Home Forums Aleister Crowley Mountaineer DATELINE 1902: FIRST ATTEMPT TO CLIMB K2 BY ALEISTER CROWLEY

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    First British Expedition to K2 in 1902

    The next serious attempt on an 8,000-meter peak came seven years later when an international team, led by Oscar Eckenstein and Aleister Crowley, went to the Karakoram in Pakistan to try K2, the world’s second highest summit, in 1902.

    Dateline 1902: First Attempt to Climb K2 by Aleister Crowley



    An excellent summary of the K2 expedition. Cheers, Paul.




    Perhaps a good succinct summary, but a bit sensational and at least two blunders.

    “A snag, however, occurred as the party set north to the mountains. Oscar Eckenstein, the expedition’s official leader, was arrested on the order of the Viceroy of India, who apparently had been told to stop the group from going to K2. Aleister Crowley ignored the orders and, assuming leadership, led the expedition.”

    In fact, he was explicitly not “arrested” (see Confessions p. 280 (last paragraph) for these details), but simply told he – only he – could not enter Kashmir. The rest of the party were allowed to go on, and Crowley and Eckenstein’s agreement was that if Eckenstein were unable to lead, Crowley was to take over. As for the “order of Viceroy”, no record exists. David Dean, writing Eckenstein’s obituary for the Alpine Journal in 1960, made a determined search, and found nothing. See the obituary here, pp. 68-69

    The author of the blog makes it seem as if Crowley took control by force, or surreptitiously. In fact it was agreed to beforehand by all.

    Secondly, the old chestnut –

    “During one of the acrimonious arguments, Crowley pulled out a loaded revolver and pointed it at Guy Knowles, who kneed him in the groin in retaliation. Crowley interestingly never mentioned this incident in his expedition account in his book The Confessions of Aleister Crowley.”

    Interestingly, Knowles kept a diary too, and never mentions this incident. In fact none of the team ever did. It first appears in John Symonds’ The Great Beast, in 1952. Dean knew of the story too, having read Symonds, and went to see Knowles before he died, but he does not say if Knowles told him the story himself.

    Most of the pictures of the K2 expedition in the blog piece are from Jules Jacot Guillarmod’s collection, as published in Charlie Buffet’s 2012 book Jules Jacot Guillarmod: Pionnier du K2, which is the only available place for fairly high-quality versions of these images. I don’t know if the author of the blog read the book, but Buffet also investigated this legend, detailed on pp. 139-140. He studied all the primary accounts, none of which mention the pistol incident, and concludes that it is apocryphal.

    Since Symonds also interviewed Knowles, my suspicion is that Knowles made it up, either as a good tale of getting one on the Beast, or expressly for Symonds. In any case, it does not exist in any form until at least 5 years after Crowley’s death. Crowley occasionally corresponded with Knowles and met him occasionally into the 1940s, so the blood between them was not as bad as one might believe from such stories.



    Thanks yet again to belmurru for fact-checking. Your posts on LAShTAL are well-regarded by me and, I know from members’ emails, by many others here. My thanks, also, to ptoner for bringing this interesting blog to our attention.


    Michael Staley

    Thanks, belmurru, for the link to the PDF about Eckenstein. It was a fascinating read.

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