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EverestHistory.com: Dougal Haston


"One can only go in and hope. When one finally comes out of the icy mess into the Western Cwm, it is like being in a newer, brighter land."

 -- Dougal Haston, speaking of his experiences in Everestís Valley.

When Dougal Haston was born in the parish of Currie on the West Side of Edinburgh in 1940 his future was set. Even with the war on Haston seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of countless others into a life of work in the mills and shops and on into obscurity. However, history and Everest would hold an entirely different destiny for Dougal Haston.

Haston developed at taste for climbing while trekking about the Pentlands in Scotland.  Rock climbing skills were acquired by clambering up railway and riverside walls around Currie.  Already showing a mischievous streak, which would become darker later in life, Haston and friends would climb to the top of Currie Church and leave things, including womenís underwear, atop the flagpole.

He soon began rock and ice climbing and struck up a friendship with another climber, Robin Smith, who like so many others would die climbing. Smith died in 1962, 4 years before Haston gained fame for the first direct (bottom to top) ascent of the North Face of the Eiger (Switzerland). Though a broken rope would claim the life of American climbing great John Harlin during the climb, Haston would finish the ascent with a group of German climbers and name the route John Harlin Direct.

His run-up to Everest included the first climb of the South Face of Annapurna in 1970, and the first summit of Changabang in India in 1974. Along with fellow Briton Doug Scott, Haston summited Everest via a previously unclimbed route up the South West Face. Though forced to spend the night following their summit huddled in a hand-dug snow cave at the South Summit the two emerged unharmed by their experience. Later that same year Haston would participate in the first climb of the South West face of Mount McKinley in Alaska.

Hastonís exploits away from the climbing routes were as legendary as his feats of mountaineering. He led a life renown for drinking, fighting, stealing and risky climbs which would culminate in a drunk-driving accident in which a person was killed, a conviction and prison time.

His career as a climber was cut short by an avalanche while skiing in the Alps in 1977. There is a plaque honoring him on a railway bride in Currie where he was born and learned to climb.

 

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