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1975: The Everest apprentice
Doug Scott started climbing like so many of his generation: with a washing line and a borrowed car tow rope.

It was 1953, and the 12-year-old school boy and his friends were making their first moves on rock at a small crag near Cromford, in Derbyshire.

That day at Black Rocks triggered a life-long passion - and marked the beginning of what Scott calls a "lengthy apprenticeship".

After a few years climbing in the UK, the teenager visited the Alps several times before moving on to more remote ranges.

'New boy'

"It was just natural curiosity that took us from one place to another without really planning it - it's still much the same really."

Scott explains that even after many of his fellow climbers slowed the pace after settling down to family life, he felt compelled to go higher, climb harder and discover more adventurous locations.

"I'd got this rat in my gut that kept me going," he says.

The rat took him to the world's highest mountain for the first time in 1972, after being invited "out of the blue" by climbing legend Don Whillans to join an international expedition.

"It wasn't the happiest of trips, but all the problems just washed over me. I was the new boy and so excited to be there in the Western Cwm on the south-west face of Everest," Scott says.

"It was hard graft, but I realised I could probably do this sort of climbing."

Third attempt

Nobody made it to the top and Scott returned to Everest in the autumn of 1972 on an expedition organised by Chris Bonington.

This time, he and climbing partner Dougal Haston got to just over 26,000ft (7,925m) on the unclimbed south-west face before being turned back by a violent storm.

"I remember being there just below the rock band on the right side of the face with Dougal on 14 November screaming into each others' ears over the wind - we'd come too late."

The Nottingham teacher went back for a third attempt in 1975. This time he tried a route on the left hand side of the massive face.

Chest-deep snow

Scott was again partnered with Haston, whom he describes as "one of the greats" of Himalayan climbing.

"I couldn't have been with anyone better than Dougal. He was at the height of his climbing powers.

"He was very much like a Sherpa: self-contained and economical. He never wasted a step - or a breath for that matter... He kept himself to himself, but was always there to lead his pitch and lead it well."

The pair surmounted the "yellow band" of steep, crumbly limestone near the top of the face and made it to the summit ridge.

Exhausting slog

Despite problems with Haston's oxygen set and having to wade through chest-deep powder snow below the south summit, Scott says he experienced a "calm prescience" during the last hours of the climb.

"I had a calm certainty it would work out. I don't know where it came from but many people have talked about it," he explains.

"You only get that feeling come upon you when it is all right: when you've waited your moment, when you've got the required experience to be up there.

"You've served your apprenticeship elsewhere and you're on top of the job - all be it, just."

Bitter cold

After an exhausting slog up the final slopes, Haston and Scott finished the climb at 1800 on 24 September 1975 - the first Britons to stand on the summit of Everest.

Was it an anti-climax to finally reach the top?

Not at all, he says: "It was just amazing. You can actually see the curve of the earth in a 400-mile sweep. It was calm - there was hardly any wind at all - and we just took in this amazing sunset."

But now the two men had to get down. Both their headlamps failed and with their tracks rapidly disappearing under wind-blown snow, the pair prepared to spend the night out at 28,750ft (8,763m) with no oxygen, food or sleeping bags.

They dug a small snow cave and spent the next nine hours sitting on their rucksacks trying to stay alive and with all extremities intact.

They were three of the best days I've ever had in the mountains
Doug Scott
"It was bitterly cold. I think it was about -45C down at Camp Five that night. It must have been lower than -50C," says Scott.

"I was ready for a rest and I've enjoyed bivouacking ever since I was a kid... but it was a long night."

The end of the trip was marred by the death of fellow expedition member Mick Burke, who disappeared during a storm on a solo summit bid a few days later.

But despite the sadness of losing a close friend in a mountaineering accident - something he has felt many times since - Scott says his final push with Haston on Everest remains a treasured memory.

"We kept it going and just didn't say no... They were three of the best days I've ever had in the mountains."

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On the south-west face, picture courtesy of Doug Scott/Kellsphotography
It was Doug Scott's third attempt on the unclimbed south-west face of Everest


Doug Scott, picture courtesy of Doug Scott/Kellsphotography
Doug Scott has been climbing since the age of 12
Doug Scott's images of Mount Everest

Doug Scott biography
Doug Scott was born in Nottingham in 1941.

Over the last 40 years he has made dozens of first and notable ascents all over the world - including 45 expeditions to the high mountains of Asia.

In 1976 he broke both his legs near the summit of the 24,000ft (7,315m) Ogre in the Karakoram and had to make an agonising eight-day crawl back to base camp.

Scott has climbed less regularly since having two knee replacements and he is soon to have his one of his ankles fused - the legacy of his injuries from the Ogre accident.

Most of his time is taken up working as operations director of Community Action Nepal - a charity which sets up health, education and clean water projects in the country - but he also continues to lecture about his climbs.

He lives in Scotland.

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