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The Kellas Compas

A Scottish-Indian Connection

1968 To the eight-year-old boy it was a dream come true. To be holding in his hand a precious object that had once belonged to his hero. They were all his heroes really, those brave and intrepid mountaineers of the 1920s, who, dressed in tweeds and stout boots, had attempted to scale the world’s highest mountain. But the real hero, his hero, hadn’t come from a privileged background, wasn’t an army ‘chap’; but rather a small, wiry Scot from Aberdeen, the man whom time would prove, did more than any other to make the ascent of Everest an eventual possibility, even though he would not set foot on that mountain of mountains himself. That 1921 expedition was to be the death of his hero Alexander Kellas. Yet in his hand he was holding the Kellas Compass.

The compass had travelled a long way since its final journey with its owner, fifty-two-year-old Himalayan pioneer Dr Alexander Kellas. A medical chemist, Kellas’ greatest passion was mountaineering, which he combined with research into the effects of high altitudes on climbers: analysing the physiology of mountainsickness and testing new ideas about mountain acclimatisation. Research that wasn’t simply theoretical; he had been climbing in the Indian subcontinent since 1907.

He certainly didn’t look like the typical mountaineer; there was nothing military or square-jawed in his bearing. Quite the opposite in fact: narrow, hunched shoulders, short-sighted with thick spectacles. Nevertheless he explored and climbed in areas no Westerner had reached before. He’s sometimes known as ‘the man not in the photograph’, for although he took his camera with him wherever he went, he’s very seldom in the pictures himself. Yet it’s thanks to him that we have some of the finest early shots of the Himalayas.

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iScot Magazine December 2017 116 jam packed pages of the best craic in Scotland from the only truly independent pro Scottish magazine.