Inspiring a Generation - Doug Scott

© Laurie Adams

Watching the London 2012 Olympic Games this summer and hearing the motto 'Inspiring a Generation' over and over again, I got to thinking: who inspired me? The answer is easy. I can pin down the exact moment when someone inspired me sufficiently to set the course of my whole life. Perhaps I didn't quite realise it at the time, but looking back he did just that. And he still goes on inspiring me today.

Dougal Haston on the Hillary Step 1975  © Doug Scott
Dougal Haston on the Hillary Step 1975
© Doug Scott

I went to a school in Nottingham called Lenton Primary and my teacher was called Jan. The kids all loved her, including me, and she used to tell us stories about her life and family and how she was trying to train her husband to look like John Lennon. Then one day in 1975, when I was ten, her husband did something remarkable that caused a national furore - he climbed Mount Everest. The first Briton to do so, and by the South West Face which in those days was considered 'the hard way'. He was, of course, Doug Scott and his wife was my teacher Jan Scott. Not realising how lucky we were at the time, we were privileged to have several members of the expedition team visit our school to do a slide show and show us some of their equipment.

I vividly remember listening to the story of the climb in complete awe and watching slide after slide of stunning mountain scenery and human endeavour. The team laid out lots of their now battered equipment, and the whole room was captivated by all the jangly noises of the krabs, jumars, hexes and pegs. Doug then took out a dirty blue down suit and explained that this was Dougal Haston's suit and it hadn't been cleaned since it had been on the summit of Everest a few weeks earlier. This was the suit that Dougal Haston was wearing in that famous picture of him tackling the Hillary Step in hideously dangerous looking, thigh-deep powder snow. In those days climbing Everest was something akin to going to the moon, and to see and touch a down suit fresh from the summit was something very special, especially to a ten year old boy. As if I wasn't awestruck enough, Doug then picked me out to put the suit on. He took great delight in making me run around the playground so that I could relay to the rest of the school how warm the suit was and how exhausting it might be taking the final steps to the summit in the oxygen depleted atmosphere.

The team eventually left, a few pictures and autographs lighter, and normality was resumed. But the seed was planted. I became interested in everything outdoors, mountains, nature, adventure, and human endeavor. So begin a very modest outdoor career. There were lots of camping and early climbing adventures during my school days. This was followed by several years in the Royal Marines, and thereafter annual visits to Scotland, the Alps and further afield. I didn't achieve anything outstanding or headline grabbing. I didn't bag any first ascents of big peaks or gnarly rock routes, but I did enjoy, and continue to enjoy, trekking, climbing and mountaineering in places such as France, Switzerland, Mongolia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Central America. I completed the Mountain Leader Summer qualification in the late 80s and International Mountain Leader award in 2012, amounting to nearly four decades (so far) of enjoyment of the outdoors.

I have always taken it for granted that it is incumbent upon me to help others share the enjoyment of the mountains, and I have introduced many people to climbing and mountaineering along the way, mainly through my involvement with my local climbing club. Coincidentally, a member of my climbing club helped to organise a lecture by Doug Scott at Exeter University in 2008, and a gang from the club went along to hear him speak. He was still as impressive and entertaining as ever, and finished his talk by telling us about his charity Community Action Nepal and by auctioning some items to raise money for the charity.

When the talk was over, I chatted to my friend who had organised the event and she told me that Doug had refused to stay in a hotel, preferring to find a crag for a spot of bouldering followed by a wild bivvy beside his car whilst en route to the lecture, thereby donating every possible penny to his charity. Even now, all these years on, he continues to be an inspiration. At the age of 71 he is still a powerhouse of a man who is an active climber and works hard to support the mountain people of Nepal through his charity. (Chris Bonington, who is a lifelong friend of Doug Scott and the 1975 Everest expedition leader, recently auctioned his Olympic torch in aid of Doug's charity.)

By the time our group had finished talking the auditorium was almost empty and my wife and I were two of the last to leave. As we left the hall we passed Doug packing up the posters he was selling and I stopped to buy one. As the three of us we were alone, I put my usual reserved nature aside and ventured to chat to him. I said 'We have met before'. He looked up and asked me 'Where?' I said 'Lenton Primary School 1975'. He looked stunned and after a long pause said 'You're the boy I put in the down suit'. Needless to say, I was amazed that he recognised the middle aged, grey haired man in front of him as the boy he put in the suit 33 years earlier, and we had a true moment of connection that took us both back to that period in our lives in the mid 1970's. We chatted for a while and talked about the school and Jan.

Laurie Adams aged 10   © Laurie Adams
Laurie Adams aged 10
© Laurie Adams
Laurie Adams 2012  © Laurie Adams
Laurie Adams 2012
© Laurie Adams

But, what I forgot to do was to thank him for taking the time, when the worlds media attention was on him, to visit local schools and youth groups, and to end up being such a huge influence on the course of mine and no doubt many others lives. So, thanks Doug. I only hope that the likes of Jessica Ennes, Mo Farah and David Weir can inspire a generation the way you inspired mine.

Doug Scott (along with Dougal Haston) was the first Briton to Climb Mount Everest on the 24 September 1975. He climbed the mountain by the South West face, which at the time was considered 'the hard way'. He survived the highest ever emergency bivvy on the decent at 28,750ft (without a down suit!). He has completed over 45 expeditions to Asia and is considered one of the world's leading high altitude and big wall climbers. In 1977 Scott climbed The Ogre with Chris Bonington and broke both his legs near to the summit. So began an epic retreat and tale of survival, long before Joe Simpson gained a similar injury and lived to tell the tale.

In recent times Scott devotes much of his time to raising money for his charity Community Action Nepal.

Laurie Adams is a freelance International Mountain Leader.

More information Community Action Nepal

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17 Jan, 2013
I can trace my infatuation with high mountains and Everest to that very picture of Haston on the Hilary Step. I even remember drawing a copy of it with my coloured pencils when I was about 9 or 10. To this day that picture inspires me every time I see it.
17 Jan, 2013
Nice one Laurie
17 Jan, 2013
Yep. My dad took me to hear doug scott talk in about 1986, and tho the seed was already there, that experience was like a tonne of fertilizer. He still had the long hair and beard and glasses, and spoke with immense 'thereness' and humour. I remember mcartney-snape, linc hall and andy henderson in the front row, as transfixed as everyone else. 10 years ago i saw him in torridon (i think, stromferry maybe) and was too lilly livered to approach him, which is kinda how i need it to be in a silly way.
18 Jan, 2013
Fantastic article, thoroughly enjoyed that.
18 Jan, 2013
Great read deserves a bump to the top .
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