Friday, 17 November 2017

The Climbers.... 'The Ogre' Extract

I took a first tentative step towards the Ogre in the spring of 1968. I felt the need to go off climbing on the really big mountains of the world following on from my experiences in the Hindu Kush with friends from the Nottingham Climbers’ Club in 1967. I started to hatch plans to go overland to Pakistan with Dave Nichol and also Ian Clough. Ian suggested I invite Don Whillans to come along as leader. I wrote off to the Pakistani authorities exploring the possibilities of climbing on Gasherbrum III, Kunyang Chhish and the Ogre. The Ogre was top of the list as I’d just read an article in Mountain by Dennis Gray who had marked it up as a better proposition than Trango Tower. Unfortunately permission was not forthcoming but I remained interested. 

In February 1969 I wrote to Jimmy Roberts at Mountain Travel in Kathmandu, enquiring if he thought there was a chance of not only climbing in Nepal but also Pakistan. Jimmy had recently been there trying to gain permission for the Ogre. He decided against it on account of the turbulent political situation for this was the time when the young politician Zul kar Ali Bhutto was gaining strength and support to oust Pakistan’s second president and first military dictator, General Ayub Khan.

 The Pakistani authorities would only issue permits a couple of months before a team was due to arrive, which was perhaps a major factor in deterring Jimmy from pursuing his climbing ambitions in Pakistan. He therefore recommended I concentrated on climbing a peak in Nepal, where the government had just recently brought their seven­year ban on mountaineering expeditions to an end, and politely suggested this should be after I had done my own research. Really I was grasping at straws as my domestic circumstances, at the time, were unfortunately in a state of turmoil and precluded any long two to three month expeditions. After the Hindu Kush expedition in 1967 it would be five years before I was in a position to go ‘off with the boys’ again on long trips. 

In July 1975, Clive Rowland, Rob Wood, Tony Watts, Bob Wilson, Ronnie Richards and I travelled out to Pakistan to climb Sosbun Brakk, a shapely peak near the head of the Biafo Glacier. We came out on a shoestring budget and with limited time enforced upon us by commitments to jobs back home, and in the case of Ronnie and I, to get back in time to join the South­West Face of Everest expedition (see the account of this trip to the Karakoram in my book Up and About, pages 358–360). 

We flew out on Afghan Air to Kabul. At £180 return it was by far and away the cheapest air fare we could find. We then took buses from Kabul, through Jalalabad and the Khyber Pass to Rawalpindi. There we stayed with Buster Goodwin, once Colonel Eric Goodwin of the Indian Army, who had settled in Rawalpindi after a lifetime of service mainly amongst the Pathans on the North­West Frontier. In fact Buster, within a few minutes of meeting, sold us all a copy of his book Life Among the Pathans. 

Numerous climbers have stayed in Buster’s bungalow, looked after by his adopted family. His carers were a rather indifferent couple and the house had seen better days. Buster, too, was past his best at eighty ­four and would drift off into soliloquies about his mother. When he came to, he was quite lucid, taking quite a liking to Rob Wood, telling him he was just the sort of chap he would have welcomed into his regiment. Apart from his mother the one thing that Buster seemed to be missing of the old country was cheese. Our supply reduced during the night; at first we thought it was being taken by rodents, but it turned out to be our host. We gave Buster a whole round of Stilton cheese with our thanks and left this charming relic of the British empire for the hills with high ambition. 

We were, as can be imagined when considering our time and financial constraints, doomed to disappointment, especially as there was an added factor ensuring our demise – the weather. at year there had been consider­ able dumps of spring snow on the Biafo Glacier and we simply could not reach our objective. After three days of wading through thigh­deep snow, sometimes up to our chests, we gave up on our peak and turned the trip into a recce of the Ogre. We had already seen the upper part during our journey up the Biafo and now, with Clive’s local knowledge, we went back down the Biafo and turned left up the Baintha Lukpar Glacier on to the Uzun Brakk Glacier. We climbed some way up the peaks to the west of the Uzun Brakk from where we had excellent views of the south side of the Ogre.

There was far too much snow, and the team, already depleted with the departure of Bob and Tony for work commitments, and without time to fully acclimatise, were not able to reach any of the attractive peaks hereabouts. The visit had not been a waste of time as far as Clive and I were concerned. Clive was able to reaffirm his commitment to climb up on to and along the West Ridge of the mountain and I became hooked on a empting the magnificent South Pillar of the Ogre – a prow of granite, 3,000 feet high, above which mixed rock and ice climbing led up to a final 800­foot tower. 

I had for the last few years, and especially after climbing Asgard right on the Arctic Circle of Baffin Island, thought about climbing big rock walls at altitude. Without any obvious plan in it I had taken to climbing big rock faces, first in the Alps and Dolomites during the 1960s, then in the 1970s in Norway including the Troll Wall, and in Yosemite Valley on El Capitan. These climbs had involved ever­more technical difficulty, and on the big walls on Baffin Island there was the added challenge of subzero temperatures. The next logical step could be right here on the Ogre. 

I was now familiar with the effect of climbing in the rarefied atmosphere up to 27,000 feet (8,230 metres) on Everest but, that had been on relatively easy, non­ technical snow slopes. Even so, I knew enough to appreciate that to survive at that level it was essential that everything that had to be done was second nature. It would be an interesting exercise, to say the least, to see if I could put the two together successfully: climbing steep rock high in the thin cold air at 23,000 feet. If that worked out I might just have time, before old age and decrepitude, to attempt the mighty West Face of Makalu up to 27,000 feet, and even the highest rock face of them all, the West Face of K2. 

My only regret was that I had not started my high ­altitude apprenticeship earlier. There is a relatively narrow window of opportunity to climb technical routes at altitude. It can only realistically happen after a climber has accumulated big­wall climbing experience and also climbed at extreme altitude but early enough to ensure that he is still fit and strong enough to put it all together to make technical climbs up high. 

Clive and I decided to launch an expedition together for the summer of 1977 hoping that the mountain would still be unclimbed. It had already been reported in Mountain magazine that an eight ­man Japanese expedition had attempted the Ogre in the summer of 1974. The climbers were from the Shizuoka Tohan Club and were led by Reisuke Akiyama. Team members were: Yukio Katsumi, Kimio Itokawa, Masamitsu Urayama, Tetsuji Furuta, Mitsuo Nishikawa, Takeshi Tsushima and Toshio Kasai. They set up base camp on the Uzun Brakk Glacier and attempted the South Face but an avalanche left two members seriously injured and essential items of equipment lost. 

In 1976 the Asagiri Alpine Club (Tokyo) expedition of seven climbers led by Tadashi Nishihara, including team members Muneo Ueda, Hideki Yoshida, Hideo Yamaguchi, Masahiro Murashima, Toshikazu Suzuki, Takeshi Ogawa, made a determined attempt also from the Uzun Brakk Glacier. They climbed the South­West Spur reaching the West Col (20,670 feet/ 6,300 metres) on 12 August. Two days later they climbed the West Ridge to a shoulder at 21,851 feet/6,660 metres but gave up in favour of trying the South Face. By 25 August they had traversed the snow band to the point where it connects with the South Face (21,326 feet/6,500 metres). Incredibly, after being so well poised to at least climb the South Face, their application for an extension to their permit was turned down by the Pakistani authorities and so they retreated. 

Doug Scott: 2017 

Images Doug Scott Collection-Provided by Vertebrate Publishers.

The Ogre is available Direct from Vertebrate.