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with Stefan Nestler

40 years ago: Everest Southwest Face first climbed

Everest Southwest Face

Everest Southwest Face

“Everything was said 40 years ago. Nothing has changed.” Doug Scott was tight-lipped when I asked him last spring about the British Everest Southwest Face Expedition in 1975. Late on 24 September, today exactly 40 years ago, Doug and his team comrade Dougal Haston, had reached the summit of Mount Everest after they had first climbed the more than 2000-meter-high, extremely difficult rock wall. After their summit success Scott and Haston survived a bivouac at 8760 meters. Their first climb of the Southwest Face was a milestone in Himalayan climbing, one of the “last big problems” was solved. Five expeditions had failed before, among them a British one in 1972.

Superb climbers

Route durch die Südwestwand (© Thincat)

Route(s) through the Southwest Face (© Thincat)

This expedition as well as the successful three years later was led by legendary Chris Bonington. “In a way the expedition was my baby”, Chris told me last spring. “It was my vision and concept. Then I got together the group of superb climbers to actually complete it.” The team was based on climbers from the British 1970 Annapurna South Face and 1972 Everest Southwest Face expeditions and included aside from Scott and Haston such excellent climbers as Mick Burke, Nick Estcourt, Peter Boardman and Paul (“Tut”) Braithwate. “I had always seen very clearly in my mind that my first priority was the success of the expedition and not just the success of getting to the top of the mountain, but also the success of doing so harmoniously”, said the meanwhile 81-year-old Bonington. “And from that point of view it was a wonderful expedition. The only very serious cloud of course was the fact that in the second attempt we lost Mick Burke.” He disappeared during a second summit push. Burke was last seen alive only a few hundred meters from the highest point.

“Possible without breathing mask”

Bonington (l.) and Scott (in 2015)

Bonington (l.) and Scott (in 2015)

The successful climb of the Southwest Face was a perfect teamwork. Scott and Haston were the members to complete it. “The way we did was a bit like the way the North wall of the Eiger was first climbed”, said Chris Bonington. “We found the easiest way, a kind of ‘serpentining’ our way up the mountain.” It was “the only line possible, the natural line”, Doug Scott finally told me last April. He and Haston had been using breathing masks. “When I bivouacked at 8,700 meters without oxygen, I knew, it would have been possible without it”, said Scott, aged 74 now. Afterwards there have been only a few successful climbs through the Everest Southwest Face. “The obviously challenge that nobody has done is a direttissima”, said Chris Bonington. “That is to go straight up the middle of the rock band and thus straight up to the summit.” Another “last problem”.


24. September 2015 | 0:00