We began meeting twice a month at a south Seattle hotel where we delegated the work and reported on our progress. We debated everything from the number of tents we would need to the calorie content of our on-mountain lunches. Shortly before Christmas Tom arrived for one of our debate sessions slash meetings with the burly owner of a rugged weathered face, his name was Dan Percival.
Dan had climbed the highest peak in North America – Denali, the highest peak in the Americas – Aconcagua, the highest peak in Africa – Kilimanjaro and now he looked towards the Himalayas. Youth is not requisite when it comes to climbing big mountains. Expedition mountaineering requires the skills and patience developed over years spent in the mountains and therefore nobody on the team flinched when Dan revealed his age as fifty-nine. If he reached the top Dan would be the oldest climber to summit Manaslu. I immediately liked Dan, he was modest, self-confident and, most importantly, he enjoyed good beer. Dan had come prepared to sell himself: he hadn’t begun climbing until age thirty nine, three years older than I was at the time, but despite a late start he had made some impressive alpine ascents as well as some very serious ice routes. What I especially liked about Dan was enthusiasm for and commitment to climbing Manaslu, he was willing to throw himself completely into this project.
Six climbers, only one of which I knew personally, seemed a skeleton crew at best. In the mountains it seems that a small tightly knit group of friends is preferable to a large assemblage of strangers, but as the calendar rotated into 2002 all that we had was a small group of strangers.
I never have been, nor do I want to be a solo climber. Going it alone defeats the main reason I go into the mountains – friendship. I am very blessed to have a group of friends, Brain is among these, who I know for a verifiable fact would risk their life in order to save mine. We all like to think of our friends as true blue and till death do us part, but how many of us have the facts to back up this conjecture. I do. I see this type of friendship as a kind of marriage. You are more than friends with your spouse because of the physical relationship that you share, and similarly I am more than friends with these men because of the hardship, disappointment and triumph that we have shared. I am as loyal to these guys as I am my own family. Whenever I look back on a particularly rewarding mountaineering experience I first see the faces of my friends and the inside jokes and secrets that we shared. Any mountain summit is useless if I can’t share it with a friend, and it is on this point that I feel my Manaslu partners and I had the greatest rift.
Both Brian and I share a background of climbing with close friends and consequently we both placed the highest priority on compatibility and camaraderie. Neither Brian nor I wanted to go on an expedition with strangers. This may very well be a self-confidence issue – I believe more in the strength of my group than I do in myself. Dan, on the other hand, held an opposite view. Dan is a very skilled mountaineer who has led many Boy Scout and other organized club outings and seemed very accustomed to venturing into the hills with strangers. As a pragmatic mountaineer Dan clearly saw the advantages of intimately knowing those who will accompany you to an eight thousand meter peak, but he seemed to place it as a nicety rather than a necessity.
In early January of 2002 I found myself in a position that I didn’t want to be in. By this time I had invested three months in the prospect of climbing Manaslu, but mostly my energy was expended in the form of thought and not action. Because we had not yet climbed together as a group my option to withdraw from the team remained intact, but the clock was running out. We planned to be flying towards Kathmandu in early April, which left us a mere three months to prepare and pack this entire expedition. Looking back I am amazed that we actually did it. I could remain undecided no longer; I had to either attack this thing with all of my energy or retreat.