Crystal under a southern sky, Alpamayo is the most beautiful one

A photo of a Peruvian mountain that was first published in Germany, gave Alpamayo the illustrious fame of becoming the world’s most beautiful mountain. In July 1966 the German mountaineer’s magazine Alpinismus published an article called Kristall unter südlichem Himmel, (translated: Crystal under a southern sky) based on a survey among experts in mountaineering, who had earlier elected the Alpamayo as the most beautiful mountain in the world, which was the name given to it by Claude Kogan (1919–1959), the French female mountaineer who was the first conqueror of Alpamayo. Alpamayo Mountain beat Mount Godwin-Austen or Chhogori (K2) in the photo contest, although both pictures obtained four stars in the article.

Huaraz-born former journalist and mountaineer César Morales Arnao was quoted in the article saying, “A perfect, thousand-meter-high pyramid of fir and ice sticks like a crystal into the deep blue sky of the south.” In fact, it was Mr. Morales who had sent the first picture of Mount Alpamayo to the German magazine, and encouraged friends to do the same. Various Internet sources claim that the eventual winning picture was taken by American photographer Leigh Ortenburger. Other people quoted in the article in Alpinismus are Hubert Adams ´Ad´ Carter, who stated that the Alpamayo Mountain is “so pure white and wonderfully symmetrical that its elegant form inspires everyone”.

The Huaraz Telegraph interviewed 93-year-old Mr. Morales, the first Peruvian to conquer Mont Blanc, crossed the Atlantic via the Panama Canal guarding carefully the bodies of two German mountaineers who suffered a deadly climbing accident in the Cordillera Huayhuash. When he arrived in Hamburg, Germany, he personally delivered the remains of the deceased climbers to their families. We met Mr. Morales in Lima and found out about his life, mountain adventures and future goals.

Mr. Morales thanks for having us today. Please tell us how your interest in mountaineering started?

Well, in 1955 or 1956 I was working in the Cordillera Blanca for an organization that monitored dangerous lakes. Being in the mountains so much, I had the opportunity of meeting of one of the first summiteers of Mount Alpamayo. One of them was Claude Kogan from France, who sadly got killed in 1959 in the Himalayas. It was her who gave away a sleeping back and a pair of mountaineering boots. This is how I started to get involved more and more in mountaineering. But this is not all; I had taken the first ever photograph of Alpamayo back in 1949. This happened around the time that ice avalanches fell into Laguna Jancarurish. The resulting aluvión caused up to 500 deaths along the Quebrada Los Cedros (Geohazards: Natural and man-made – G. J. McCall – P. 153). I believe that I took the picture in 1950 but am not sure, I do remember that I didn’t use the picture at the time and archived it.

I also met the Austrian geographer and mountain researcher Hans Kinzl (1899–1979). He had come for the third time to Peru to do mountaineering and research, on which he made a couple of very interesting publications (1933: Cordillera Blanca und mittleres Santa-Tal (Peru), 1940: Los glaciares de la Cordillera Blanca, 1944: Die anthropogeographische Bedeutung der Gletscher und die künstliche Flurbewässerung in den peruanischen Anden and 1949: Die Vergletscherung in der Südhälfte der Cordillera Blanca (Peru). Kinzl showed me his publications and because I was an expert in andinismo at the time, having founded the Grupo Andinista Cordillera Blanca our paths crossed.

In 1950 I was a member of the first Peruvian expedition to the Vallunaraju. There were only people from Huaraz on the team, including my sister Elena. Mount Vallunaraju was a spectacular mountain at the time, and many years after our summit, the Huaraz Municipality decided to baptise it as Representative Mountain of the Municipality of Huaraz. In 1953 I went on an expedition to conquer the Huascarán, a mission that was sponsored by nationwide newspaper El Comercio. On the team that I guided were Fortunato Mautino, Felipe Mautino and Macario Ángeles from Huaraz, Apolonia Yanac, Guido Yanac and Pedro Yanac who were from Cajatambo in Lima. Although I didn’t make it to the top, the other expedition members were able to put the Peruvian flag on the south peak of the Huascaran. This expedition was the first ever Peruvian mountaineering expedition to the Huascaran.

During the same period, this is also when, together with Alejandro Miró Quesada Garland who worked as a journalist for El Comercio, we organised the first ski expedition. Alejandro and a couple of invitees from Lima came back to Huaraz and we went together with Elias Torres to Mount Paccharaju. Alejandro Miró Quesada put on his skis and started to descent the Paccharaju Glacier. This was a beautiful glacier at the time that could be seen from Chancos and Marcará. Unfortunately, Alejandro fell in a small crack during the first descent. Together with one of the Yanac brothers we were able to get him out and also found his ski he had lost on the way. We went up the glacier again to give it a second try. The second try was very successful and Alejandro became the first Peruvian to practice skiing in the Cordillera Blanca back in 1953.

This was big news back then and all nationwide newspapers spoke of a journalistic prodigy at the time. Being a member of the Grupo Andinista and leader of the first Peruvian expedition to the Huascarán, a short while later we were invited by El Comercio for a week in Lima to promulgate our activities on mountaineering in Peru. We were invited to the Peruvian Congress and visited the Peruvian national football stadium too. Here all summiteers were presented to the crowd and we were allowed to walk one round in front of all stands and received applauses from the attendees. The entire team was also offered a free flight over Lima by Pan American-Grace Airways, better known as Panagra.

