Expedition 1905, au Kangchenjunga.

Le Dr. J. Jacot Guillarmod & ses trois amis fournissent une somme de quinze mille francs.
Monsieur Aleister Crowley & un ami fourniront à deux une somme de 5,000 franks (cinq mille).
Pour cette dernière contribution, le Dr. J. Jacot Guillarmod s'engage à fournir l'approvisionnement & le transport du moment du départ de Darjeeling jusqu'au retour à Darjeeling.
L'expédition sera enterprise dans les meilleures conditions possibles, vu la nature du pays à traverser.
Le but de l'expédition sera l'ascension du Kangchenjunga (28,150
On essayera d'abord par le glacier de Yalung.
On partira de Darjeeling dans la seconde moitié de juillet; on y reviendra en octobre au plus tard.
Aleister Crowley partira pour Darjeeling aussitôt que possible, afin de faire tous les préparatifs & arrangements nécessaires.
On respectera soigneusement les préjugés & les croyances indigènes & on ne s'immiscera pas dans leurs manières de vivre.
On n'achètera rien sans l'assentiment dy Dr. J. Jacot G. ou de A. Crowley.
On s'engage à n'avoir aucune relation directe ou indirecte avec les femmes, indigènes ou étrangères, qu'on peut éviter.
Le Dr. J. Jacot G. est seul & suprême juge des questions d'hygiène ou de santé de la caravane.
Aleister Crowley est seul & suprême juge des questions se rapportant exclusivement à l'alpinisme & aux montagnes.
Les questions de route & du personnel des caravanes seront décidées par lui seul. Ses camarades se conformeront à ses résolutions.
Personne ne sera obligé de risquer sa vie, à cause du froid, du manque de nourriture, d'ascension périlleuse, pouvant entraîner une chute.
Toute discussion relative à cet accord doit être soumise à l'arbitrage; on ne peut invoquer de loi ou de jugement d'homme de loi.
Les clauses de cet accord lient tous les membres de l'expédition par leur honneur. Aleister Crowley
Dr. J. Jacot Guillarmod Ch. Reymond
A. C. R. de Righi Alexis A. Pache


There was no time to spare, if we were to attack Kanchenjunga this summer. It was arranged that the doctor was to get together the necessary provisions and equipment at once in Europe, while I went direct to Darjeeling to make arrangements with the government about transport and such communications as the heliograph, by which means we intended to signal our progress to observers on Signal Hill, above the station, to collect some of our old Kashmir shikaris if possible, to learn a little Nepali, and perhaps to enlist the assistance of enterprising individuals on the spot.

I left for London on May 6th and made such preparations with regard to my personal equipment as seemed desirable, and on May 12th left England for the East by the P & O S.S. Marmora. Eckenstein maintained constantly that the adventure was foolhardy; that, for his own part, he would never consent to go on a mountain again with Jacot Duillarmod; and that, in one way or another, his vanity, inexperience, fatuity and folly were certain to land us in disaster. I liked Tartarin so well, personally, that I unconsciously minimized his imbecility; and I was still much too young to realize how much mischief may be done indirectly be the mere presence of such a man, despite every precaution that prudence can suggest and all the supervision that caution can recommend. So I went into it --- and realize only of late how lucky I was to come out of it all!

It was part of my policy with regard to physical training to make the whole journey by sea. I fed up and lounged about and told stories till the twenty-third, when I arrived in Cairo. The city is abandoned by tourists by this time of the year on account of some superstition about the climate; but to me Cairo at the end of May was more pleasant that I had ever known it. I joined the P & O on the thirty-first. It was certainly hot in the Red Sea, but I remember with intense pleasure of wonder a single incident. Most of the passengers, including myself, slept on deck. I was awakened one morning before dawn by a dazzling ray of blue, as if a searchlight had been suddenly turned on me. The planet Jupiter had risen. Curiously enough an exactly parallel incident had taken place when I passed through the Red Sea from Chogo Ri, but on that occasion it was a crimson glare and the planet was Mars.

