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Climbers to Know About: Legendary Brit Doug Scott

The highly accomplished climber died in December 2020 at the age of 79

Doug Scott, who was coined “The Great Survivor” due to his ability to endure epics in the Greater Ranges, spent his lifetime in the mountains, including making the first British ascent of Everest and the first ascents of Changabang, The Ogre, and Shivling, he was presented the Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Scott’s climbs span Mount Waddington, Jordan, Denali, Chad, Iceland, Tasmania, India, Nepal, Yosemite Valley and countless others. He climbed big walls, including many significant first ascents in Baffin Island, and made the first British ascent of the Salathé Wall on El Capitan. He climbed it all, ice, rock, and mountains in the Greater Ranges. Often partnered with Chris Bonington, the two succeeded in making the first ascent of Everest’s southwest face (1975), Changabang and The Ogre. Bonington wrote about these expeditions in his book The Everest Years: A Climbers Life (1987).

Significant climbs: Scott’s successful 1975 expedition to Everest’s southwest face — his third attempt on the mountain — where he made the first British ascent of the mountain and he became a national hero. His partner Dougal Haston wrote of the conditions they experienced in The Ultimate Challenge: The Hardest Way up the Highest Mountain in The World: “The wind—always the wind, was viciously asserting its authority … I had experienced many bad storms, many high winds, but this was a new dimension of wind speed.” In a legendary tale deep in mountaineering lore, during their descent and out of bottled oxygen, Scott and Haston endured a bivy in a snowbank at 8760m. “I hacked away at the roof with the ice pick. Dougal scooped out the loose snow with his gloved hands,” Scott wrote in the American Alpine Journal.

Scott continued, “Dougal in his down suit and duvet boots. For me a nvlondawn, a red glow giving out as much heat as an electric fire a million miles away. The cold…had worried its way into our limbs and backs and was not far from the body core. Hypothermia (was) approaching.” After nine hours and merely 100 meters below the summit, they crawled out and descended to Camp IV with the cold threatening to overtake them. Their high-altitude bivy marked the first time a team had successfully spent the night that high out in the open without bottled oxygen.

The successful 1975 climb and its nearly 20-man strong team would be his last of that style. All subsequent expeditions — more than 40 — were completed in Alpine Style and without bottled oxygen.

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Chris Bonington and Doug Scott high on Everest

Epic: Descending the Ogre: Two years after surviving that night on Everest, while descending The Ogre from near its summit at 7285m, Scott broke both legs during a rappel, where he lost his footing and swung like a pendulum across the wall. The epic descent, where the team encountered storms and whiteout conditions, his partner Sir Chris Bonington broke his ribs during an accident, culminating with Scott crawling on his hands and knees to reach safety. The descent required eight days. “(I) did not think anyone except Mr. Scott would have had the physical and mental strength to make it down the mountain with two broken legs,” Bonington told the New York Times in a recent phone interview.

Scott’s Ogre story is documented in his book The Ogre: Biography of a Mountain and the Dramatic Story of the First Ascent (2017).

Books, Photographs & Awards: Through his writing and images from the farthest reaches of the world, Scott inspired climbers for generations. His efforts include Big Wall Climbing (1974), The Shishapangma Expedition (1984), Himalayan Climber: A Lifetime’s Quest to the World’s Greater Ranges (1992), Great Climbs: Bonington and Scott (2008), The Ogre: Biography of a Mountain and the Dramatic Story of the First Ascent (2017), and Up and About: The Hard Road to Everest (2018).

“Himalayan Climber is one of the finest picture books about mountaineering I have ever seen,” wrote Steve Roper in the American Alpine Journal. “The photos are ravishing, full of life and color and action. You can feel the wind in some of them. Even the group portraits, potentially so boring, are worth studying closely when you have people like Messner and Rouse and Anthoine and Whillans and Haston and Kukuczka in them.”

Continuing, Roper wrote, noting Scott’s “intelligence, his fascination with Eastern philosophies, his sterling record, and his basic humility.”

Images on his website (dougscottmountaineering.co.uk) include Mount Asgard in Baffin Island: Balti Porters approaching K2 in Pakistan; a hanging belay in the Dolomites, Italy; Broad Peak in Pakistan; and Changabang in India.

Scott’s awards include Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), 1994, the Royal Geographical Society Patron’s Gold Medal, 1999, the John Muir Lifetime Achievement Award, 2006, and the Piolet d’Or Career Award, 2011.

Community Action Nepal: In 1989, to improve living and working conditions in the Everest area, Scott started the non-profit Community Action Nepal (CAN). Since its inception, the charity has supported 45 projects to help the mountain people in Nepal, including 20 health posts, 15 schools, three porter rescue shelters, and seven community buildings. CAN supports local solutions, ownership, contribution, and governance. It also serves rural communities to increase the standard of living and reduce rural depopulation.

