Legendary Alpinist Doug Scott Dies at Age 79

Doug Scott helped usher in “alpine style” in mountaineering, and had a storied career as one of the most prolific and visionary alpinists of the 20th century.

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Scott in November 2010.Ian Murphy; CC BY-SA 2.0

On the morning of December 7, famed alpinist Doug Scott passed away in his sleep at his home in the Lakes District, England, after fighting a brain tumor for the better part of a year. Scott was among the most notable climbers of the 20th century, having pushed the cutting edge of alpinism in the 1970s and 1980s as the slow siege tactics of antiquity gave way to futuristic “alpine style” missions. He was a visionary climber and a man of remarkable grit.

Scott’s interest in climbing was piqued in the mid-1950s as a teenager during trips to the craggy Peak District of the United Kingdom where he saw climbers for the first time. The Peak District served as a training ground for Scott, and he earned a reputation of putting up difficult aid routes. He took skills that he learned in Northern England to the Greater Ranges. Throughout his life, Scott climbed over 40 new routes in the high mountains.

In 1975, Doug Scott became the first English climber to summit Everest, along with his partner Dougal Haston. They were a part of an international expedition that made the first ascent of the mountain’s Southwest Face. As Scott and Haston descended from the summit, darkness fell upon them. They hunkered down for an unplanned bivouac 100 meters from the highest point on Earth. Their oxygen tanks were empty, and they spent a cold and breathless night higher than any human had before. Remarkably, both climbers were alive and without frostbite when the sun rose the following morning, and in fair enough shape to continue their descent.

Two years later, while descending after the first ascent of Ogre I in the Karakorum, Scott slipped on ice while abseiling and took a huge pendulum swing, breaking both of his legs. His partner, Chris Bonington, was able to help him down for a ways, but Bonington himself had a fall and broke some ribs then developed pulmonary edema. For nine days—without food or painkillers—Scott crawled off the mountain. Both climbers were eventually rescued by fellow expedition members.

After more than two decades of voracious climbing and over 45 expeditions to Asia alone, Scott’s deteriorating knees began to slow him down. In his later years, he founded Community Action Nepal, a charity set to bring positive impact to the people of the Himalaya—the people and places that so greatly influenced his life.

Scott is survived by his wife Trish and his five children.