In reviewing Chris Bonington Mountaineer in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Cloudburst, I referred to Bonington and Scott’s 1977 first ascent of the 7,285-metre Ogre in Pakistan, noting: “Soon after the two of them had summited and begun their descent, Scott slipped on verglas and broke both of his lower legs in a 30-metre pendulum. Later, Bonington rappelled off the end of a rope and broke two ribs. The tale of their epic week-long retreat down the storm-ravaged mountain is one of the great survival stories.”
And according to the UK’s Sunday Times, this is “One of the greatest mountaineering survival stories never [sic] told.” Now, in the 40th anniversary year of the climb, Vertebrate Publishing has released Doug Scott’s long awaited version of their extreme adventure. The objective of the six-man expedition was Baintha Brakk in the Karakoram Range, known to mountaineers as The Ogre and rated as one of the world’s most difficult climbs.
Scott has taken an unusual two-part approach to the book. The first part is a well-researched, concise history of the Karakoram, from its geological underpinnings to recent centuries of human political intrigue and exploration in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The book’s second half is all about the dramatic first ascent and epic descent of ‘The Ogre’ in 1977. Scott also notes that this will be the first of several books that he will write over the next few years using a similar two-part format, featuring Kangchenjunga, Makalu, K2, Nanga Parbat, Everest, and Canada’s Baffin Island.
With just 178 pages and a storyline that makes it hard to put down, this is a fast read. It is adorned throughout with many colour images inline with the text, making it probably the best-illustrated expedition account that I have read. This is a book that will grip climbers and lay readers, and is likely to be devoured in a single session. Despite the high drama of the ascent and the even more remarkable descent, this is a story that is respectful of the other climbers, even when minor dissent arises, and is told with a mix of confidence, humour and humility. Scott’s matter-of-fact description of his eight-day descent with two broken legs, alternatively rappelling, crawling and sheltering from intense storms, takes practical survival to a new level. Not once does he appear to doubt that he will survive, and he is both self-reliant yet dependent on his companions whose skill level and experience for the occasion had to be second nature.
This is an account, not just of Scott and Bonington’s first ascent, but of the team of six climbers who made the expedition’s achievements and safe retreat possible, and of the village people of Askole who later carried Scott for several days back to their community from base camp. Noting the “spontaneous generosity of people who had so little,” Scott later raised funds and organised the installation of freshwater standpipes in Askole that significantly reduced infant mortality there. He also founded a charity, Community Action Nepal, to which he has devoted much of his time in later years.
The Ogre: Biography of a mountain and the dramatic story of the first ascent by Doug Scott; Vertebrate Publishing, 2017; ISBN 978-1-911342-79-3.