Metal, Mountains, Magick Part III

Metal, Mountains, Magick Part Three

Climbing with Crowley was not always rosy, as his forays further afield into Asia will attest. After ascending most of the Alps and several mountains in Mexico, including Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl and an aborted attempt on Volcan de Colima (which was erupting at the time melting their boots), Crowley and Eckenstein hatched a plan to tackle ‘the savage mountain’, K2. Eckenstein had experience of the Karakorum before, it was here he fell out with the expedition leader Martin Conway and therefore most of the Alpine Club. After two years of preparing, they set off with four other European climbers, in March 1901.

K2 was considered un-climbable and was only successfully summited in 1954, a far harder and challenging climb than Everest which is only 237m larger. As the group were to find out, the window of opportunity for summiting is extremely small and the weather is particularly harsh as well as changeable. The party had to deal with the extremes of sub-zero temperatures whilst at the same time getting sunburnt.

It’s important to realise just how difficult travel was at this time let alone mountain climbing. It took 14 days just to reach the foot of mountain and required a small army of people. Along with the six European climbers, were a squad of over 150 porters, 20 servants and 50 ponies for the extremely tough journey. They all had to be fed, which led to 18 sheep, 15 goats and several dozen hens beginning the ascent of the north east spur.

On top of this, for his intellectual nourishment, Crowley insisted on taking his ridiculous travelling library. He argued that mental health was just as important as physical. As wise as this seems, he proved to be not a good team player on this trip. He was an excellent climbing partner but his selfishness and egocentric behaviour came out in the most extreme of places and he did not work well in a team. His clothing was also unsuitable, being mostly cotton items he had purchased in India rather than the more sensible tweeds wore by the rest of the climbers. The porters and servants were also inadequately dressed for altitude in their goat skin clothing, but were better prepared than Crowley.

Crowley centre right, Eckenstein sits next to him.

Crowley’s job was to lead small groups and establish camps at differing altitudes. He excelled at this, loving being in charge of what was Eckenstein’s trip, and no doubt playing the lord he proclaimed himself to be. But this was not to be a successful ascent. They were stuck at Camp X, (18,733 feet) for two weeks due to the weather, reaching as high as 22,000 feet from Camp XI but this is as high as they would get. It remained however an altitude record for seven years and not to be beaten on K2 until 1939. Crowley himself suffered from lice, dhobi itch, indigestion, constipation as well as having hallucinations, a temperature of 103˚F and had problems breathing. All the symptoms of malaria.

Whilst ascending back to camp, one of the climbers, Jules Jacot-Guillarmod, returned without his porter. The man had fallen into a crevasse and Guillarmod cut the rope. Disgusted by his behaviour, Eckenstein, Crowley and the others descended from camp to attempt an ill-fated rescue. The porter was lost, everyone was ill, camp life was incredibly difficult and the climb was over by August 3rd. They had been on K2 for 68 days and only 8 had clear weather. This would became another record for the longest time spent at altitude.

Clearly forgetting the behaviour he found so despicable on K2, once back at Boleskine, Crowley and Guillarmod made plans to conquer Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. At 28,169 feet it was a harder climb than even the unconquerable K2, only 82 feet its junior. Few Europeans had even seen it at this time. Crowley would only sign up to the expedition if he was to be the absolute leader and this was granted. They first approached Guy Knowles who was also on the K2 expedition as being a partner but unsurprisingly, Knowles refused. Perhaps he remembered Crowley had pulled a gun on him whilst refusing to ascend further up K2 in a storm. Eckenstein himself also declined. Kanchenjunga was dangerous and he did not consider Guillamord to be up to the task. He also hated him, partly for leaving the porter behind.  Despite the warnings from his closest climbing companion, Crowley -aiming for another altitude record- pushed on with the planning.

Crowley left Boleskine for India on the 6th May but it wasn’t until arriving in Darjeeling on the 9th July that he got his first view of Kanchenjunga through binoculars. He concluded from that distance that the western approach from the col was the route they would take and also that it would be an easy walk, before ascending the south west face. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and Crowley’s famed recklessness, stubbornness and arrogance was to end this ambitious trip in disaster and death.

The rest of the party reached Darjeeling by the end of July. A shipwreck in the red sea had slowed their journey again highlighting how long and dangerous international travel was at the turn of the 20th century. Guillarmod had recruited only two others climbers, both experienced alpinists, though it was made clear that on this trip, Crowley was the boss. They set off on the 8th of August, again with a large group that included 3 Kashmiris he had employed on K2 and around 230 local porters carrying seven tons of supplies. They had 200 miles of ridges in between them and the foot of the mountain, but luckily the going was relatively easy to start. Heavy forest slowed their approach to the mountain as did the constant rain. Leaky waterproofs and leeches made every day a struggle.

