It seems most of the world has been mapped — including most of the world’s mountain ranges — tread upon by man and shared through issues of National Geographic, Patagonia catalogs and Youtube videos. While only pockets of un-tread mountains exist, and that’s a fairly recent development. One of the explorers of these final pockets recently died in an untimely death.
I never met him, but I was introduced to him a little over a year ago subsequent to attending a Section Meeting of the American Alpine Club in Washington, DC. Among several other presentations, Paul Swienton of Maryland, and a Blue Ridge Section Member, spoke about the climbing he and some Scottish mountaineering friends did in one of those rare places with virgin rock and ice: the Sikkim region of India. The international team intended to make only the second ascent on Jopuno (5,936 m.) by a new route. It didn’t work out as planned but they managed a consolation first ascent of a neighboring peak.
When I worked with Paul on a post about their climbing in Sikkim I soon learned that the trailblazer in that region was Roger Payne with his wife and fellow professional mountain guide, Julie Ann Clyma. In fact, Roger wrote the article in the American Alpine Journal that inspired the international expedition to Sikkim and Jopuno in 2010. It’s also worth taking the time to read, especially to learn about one of those areas rarely visited by Westerners.
Roger died in an avalanche in the French Alps just a few days ago alongside two fellow British climbers and six others.
Getting to know Roger’s work in Sikkim and later through references to him in other climbing projects and ascents has been one of the pleasures of making armchair mountaineering a serious hobby. Roger became a character, even if rarely seen, that became reliable. I’m sorry that his story is over.
Separately, if you’ve read “Little Sister Dream: Qionglai Range, China” under On Belay in Alpinist 39 about the attempts on Little Sister Peak (20,505 ft./6,250 m.), there is more sad news. The author, Yan Dongdong of Beijing, died in a crevasse fall while attempting Quelebosi Peak, in China’s Tianshan Mountains.
I don’t like reporting any of this, but I no longer feel like I can conveniently ignore the deaths of climbers, as I once did. I feel closer to these climbers now more than a few years ago. I don’t know if this diminishes the value of mountaineering and climbing to me, but it certainly complicates it.
Through social media, including this blog, I feel as though I have been introduced to many great people like Roger, Dongdong at a party. We weren’t friends but we’d connect through Facebook and share our lives. They were heroes and I was a fan. I didn’t want them to go. I wish I could have gotten to know them better and been a distant witness to more of their accomplishments.