Metal, Mountains, Magick Part II

Metal, Mountains, Magick Part Two

Alesteir Crowley was to partake in his new hobby of mountaineering obsessively during whatever breaks he had from school. In his Easter holiday of 1892 he climbed the four highest fells in the Lake District, Scafell Pikes, Helvellyn, Skiddaw and Saddleback all within 24 hours. Increasing in confidence, he set out to conquer new routes, no doubt with the arrogance and self-belief that was to continue throughout his life. He claimed the first recorded ascent of Beachy Head in 1894, a notoriously difficult climb even now due to the nature of the famous chalky cliffs. Crowley even allegedly naming two of the climbs, Etheldreda’s Pinnacle (after his dog) and Crowley’s Crack, which he got stuck on and had to be rescued by the coastguard. Both of these routes have not survived as they have since entered the sea due to a rock fall in 2001. He also climbed the Devil’s Chimney, though interestingly, he didn’t name this one.

Crowley at Beachy Head

Crowley continued to climb and hone his skills. It allowed him freedom. After a strict religious upbringing as part of the Plymouth Brethren, it was whole heartedly encouraged by his family. Yes it was good for his health but it kept him away from the maids. Climbing gave him a chance to test himself and challenge his abilities. He continued to discover new climbs and claim new routes throughout Scotland, Snowdonia and the Lake District.

Crowley on the Tooth

His first Alpine trip in the summer of 1894, was made in order to learn how to climb on snow and ice. When his guide had to be rescued from certain death by Crowley’s rope he decided, much like he had done at Beachy Head, to teach himself and the guide was promptly sacked. This was to remain a constant theme of Crowley’s mountaineering career, preferring to either climb solo or with a single partner, eschewing guides and being highly critical of those who use them. Crowley believed in engaging with the mountain, spending the time and effort needed to fully know the route on it. His ideas went against the mountain climbing theory of the time. Whilst in the Alps he made a lone ascent of The Ortler via the Hintergrat and returned to England a proficient snow and ice climber.

In December of that year he was to become a member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. His membership was seconded by none other than J. Norman Collie, one of the most important of the early Scottish climbers, whose memorial statue looking toward the Cuillin Hills from the aforementioned Sligachan, was unveiled in September 2020.

An ascent of the Eiger followed the year after his first Alps trip and he knocked off many other alpine peaks. He returned in the summers of 1896 and 1897 usually to the Bernese Oberland area of Switzerland.  He documented the first traverse of the Vuibez Serac glacier, as well as the Aiguilles Rouges without guides, and registered the second ascent of the north-north-east ridge of Mont Collon, though the small group had to stay overnight on the mountain and were met by their own search party in morning. Following this, his membership to the Alpine Club was proposed, again by Collie. This would have been considered an honour but the club were considered by Crowley to be non-climbers, they were wealthy gentlemen who were taken up mountains by professional guides. His nomination was withdrawn. Crowley, a reckless and unconventional climber anyway, would not have been welcome.

Around this time Crowley met yet another climbing pioneer, Oscar Eckenstein, who was to become as influential in Crowley’s life as he was in the sport of mountaineering. Both men shared similarly disparaging views on the Alpine Club and their members, and were not shy of sharing those opinions publicly. They both believed that mountaineering was a test of character over strength or muscle and became climbing partners despite their completely opposing techniques. Eckenstein, unlike Crowley, climbed carefully and thoughtfully, which you would be forgiven in thinking this was the latter’s approach given his background in chess. The new partners planned trips to the Himalayas whilst climbing in the Lake District. Visiting the Alps in 1899, they tested out the use of short ice axes, a pioneering idea by Eckenstein, as well as trialling Eckenstein’s own invention, his revolutionary ‘claws’, the forerunners of the modern day crampons. This allowed mountaineers to climb on ice without the need to cut steps and would not become accepted practice in the mountaineering world until well into the 20th century.

Photo by Abraham Brothers. Cropped by Cullen328. –, Public Domain,

Crowley did a lot of climbing in the Lake District and Scotland at this time but he had an ulterior motive, he was looking for a house. Not just any old house though; it had to be a suitable enough place to carry out a lengthy magical rite known as the Abramelin. He found it in Boleskine house near Foyers on the eastern bank of Loch Ness, which aside from being perfect temple to perform the ritual had a great view of the loch and vertical 150 feet crags on the property. Crowley loved Boleskine, the scenery, the view, the surrounding hills, not to mention having one of the darkest and deepest bodies of water in Europe on his doorstep, appealed to him.

Getty images

Crowley fully adopted the lifestyle of highland laird, fishing for salmon, shooting grouse, rabbit and clay pigeons. He spent countless hours exploring the mountains, stalking deer and cross country skiing in the winter. Most of this was done wearing full highland dress, Crowley living up to the Laird of Boleskine title, one of the many he gave himself, well. But he was also to show how ahead of his time he was. In a poem entitled the Falls of Foyers he rails against the proposals to use the local falls for hydro-electric power. His environmentalist pleas were ignored and the plans went ahead regardless.

Bruce Bryce needs to get away from reading about Alesteir Crowley for a bit. Third and final part next week explores Crowley’s disastrous trips to Asia and the end of his mountaineering career.

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