by Laurence Brown
To celebrate the BANFF Centre Mountain Film Festival World Tour coming to Llanelli at Ffwrnes Theatre on 22nd March, Laurence Brown recalls Doug Scott’s Mountaineering Lecture first shown at The Taliesin Arts Centre in Early November 2017
The tales of adventurers fighting against all odds to survive, always have and always will be gripping to me. Tales ranging from Shackleton leaving his crew on Elephant Island to go and find help, to the tale of Yates making the difficult choice to cut the rope on Simpson on their climb of K2 are stories that are being forever engrained into mountaineering history.
Doug Scott has been travelling Britain to raise money for his charities and to promote the release of his new book about his climb of The Ogre 40 years ago. His story of adversity through times of struggle has earned him a place on the list of explorers who have risked it all to achieve greatness.
The Ogre, also known as Baintha Brakk, is a mountain in the Pakistan section of the Himalayas. It is 7285m (or for the Swansea scale, around 38 Kilvey Hill’s) and is the 87th highest mountain in the world. In 1977, after two previous unsuccessful attempts, Doug Scott was accompanied by fellow climber Chris Bonington and reached the peak of the mountain for the first ever time. A feat that remained unrepeatable for 24 years. However, the ascent of this great mountain is not what made Doug Scott’s tale so gripping.
Doug Scott is an English mountaineer from Nottingham. He is perhaps well-known for, alongside Scotsman Dougal Haston, being one of the first men to ever climb the south west face of Everest and the first ever Britons to reach the summit of Everest. On this journey they were famously forced to scrape out a cave and survive in the highest bivouac ever, just 100m from the summit of Everest without oxygen or sleeping bags. They even managed to survive the night without getting any frostbite; a great feat in itself. This tale was told in another of Doug Scott’s books called “Up And About”.
Doug Scott’s new tour “A crawl down The Ogre” promotes his book “The Ogre: Biography of a Mountain and the Dramatic Story of the First Ascent” and it’s within these series of new lectures that he recalls the struggles of the expeditions and why it stands out as such a great feat.
The expedition can be broken down into the ascent and descent. The plan of the expedition was to climb to the top of the Ogre; however Doug Scott and Paul ‘Tut’ Braithwaite, another member of the expedition, wanted to climb the south pillar which consisted of a 1000m vertical face to the south of the mountain whilst the rest of the group wanted to take an easier route. Unfortunately the ascent of the south pillar was cut short when Tut was hit by falling rocks which led to Doug and Paul returning to Base Camp shortly after. The rest of the group, made up of Chris Bonington, Nick Estcourt, Clive Rowland, and Mo Anthoine managed to climb up to 6100 feet before setting up a high camp. Two of the group, Chris and Nick, took 5 days’ worth of food and pushed up to the Ogre’s western summit. This was shortly followed by the group returning to Base Camp and resting there before another attempt to climb the main peak. Nick and Tut decided to rest at Base Camp whilst the others attempted the climb. All remaining expeditionists made it to the first high camp followed by the Western Summit and then onto the ridge between the two main peaks. Here they made their second high camp, formed from a snow cave. Doug and Chris decided to push onto the main summit which required them to ascend a 250m rock face and, on the 13th July 1977, they reached the peak.
However, the sun was setting and time was running out for their descent. On the first face Doug lost his footing and swung on his rope across the rock face, making his legs collide against the rock face with a harsh impact. After trying to push off, Doug discovered that he had broken both his legs and was stuck over 7000m up with no simple means of descending the mountain. At this point, most people would have given up and surrendered to the mountain. It is seemingly impossible to get off The Ogre with broken legs, isn’t it? To Doug Scott, it wasn’t.
“There wasn’t any fear, just anticipation,” he said. “I never had any doubt that I would get down, I just didn’t know how I was going to do it.” He quickly learnt that he had fortunately broken both legs below the knee.
Such news of the break meant that he could abseil to the bottom of that rock face using his knees to bounce off the wall, and, after being forced to bivouac in the open, they reached the bottom of wall at the end of the next day. The day after that they managed to reach the snow cave where Doug was forced to crawl on his knees in tremendous pain. Doug Scott described his mentality as just ‘getting to the next feature’; if he could reach one feature without dying then he could get to the next feature. It was this mentality that allowed him to break down his huge problem into lots of little problems. That night in the snow cave they met up with Clive and Mo who were waiting for them and the group had their final meal that night. The next day they were supposed to reclimb the Western Summit but the blizzard was too strong and they were forced to spend another day in the cave. Doug was helped by his comrades who helped cut steps for him to move through and helped him abseil down harsh faces of The Ogre.
It took the group 7 long, harrowing days with no food to reach Base Camp. In this time Chris also took a fall which resulted in him breaking two of his ribs. Doug describes the last section as the hardest due to it consisting of 4 miles of rocky terrain, a feat that cost Doug to wear through four layers of clothing and making him even more vulnerable than before. When they arrived back at the base camp they discovered that Nick and Tut had left that day. They had left a note the explaining that they had assumed everyone dead and that they had gone to form a rescue team. Mo had arrived first and immediately decided to run after them leaving another note to explain his actions and to stop Nick and Tut from reporting the others as dead to their families. It took 5 days for Aid to finally arrive; however in the meantime, they now had food although it was only leftovers from Nick and Tut consisting of mostly nougat bars it was better than starving. It was then decided to evacuate Doug and Chris by helicopter so they can get the medical help they so desperately needed. However, when the helicopter carrying Doug was approaching civilization, when it crash landed causing it to be written off. Luckily nobody was hurt but the consequence of the crash led to Chris having to wait a couple more days for the replacement helicopter to be dispatched.
Despite all hell throwing itself at each one of the climbers, every single one of them survived and have lived to tell the tale. I was constantly on the edge of my seat throughout the lecture and would highly recommend the event to anyone, experience climber or not.
Doug Scott’s new book is available now at www.dougscottmountaineering.co.uk along with photos of his various travels.