We understand that you were the first Peruvian to have conquered the Mount Blanc in France, how did this happen?

Because of our successful expedition on Huascaran, the team was invited by the French embassy and I was offered a scholarship in the Chamonix National Ski School to fine-tune techniques and gain more experience. I accepted the invitation and went to Chamonix, but by boat. In 1961, an accident happened on Siula Grande is in the Cordillera Huayhuash. A group of German mountaineers from Munich fell and died. Their bodies were embalmed and I was asked by the German embassy to accompany them on their last trip back to Germany. We crossed the Panama Canal and the Atlantic to finally arrive in the harbour of Hamburg. Their family members were waiting when I arrived. German mountaineer and first successful summiteer of Mount Alpamayo in 1957 Günther Hauser was also present when I arrived. Hauser helped me to get to France where a family member would receive me.

After finishing my training courses in Chamonix, I decide to organise an expedition in honour of a great Peruvian pilot called Jorge Antonio Chávez Dartnell. Together with a Mexican mountaineer we managed to get to the top and I dedicated a couple of words in honour of Jorge Chávez. After our summit, a couple of French newspapers picked up the story and French daily morning newspaper Le Figaro ran the story on their front page. Not much later the Peruvian newspapers would also hear about it and praised “the first Peruvian to conquer the Mont Blanc”. After my summit on Mont Blanc I went to Italy and England to do some more climbing, before finally heading back to Peru, where I started to give many speeches on mountaineering and tried to promote the Huaraz area in Peru.

What was your role in Alpamayo being elected the most beautiful mountain in the world?

You could call Alpamayo my favourite mountain. In 1949 I took a couple of pictures with a tiny Kodak box camera. I took these from the Laguna Jancarurish and I believe I took three that I archived at the time. I received a letter from a German friend called Tony asking me to participate in a worldwide photo contest. I sent those three pictures, which weren’t very good by the way, and I also sent a couple of pictures of Mount Yerupajá located in the Cordillera Huayhuash. To support the Peruvian submission and make sure that Alpamayo would have a bigger chance of winning, I contacted a couple of friends around the world such as Leigh Ortenburger, Adams Carter, Günther Hauser and Piero Nava from Italy. I wrote them that they should also send their pictures to German mountaineer’s magazine Alpinismus, who were the organizers of the contest. I believe that they received around 75 pictures of different mountains around the world, and after counting the votes, Alpamayo came out on top

According to the survey The Matterhorn came third, Fitz Roy in Patagonia fourth, Mont Blanc fifth, Grandes Jorasses sixth, Siniolchu in India seventh, before Macha Puchare, Ama Dablam and the Weisshorn came tenth. I believe that the best picture of Alpamayo that was published was taken by Leigh Ortenburger. You can understand that I felt very proud that a Peruvian mountain was chosen as most beautiful in the world. As a result, many Peruvian newspapers also picked up the news and published about it. Today, Alpamayo is considered the most beautiful one.

Mr. Morales, what are the difference between mountaineering back when you first started to mountaineering today?

Well, back then there were no guides. Mountaineering was practiced by a person who liked to climb and the guides back then in fact were the muleteers or porters. People ascended mountains because they liked climbing or were curious about the view. Nowadays, alpinismo has been converted into a profession. Most guides that ascend mountains are very well paid by their customers. In my days, you didn’t receive anything and had to fund your own climbs. Another difference is the equipment. Back in the day there was hardly any specialised equipment, nowadays people carry up entire hardware stores. Another difference could be the change of aptitude of youngsters. They take too many risks in this day and age; this explains possibly the number of increased accidents and fatalities in the mountains. In the 60s a mountaineer would climb a mountain choosing the easiest route to get to the summit. Nowadays, youngsters choose the most difficult one and preferably one that hasn’t been climbed before, just to set the record or because of the publicity they might obtain. There are more magazines related to mountaineering so maybe they like the public attention.

Finally, being a former journalist for El Comercio, I understand you have also published a couple of books on mountaineering

I published a couple of small books with the help of some friends who provided me with pictures. One of them is called Andinismo en la Cordillera Blanca. This book included a summary of the mountaineers that managed to summit the highest tropical cordillera in the world and the history of the Huascaran. It also included a story of the tragic landslide of Ranrahirca and a description of the Huascaran National Park. It had some explanations on the Quechua language and a couple of maps. Another book I published is Huascarán Climbing Guide with all the possible information on Huascarán; how to get there, what routes to take and what to be careful of. But I also wrote many articles on mountaineering for magazines and newspapers, and I still hope to do a new book on the Alpamayo one day, but I am 93 now as you know.

At the age of 91 César Morales was honoured by the Peruvian Congress for his dedication to mountaineering in general and the promotion of Peru abroad. Mr. Morales graduated from the Catholic University studying engineering, studied philosophy at the Seminary of Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo and obtained the degree of Doctor in journalism at the University San Martin de Porres. Additionally, Mr. Morales exercised the presidency of the Peruvian federation of Andinismo and Winter Sports of the Peruvian Institute of Sport (IPD) and was cofounder of the National Park Huascarán. We would like to thank Julián Ángeles Ríos for setting up the interview with Mr. Morales in Lima.

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