Doug Scott: Legend of Mountaineering 1941-2020


Of all the people whose names decorate Nottingham’s trams, none went higher or had longer physical reach than mountaineer Doug Scott. In 1975 Scott and Dougal Haston became the first Britons to reach the summit of Everest, via the notoriously difficult route of the South West Face.

After lingering at the top to savor the view and their victory, the couple began their descent but were quickly surprised by the fading light and forced to spend a night in a hastily dug snow cave 100 meters below the Mountain peak. Neither their sleeping bags nor any oxygen remained in their bottles. It was the highest bivouac in history. One or both of them should have died from a lack of cold or slow oxygen. Yet somehow the couple made it through the night and began their descent to safety the next morning. A frozen finger was the worst of their injuries.

“Very few climbers would have endured what they went through,” wrote Chris Bonington, the leader of the expedition. When news of Scott and Haston’s rise became public, they were declared heroes by the British media. Indeed, from that moment on, Doug Scott himself became one of the most famous Himalayan climbers in the world.

In the 1970s and 1980s, even though you didn’t own a pair of walking shoes, you had heard of two climbers: one was Scott, the other was Bonington, who recognized Scott as one of the most popular climbers. strongest of his generation in the series of massive “siege” expeditions to the Himalayas that Bonington organized and led.

Scott’s physical strength, skill, motivation, and endurance powers were perhaps belied by his disarming appearance. In his ’70s heyday, with long hair and glasses, he looked more like John Lennon of the late’ 60s – a hippie look that actually reflected early Buddhism and Scott’s spiritual feelings about the mountains. It was a connection bordering on the supernatural as Scott described how, on an uncertain ascent, not knowing which direction to go, he felt a presence over a shoulder, guiding him in the right direction.

Climbing mountains gave him a wide and broad perspective on life that allowed him to let the little details fall into place. Inevitably, upon returning home, he would lose that perspective and to regain it, he would have to return to the high places of the world. Yet Scott was also very aware of the reality of poverty in the Himalayan countries that hosted his various major climbs, a concern that led him to found Community Action Nepal, an association he supported until his death. cancer in December 2020.

He also never forgot his roots in Nottingham, which is why the first thing he asked me when I met him for a long interview was how Nottingham Rugby Club was doing. Photographer Mark Lee drove us both to Cumbria where Scott was then living with his second wife Sharu. Although Scott’s hair had turned gray a long time ago, he was still a physically impressive figure, especially as his arms appeared to be longer and his hands larger than anyone else I had ever met. .

Doug Scott in 2015: Creative Commons image

I could imagine, as Scott easily spoke of his fond memories of Nottingham rugby and the Black Rocks’ rise in Derbyshire with his mother’s clothesline, that his arms had grown unusually long from the strain. to climb over rocks and ice faces. It was of course not possible, but if his arms were indeed longer than normal I could see how that would be an advantage in the climbing arena.

Scott was actually humble and self-effacing about his reputation for handling the physical aspects of rock climbing, as you hoped he would be. His reputation for enduring hardship was built in part on the 1975 Everest episode and in part on when he broke both legs on another Bonington expedition to the Ogre in Pakistan in 1977. On this occasion Scott and Bonington had reached the summit but on the way down Scott crashed into the rock face on an abseil, breaking both legs above the ankles. He cried out in pain, shouted “I broke my bloody legs” and lowered himself onto a ledge.

Bonington soon got downstairs and said, “Don’t worry, you’re far from dead.” With the help of Bonington and other colleagues, Scott crawled and rappelled down the mountain. It took two days. When I asked him about it, Scott shrugged and said, “We would all make an effort to get home, wouldn’t we?” “

I’ve since wondered if his answer was the kind of answer someone in his position would give, for long after his rock climbing adventures were over, Scott was a regular on the outdoor lecture circuit, lecturing on Everest, selling signed photographs for her charity, and answering lots of questions.

He was still working for his charity before he died, raising money by climbing the stairs of his house because cancer had robbed him of most of his mobility. In better days a few years earlier, he saw me looking at a large photograph of a mountain, golden at dawn or at sunset, which hung in his house. Did I know what it was? He asked. It was Everest, the scene of Scott’s greatest success and killer of many other brave climbers, including cameraman Nick Burke, who was part of the Bonington Summit Second Team in 1975, and did not return.

The death call among Scott’s circle also included Dougal Haston, who was killed by an avalanche while skiing in 1977; Nick Estcourt, also a member of the Bonington expedition in 1975, killed in an avalanche on K2 in 1978; and Pete Boardman, another member of this group who, along with Nick Tasker, was lost on Everest in 1982.

Thanks to his skill, tenacity and luck (Scott was nearly killed by the avalanche that swept through Estcourt off K2), Scott survived his adventures and lived to old age. Along the way, he inspired thousands who heard him speak, improved the lives of Nepalese, and pushed the boundaries of survival in harsh environments. However, having a tram in his name seems a fairly basic recognition in the city of his birth and his youth.