I am a mountaineer, adventurer and writer. I have been venturing to the world’s mountain ranges for many years in search of challenging fulfilment and inspiration. One of the best mountain ranges to more than satisfy that challenge is the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.
I first came to Huaraz in 1989 as a member of the ‘Social Climbers Expedition’. The most spectacular mountain scenery of the Andes is found in the Cordillera Blanca. The highest mountain is Huascaran Sur at 6768m, being the fourth highest in the 7200 Km long Andes.
In 1989, a group of nine amateur mountaineers, the Social Climbers, held what was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records to be the world’s highest formal dinner party on top of the mountain, as documented by Chris Darwin (great, great grandson of Charles Darwin) and John Amy in their book, The Social Climbers, raising $20,000 for charity.
The concept of the highest dinner party in the world was that of Oxford college educated Darwin. I found him to be an unusual personality who would have a go at just about anything. During his Oxford years he wanted to attract publicity for his music band. And so, dressed up in a chicken suit, he jumped off a bridge into the London Thames river to disrupt the running of the famous and time honoured Oxford to Cambridge boat race. He received the publicity, and then some!
The Social Climbers were not totally aware of the effort required and the hidden dangers of Huascaran. Chris Darwin originally planned to stage the dinner party on Mt Everest, however, was advised by experienced Australian guides, Tim McCartney-Snape and Milton Sams, that Huascaran would be a better option!
The group consisted of a cultured English Lady, Tracey; an Australian film stunt woman, Avril; a Base Jumping Doctor, Glen; a Sky-scraper climbing Spider-Man; a circus performing grandfather, Ballantyne (named after a chocolate sponsor); an Oxford trained English Lawyer, Neil, Australian School of Mountaineering Director, Derik Murphy and, of course, Chris Darwin. Major sponsor, Ansett Airlines of Australia, provided an Air Hostess, Deirdre (not the foremost tragic heroine of Irish Mythology), who won a competition to join the Expedition. The overall team (30 members) also included well-known guides, Milton Sams, Nico and Sebastian De La Cruz from Argentina, Sherpa Tenzing from Nepal and myself.
The acclimatisation mountain was Pisco (5750m), a non-technical trekking peak with a fantastic view of greater ice pinnacles surrounding it. The plan was to film a warm-up dinner party on Pisco’s ample summit. The Social Climbers, along with Guides, Porters, Kitchen staff (including three bonita Limenas) and Film crew hauled Louis XIVth table and chairs all the way to the summit! Sexual and comic banter began to develop. However, the possible threat of recriminations and lawsuits forbids me to elaborate! Summit day proved to be spectacular for filming. Documentary film footage and Magazine still shots were eventually shown around the World. With the warm-up a great success, the main event (Huascaran) would prove to be a far greater challenge!
1989 was a somewhat dangerous period in the Peruvian mountains, with the threat of the Sendero Luminoso Terrorists. A police chief guarded the group at the Los Portales Hotel. After regaining necessary calories in the Huaraz restaurants and bars, the Social Climbers headed off to Huascaran. Four camps were set up for the assault. At Camp 2, a huge Avalanche from the Ice-fall awoke the inexperienced Alpinists to the real dangers of Mountaineering. I climbed Huascaran 18 years later in 2007, and noted the changing dangerous effect of global warming.
The Social Climbers were adapting surprising well to the thin air. Following a rest day on the vast glacier (including crevasse rescue training) we roped up for the climb, traversing the Ice-fall, to Camp 3 (Gaganta) on the col between the North and South Peaks. Unfortunately, the beautiful Air Hostess, Deirdre, turned back at Base Camp after declaring that one would have to be mad to attempt such a big pile of crap!
The final climb
Eventually, loaded up with Louis XIVth table and chair parts, Champaign and Trout, we roped up and climbed through the heavily crevassed route towards the summit, far too late in the morning for margin of safety! The last of the group arrived at the summit after 3pm in white-out conditions with minus 37 degree temperature. Nevertheless, on top were assembled the required participants and equipment for a formal dinner party. Louis XIVth dining table and chairs, formal top hats, tails and gowns, frozen wine and candelabra, flowers, smoked chicken in mango, frozen trout with vegetables, cherry jubilee and Ballantynes chocolates. It was possibly the shortest formal dinner party in history. Filming proved to be a nightmare on the summit and so the footage from the more pleasant dinner party on Pisco became the media focus. We all returned to Huaraz to celebrate a remarkable success, the likes of which had never been achieved before! The real party began!
In late 2015 I wrote a book of my experiences as a mountaineer. ‘Alpamayo To Everest; Its Not About The Summit’ is my account of personal development and enrichment of body and mind. I climb mountains not only for the challenge and achievement. It’s not (only) about the summit. It’s about the journey to the mountain, rich cultural exchange, history, decision making and problem solving. It’s also about the sheer enjoyment of being alive and free of urban pressures amongst the most powerful and incredible scenery the planet has to offer. To those who are willing to leave their comfort zones and explore the great wilderness it is the richest, most rewarding lifestyle that one can choose. The book includes my struggles with some of the highest mountains in the world while suffering from an inefficient heart problem. My accounts of rescues, natural disasters, a mixture of success and heartbreak, complete the picture.
By: Ian Hibbert