Prelude to everest: Alexander M. Kellas and the 1920 high altitude scientific expedition to Kamet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Following his untimely death due to illness during the early stages of the first Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition in 1921, Alexander M. Kellas has received relatively little attention in either mountaineering or scientific literature. He remains an obscure figure despite his noteworthy contributions to high altitude physiology and exploration. He can be considered not only one of the finest exploratory Himalayan mountaineers in history, but also the first person to apply state-of-the-art knowledge of high altitude physiology to field investigations at altitudes over 6000 m. By the time of his death, it is extremely likely that Kellas had spent more time above 6000 m than anyone on Earth, undertaking no fewer than eight Himalayan expeditions between 1907 and 1921. This article revisits and examines in some detail the most ambitious high altitude physiological field study undertaken through the second decade of the 20th century, A. M. Kellas and Henry T. Morshead's 1920 Kamet Expedition. This undertaking by Kellas and Morshead was unique because it specifically emphasized investigation of the practical difficulties inherent in climbing at very high altitudes. During this endeavor, Kellas carried out the first rigorous tests of the value of supplementary oxygen for climbing at high altitude. The results of the field studies conducted during the 1920 Kamet Expedition provided strong support for the use of supplementary oxygen at high altitude. However, after Kellas died on the approach march to Everest the following year, the British mountaineering establishment did not again have a similar proponent or exponent of extreme altitude field research until physiologist Griffith Pugh once again took up the challenge in the early 1950s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)364-379
Number of pages16
JournalHigh Altitude Medicine and Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Physiology
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Prelude to everest: Alexander M. Kellas and the 1920 high altitude scientific expedition to Kamet'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this