The present chronograph wristwatch is a beautiful example of the much sought-after Rolex reference 6236. The highly collectible Rolex Oyster triple calendar chronograph watches, which are also known as Dato Compax models, consist of four different series. Famed French Olympic skiing legend and Rolex enthusiast Jean-Claude Killy has sported a Dato Compax in the past and the model family hence has been dubbed by watch enthusiasts the "Jean-Claude Killy". The three earlier series of the Dato Compax model were given reference numbers 4767, 5036 and 6036.
Reference 6236, such as the present watch, is the final version of the model. It was in production between 1958 and 1962 and is easily identifiable by the larger bezel compared to its predecessors. In fact, the case of reference 6236 is made of three elements, the bezel no longer carved from the same block as the centre piece of the case. The dial displays a charismatic, uniform ivory-colored patina and has aged well in its 60+ year lifetime.
The present lot is offered by a descendant of the original owner, who acquired this watch in the early 1960s and wore it frequently throughout his extraordinary lifetime. The history of Doctor Luis Gallardo and his watch comes directly from his son, Luis Gallardo Jr., who tells us in his own words below about one particular event which shaped his life and consequently the lives of many others.
“Tragedy at Mount Iztaccíhuatl was an adventure experienced by Doctor Luis Gallardo, who lived this ordeal in 1968 wearing his Rolex watch. In it, he played an important part saving the life of twenty-one persons in peril (nineteen young boys and two adults), caught in a storm at high altitude in a 16,000 ft. Mexican mountain.
As a youngster, our man, Dr. Luis Gallardo, studied at a famed catholic boys school in Guadalajara, noted for its forward attitude. It made emphasis on academic issues and physical or sportive effort, among this mountaineering, being the CAIC its climbing club, under the direction of popular and well loved “Old Padre” Luis Hernandez-Prieto during the 1950’s and 60’s.
All year round, the CAIC made many hiking and mountain climbing trips, spearing for the end of the season the conquering of the three highest Mexican peaks. One of them is Mount Iztaccíhuatl, close to Mexico City and scenario of this story. The CAIC also made trips overseas some years, having climbed Mont Blanc and Matterhorn in the Alps the year before this story (just to make emphasis that some of the boys and guides had pretty good experience). This mentioned because some press people considered “inexperience” as the cause to blame the “Padres” of the tragedy and not to a terrible storm, one that happens once every three to four decades, a storm that closed some roads and highways as far as 100 miles from the mountain for many hours. Some cousins of mine belonged to this group (CAIC) and one of them, when in threat at the time, remembered his uncle Luis (my father) and made the radio call asking for help.
Dr. Luis Gallardo, my father, was born (1922) in Guadalajara. After finishing medical school, he left the city and went to gain postgraduate training at a famous hospital in America. World War II had just ended and there he met US Navy nurse Margaret, a beautiful gringa with whom decided to share life and raise a family. They came to live to Mexico City where they had seven children. He was a hard and responsible worker so gave his family a comfortable life and had the time and the means for his passion: Outdoor Sports. He loved nature, was a good mountain climber and for that, among others, he was admired by many of his family and friends; a condition that made possible the episode to be narrated here.
Tragedy at Mount Iztaccíhuatl (February 1968)
It took place early that year, when the spring season was just about to turn in. That year in particular started with greetings in Mexico, since the summer Olympic Games would then take place in our country. All was cream and honey, but suddenly tragedy stroked our souls. The sons of some of the most prominent families in Guadalajara were lost and dying in a storm at Mount Iztaccíhuatl, one of the highest and among the most famous of our mountains.
The CAIC - Alpine Corp of a named Jesuit school in Guadalajara, had send, as most years had done, his intrepid students to climb such a noted mountain. It takes between seven to nine hours to reach the summit from Base Camp, needing another four or five to come back down so, in order to fulfill the task during day light, the enterprise must start much before dawn. That is why sixty or so kids between 12 and 22 years of age started a very early climb guided by young but experienced mountaineer priests. After a five-hour ascent, the group reached a partial summit, a place with a magnificent view where, after a rest and restore stop, they split, the youngest boys coming back down to Base Camp and the oldest and strongest ones heading to the top.
After a while, they reached the base of a wide hanging cliff called Las Espinillas. It is a rock face about 60 ft. high that stands below the south summit called La Rodilla. In order to reach the summit from this place, mountaineers must climb through a narrow strait known as the Canaleta, a concealed pass that permits to do so with much precaution but without the need of nails, ropes and rappel. At the base of that cliff stand a small mountain refuge, a shelter made out of aluminum and wood named Esperanza López Mateos. When they reached that point, five of the big boys also decided to return to Base Camp, among them a cousin of mine. The other 30 with two priest-guides kept on toward the summit.
It had been a beautiful day, sunny, clear and free of wind. Then, while the boys were at the summit (well after noon), a terrible storm suddenly covered the whole mountain with its blizzard and lightning. The turning back hike now became precariously slow and scary, and worst, since two feet of new snow erased the tracks and enclosed the pathways across crevasses and precipices. It was nighttime when the freezing boys reached the mentioned cliff separating them from safety. With the new snow covering the rocks and trails, plus the lack of light and the blizzard, they could not find the Canaleta, the safe path to come down the cliff and small mountain refuge. Therefore, they decided to spend the night there and they all gathered to prepare a bivouac behind the rocks.
After midnight, the storm diminished and the stars began to shine. Some of the bigger boys went in search of the Canaleta or a place suitable to climb down. Communication through walkie-talkies was able again, so then the first report in the Base Camp was that they were trapped there by the storm; and later added that three of the boys had died (they had fallen in their attempt to find or climb down the frozen wall).