Blue Mushtari strove with red Mirrikh
which should be the master of the night,

as I wrote a few months later. The sensation was unfeignedly one of alarm which melted to wonder and rapture. Many years later I was indeed frightened for more than a moment of surprise by a quite normal celestial phenomenon. I was walking through unfrequented parts of Spain with a disciple. We were on a lonely road and night had fallen heavy and black. Suddenly a wedge of flaming scarlet stabbed my eyes. It increased rapidly


in size and (perhaps therefore) seemed to be approaching us with frightful velocity. I remember to this hour my startled halt and the fierce gaze I fixed upon the enemy. I remember steeling myself to meet annihilation. But it was merely the full moon, rising through a gap in the mountains.

I reached Bombay on June 9th. It was my first experience of the low country of India in the hot season. I did not find it unbearable and I would go back and live a month for the sake of just one mango. The mango is a very strangely sensitive fruit. The perfect flavour is the private property of a very limited district, as in the case of champagne. The mangoes of Bengal are as inferior to those of Bombay as second-rate brands of "boy" to the best vintages of Rheims. Those of Ceylon are like Asti Spumante.

I left Bombay the same day at half-past eleven. My first act was to go into the bathroom with which the best Indian trains are furnished and turn on the shower. Owing to the confined space, I was unable to beat the world's record for combined high and long jump! The carriage had been standing on a siding in the sun that the tank was full of scalding water. The worst of the journey was the smuts from the engine. I reached Calcutta at four o'clock in the morning of the eleventh and had breakfast and dinner with my old friend Thornton. The next day I left for Darjeeling. It is certainly one of the most impressive experiences that a railway can afford. One begins by jogging dully across the acrid plains of Bengal and then at Sara Ghat one finds oneself suddenly on the bank of the Ganges. I had seen the river before, higher up, and it is not particularly exciting, but here it flowed gigantically across a vast desolation. The time was sunset, the turbid water glowed with angry reds and oranges. There was an evil coppery sheen upon its waveless turmoil. Its breadth possessed a horror of its own; it was like a river of hell. Far away it reached to the right and left. There was nothing to break the horizon. I gave the desolate effect of ocean, but the boundlessness of the open sea suggests liberty. This river had told of barrenness and bitter bondage. The windless Ganges stank of putrefaction. It was not even the stench of rotting vegetation. It seemed as if it were the earth itself which was decaying. A more fantastic and more frightful sight I have never seen. We crossed this tartarean river in a steamer and the actual breadth may be estimated from the fact that dinner is served on board. It was a bad dinner, too; it completed the hellishness of the scene.

One lands. The eternal funeral march of the train is resumed. The heat of the night is stifling. The waning moon --- when laggard she looms up above the rim of the planet --- is almost as impotent as the stars to pierce the sultry haze of dust which chokes one. The coolest place on one's pillow is whereone's head has cooled it. One tosses in blind torment. There is no question of seeking relief; one has an instinct that nothing will do any good. Perhaps one drops off to sleep for a few moments, and those, however


few they be, are filled with aeons of delirious and demoniac dreams of suffocation dipped in despair.

Then suddenly comes dawn. The slow train stutters and stops. One is still an insect on the infernal plain, but there is a touch of coolness in the air which is not wholly the chill of death. The sticky sweat on one's body begins to evaporate and one's spirit to revive. There is a call to Chota Hazri. One steps out of the carriage. Good God!

Not many miles away across the level to the east rise thickly wooded slopes, a confused tangle both of hills (as it seems) and of trees, and behind them again, still higher heights of misty purple and green. And then --- good God! Is it a mirage? Is it a phantom of hope created by courage from the chaos of nightmare? For there, above the highest hills, at an angle for which even one's experience of Chogo Ri has not prepared me, there stands the mass of Kangchenjunga, faint rose, faint blue, clear white, in the dawn.

