The K2 Man (And His Molluscs)

The Extraordinary Life of Haversham Godwin-Austen

by Catherine Moorehead

Neil Wilson Publishing £24.99

It has to be said, the first thing that strikes any reader of this meticulously researched and learned tome is the tiny typeface – so small that I frequently had to resort to the magnifying glass. The second thing is to grasp the bull by the horns and deal with the subject that will be of most interest to the climbing fraternity. In September 1856 at a distance of over 130 miles Lieutenant Thomas Montgomerie of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India spotted a large triangular mountain on the horizon which he labelled K2, ‘K’ standing for Karakoram. Six years later Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen penetrated the Baltoro Glacier as far as Urdukas. Climbing a steep hill behind his camp site he was rewarded with the sight of the top third of K2 behind intervening ridges. On that basis, for Godwin-Austen got no closer, many maps at the time (and some considerably later) called the peak Mount Godwin-Austen. Some say that, unlike Sir George Everest, Godwin-Austen at least saw the mountain, and now has a glacier named after him, but K2 became the recognised name.

Catherine Moorehead’s fascinating biography deals with much, much more than K2. Godwin-Austen was a talented water colour painter, a geologist, ornithologist, zoologist and malacologist. He also married three times and the great polymath embraced Anglicism, Islam and Bhuddism. Whether or not he deserves the appellation on the rear cover of ‘the greatest mountaineer of his day’ is a moot point, but he was certainly an interesting character and Ms Moorehead deserves our congratulations for producing the definitive book on the subject. But, oh, that typeface.

Jim Curran


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