Climber :

Born 1941; Died March 18, 2011

Doug Lang, who has died aged 69, was one of the leading players in Scottish climbing during the 1960s and 1970s with an enviable legacy of challenging mountain routes.

He also retained a legendary reputation as one of the very last – and very best – “step-cutters”: a master of the extremely skilful and energy-sapping technique required to climb demanding snow and ice climbs before the advent of modern ice tools.

He was born in Dumfries but brought up in Dundee, where he attended the city’s Harris Academy. After being introduced to climbing by the Boys’ Brigade he rapidly outgrew elementary mountaineering and was soon pioneering new routes. His first significant new climb was the ice route B Gully Chimney on the nearby mountain crag of Corrie Fee north of the city, climbed in 1962. But he was never restricted to his local Angus hills, and over a long climbing career he ranged all over Scotland.

Through the late 60s and 70s, together with regular climbing partner Graeme Hunter, he made major breakthroughs in Scottish rock climbing, most notably of the forbidding north-east facing granite crag of Creag an Dubh Loch near Lochnagar, where their extreme routes such as Falseface were then at the cutting edge of exploratory climbing.

Another notable climb was the first ascent of the remote sandstone pinnacle The Great Stack of Handa off the Sutherland coast, undertaken in 1969 with Mr Hunter and Hamish MacInnes. Probably his best-loved climb however, is the superb and much-sought-after “classic rock” climb Ardverikie Wall on Binnein Shuas in the central Highlands, climbed with Mr Hunter in 1967.

But it was in winter that he arguably made his greatest impact. In the early 1970s he climbed regularly with fellow Dundonian Neil Quinn and the pair were remarkable for being among the last teams to convert to “front-point” technique.

In 1970 Californian climber/engineer Yvonne Chouinard began manufacturing ice axes with curved picks which allowed the climber to pull directly up steep snow and ice, obviating the need to chop hand- and footholds. At a stroke, it made winter climbing much easier, since step-cutting was an intensely skilful, time-consuming and energy-sapping technique.

But Mr Lang and Mr Quinn remained stubbornly wedded to the traditional approach. They somehow competed with peers benefiting from the new technology and achieved astonishingly difficult ascents, cutting their way strenuously up vertical hanging ice sheets, weaving their way up alpine-sized faces and spindrift-lashed buttresses, and conquering almost all the steep snow-packed gullies of note.

As a result they were almost certainly the only people ever to cut steps up Ben Nevis’s Hadrian’s Wall Direct (V, 5), then amongst the hardest winter climbs, in an epic 17.5 hour ascent in February 1973 which ended with a bivouac just below the summit cornice.

The duo eventually converted to the new technology and were responsible for a host of climbs across the breadth of the Highlands, but amongst their standout climbs are routes such as Left Edge Route (V, 5) on Ben Nevis and Slav Route (VI, 6) in 1974 – at 1400-ft one of the longest routes of this grade in the country and still regarded as a challenging and very serious climb even with the use of sophisticated modern equipment and protection.

Despite the high standards he brought to his climbing, which many a professional climber might have envied, Lang remained a resolute amateur, his “day job” remaining that of engineer. Originally apprenticed at National Cash Registers, the US company that opened a manufacturing base in Dundee in 1947, he eventually left to form a partnership with old school friend Iain MacMurray, and ran a bespoke tool design company for many years.

Mr Lang continued to contribute significant new winter climbs well into the 1990s and served as president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club from 1992-94.

He remained a fit, keen mountaineer to the day he died, caught by the caprice of an avalanche, a fate that he had skilfully evaded for so many years. His body was found on the slopes of his beloved Corrie Fee, still holding his ice axes, close to the place where he had begun his pioneering climbing career nearly half a century ago. He is survived by his wife, Denise and daughter Hilary.