My Mountains: Doug Scott

He's been on 45 high altitude expeditions in Asia alone, yet climbing legend Doug Scott still hasn't tired of his local hill Blencathra. But what's in his backpack; why does he wear wellies; and what is his ultimate hillwalking dream? We caught up with him for the first in a new series of conversations with well known mountain folk.

A veteran of dozens of expeditions over several decades, Doug Scott is one of the world's leading high altitude climbers. Alongside Dougal Haston, Scott made the first ascent of Everest via the southwest face in September 1975. They also famously survived an unplanned bivouac some 100m below the summit, without oxygen or sleeping bags and, as it turned out, without frostbite.

A picture of Doug Scott taken by Chris Bonington during the Everest 1975 expedition.  © Chris Bonington
A picture of Doug Scott taken by Chris Bonington during the Everest 1975 expedition.
© Chris Bonington

Apart from the southwest face of Everest, all his other Himalayan climbs were achieved in lightweight or pure Alpine style. In total, Scott has made 45 expeditions to the high mountains of Asia. He has also reached the highest peaks on all seven continents, known as the Seven Summits.

Scott is a founder member of the Nottingham Climbers Club (1961) and was formerly president of the Alpine Climbing Group, vice-president of the BMC and president of the Alpine Club. He was made a CBE in 1994 and in 2011 he received the Piolet d'Or Lifetime Achievement Award.

Doug, who was born on May 29, 1941, lives with his third wife Patricia Lang in the Lake District. He has five children.

What is your first memory of walking or climbing?

I can remember being aged about nine or 10 and going along to Hemlock Stone at Stapleford in Nottinghamshire. It was near where I grew up and I was impressed by what I saw.

Another memory is when I was 13 and I was hiking with the Scouts. We passed climbers on the Black Rocks in Derbyshire. I thought: "I want to try this." I cycled back to the rocks another day with friends and that's when my climbing passion started.

Coast, hills, moorland or mountain ridges?

It's the ridges I most like. You have done the hard work of ascending and then you can spend all day at high level. It's like being on a summit all day and enjoying all the great views. I do like many other places, including the hills and coast, but it's the ridges that most inspire me and bring back the best memories.

Are you a fair weather or "any weather" walker?

I don't mind what the weather is really. Different types of weather bring different experiences. I have had to face many extreme weather situations during big mountain expeditions so I have learned to cope with it.

Is the night-time a good time to go walking?

I do like walking and being outdoors at night. It's wonderful to enjoy a walk in bright moonlight. My wife isn't so keen. When we go out for a walk together she always says: "I'll take my head torch then." She is familiar with how our walks sometimes end up.

Then there are the times when we are in Nepal. I will be chatting to the locals for so long that we end up starting the walk late or the walk takes longer than planned and we find ourselves at the end of the walk in darkness. I don't mind at all really.

What are your three all-time favourite hill or mountain walks?

That is such a hard one to answer. If it's strictly walking rather than climbing or mountaineering I would say, the Mamores in The Scottish Highlands. Doing all 10 of the Mamores has great memories for me.

I also like the Snowdon Horseshoe very much. And much closer to home is a walk I do a lot because it's accessible from my home. It's Blencathra and it's a route I very much enjoy because it's convenient and because of the views. I have not tired of this walk yet.

Have you ever been lucky to avoid/escape a difficult situation in the mountains?

Yes, on a number of occasions. The most famous time is when I was descending The Ogre in 1977. The Ogre is in the Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan with a summit of 7,285 m and is considered to be the most difficult high mountain to climb in the world.

I was with my climbing friend Chris Bonington and we reached the summit for the first time after difficult rock climbing. It's a place where there is only half the oxygen in the atmosphere than at sea level.

The descent in the dark became an epic when I slipped on water ice while abseiling and smashed into rocks breaking both legs just above the ankles. A storm blew in which lasted five days during this Chris smashed his ribs and contracted pneumonia.

It took eight extremely hard days to reach base camp – that was only made possible by the selfless support of Clive Rowland and Mo Anthoine. After a five-day wait for a stretcher party of eight Balti hillmen, I was carried into the village of Askoli three days later. A helicopter flew me out but to add insult to injury, it crash-landed well short of the helipad, thankfully without further injury to the occupants.

In fact, I have a new book that is hot off the press about The Ogre. It is a biography of The Ogre and also includes details of exploration and climbs. The latter part of the book tells of my epic time there with Chris. I'll be revealing the book at The Hebridean Book Festival.

Who is your perfect walking partner?

For a long time it was my dog, Strider, who came with me on many outings. I also like walking with my sons and my wife, although she's a bit fast for me. She strides off into the distance!

Are you happy to go solo?

I am very happy walking and being on my own in the outdoors. These days I try to remind myself to meditate a bit while walking. I focus on feeling the ground under my feet and my breathing. Doing this for even just 10 minutes during a walk feels very good.

Walking boots or trail shoes?

I have a favourite pair of leather walking boots or I go out in trainers, just ordinary trainers. The again, you'll often see me walking in local hills in my wellies. Sometimes I just don't think about what I have on my feet and head out of the garden for a walk. I am a keen gardener and so wellies suit that hobby and then I simply head out in the boots for a walk.

How do you navigate? GPS gadget, map and compass, phone or a mix…

I have never used a GPS gadget and I rarely use a map and compass. If I am somewhere new or the weather is poor I will navigate by map and compass.

What three items are always in your rucksack?

Anorak, head torch and a bit of fruit.

What goes in your pack as a guilty secret?

Nothing really. There is a walk we do on Boxing Day of Blencathra and then I'll probably have Christmas cake in my rucksack. It's a treat. Other people might have whisky but I don't carry that sort of thing. I actually prefer not to have a rucksack when I walk.

What one piece of walking clothing do you trust/favour above all others?

I don't have anything I favour really. To be honest, I usually get the choice of what is left after my two younger sons have had their pick.

If you could only pick one area of Britain to walk in, where would it be?

I think it would have to be the remote area in the west of Sutherland in Scotland, where you find mountains such as Suilven. It's so beautiful and especially in winter. I was there recently with my wife and we had a lovely time.

What is your ultimate walking dream?

Kebnekaise, the highest peak in Sweden. I have always thought it would be an amazing place to walk. I would also like to walk the King's Trail in Sweden. It looks like a special place.

Will you be walking until you are 103?

Only thanks to the medical profession! I already have new knees and a hip and my ankle is fused.

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