Doug Scott and his wife Trish opening a school in Nepal

Family, Significant Climbs: Born in Nottingham, England in 1941, climbing consumed Scott’s life from age 13. His father was a boxing champion, and his mother supervised a cigarette factory. Scott studied geography and physical education at Loughborough University and later worked as a teacher in his hometown. He climbed the legendary Gritstone in the Peak District, visited the Scottish Highlands, and made his mark in the Alps and Himalaya.

He made his first lead climbs in 1953 in the Black Rocks in Derbyshire, which led to regular visits to the Peak District. By the mid-50s, he was climbing at the Owgen cliffs in Snowdonia, and working as a climbing instructor at the Whitehall Centre.

Scott made his first mountain lead climb in 1957, with an ascent of the South Ridge Direct Cir Mhor. He ended the 1950s with winter climbs in Glen Nevis. He also hitchhiked to both Yugoslavia and Morocco.

In 1961, during a season where Scott guided 11 teams in Chamonix, he met Bonington and Don Whillans on Mont Blanc. As the 60s continued, Scott made the first ascent of Met de Glace Face of Comes des Chamois and spent five years developing routes on Derwent Valley’s limestone cliffs. He was also active in the Dolomites, completed A3 and A4 aid routes in Yorkshire, and climbed the West Face of Aiguille de Blaitiere. In the late 60s, he visited the Hindu Kush to make the first ascent of the South Face of Koh-i-Bandaka. A climb of the Bonatti Pillar of Petit Dru followed. He also made several first ascents on the Strone Ulladale Outer Hebrides, including A4 and A5 routes.

He visited Yosemite in 1970, where he climbed the Steck/Salathé route on Sentinel Rock with Royal Robbins and Tony Willmott, followed by the Salathé Wall on El Capitan with Peter Habeler (to make the first British ascent of El Cap). In 1971 he made his first trip to Baffin Island, where he succeeded with winter climbs of the East Face of Killabuk and North Face of Breidablik.

In 1972 Scott made two attempts on Everest’s southwest face, reaching 8,000m and 8,300m. After those expeditions, he returned to Baffin to make the first ascent of the East Pillar of Mount Asgard, followed by a return visit to Yosemite where he climbed the Nose 65 percent free, where he relied on placing nuts instead of pitons to ascend the route.

In 1974 he climbed Changabang and the South Face of Midi. His successful ascent of Everest in 1975 followed this. The following year he made the first alpine ascent of the South Face Diagonal of Denali in Alaska. In 1976 He returned to Baffin to make the first ascent of the Southwest Buttress of Overlord. From there he traveled to Colorado to establish the 12-pitch Diamond Lil on Longs Peak. This was followed by first ascents of the Northeast Face of Nelion and first winter ascent of the Diamond Couloir, both on Mt. Kenya.

The following year, in 1977, he had the accident while descending the Ogre. In 1978, and starting from sea level, he climbed the Southeast Chimney of Mount Waddington. Following this, he attempted K2, but the expedition ended after his partner Nick Estcourt’s death. All told, he made four attempts on K2 — plus four attempts on Nanga Parbat and Makalu — but each time was unsuccessful.

In 1979 Scott made the first ascents of the North Ridge of Kangchenjunga, the North Summit of Kusum Kanguru, and the North Buttress of Nuptse.

The 1980s brought even more first ascents, including the East Pillar of Shivling, the first winter ascent of the South-East Face of Shishapangma, first ascent of Lobsang Spire by the South Pillar and the first ascent of Southeast Face Direct on Mount Colonel Foster. He also climbed Broad Peak.

In the 90s, he climbed Mount Vinson in Antarctica, put up a new 600m route on the north face of the Carstensz Pyramid (completing the Seven Summits), and for 18 days crossed dense rainforest to make the second ascent of Teng Kongma (6,215m) in Northeast India.

In 2000 when he was 59, he made the first ascent of Targo Ri in Tibet.

Even in his final year and weakened by cerebral lymphoma, Scott continued to challenge himself for a cause. With support from his wife Trish Scott, and on the 45th anniversary of his Everest ascent, he dressed in his blue nylon suit from the 1975 expedition and climbed the staircase at his home in Cumbria in the Lake District. He urged others to do the same until, collectively, they’d reach the height of the world’s tallest mountain as part of the Everest Challenge 2020, a fundraiser for Nepal’s people during the Covid-19 pandemic. Viewing Scott’s side by side images in his suit, one shows him standing tall, in his John Lennon style sunglasses, gloves off, jacket zipped open, the setting sun behind him. In contrast, the other photo shows Scott, lean and carrying a determined look, one hand gripping the banister and the other clutching a wooden ice ax. To raise £50k, the Everest Challenge asked participants to climb their stairs 20 times, post a scene from their final lap to social media, and invite others to do the same.

Bonington, too, donned his Everest suit and climbed his stairs to support CAN. “My heart goes out to him,” he said. “He is one of the greatest climbers that Britain has ever had.”

Scott was married three times and fathered five children.

Legends Doug Scott and Allen Steck in Banff Photo Pat Morrow