And when this gives way to adolescence and young adulthood, memories still keep gushing forth, particularly with the sometimes impressionistic recollections of hitchhiking around Europe: eating windfalls and almonds; mercy-killing a dog that had been hit by a car; finding the drowned body of a nine-year-old. None of which, strictly speaking, is germane to Scott’s subsequent life as a mountaineer, though in a rather more truthful sense, of course, all of it is. As he muses in the preface, ‘I see in the past the clues of who I am now.’
As for the mountain itself: ‘I didn’t have a lifelong yearning to climb Everest,’ Scott writes; ‘as far as I can recall I never gave it a second thought.’ Until, of course, he did, and found that too was partly a journey into himself – at the limits of endurance, ‘regions of my being that are normally hidden reveal themselves.’ He experienced, too, the ‘third man’ phenomenon, familiar to many extreme explorers, of ‘getting into conversation with a presence that has often proved useful, if not vital, to survival.’
But, fascinating as this is, it’s only part of a wider story, one which sees the younger Scott working as a nightclub bouncer to make ends meet (‘not something I would repeat or recommend to anyone else’) or achieving a state of universal benevolence after his apple juice is spiked with LSD on a climbing trip in Washington State (he thinks at first he’s been poisoned – ‘Why would you put acid in apple juice?’).
Scott’s book is as much a celebration of a life well lived as it is of ‘the vertical world’, and is all the better for it.
This review was published in the March 2016 edition of Geographical Magazine