Posts Tagged ‘Doug Scott’

Doug Scott in Norwich

Friday, July 10th, 2015

My old friend Doug Scott CBE has been busy in the last few months fund-raising for his charity Community Action Nepal to help with earthquake relief in Nepal. CAN has been active in Nepal for many years, and had built schools and health centres throughout the country. Now after two devastating earthquakes, many of those have to be rebuilt. So far this current effort has raised nearly £1 million, and unlike any aid money channelled through the corrupt Nepalese government, every pound donated to CAN will get to help the people most in need.

And so Doug Scott came to Norwich with a new lecture entitled “The Three Peaks: Everest – K2 – Kangchenjunga”. He was of course the first Brit to climb Everest (Chris Bonington’s South-West Face expedition, 1975). You might expect lots of tales of scary moments and derring-do (of which there were plenty), but they were interspersed with philosophical and thought-provoking interludes, all illustrated with Doug’s stunning photographs. He’ll be taking the lecture to other venues around the UK – check the CAN website for venues and dates.

His Norwich lecture was run in conjunction with the Cavell Nurses Trust, which exists to help nurses who may have fallen on hard times. Nurse Edith Cavell was a Norfolk woman, the centenary of whose execution at the hands of the Germans in World War One is being marked this year.

Everest 60th anniversary

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

60 years ago today, on the 29th May 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay stood on the summit of Everest. With the news announced to the world on the day of the coronation, it marked the beginning of the second Elizabethan age in spectacular style. For anyone interested in mountaineering, walking and camping, the first ascent of Everest was a kick-start to an industry producing outdoors equipment where the designs of many tents, sleeping bags and footwear had remained pretty much unchanged for 50 years.

While on a British-led expedition, Tenzing and Hillary weren’t themselves British. It wasn’t until Chris Bonington’s 1975 expedition that Doug Scott and Dougal Haston became the first Brits to summit Everest, climbing by the toughest route up the mountain – the south-west face. To this day, Scott and Haston’s achievement, along with surviving the unplanned highest overnight bivouac on record, remains an extraordinary feat of high-altitude mountaineering.

Back in the 1950’s, Nepal allowed just one climbing expedition on Everest per year. Now, of course, it is a very different picture. Expeditions to Everest produce a hefty chunk of Nepal’s tourist income. The South Col route up the mountain taken by Hillary and Tenzing is these days known as the “tourist route”, and while you still need to be fit and have plenty of stamina to climb the mountain, if you can afford it, you can join a guided expedition with minimal mountaineering experience. As ever, you also need to be incredibly lucky with the minute weather window, but these days, you also have the added problem of crowds. Yes, crowds! The only bit of technical climbing is a couple of hundred feet below the summit, a 40ft rock face known as the Hillary Step, and it’s here that a bottleneck can occur with climbers waiting their turn to go up also having to fit in with those coming down. Queues can sometimes be two or three hours, and people have actually died while waiting. When the temperature is minus 20 and your oxygen supply is limited, you don’t want to be standing around for hours getting exhausted and frostbitten.

Now there is a proposal to install a ladder on the Hillary Step so that tourists can descend without impeding the progress of those climbing up, hopefully reducing the traffic jam. Of course that might alleviate the problem, but it still doesn’t get round the fact that Everest has turned into a circus, and that these days, the majority of people climbing it aren’t even mountaineers, and think it’s just something on their “bucket list” to tick off. With thousands of feet of fixed rope and now possibly a ladder, it’s no longer a mountain for purist climbers.

Ten years ago I interviewed Doug Scott for a piece in The Times’ Everest 50th anniversary supplement, and he was scathing about the fashion for people coming to Everest to claim all sorts of spurious records, and the way people joining commercial expeditions expect the guides to be able to bail them out when something goes wrong. Since then, things have only got worse, but one thing remains the same – when you’re in the death zone above 26,000 feet, no matter how many people there are around you, when the chips are down you’re on your own!

Click here to read my feature in The Times’ Everest 50th anniversary supplement.

Decade Gazing

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

I guess this is something I should have done a few days ago, but then I’ve never been one to put a great deal of store in the concept of New Year. It is, after all, just a system of numbering.

Having said that, the past 10 years have been quite momentous ones for me. I thought the 90s were pretty amazing – I did a huge amount of travelling, became the first journalist to fly in a hot air balloon in Soviet Russia, descended 100 feet to the bottom of Windermere in a submersible, and led a trek in Nepal for Everest legend Doug Scott (in the process coming back with one of the most exotic diseases on the planet).

But the noughties saw a personal journey rather more intense. I’ve had a few sticky moments in the mountains, but nothing could compare to the brutal punishment of being tossed around in storms up to Force 11 in a 33 foot powerboat. Spirit of Cardiff was built to break the record for circumnavigating the world, and by accident, I found myself part of the crew.

Spirit of Cardiff in Gloucester, MassachusettsWe didn’t break the round the world record, but we still set more boating records than anyone else, including Ellen MacArthur. In 2000 we set the very first ever world record for circumnavigating the British Isles by powerboat. It’s been broken several times since, but no one can take away the fact that Spirit of Cardiff was first! And in 2001, we set the new world record for a powerboat transatlantic from New York to Lizard Point. Not only does that one still stand, no one has even tried to beat it.

Finding yourself in an angry ocean in the middle of the night, 300 miles from land, is one of those things that forces you to confront your fears. And yet I was less concerned about the many times I had to worry about that during my epic voyage around the world in 2002, than the moment in Sri Lanka when I found myself staring down the receiving end of an AK47, or being chased by a pirate boat in the South China Sea. Those are the moments that stick in my mind as rather more scary than braving Mother Nature at her most aggressive.

Spirit of Cardiff ended up being lost at sea, abandoned in a dramatic rescue in the North Atlantic. It was one of the few trips she did without me on board, and I’ve always wondered how I would have faced up to that one – where the prospect of not surviving was even more stark than the ones I had to face. After that I went back to rather more gentle travel journalism, but the intention has always been to come back for another crack at the round the world record.

In the end, it didn’t happen in the noughties, but the successor to Spirit of Cardiff is designed, and a lot of the groundwork has been done. Of course, finding sponsors with deep pockets in a recession is a pretty tough call. But you never know – it could still happen in the next year or so. All of which leads me to thinking that there’s only so much gazing backwards one can do – forwards is always much more interesting!