Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
“Dougal kindly opened up the front of his down suit to let me put my bare toes under his armpit.” Hours earlier Doug Scott and Dougal Haston had stood on the summit of Everest. At 6 pm they had found themselves walking along the summit “An hour later, having watched the sun filtering through the layered clouds to produce the finest sunset I'd ever seen, we thought we'd better go down too.”
The quiet joke, the intensity of the experience communicated in a few spare words, belie the immensity of the achievement: Doug Scott and Dougal Haston were the first Britons to stand on top of the world. They rapidly made their way down. Their torches failed as they descended the Hillary Step. In the darkness with the cold wind covering their tracks they thought it “prudent” to bivouac. They had neither sleeping bags nor canned oxygen. No one had spent a night out at such a height without oxygen. They were uncertain of what might happen as they sat on their rucksacks for nine hours, drifting in and out of consciousness. Doug was in danger of frostbite. As he says, in his off-hand way, “In the end, we were pleasantly surprised to survive without oxygen, sleeping bags, or, as it turned out, suffering from frostbite.”
There is something in the temper of the man - Doug Scott is now 74 - that courts destruction recklessly, but always pulls through.
When his wife Jan was pregnant and staying in Carlisle with her mother as the birth of their first child, was only weeks away, Doug hitched up from the school at Cottesmore where he was teaching P.E. He entered the house for the first time and immediately knocked a full tin of gloss white paint over the hall carpet.
The next weekend, he borrowed a racing cycle, fell off coming down Kirkstone Pass and slit his hand open. He arrived home late for dinner, covered in blood with a buckled wheel, having spent much of the afternoon being stitched up in Penrith hospital.
The third weekend, still waiting for the birth, he and a new mate, set out in a kayak across the Solway to Dumfries. Ten miles out and tiring they turned about, but instead of pointing towards Silloth they found themselves, exhausted, being carried out to sea. Pushing down with a paddle, his mate felt a sandbank, climbed out of the kayak “and stood there, like a divine being, his feet just below the water's surface”. They walked and paddled back to Silloth.
A week later Doug was sewing leather patches on his rock boots when the baby was born, and, ten days after that, “being superfluous to requirements for all practical purposes”, Doug hitch-hiked to Innsbruck and, and, braving the scary and incredible exposure, was climbing the Punta di Frida in the Dolomites.
Before Everest, Doug had climbed in the Atlas, Tibesti, the Hindu Kush, Yosemite, Baffin Island, Changabang and the High Pamirs. As he says, “It is very hard to get off = I've tried, but I'm happily resigned to walk and climb till I die as things are right now”. The man is extraordinary, cut from a different cloth to ordinary human beings. Doug is a masterly storyteller. and this wonderful book of incredible adventure tells of an epic life. It has been like being avalanched on Mezeno Peak in Pakistan, rattling down a five hundred metre gully with no fear, wondering at the resilience of the human body and observing the world with a detached intensity.
This autobiography – this is the first volume – is, as Doug says, “a good chance for me to sort it all out”.