Letter: A guide to events on Mount Elbrus

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Sir: Your paper deserves credit for being the only one to investigate the causes of the bizarre incident of British climbers who were lost and found on Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus. But it will not do to place the blame entirely on the Russian guide Anatole Yanochkin as does Roger Payne of the British Mountaineering Council ('Russian adventure holidays 'unsafe' ', 16 April).

Several climbers (including me) felt on reaching about 5,100m that the weather conditions were too dangerous to continue. We descended not because we were tired or cold or too slow, but because of the weather. David Hamilton, the expedition leader, expressed a similar view at the time by saying he was sure that if conditions did not change, the others would descend too in the next hour or so.

I am certain that Mr Yanochkin thought so too. The day before, the party had climbed up to Pastuchov's Rocks (4,800m) in similar conditions; and before setting out, Mr Yanochkin said to me that if the decision had been his, the party would not have gone out in those conditions. He then set out with his clients, in accordance with what he saw as his duty.

And indeed, it seems very difficult to argue that a guide has a duty to abandon his clients if they have the temerity to set out in bad conditions. Yet, given the facts I have recounted, that is what Mr Payne is really recommending.

I am sure we would all wish to applaud the courage and determination of the four climbers (and their guide) who survived this ordeal. But at the same time it was the foolishness of those same climbers that got them into the mess. Mr Payne is wrong to blame a guide who did what he saw as his duty.

Yours etc,


London, E8

(Photograph omitted)