Doug Scott – Obituary
29 May 1941 – 7 December 2020
By Alice Maxwell
Doug Scott, one of the world’s most famous mountaineers, died in December 2020 aged 79. He conquered most of the world’s great climbing destinations and often climbed alongside Chris Bonington, Joe Talisker and Dougal Haston, as well as the two climbers who featured in the film Touching the Void – Joe Simpson and Simon Yates. Doug and Haston made history by being the first mountaineers to climb the South West face of Everest in 1975. Difficulties with their oxygen caused their arrival at the summit to be delayed, and when they finally made it at 6pm Doug spent time savouring the top of the world and enjoying the view before they began their descent. Unfortunately, their head lamps failed and their oxygen ran out, so they could not continue during the night, which they spent hallucinating in appalling cold. At first light they continued their descent and remarkably avoided frost bite.
Doug visited Arran several times to give illustrated talks about his adventures as part of the Arran Mountain Festival, hosted by Arran Active. On one occasion he looked in astonishment at the packed Lamlash theatre and said “well there can’t be much on telly tonight”.
He and his wife, Trish, stayed at Ivybank where Sherie and Andrew were happy to offer hospitality in their home. They found them to be a lovely pair – Doug was a down-to-earth, modest person with so much to talk about and a good sense of humour. Sherie and Andrew, before coming to Arran, lived only a few miles from Doug’s village of Hesket Newmarket in Cumbria so they had shared a common tramping ground. Another point in common was that Sherie had trekked in the glaciers of the Karakoram and could fully understand Doug’s admiration of the Balti sirdars and porters.
Doug was born in Nottingham on 29th May 1941, the date that Everest was first climbed by Sherpa Tenzing and Edmund Hillary 13 years later. His father George was the British amateur heavyweight champion in 1945, but gave up his Olympic dream to focus on his family and tend his allotment. Doug inherited his father’s powerful frame and also his love of growing organic vegetables. He began climbing using his mother’s washing line in the Derwent Valley in 1955, and sometimes used good quality gardening gloves instead of the sophisticated modern climbing gear that he considered pampers modern climbers.
In one of his Arran talks Doug described his ascent of Baintha Brakk (The Ogre) which is part of the Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan. His affection for her people was obvious as he spoke at length of their kindness and generosity. The ascent of The Ogre took place in 1977 with Bonington as a climbing partner. Abseiling from the summit he swung into a rock face and broke both his legs at 7,200 metres, while Bonington broke his ribs. Doug had to crawl back to base camp on his knees. A helicopter came to the rescue, but the pilot was only expecting one casualty, and had taken his wife and child along for the ride, so Bonington had to wait another ten days to be rescued by which time he was a walking skeleton. The story has taken its place as one of the most extraordinary survival stories in the world of mountaineering.
Doug touched on the effect the mountains have on the consciousness. The tiniest mis-judgements could lead to death, so the climber must be totally present, in a heightened state of awareness. We were shown many pictures of colleagues who had lost their lives in the mountains, yet their pull, and perhaps the vast open state of mind that they evoked, lured Doug back time after time. He had several intense out of body experiences that led him to study Buddhism and he was especially inspired by the life of the 11th century Tibetan saint, Milarepa, who had spent many years living in austere conditions in Himalayan caves, seeking enlightenment (perfection of mind) so he could benefit others.
Doug’s wish to help others manifested in his charity Community Action Nepal (CAN) which he founded in 1989. He had come to love the Nepali mountain people, who are some of the poorest in the world. He spent his retirement serving them through his charity which aimed to raise their standard of living and strengthen their indigenous, community based culture.
During his talks on Arran, Doug described the schools and medical centres that CAN has sponsored and he showed considerable knowledge of building practices as he described CAN’s work in rebuilding some of Nepal’s infrastructure after the terrible earthquake in 2015. A fund-raising auction of huge photographs from his expeditions was held, and a picture of his camp halfway up The Ogre hangs in The Ivybank BnB. The picture shows the glacier miles below along which Sherie had trekked..
It was typical of Doug that he used his illness as a final opportunity to raise money for CAN with a sponsored climb of his staircase. His wife Trish continues fundraising for the charity from their office in Cumbria.
Some of the proceeds of his Arran talks were offered to the Rokpa humanitarian projects in Nepal, Tibet and Africa which were promoted by Samye Ling (Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Dumfriesshire), where Doug was a frequent visitor and was committed to its charitable work.
In 1998 Samye Ling began fund-raising for the building of a Victory Stupa in their grounds. Doug was co-founder of Community Action Treks, (based in Wigton) and it was through this company that a sponsored trek to the sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet took place as part of the fund-raising effort.
As part of the training, Doug led the trekkers up Ettrick Pen, a hill four miles north of Samye Ling. Sadly his knees gave out on the way down, and I drove him the last two miles back to his car. Amused to be driving such a great man in my decrepit old banger, I reflected on the Buddhist teachings on impermanence – how even superhuman resilience and physical strength must eventually succumb to old age, sickness and death. To contemplate death is to learn how to live, and Doug discovered this in the mountains. With death so close at heel, he became vividly alive – “On the mountain I was just 100% right there” he said.
Doug died peacefully at his home in the Lake District surrounded by family and tributes flooded in.
Mountainer Kenton Cool said he was “Possibly the greatest mountaineer of his generation” while a statement from The British Embassy in Nepal said “We remember Doug Scott CBE not only for his mountaineering feats but as a true friend of Nepal whose support helped build health posts in rural villages. His feats also remind us of the importance of protecting our mountains from climate change.”
The adventurer Alastair Humphreys said Doug’s life was “filled with adventure and purpose”.
With thanks to Sherie and Andrew Walker, and Juliette Walsh for their memories of Doug.
Featured image shows Doug Scott on Everest in 1975.