That night at Base Camp, with the storm and not knowing about the fate of the climbers, one of the young Padres and a cousin of mine (the one who had returned earlier into the Base Camp and had mentioned my father’s knowledge of the mountain), went to a Transmitting Station that was close to camp. There, by radio, got hold to my father at home: “Uncle Luis, my friends are trapped in a storm at Mt Iztaccíhuatl… maybe three dead” he said.
“The first SOS calls found an angel guardian many miles away…,” said later one of the Jesuit priests.
Immediately after the call, we jumped out of bed. My mother, brothers and sisters made lots of sandwiches, filled bottles with water and juice, picked up food cans, candies, a brandy bottle and gathered all in packs with blankets, jackets, sweaters, gloves, caps, etc. while my father and I got the mountain gear and first aid kit ready. We speeded up the mountain in my dad’s car and at daybreak reached Base Camp where an Army helicopter was waiting.
The chopper was just standing there reflecting the first sunrays, but with the rising sun came good news for the boys, Yes, help was on their way! “…we were asked about the weather, since they planned to send a helicopter to help us… It is cover with fog, we replied…,” wrote later in his report Oscar Sarabia, one of the young survivors that by then had taken command of the situation.
We crowded the helicopter with stuff, my father climbed in (no room for me) and then he guided the pilot to the wreck scene high above among the clouds. After several tries the site was found in middle of the mist but, with no place to land the chopper, my father dropped close by all the bags with supplies and then he jumped from it, into the air, toward the nearest side of the mountain’s falling slope, where he had a tough but uninjured landing. With the help of some of the boys that came to greet him, they carried all the stuff to the place where, at his arrival, started giving the boys not only food, water and clothing but also embraces and most of all faith and hope.
Help had arrived from the sky: “… latter came a helicopter. Since it could not make a safe landing, it let drop some bags full with food and clothes. At the same time, a man, Doctor Luis Gallardo, jumped from the machine… another boy and I picked up the stuff, while the doctor went to attend Mayorga, Cortez, Javier Olavarria and Jesus Jimenez. Olavarria was numb-frozen and Cortez had just recovered his senses”, wrote Oscar Sarabia in his report.
But not only came help, also did motivation: “That doctor was an angel that came to help, to inspire a little courage, providing refreshments and support at such time…,” said Oscar Sarabia forty years later.
At my father's arrival, eleven boys had already perished (some from falls but most of them frozen during their sleep at night) and by then some of the healthy ones were gathering the bodies together. Quickly my father started to give medical attention to the ailing; a few of the boys and guides were injured or in a state of shock, some had hypothermia, one also with severe froze bite in hands and feet. This last was at first considered lifeless but fortunately got my father’s medical attention on time.
There was another lad considered dead that, with his attention, came back to life with his cheering friends around him! Many years later, wrote a friend in his name, he “learned the name of the man that help him survive after being frozen at Iztaccíhuatl… doctor Luis Gallardo, the man that jumped from the helicopter…”
After giving the surviving boys and priests first hand help, rations and some comfort, it took the rest of the day to walk them down to the next mountain refuge; a bigger shelter –the Igloo- built a few hundred steps below the one at the base of the cliff. Before nightfall, a small group of rescuers arrived and there they shared with the boys another very nasty night.
At dawn next morning a small group of mountaineers, I among them, reached the refuge where my father had gathered the boys. Then we all tied up together under my father’s instructions and started the way down. In such a manner, we brought back the survivors into the arms of their loved ones. The corpses were to come later but, brought by Red Cross helicopters that had arrived that day, they got into Base Camp a little before we did by foot.
At Base Camp anxiously awaited “old Padre” Hernandez-Prieto with the younger boys and some family. At our arrival, the Padre and my father held in a long, warm and meaningful embrace. By that time, the word of the accident had spread and the Base Camp was full with reporters, cameras, microphones, vehicles, lights. Distracted with the arrival of the corpses, we got our chance to leave: my father gave me a blink with an eye and a small head sign that I understood well and then quietly we left the scene, got into our car and headed back home.
“That doctor was a real hero for me… but he just left the same way he came”, recalled later Oscar Sarabia, the helpful and supportive survivor.
Reporters surrounded the boys at their arrival and soon, the ones that kept some strength and were able to talk, monopolized the attention. When they got to the part that involved a “guardian angel”, reporters started desperately to look for him. For many days, the mystery of such an angel or of the ‘spirit of a gallant doctor’ (gallant, gallardo in Spanish and our last name) was in the mouth of many media. Days later, when everything had cooled off, we reunited with the boys at memorial services held in Guadalajara, where we met their parents.
Many years have passed and my father is dead now. Only a cross eight-foot high stands in the site of the cliff below the summit where the tragedy took place; a cross with a spiritual legend on it: - They did not die, they reached the Highest - and a plaque with the names of the eleven fallen boys.
Mountaineers that pass by it today name it the “Cruz de Guadalajara”. Once every few years the mountaineers from their school come to clean it and fix whatever it needs.
My father bought his Rolex watch around 1960, wore it until his death in 1994, and always did it with pride, at all times and every outdoors event, sure that it was made for any kind of weather, precise and never to fail, even at high altitude and extreme cold. Yes, he was wearing it on his left wrist when the above-mentioned event took place. During such long, desperate and terrible hours, he would look at it with tears in his eyes, thinking of his own sons and the parents of the dead boys.
“Time seemed so slow that night…” he would say.
Indeed, my father was a hero, not only for me but also for many others. With his memory, he left us his love and that pride. I inherited his mountain gear with the Rolex, but I did not use it much. I found my modern black Cassio more practical. Anyway, my father’s Rolex has always been with the family and now, at age 70, I can say that its outdoor and mountaineering history is past, so it is time it goes to another adventurer’s wrist…"
Luis Gallardo, Jr.