On reaching the foot of the hills, one transfers to a toy railway, which climbs the six thousand odd feet to Darjeeling by means of complicated curves and even loops. One ascends rapidly; the view constantly changes; one begins to appreciate the geology of the country as a whole. In the foreground the tropical vegetation is superbly thick and rich. One is so relieved by the change to cool shade and a suggestion of moisture that it comes as a shock to remember that this is the Teri, one of the most deadly fever districts in the world. By lunchtime the character of the vegetation is already markedly altered. The heavy tangle of the low country begins to give place to mountain sprightliness, but also the view tends to disappear altogether. One enters the region of almost eternal mist. The day is warm; and yet one is chilled to the bone. One is glad to come out on to an exposed ridge at Ghum and find the train begins to go down hill. It was the sign of the nearness of Darjeeling. I got off the train. With unfeigned satisfaction, I observed immediately that the current legends about the amazing powers of the coolies were true. The principal item of my baggage was a full-sized wardrobe trunk, but its contents were not mostly air, as usual with the American variety of this device. It contained comparatively few clothes; boots, axes, rifles, revolvers, scientific instruments and books made up the tale. I do not know how much it weighed, because the baggage clerk at Calcutta had asked me to bribe him with a rupee to declare it below the free allowance; but I should have been very sorry to have to do more than set it up on end unaided. A young girl coolie took it on her back, as I might have done a rucksack, and carried it at a good steady pace up the steep narrow paths to the Woodlands Hotel. I no longer disbelieved the story that a woman had once carried a full-sized upright piano all the way to Darjeeling from Siliguri on the plains.

Darjeeling is a standing or rather steaming example of official ineptitude.


Sir Joseph Hooker, one of the few men of brains who have explored these parts, made an extended survey of the district and recommended Chumbi as a hill station. "Oh well," they say, "Darjeeling is forty miles nearer than Chumbi. It will do rather better." So Darjeeling it was. The difference happens to be that Chumbi has a rainfall of some forty inches a year; Darjeeling some two hundred odd. The town is perched on so steep a ridge that there is practically no level road anywhere and one gets from one house to another by staircases as steep as ladders.

The whole town stinks of mildew. One's room is covered with mildew afresh every morning.

India being the last hope of the unmarriageable shabby-genteel, Darjeeling is lousy with young ladies whose only idea of getting a husband is to practise the piano. In such a climate it is of course impossible to keep a piano in tune for five minutes, even if one could get it into that condition. The food itself is as mildewed as the maidens. The hotels extort outrageous rates which they attempt to justify by describing the meals in bad French. To be reminded of Paillard is adding insult to injury, for what the dishes are made of I never did discover. Almost the whole time I was there I was suffering from sore throat, arthritis, every plague that pertains to chronic soddenness. Do I like Darjeeling? I do not!

On the other hand, I hound the heaven-born and the army as full of cordiality and comradeship as ever. As luck would have it, a new Worshipful Master was to be installed at the Lodge of Freemasons, so I went to the Jadugar-Khana and received a most brotherly welcome to the ceremony and banquet. There I met Sir Andrew Fraser, the lieutenant-governor, the commissioner, the deputy-commmissioner, the Maharaja of Kuch Behar and all sorts of delightful people. Everyone was only too willing to help in every way.

I wanted to start for the mountain as early in the season as possible. We had reliable information as to what the weather on the higher peaks was likely to be. We had no Zojila to cross, no forty marches to the foot of the peak but twelve or fifteen at the outside. If we found it continuously bad, one could retreat into the valley and recuperate almost as one can in the Alps, for Tsetam is only about twelve thousand feet.

I had reconnoitered Kangchenjunga from England, thanks to the admirable photographs of every side of the mountain taken by Signor Vittorio Sella, who accompanied some man named Freshfield in a sort of old-world tour around the mountain. I had also a map by Professor Garwood, the only trouble with which was that, not having been up the Yalung glacier himself, he had had to fill in the details from what he himself calls the unintelligible hieroglyphics of a native surveyor, who had not been there either.


It did not matter; but I was very much puzzled by the appearance of a peak where no peak should have been, according to the map.