Unsurprisingly, the south west face was not quite the easy walk Crowley had anticipated. It was obviously too dangerous, but it had been chosen and Crowley was the undisputed leader. The team almost immediately began to fall apart, mostly due to Crowley’s behaviour and treatment of everyone. He insisted on this route and pressed on in what was clearly reckless abandon, unconcerned with the sacredness the local people held the mountain in. The porters were not properly equipped; the climbers had crampons, the porters went barefoot. Nevertheless, Camp V was established at 6,200m and from there an attempt made it to 6,500m before an avalanche they caused forced them back. Crowley claims to have reached 7,620m.

After this, and fed up with Crowley’s arrogance, the others made a risky decision to descend to Camp III late in the day. This was against Crowley’s advice, according to his own writing, and he saw it as mutinous, but the camp was too small and ill-equipped for them all. The lack of appropriate footwear on the porters caused one of them to slip, and because all of them were roped together an avalanche was set off. Three porters and one of the European climbers, Alexis Pache, died. Hearing the frantic cries for help the remainder of Camp V set off to help, Crowley stayed in his sleeping bag drinking tea and then slept. He passed the site of the accident the next day upon descent and didn’t stop to speak to the survivors or offer any assistance in their rescue efforts. He continued straight to Darjeeling where he apparently pocketed the remainder of the expedition funds.

Crowley also showed little remorse upon returning home, gossiping about his partners and bemoaning their lack of skill. He wrote his version of events for the Daily Mail, possibly even in his tent the night of the fateful accident, exaggerating his own involvement and achievements. In the end though, it did no good. His mountaineering reputation was ruined and even Eckenstein would no longer put up with him. He made a trip to the Alps a few years later, all the while planning for more Himalayan adventure, but he would never return nor make any record attempts again. His already quite unpopular name had fallen even further out of favour and he was quickly forgotten amongst the mountaineering community. He knew his mountaineering days were over and he was to never climb seriously again.

Photo by Guillarmod, Getty images.

Crowley was undoubtedly a world class mountaineer. His progress in the field stained by his other passions and lifestyle choices. He was to become and remain a drug addict for most of his life but it was mountaineering that gave this young man a sense of power where he lacked it. Had he ignored his magickal calling, he no doubt would be remembered as a pioneering mountaineer having broken many records during this nascent time period of the sport. His major climbs in the Himalayas may not have been successful but they were attempted nearly 50 years before they were finally climbed. His climbing received criticism at the time, he was deemed reckless and along with Eckenstein used unconventional methods such as solo climbing, un-roped pitches, short ice axes and crampons. But these techniques, and some of his routes, were undoubtedly ahead of their time and paved the way for modern mountaineering.

Bruce Bryce is going to take a break from thinking about Alesteir Crowley.

Currently listening to Ozzy, Dio and anything on Library of the Occult Records.

Metal, Mountains, Magick

Metal, Mountains, Magick Part One

Keyboard intros to metal songs aren’t really a thing. I love a bit of Van Halen, DLR era thank you Sammy, but alas, Jump isn’t metal. The Final Countdown? Cool, I suppose, when you’re 8. It’s very famous, but it’s maybe a victim of its own ridiculous success to be ever taken seriously. And of course it’s not metal either. Likewise the awesome, and heavy, Tom Sawyer by Rush. There has to be a load of Dream Theatre songs with keyboard intros, but I’ve never listened to that band in my life and I’m not dipping into their weighty back catalogue any time soon. Queensryche? Probably a heap of power metal too and there will most likely be some symphonic black metal that I can’t think of right now. Curse You All Men! Seventh Son, the song, is cool but that’s more synthy and it’s the guitars that actually play the riff. From Out of Nowhere by Faith No More is a good one. My personal favourite though is Rainbow in the Dark from Dio’s near perfect debut album, Holy Diver. It happens to be metal as fuck as well.

Holy Diver, you’ve been down too long in the midnight sea.

But the king of the bat-shit crazy keyboard intros of metal has to be Mr Crowley by Ozzy (see what I did there?) from 1981’s Blizzard of Oz. It’s a minute long, bears no relation to the rest of the song and unlike Rainbow in the Dark, it doesn’t reoccur at all. Genius. It was played by Don Airey, who seemed to be in every single significant band of the era, including Rainbow, Sabbath, MSG and is currently being John Lord in Deep Purple. He even played keyboards on Painkiller! Yup, that’s the same Painkiller by the ultimate heavy metal masters Judas Priest, though I’ll need to have a re-listen to find where the keyboards actually are*. Despite his mind-blowing credentials, (unsurprisingly if you’re aware of the Osbourne’s nefarious treatment of their musicians), Don wasn’t given writers credit for the intro to one of Ozzy’s most famous songs.

