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Prominent mountaineer mourned in Britain

Friday - 7/13/2012, 1:27pm  ET

By JOHN HEILPRIN
Associated Press

CHAMONIX, France (AP) - He is being remembered as one of a long line of brave British mountaineers, an intrepid climber and professional mountain guide who traveled the world in search of fresh challenges and first ascents.

The death of Roger Payne and eight other climbers in an avalanche as they approached Mont Blanc in the French Alps on Thursday has shaken the tight-knit guiding community in Chamonix and beyond. The deaths included the two British clients who were being led by Payne.

A former president of the British Mountain Guides, Payne also had served as general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council, which promotes safety and training expeditions, and gave courses in how to survive avalanches.

"Roger was one of the U.K.'s most enthusiastic and respected climbers with a track record of Alpine and Himalayan mountaineering stretching back to the 1980s," said Dave Turnbull, current chief of Britain's mountaineering council.

Payne, 55, was "a phenomenally experienced guide" who had climbed all over world and put up a lot of new routes in India, Nepal and Pakistan, fellow British mountain guide Stuart Macdonald told The Associated Press. His loss came as a shock to his friends and colleagues among the roughly 400 Chamonix mountain guides, said Macdonald, who directs the Avalanche Academy in Chamonix.

"Everyone's really feeling it. It's a real unfortunate tragedy. I don't think there's anyone thinking they shouldn't have been there. I haven't heard anyone say that," Macdonald said. "We all know that route intimately, we've all been up and down those slopes so many times, and it could have been us."

The British ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, who paid his respects Friday in Chamonix, said "the climbers were well equipped, they were well aided and guided."

"They were in the place where they should have been on the classic, well proven track in the mountain, but they had a huge misfortune."

Payne and his wife, Julie-Ann Clyma, also an accomplished alpinist and professional mountain guide, have been operating a guide service out of Leysin, Switzerland, while putting up significant new routes around the world.

The two of them made for an impressive team on a number of expeditions, including the first ascent of a peak in Sichuan Province of central China that took five days and required dodging loose rock and ascending multiple pitches of thin ice. In all they claimed four first ascents and more than 20 challenging climbs of peaks in Asia, North America and South America.

In the early 1990s, as part of expeditions on two of the world's highest mountains, Broad Peak and K2, they worked with one of their climbing sponsors, an electricity provider, to help bring micro-hydropower installations to two remote mountain villages.

Payne first developed an interest in climbing through the Scouts when he was a boy in the west London neighborhood of Hammersmith and honed his skills climbing hills in Scotland and taking part in rock climbing trips to remote parts of England and Wales.

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Gregory Katz in London contributed to this report.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)