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New at Vertebrate this November: The Ogre by Doug Scott

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Checking out the Main Summit from the West Summit. Photo: Chris Bonington.

Make space on your bookshelves this autumn for one of the greatest adventure stories of all time ...

Forty years on from Doug Scott and Chris Bonington’s death-defying first ascent of the Ogre, Doug reveals the whole truth behind their epic fight for survival in a new book set for release this month. 

In a biography of two halves, Doug’s meticulous research reveals a detailed historical and geographical portrait of the Ogre and a very personal account of his dramatic descent on which Doug suffered two broken legs and Chris smashed ribs. Newly discovered diaries, letters and audio tapes reveal a story that has only been publicised in part until now, with the selfless and heroic roles played by team members Clive Rowland and Mo Anthoine in shepherding Doug and Chris off the mountain brought to the fore. In this extract from the book, Doug and the 1977 team march to Base Camp. 

By 08.20 the sun was up and a caterpillar had crept over the threshold of my tent. A brew came over from Clive’s tent accompanied by the strains of Rod Stewart telling us for him it was late September, although actually for us it was a lovely spring day on 13 June and the meadow had just come to life with the last of the winter snow melting away fast – time to go climbing.

Clive and I, after searching our memory banks, had already found a reasonable way through the lateral moraines and séracs to a safe site for Advanced Base Camp. During the next few days we set up and stocked Advanced Base Camp and started to organise for our various routes. Mo, Clive, Chris and Nick prepared to climb up the South­-West Spur. The Japanese had sieged it the previous year, up to and a little beyond the West Col.

Tut and I made several carries from Advanced Base Camp, up steepening snow into a loose gully, giving access to a platform at the very foot of the South Pillar where we made our cache of food and equipment. Included in the gear was a special hanging tent, designed by Hamish MacInnes and me, and manufactured by Blacks of Greenock. From the cache the pillar beckoned as it clearly offered superb climbing up granite cracks right on the prow, not unlike sections of the Nose on El Capitan. Finally, we were ready to go and left Advanced Base Camp with food for fifteen days, enough to keep us going while continuously climbing up to the summit but with reserves to weather the odd storm. The hanging tent should, just about, take bad weather out of the equation.

I had thought of a design change to accommodate an idea of having the hanging tent permanently erected even as it was hauled up the vertical granite from one belay station to the next. I had talked about this new concept at Base Camp thereby foolishly opening myself up to Mo’s ridicule. ‘You could leave Tut inside, just pull him up still in bed,’ and ‘Bring the missus and kids next time and haul them up.’ I had gained the confidence to plan for this two­-week alpine­-style push from an experience while sitting on the rim of El Cap in 1973. I had met the Canadians, Steve Su on and Hugh Burton, still with seventy kilograms of food and fuel left over from the eight days they had just taken to climb a new variation finish to Mescalito.

On the way back up the steep gully of broken rock I jumared the final section on the climbing ropes we had left hanging from the cache. I managed to dislodge a rock which rattled down the gully below. In horror I watched it ricochet off the gully wall and slam into Tut’s thigh. It didn’t break his femur but he was in great pain with every step. It took two days to descend to Base Camp, where he was out of action for at least a week as I sat feeling mortified that I was responsible.

After two weeks of waiting for a large bruise and maybe a blood clot to dissipate, Tut was still finding walking painful, never mind rock climbing. It was such a crushing blow literally and emotionally for Tut and yet he remained philosophical, shrugging it off as just one of those things. With a heavy heart, and with some help from Tut, I started to recover the food and equipment from the base of the pillar. So ended a two­year obsession that had caused me to catch my breath a time or two at the thought of just him and me cutting loose and going for it.

Yet again it seemed that another climbing ambition would not be realised. Over the preceding twelve years circumstances had often dictated that it seemed the climb would not be made and the summit would remain out of reach. The usual reasons were the physical and bureaucratic problems of travelling to the mountain, or it would be inclement weather. It might also be disharmony or illness in the team, or lack of experience or, as now, an accident. There were occasions however, when, against all the odds and after leaving go of all ambition, the situation changed in favour of achieving the objective after all.

In 1965 in the middle of the Sahara, en route to climb in the Tibesti Mountains, the vehicles broke down in the Murzuq sand sea in a country where the highest ever temperatures had been recorded. All ambition to climb the unclimbed Tarso Tieroko evaporated in the searing heat and drifting sand of that Libyan desert. However, the mechanics worked throughout the night and fixed the lorry, and lowered the pressure in the tyres enabling the expedition to proceed to the mountain and eventually for us to climb Tieroko in good order and by three different routes.

Similarly, and more recently, I had in the autumn of 1975 decided to return home at the very beginning of the South-West Face of Everest expedition after the death of Mingma, a young mute Sherpa lad who I had befriended. I was accused of being responsible for his death on top of being distressed at his loss and it was all so upsetting that I decided to depart for home. The situation changed as other members of the team helped me rationalise Mingma’s death. Also apologies were made and the atmosphere became more conducive for climbing; subsequently, against all the odds, I reached the summit with Dougal Haston.

Only the year after, again with Dougal, this time on the South Face of Denali, the stormy weather was so violent and protracted that I let go of all ambition that year thinking I might try again another day. The weather improved and we cautiously continued, finding a way up steep gullies of ice and across avalanche-­prone snow slopes to complete the route which, as always, having not thought it possible, then comes as a gift.

By 15 June Advanced Base Camp was already well stocked with a month’s supply of food and fuel thanks to the carries made by six Balti porters and all six team members. On the same day Chris and Nick were the first to occupy Advanced Base Camp and the following day to start climbing up the South­ West Spur leading to the West Col snow plateau. After fixing the first two pitches the morning became oppressively hot and so they descended to Advanced Base Camp to link up with Clive and Mo. But where were they? Chris wondered, ‘Could they still be lolling about at Base Camp waiting for their wives?’

Steph Rowland and Jackie Anthoine had arrived at Base Camp pursued by a posse of armed police. The wives had assumed, wrongly, they were on the expedition permit and so not having a permit they had to use all their powers of persuasion talking their way through one police check point after another, but now, the police on reflection had decided to escort them back down to Skardu. With the support of the two liaison officers the police allowed the wives to remain at Base Camp for the foreseeable future while they sought further clarification from their superiors. It was a situation for which Mo, Clive and I all felt some responsibility. It had not been easy for the girls, especially Steph who was suffering from the sun, and both, being young and attractive, in a very male­dominated society, had found the whole thing most unpleasant. Ultimately, I blame myself as organiser for not thinking to raise the matter at the expedition briefing in Islamabad. So, having met their wives, Clive and Mo left them to recover from the exertions and frustrations of their trek, and that same day went back up to Advanced Base Camp.

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