The 7,300-metre Karakoram peak known as the Ogre well merits its forbidding name. In his lavishly illustrated book (which would have benefitted from an index), legendary mountaineer Doug Scott was aware this could turn into a unique adventure for him and his teammates when he writes: ‘Chris (Bonington) knew that this would be quite a different sort of expedition to the last three he had previously led.’ Yet in 1977, when they set off for Pakistan, they hoped to climb the Ogre ‘with as little fuss and bother’ as had been the case in expeditions in Europe, North America or the Andes. Theirs was to become the first successful ascent, following two failed attempts in 1971 and 1976.
Scott was no stranger to high altitude climbing, having summitted Everest two years previously. But, as he points out, this had been on relatively ‘easy’, non-technical snow slopes. The drama begins to unfold at 7,000 metres, with Scott, Bonington and two companions tucked snugly in their sleeping bags, prior to tackling a wall of steep, mixed ground before the final summit. It was, according to the author, the hardest climbing he had done at that altitude.
‘The climbing would become a race against physical and mental deterioration in the rarefied air,’ Scott says. Little did he suspect it would turn into a battle for survival. After reaching the summit, as is so often the case, the descent took Scott and Bonington to near disaster. In the gathering darkness, Scott unwittingly placed his foot on a veneer of water ice and found himself swinging wildly from the wall. The result was two broken legs, while Bonington suffered several fractured ribs in a fall. By day two, Scott found himself crawling down the mountain on all fours, with days of suffering still ahead before they reached the safety of base camp. The story of that epic climb, prefaced by a well-researched section on the region’s history, makes this one of the most readable books on mountaineering to emerge in years.