Safe and comfortable at home, in the middle of last winter, I was thinking about trips for the year ahead. Looking back my trip to Mera Peak had been a real adventure so why not have a go at something similar? I had written an article in Adventure Travel on Mera and in the same edition there was a list of their top 100 treks. Topping the list was the trip around Dhaulagiri (the world's seventh highest mountain at 8,179 metres). Nine months ago that was enough information - I had to go.
On the train to Heathrow I was having second thoughts. I was remembering the climb up to High Camp on Mera Peak across the glacier. It involved a 500 metre climb and the conditions were bad. I was absolutely shattered despite having spent five weeks in Nepal at altitude. Dhaulagiri Circuit and Dhampus Peak looked a lot tougher. Dhampus, like Mera is over 6,000 metres high but involves a 1000 metre climb in one day and to get to it you have to cross the French Col the day before - a 5,400 metre pass.
The company I had booked with made it worse - they seemed so serious. Most of my long haul trips have been with the Exodus Travel and I have got to know them and have become comfortable with the way they work. On this trip I'm with Jagged Globe whose attention to detail is just scary. They wanted to see my insurance policy before setting off and spotted the fact that my emergency medical cover, organised very cost effectively through the Austrian Alpine Club, was not sufficient to hire a helicopter and get me out of the mountains should I need it. I changed my insurance but somehow their expertise on the costs of helicopter rescue added to my nerves.
As someone who walks around mountains rather than over them I also seemed to carrying a lot of gear - helmet, ice axe, crampons, harness and huge plastic boots. The boots in particular were gross for someone who prides himself on travelling light - they were the heaviest things I've put on my feet since giving up skiing a few years ago.
Actually the nerves all but disappeared once I met the rest of group at the airport and had a couple of beers in the bar. I was bowled over by an overwhelming but strangely comforting colour of grey. They didn't look like the bunch of super-athletes I had feared but happily another group of men (mainly) in their fifties - people just like me. This might just work.
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