The Angry Corrie 60: Jan-Feb 2004

Nice guys and ice-leaks

Doug Scott: "Sacred Summits", 27/10/03 and Mick Fowler: "Mind over Matter", 12/11/03 both at Tiso Glasgow Outdoor Experience

Review: Perkin Warbeck

THE TISO WINTER speaking program kicked off with Doug Scott and "Sacred Summits". He was introduced as "a mountaineering icon", but Bet Lynch is an icon and so is Kylie Minogue. Legend is more like it. Granted, Scott has looked like an icon all his career - mostly John Lennon but right now I would say Jonathan Pryce. There was even a brief early period before he got the hair and the round specs when he was Gerry Adams.

One thing Scott certainly doesn't do is act like an icon. Hesitantly, he eases into his presentation and is frequently asked to speak up. His achievements, such as the then highest bivvy on Everest, hardly need stating here, but whimsicality rather than bravado is majored on. Both he and Dougal Haston held imaginary conversations with third parties. Scott's was held with his feet, one of which/whom was in the huff because he used the other at rugby when kicking.

Scott hardly mentions his charity Community Action Nepal, even though it is the beneficiary of all his half-time sales. There is a sense of a whole lecture of stuff left out. The heroics on the Ogre go untouched. Likewise big-wall ascents in Yosemite with Peter Habeler. Denali with Haston is only briefly mentioned.

image from TAC60

It is interesting that a man of Scott's accomplishments should have the sunny disposition exhibited. One feels that a CV such as his could only be assembled by ego-driven monomania as per Haston, but Scott is the embodiment of Lyle Lovett's song "I love everybody". The infamous spat between Chris Bonington and Don Whillans is passed over with "such a shame, if only we could all be pals". Likewise, of Haston: "it was a privilege to climb with him". Joe Brown is awesome for hand-jamming at 25000 feet on Kangchenjunga. Graham Tiso is warmly remembered and his refusal to sell technical gear to idiots lauded. Several anecdotes are told about Whillans whom one might suspect of having been prickly - but you wouldn't find this out from Scott. His warmth for Whillans is typified by a five-minute build-up, the only purpose of which is to allow a slide to be shown of an emaciated Sadhu standing beside a seriously obese Whillans.

So what does Scott talk about? Everest the hard way, fortunately. It would be such a shame to miss that. Some detail is gone into about the route and how it was discovered on photos from the failed attempt of 1972 - and mention of photos brings me to the subject of Scott's and how good they are. As one who used to fiddle with a single-lens reflex camera in relatively tropical Scottish winter conditions, one has to applaud the commitment that enables Scott to enlarge his to poster size even though they must have been taken with freezing hands and old equipment. Apparently on the 1975 expedition everyone was given two camera bodies and several lenses. Haston's were all back at base camp in their boxes for selling off when the expedition ended.

Shivling, the Carstenz Pyramid and Kangchenjunga are all dealt with in great style. Kangchenjunga's top, being a sacred summit, was avoided - only for it to be "trampled by the Japanese" a few years later. Which brings us neatly to the "Sacred Summits" title. This is never really fleshed out, although Scott does free-associate at one point about the beliefs of animists and Buddhists, eg the five demon sisters who were tamed and turned into mountain goddesses such as Miyolangsangma the Everest one. Then, before you know it, he's talking about leprechauns as if they are part of the same dramatis personae. This is a very short interlude and clearly reflects Scott's respect for all the local peoples among whom he finds himself. It is delivered as if all such beings were real, but one feels that Scott just can't find it in himself to disrespect the believers.

There was a lot of moaning among the crowd about audibility, and I do think the technical side of these talks needs some input from Tiso in the form of a better PA and projector. Personally, however, I was able to hang on Scott's every word despite my ears having been ruined by rock'n'roll and the howl of the jetstream. For all the complaints of mumbling, Scott does have a great turn of phrase, mostly in the form of dry one-liners. Siege mountaineering is like compound interest. Porters carry up loads of potatoes to feed the men carrying the potatoes.

Scott is a legend. There's no one with his pedigree who is British and still alive. It was a privilege to be there. His photos were fantastic, his charity seems real and integrated into the community and his anecdotes were gentle and humane. I shook his hand at the end and got a hint of the strength that dragged him down the Ogre.

And so to Mick Fowler, "the mountaineer's mountaineer" (The Observer). A contrasting figure. Younger, a taxman rather than a Beatle in his day-job, but wacky in the extreme. He's had encounters with the French and British police, two of which were for "damaging national monuments" - the Elephant's Trunk (a fancy rock formation in France) and St Pancras (a station in Albion), where he ice-climbed a leak from a toilet, placing protection on the drainpipe.

Bespectacled and, like Scott, quietly spoken, Fowler is also able to leave out stuff and still astound. North faces of Eiger and Matterhorn are barely mentioned. Topically, he shows photos of naked sea-stack climbing, or at least naked access to sea stacks. Self-deprecating in the extreme, he lovingly describes falling off several times while filming for Richard Else in the Lofoten Islands. Likewise, his first Himalayan experience is detailed even though it ended in failure. Like a rock star playing his latest album, the major point of the talk is last year's ascent of Mount Siguniang in China. This, he said, was his favourite expedition ever because of the purity of the line - up some ice-filled basalt dyke rather than a toilet-leak this time. For this Fowler was awarded the legendary Piolet d'Or or golden ice axe. Having also received the Golden Piton and having apparently climbed the Golden Shower, one is led to wonder - what about the Golden Cagoule?

Tiso deserve encouragement for their winter programme - but they do really need to sort out their audio-visual equipment. I moaned about it last year (see TAC56, p3), and here I am again. At one point Fowler had to take a ten-minute hiatus while he prised a slide out of the projector with audience-donated penknives.

TAC 60 Index