The bandobast for this expedition was very different to that necessary for Chogo Ri, if one takes Darjeeling as the analogy to Srinigar, for there are no villages and supplies of men and food to be had anywhere on the way. I had to send on eight thousand pounds of food for the coolies to a depot as near the Yalung glacier as possible. The government transport officer, Major White, very kindly undertook to oversee this part of the transport and I left it entirely in his hands. Unfortunately, things did not go as well as could be desired. The coolies in this part of India compare very unfavourably with the Baltis and the Kashmiris. They are Tibetan Buddhists with an elaborate priestcraft and system of atonement which persuaded early Jesuit travellers that Satan had perpetrated --- in advance! --- a blasphemous parody on Christianity; for they found only trivial, formal distinctions between the religions of Lhasa and Rome. They are therefore accessible to emotion and acquire a sentimental devotion to people for whom they take a fancy. But they have no notion of self-respect, no loyalty, no honesty and no courage. Many of Major White's men deserted, either dumping their loads anywhere on the way or stealing them; and there was no means of controlling their actions. I prepared to expect trouble and was very glad that I had sent to Kashmir for three of our best men of 1902 --- Salama, Subhana and Ramzana.

My throat gave me such trouble that I decided to go to Calcutta for a few days --- from July 13th to 20th. I had in any case to purchase a number of additional stores, as Guillarmod had "economized". The bandobast went on in charge of the manager of the Drum Druid Hotel, to which I had moved shortly after my arrival. He was an Italian named Righi. He offered to join the expedition as transport officer and I, relying on his knowledge of the language and the natives, thought it best to accept him, though his character was mean and suspicious and his sense of inferiority to white men manifested itself as a mixture of servility and insolence to them and of swaggering and bullying to the natives. These traits did not seem so important in Darjeeling, but I must blame myself for not foreseeing that his pin brain would entirely give way as soon as he got out of the world of waiters.

I was quite happy about the mountain. On July 9th, only twenty-six days after my arrival in Darjeeling, the rain stopped for a few minutes and I was able to get a good view of the mountain through my glasses. It entirely confirmed my theoretical conclusions; the highest peak was almost certainly easy to reach from the col to the west of it, and there could be no doubt that it was an easy walk up to that col by a couloir of sorts which I called Jacob's Rake (a "portmanteau" of Jacob's ladder and Lord's rake). The word couloir does not quite describe it; the word "rake" does, but I can't define rake. Anyone who wants to know what I mean must go to Cumberland.


The foot of this rake is in a broad snow basin and the only possible question was whether that snow basin was reachable from the Yalung glacier. I have told already of my ability to describe accurately parts of a mountain which I cannot see. I judged the snow basin accessible. My clairvoyance turned out to be exactly correct.

But more promising even that the feasibility of the route was the appearance of the mountain. Despite the perpetual bad weather at Darjeeling, which made me feel absolutely hopeless, there was no new snow at all on the mountain. Only forty-five miles away, it had been continuous fine weather. I went down to Calcutta with a light heart. I had had good news too from Tartarin. He had persuaded a Swiss army officer, Alexis Pache, to join us. The other man of the party was named Remond, who had had a fair amount of guideless experience on the Alps.

On the fifteenth I had a telegram from the doctor that he had been shipwrecked in the Red Sea. I might have known it! The three Swiss arrived on July 31st. I had got everything into such a forward state of preparation that we were able to start of August 8th. There was nothing to be done but to pack the baggage which the doctor seemed to have brought out, in the units which I had got ready for him. The doctor seemed to be suffering from ill-health from various trifling causes. He seemed a shade irritable and fussy. I suspect the cause was partly physical. His sense of his own importance was hurting him. Reymond I liked well enough; a quiet if rather dour man, who seemed to have a steady mind and common sense. But Pache won my heat from the moment I met him --- a simple, unaffected, unassuming gentleman. He was perfectly aware of his own inexperience on mountains, and therefore in a state to acquire information by the use of his eyes rather than of his ears.

Everything went off without a hitch, except the affair of the depot. We learnt on August 6th that the coolies had dumped the food at Chabanjong, scarce eighteen miles north-west of Darjeeling, instead of at Jongri, thirty miles due north. This fact, among others, led to my deciding to approach Kangchenjunga by way of the ridge which leads from Ghum practically directly to the head of a side valley through which a tributary of the Yalung Chu descends from theKang La.

Our party consisted of five Europeans, three Kashmiris, the sirdar of the coolies, six personal servants and seventy-nine regular coolies. We left Darjeeling at ten sixteen on Tuesday, August 8th. The expedition had begun.


< >

Back to index