Kanchenjunga, a book about a mountain ever so much bigger than a book about a mountain

Perhaps it should be expected from Doug Scott’s sixth and last book – that his book about a singular mountain encompasses a complete experience that gives us so much more.

What he has written is far broader in scope, and far more in-depth, covering a peak and a region of the world that holds one of the most remote and inaccessable 8,000 metre peaks on earth.

It is in this remoteness, in the early explorations, in the shifting political tides and in the evolution of the area that its’ complex and varied history creates the beginning of such a fascinatining story.

In Part 1, we are taken back to the first explorations, to the first people to set foot in the area, to the tribes and shifting politics that shaped the culture in this uniquely beautiful part of the world.

Doug has alway had an easy reading, yet deeply insightful writing style, that many of us have come to enjoy in his five other books.

With Kanchenjunga, he gives us a rare window into a complete mountain area, from early explorations, leading up to Doug’s ascent of the peak.

Doug Scott sprang to prominence in 1975 with the first British ascent of Everest, climbing alongside Dougal Haston, when they completed a new route on Everest, as so well told by Christian Bonington in Everest Southwest Face – The Hardest Way Up the Highest Mountain in the World.

Doug has long had a love of mountains, from starting as a climbing instructor in his teens, before going off on his first season in the Alps when only 17. At 24 he went further afield, to the Tibesti mountains in the Central Sahara, launching his long term international career as a professional mountaineer. With over 40 expeditions to the high moutains of Asia, his was a life framed and informed by the worlds’ tallest peaks.

While Everest made his name publicly, for climbers it has always been the style in which he has most often climbed: without oxygen, on new routes, alpine style and with small teams.

Doug was a climbers, climber, in every sense of the word.

Makalu, right, and Kanchenjunga on the left horizon, from high on the summit ridge of Everest at dawn.

We first met on Aconcagua, as he was working his way through the 7 summits as well. Amidst a small camp at the base of the mountain, with the usual guided groups wandering aimlessly about and the small Alpine Clubs attempting to gallop up more moutain than the heights would allow them, he stood out by not standing out. It was two days before I even realized he was there.

Camped alongside my photographer Joe Blackburn’s and I, we shared tea and stories, and I first came to appreciate his deep love and appreciation for the heights. Yes, the climbs were important to him. But the much larger experience of Aconcagua, from the wineries far below in Mendoza, to the mule drivers lives lugging our bags up to Base Camp, to the many route opportunities and the stories of those who had gone before us was as important as what way we would take to the summit.

It was the whole mountain, not just the climbing mountain, that Doug was always interested in.

In Part 2 of Kangchenjunga, Doug moves on to the earliest explorations of Kanchenjunga, when Explorers were pushed to access the mountain by its Western Approaches.

From missionaries pushing their religious beliefs, to traders looking for new markets, to politicians manuevering for land, we are treated to a swirling, interwoven connectivity that slowly opens our view to this corner of the world.

Part 2 finishes with a dive into the artists, the writers and the photographers who created and brought back the earliest stories from the region, revealing the area to future dreamers and explorers captivated by the startling beauty. With Kanchenjunga long believed to be the tallest mountain in the world, and long reverred as a local deity, the early interest was only heightened by the romantic early writings and art portraying its’ heights.

In Part 3, Doug moves on to cover the early attempts and climbs of the mountain, as people ventured both closer and higher up the surrounding peaks. With a collection of well known early explorers, their exploits are told through the ever interesting small insights that truly inform the bigger story. Porters are encouraged to carry loads or be decapitated, climbers drink animal blood to make them stronger – it is a well coloured history that never slows its’ pace.

Doug has sifted though and found the truly memorable mountain quotes which gives us an immediate flavour for the climbers, without having to read a plethora of other books. These along are worth having to add to a climbers library.

In Part 4 he covers the actual ascents of the Peak, from the first British Ascent, through to his own climb. Climbing alongside Joe Tasker and Peter Boardman, without oxygen, sherpa support, or radios, they reached the top on 16 May, 1979. It was a very rare ascent in the Himalayas that has sadly gone out of fashion, climbers having often traded the need to summit, over the desire to do something challenging and new.

Their ascent is told in ever classic understatement, with both an early attempt, then a return and a multi-day summit push across the heights and finally up to the top of Kanchenjunga.

The picture we are left with from reading the book is very much a visual one, of a mountain that stretches both back and forward in time. It encompasses is in an experience from the very depths of the land to the top of the five mountain treasures that reflect its five summits and the name of the peak itself.

Doug has left us with a remarkable book. And while we will never have the opportunity to enjoy another of his famous lectures, or share a camp with him again, we will have this book as a testament to his lifelong love and his remarkable ascent of one of the most stunning mountains on earth.

Available direct from Vertebrate Publishing