First in the Himalaya – Lecture Report

A photo gallery from First in the Himalaya – click images to view them full size. (Thanks to Noel Dawson for use of his photos – marked ND )

Sell out audiences welcomed headline speakers Kurt Diemberger and Robert Schauer plus other mountaineering greats to Oxford, London and Derby for CAN’s major lecture programme of 2014 ‘First in the Himalaya’.

These fundraising  lectures celebrated significant first ascents spanning nearly 60 years of Himalayan mountaineering  from Diemberger’s first ascent of Broad Peak in 1955 to Mick Fowler’s first ascent of Shiva in 2013.

 Oxford Natural History Museum  was the venue for  the first event on Tuesday 19th November which was sold out well in advance – a great way to begin the lectures.

The evening was hosted by Jerry Lovatt,  and the audience were thrilled to hear Kurt Diemberger, Robert Shauer and Doug Scott explore what drives mountaineers to go where no one has gone before. This was followed by a charity auction of signed mountain prints. Thanks  to Oxford based CAN supporters Phil and Sarah Powell and Julie Summers for all their hard work and generosity in making the evening such a success.

The ‘home of exploration’ the Royal Geographical Society in London hosted a full day of lectures on Wednesday 20thDecember. The guest speakers told of their first ascents in the Himalaya, but also shared  fascinating stories of how and why they chose to climb, which gave a unique insight into the minds of those who dare to be first. Noel Dawson, who has attended all the  ‘First on…..’ lectures describes the day as follows

Doug Scott set the tone for the day by describing the ‘every day’ episodes of his climbing career, becoming the first British climber to summit Everest, breaking both legs on The Ogre and almost being blown off Kangchenjunga during what he described as the most frightening night of his life. Mr Scott has achieved so much that he is able to brush off ‘failure’ by reasoning that, ‘you can often learn more from failure when you have gone to your limit.’

Mr Scott was followed to the stage by Hildegard Diemberger. Hildegard spoke about the culture and religion of Tibet. She spoke so enthusiastically about what is known about the central characters of the Buddhist religion and their influence on all aspects of Tibetan life. She shared her ‘Indiana Jones’ adventures searching for lost citadels, and talked about how Buddhism still played such a powerful role in modern Tibet.

Gerda Pauler came to the stage to inspire us all with her love of ‘unusual holidays.’ And her story was indeed a remarkably unusual tale. She had an idea! Why not walk seventeen hundred kilometres across the Himalayas! There are lots of reasons not to do this, but none deterred a very optimistic Gerda. Her journey can only be described as a cultural explosion, and very long!

Mick Fowler makes very difficult climbing seem almost like a walk in the park, perhaps something we could all do during our Summer holidays. Do not be fooled. This gentleman attempts the ridiculous almost every year and would never be content climbing a mountain that someone else had already exhausted. He terrified, and perhaps slightly amused us, with a piece of filming of the team van travelling along a road that was not really there! The ‘none road’ passed under a waterfall, the door of the van quickly closed but sadly the window remained open!

Sandy Allan told of his early years in the mountains, but this was only an appetiser for his description of the traverse of the Mazeno Ridge to the summit of Nanga Parbat.

Sometimes climbers are guilty of actually underselling their achievements, and in describing this climb I find Mr Allan guilty! Endless days of endless climbing, on and on and on. So many others had turned back, but for Mr Allen and Mr Allan their ultimate belief in each other pushed them beyond what should have been achievable. While others worried, Sandy and Rick climbed. Only when they had returned safely did they realise they were dehydrated, exhausted and skeletal!

Robert Schauer showed extracts from the stunning IMAX film Everest. Absolutely breathtaking. This film is the closest I will probably ever get to Everest, and it is so real that I feel a little less cheated that I may never see it myself. As with all the other climbers, Mr Schauer was totally happy to talk to enthusiasts, discuss routes and sign seemingly endless collections of books.

Kurt Diemberger paints colourful pictures with his carefully chosen words. This is a man who has seen much, and has a great appreciation of the wonder around him. He welcomed us all as ‘friends of the mountains.’ He told us of the beauty of crystals, and how in his mind he saw K2 as a precious crystal. He spoke many wise words although he admitted that the ‘jump from crystal to humanity had never been explained.’

He remembered his great willpower as a child, and explained how this had helped him in the mountains. He talked proudly of Broad Peak and Dhauligiri. He told us how a ‘protective climbing angel’ helped him as a young climber, and how that early help ensured that he would likely live to an old age.

Climbing lectures are often times of reflection. Mr Diemberger spoke about loss and the great sorrow it brings. He remembered his ‘Mountain Father,’ Hermann Buhl, a man, Mr Diemberger said, who would always live through climbing history. ‘Destiny closed in on us. Julie died.’ Mr Diemberger could say no more about K2 in 1986.

It was an exhausting but an incredibly thought-provoking day.

This was a day of mountain people sharing mountain adventures almost beyond belief, and all hugely keen and happy to give something back to the people of the mountains. (Thanks to Noel Dawson for permission to publish his report).

The day also included a colourful and vibrant Nepalese Bazaar selling clothing, gifts, books and posters ….. which left many visitors with empty purses as they left the RGS having stocked up with Christmas presents!

The lecture series concluded at The Assembly Rooms in Derby on Thursday 21 November, with Robert Schauer, Mick Fowler and Doug Scott.

Both Mick and Doug are ‘local lads’  and this attracted a sell out crowd of 300 needing extra seating to satisfy the demand! The audience greatly enjoyed the evening and showed their appreciation during a fast and frantic auction in which every one of the 14 framed prints were successfully auctioned to raise further finds for CAN.


First in the Himalaya followed  First on Everest (2010), First on K2 (2011) and First on Kangchenjunga (2012). These fundraising lectures could not take place without the generosity of the speakers, many who speak free of charge, the CAN supporters and volunteers who help organise and run the events and the advice and help from the venues who host the events. Thank you all.










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