Buy vinyl, listen to metal.

So why is the intro it even there? In the near 40 years this song will have been played live, they’ve never just missed it out, despite the intro having nothing to do with the track itself, musically anyway. The song would be unthinkable without it. What it does do, however, is set the theme of the song up. When Ozzy come in with the opening line “Miiiiisstttteerrrr Crowley, what went on in your head” for a full minute previously, you’ve been listening to this layered ceremonial piece that conjures up the world of magic, or magick in this case, that the real Mr Crowley created. I can imagine him swanning about in his ritualistic garb and triangular hat with an endless loop of Don Airey’s keyboards going on. I think Mr Crowley would’ve liked it.

Getty images

But what the hell is all this metal talk doing on an outdoors blog? Aha! As perhaps a counter point to my previous piece about the Reverend Armstrong, who better to balance things out on the side of all things evil than the man once dubbed the wickedest in the world, whose own mother gave him his nickname The Beast as a child, the inimitable Aleister Crowley?

And it follows, why would Crowley feature in a blog known mostly for its pursuits of the beauty and inspiration of the outdoors, devote a thousand words to the great beast himself? Well the answer to this question is often missed or forgotten by those interested in Crowley, whether its occultists or Thelemic adherents or as an inspiration to countless heavy metal bands**. Like the good Reverend Armstrong, turns out Mr Crowley himself was not only a fan of the outdoors but a shit hot mountaineer as well.

Born into a wealthy family in 1875, Crowley had the luxury, surely a rarity at the time, of being well travelled as a youngster. He recalls his first trips to France and Switzerland in his autobiography at aged only 8, remembering the beauty of the sunrise over Rigi Kulm and the waterfalls surrounding the mountain. As a youth he was sickly and prescribed plenty of fresh air to treat a form of kidney disease called albuminuria, advice which he seems to have adhered to, taking to hillwalking in Wales, Scotland and the north of England with his appointed tutors. He took golf lessons in St Andrews of all places, with professional golfer Andrew Kirkaldy who placed 2nd in the Open Championship in 1889. This, crossing the path of the right people at the right time, was to be a reoccurring theme throughout Crowley’s life.

Getty images

But it was holidaying with his mother during the summer of 1891 that Crowley was to experience a life changing trip to the Isle of Skye. Whilst staying at one of my favourite haunts, the Sligachan Inn, which was as popular then as it is now with people seeking not only the fresh air but access to adventure, the young Crowley fell in with a bunch of mountaineers that included Sir Joseph Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery and father of modern surgery. Encouraged by his mother for the good of his health, the young Aleister, then still known as Edward, went off for what he suspected would be a quick jaunt up a hill. His experience climbing Sgurr nan Gillean gave him a new perspective and love of mountains and mountaineering which he was to fall passionately into for the foreseeable future.

Mountaineering then was a very different pastime to the one we recognise today. This was a new sport at the time and popular with the wealthy. However it was extremely dangerous, the use of ropes in its infancy and ice axe and crampons being almost non-existent, more of this later however. Until the second half of the 19th century, the mountains of the British Isles were used solely by snooty Alpinists, in training for their forthcoming seasons, or as was becoming more popular in Crowley’s day, in the more far flung areas of the British Empire. The Welsh mountains, the Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland as well as more localised rocky outcrops throughout the British Isles, however, offered a new and wholly unique take on the climbing experience. At the very least, each area is notorious for its ever changing weather systems. A lot of new experimenting was happening on these mountains in the latter part of the 19th century as rock climbing became a world-wide sport unto itself, and not just one for the Alps. The British Isles at the time was the place to be for this new breed of unconventional climber, and like it or not, Aleister Crowley, the great beast, was at the centre of this.

To find out how much, be sure to catch part two next week. And listen to the song if you don’t know it. I’m a big fan of the live version from the Randy Rhodes tribute album, the soloing is incredible.

Bruce Bryce is a writer of horror fiction amongst other things

*Touch of Evil of course! Great song, so I’ll put it as number three on my top ten keyboard metal intros.

**For more of this see Alan Averill of Primordial’s excellent podcast Agitators Anonymous, who recently did an episode about Crowley’s continued influence on metal.