weather was perfect.
A thorn between two roses

There is a lot of conversation between Chris and Pem and it turns out that a porter has been ill all night with stomach pains. Dr Brad has been consulted and the decision has been taken to get a helicopter to take him out. You hear lots of horrible stories about the welfare of porters but thankfully another one isn't going to be added to the list - it's re-assuring that Jagged Globe don't mess about with decisions like this.
Pasang looking moody

Climbing ever more steeply up the branch line we incur our own second casualty when Andy decides to go back and wait for the porters coming over the Dhampus Pass.  He wasn't well yesterday and with the amount of weight he is carrying in his bag he always had the odds stacked against him.

The next couple of hours or so are the toughest of the whole climb.  Traversing left and then right across a huge snow field the route gets steeper and steeper.  Personally I find it much easier to be as near to the front as possible, so you can concentrate on your own pace without worrying about keeping up with others.  Kevin clearly had the same idea and climbing up the hill we swapped poll position behind Pasang.  It was hard work but compared to yesterday I felt great.
Approaching the ridge

Climbing the ridge

Crossing the huge and very steep snow field breaks the back of the climb but there is still plenty of work to do. With the summit still an hour away the route takes you over and then alongside a ridge.  This was perhaps the most dangerous stretch, traversing a snow field with the rocky ridge to the right and a near vertical drop to the left.  The views are amazing and very dramatic.
On the ridge

Nick on the phone

Precariously perched in deep snow on the side of the ridge Pasang tells us to get our ice axes out. Mumbles go up and down the line and clearly not everyone is happy about stopping in such a dangerous spot.  I probably benefit from blissful ignorance. It's the first time I've ever used an ice axe and Nick has to tell me how.  With my hand over the top of the blade I ram the pointed shaft through the snow into the ice below.  It's a revalation - the sharp point at the bottom of the shaft grips the ice and carrying the axe up the mountain makes sense for the first time.

After the drama and excitment of the ridge it's a relatively simple climb to the top across deep snow.  Coming down from the summit is the Swiss group roped up, in crampons and led by their immaculately attired leader.  Chris, sustaining international rivalry, points out all the things they are doing wrong.

Kevin is the first "client" to get there but the rest of us follow in good order.   Getting to top was great, completely different to yesterday on French Col.  Maybe it's because I'm getting older but it's a wonderful feeling when you know you have pushed yourself and your body has delivered. I felt very emotional with a sense of achievement but also relief.  I could still do it. 
Tea cosy man

Good to be here!

Dhaulagiri Deborah

It was a nice group to share the achievement with.  It was great to see people who had doubted themselves (Deborah) make it to the top and see people who on the day struggled (Steve, Nev and Brad) but had overcome their discomfort.  It was also great to see the pleasure the Sherpa's and Chris got in helping us to the top.
Kevin claims Damphus for Cornwall

Unlike yesterday I was able to appreciate where I was. If like me you're not a climber it doesn't get much better.  To the south, framed between two peaks, was the enormous summit of Dhaulgiri itself, the great white mountain which we have now seen from nearly every perspective. To the east, slightly to the south-east, the Annapurna Massif - argueably the world's most beautiful mountain range and today, in the sunshine, almost close enough to touch.  Beyond the Annapurnas on the horizon to their north we decided we could see Manaslu.  Pem said it was Manaslu and he has climbed it and that was good enough for me.   Not quite the five 8,000 metre plus peaks you see from Mera but to see three in one day is good enough. 
The Annapurnas (with the world's biggest gorge below)


Manaslu (I hope!)

Despite being over 6,000 metres (do I need an excuse to mention the height!) it wasn't that cold but even the best things must come to an end and we had to get down.  It wouldn't be a John Hayes trip to the mountains if there wasn't going to be an incident and I found one on the descent.
The whole thing

Nev, whose experience means he doesn't need to hang around, went off down the mountain at speed with Pasang as guide and I decided to join what looked like the party to be with.  At first it seemed a good decision and we were soon some distance ahead of the rest of the group who were going down slowly in comparison.  1,000 metres of descent through deep snow (we were on a different route to the ascent) is a long way and the camp site, which we could now see at bottom, was not getting any closer.  
The descent

I decided to experiment with my downhill technique: could I get that semi-running motion going - the thing you can do on scree which sometimes works on snow.  For a few yards I had it but just as I was overtaking Nev I found myself on my back and sliding downhill.  Now I'm not sure if I would have continued on down or not (I was certainly heading in the right direction to the campsite) but I did have just enough wits about me to drive my walking pole into snow.  Although the pole snapped almost instantly, the top half wacking me on the head, it did stop me going any further.  Pasang meanwhile had thrown himself down the mountain and using his ice-axe as a break and was clearly prepared to risk all rather than let me get to the campsite before he did.

Nev didn't say much but I don't think he was impressed.

Given that Pasang had risked all in his attempt to stop me sliding down the mountain I should perhaps have been a bit more tolerant of his lack of navigational skills but unfortunately I wasn't and was soon moaning about the wild goose chase he had taken us on to get us back to camp.  Most people had followed a direct line of sight route but not Pasang and we were the last to get back. Although grumpy at the time it was in fact the tiniest of blips.

Today was a great day - the best day I guess I've ever had in the mountains.  12 hours of hard work, made much harder by the deep snow, but otherwise perfect weather conditions.  A really challenging climb into beautiful scenary the scale of which was almost intimidating.  And to cap it all, icing on an already well iced cake, a small adventure to brag about and embellish when I get home. Definitely worth coming for!


  1. "Manaslu (I hope!)" - yes, it's Manaslu indeed :)

  2. Great reviews John, heading off to do this trek with Jagged Globe in a few weeks time :)

    1. I envy you, great trip with a great company. Hope you have as many adventures as I did!