Been back on the climbing wall for almost a year now, putting in a couple of sessions a week. We’re going to try and get out and about a bit more this year, with one possible destination being the ‘Old Man of Hoy’, featured above in one of the BBC’s first and – at the time – most ambitious outside broadcasts.
Following on from enjoying The Epic of Everest (1924) at the BFI last year, climbing pal Seema gifted me a satisfyingly moth-eared 1946 edition of The Kangchenjunga Adventure at Christmas. This is turning out to be a fine read, offering as it does an account of an attempt made in 1930 on the irritable younger sibling of Mounts Everest and K 2. A couple of chapters in, I already have some excerpts worth sharing:
Only those who can afford the time and expense necessary to penetrate the remote fastnesses from which they spring can view the glories of Everest or the Karakorams, but Kangchenjunga is to be seen by anyone who cares to visit the hill town of Darjeeling, or climb one of the lower foot-hills. Thus man is able to turn his tired eyes towards the snows, and reflect that there are still worlds unconquered towards which he can gaze for inspiration and hope. [P13]
Kangchenjunga had scored heavily. Two attempts had been repulsed with merciless severity, but it must be confessed that the attempts were of so weak a nature that the great mountain had no need to call in its real weapons of defence: storm and altitude. Serene and untroubled, it had not even attempted to kill its attackers; it had let them kill themselves. [P26]
It is over the graves of former mistakes, and not on the wings of new ideas, that the climber will at length tread the highest summits in the world. [P40]
Mountaineering begets longevity and longevity mountaineering. (Of the late Captain J. P. Farrar having climbed many first-class peaks at the age of seventy-one.) [P41]
And this, which, aside from evoking themes I’ve tried to explore in my own writing, keys strongly into what I find so compelling about the idea of film-making:
Every new thought, or new invention of the mind is adventure. But the highest form of adventure is the blending of the mental with the physical. It may be a mental adventure to sit in a chair and think out some new invention, but the perfect adventure is that in which the measure of achievement is so great that life itself must be risked. A life so risked is not risked uselessly, and sacrifice is not to be measured in terms of lucre.
Mental alertness is dependent on physical virility, and an inscrutable Nature decrees that man shall ever war against the elemental powers of her Universe. If man were to acknowledge defeat, he would descend in the scale of life and sink once more to the animal. But there has been given to him that “something” which is called the “Spirit of Adventure.” It was this spirit that sustained Captain Scott and his companions, and Mallory and Irvine. Even in their last harsh moments the crew of the R. 101 knew that they did not perish uselessly. Mr G. Winthrop wrote, “Will the impulse to adventure – which has coincided so happily for a time with that ‘feeling’ for mountains – die with its opportunity? Or will new outlets be found during yet another stage in our conquest of the elements?” I think they will, when man has conquered the Earth, he will turn his eyes to the stars. [P11-12]
As a parting note, fascinating to discover that one of the first attempts on Kangchenjunga was led, in August 1905, by famed occultist and so-called ‘wickedest man in the world’ Aleister Crowley. All the members of the expedition perished save Crowley, who subsequently explained in correspondence that he had been reluctant to assist one stricken companion on account of the fact that it would have taken him ‘ten minutes to dress’.