Roger Payne: a look back on his life

Posted by Ed Douglas on 13/07/2012
Guiding in the Alps in 2004, above the the Moiry refuge. Photo: Jon Wigg.
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The former general secretary of the BMC and mountain guide Roger Payne died in the tragic accident on Mont Maudit that claimed nine lives. Ed Douglas looks back on his life.

Roger Payne, who died aged 55 in the avalanche on Mont Maudit this week that killed eight others, was well known across many branches of world climbing. He made first ascents of routes in the Alps and climbed there every year from 1977. He took part in more than 20 expeditions to high and difficult peaks across the Karakoram and Himalaya – from K2 to little-known mountains on the borders of Sikkim, and Sichuan in China – as well as North and South America.

He was a former president of the British Mountain Guides, an avalanche instructor and held coaching badges in a range of other outdoor sports. He also had a strong interest in the mountain environment, working on projects with the United Nations on climate change, and was involved in raising awareness about the conflict on the Siachen Glacier.

Here at the BMC we knew him best as an inspirational general secretary, who refocused the organisation after a period of change.

Dave Turnbull, the current BMC chief executive, said:

“The mountaineering world is shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic death of Roger Payne, former BMC general secretary and ex-president of the British Mountain Guides. Roger was one of the UK’s most enthusiastic and respected climbers with a track record of Alpine and Himalayan mountaineering stretching back to the 1980s. Our thoughts are with Roger’s friends and family – in particular his wife Julie-Ann.”

Roger discovered climbing through the Scouts in Hammersmith, and soon headed to the hills in Scotland, which lead to rock climbing in England and Wales. His passion for the outdoors was matched with a passion for education, the subject of his degree, and he soon developed a career both as a teacher in the Northeast and as an instructor.

Roger qualified as a guide in 1983, the year after his first expedition to the Greater Ranges, an attempt on Denali’s Cassin Ridge, which morphed into an attempt on the West Buttress in freezing conditions.

Roger’s expedition climbing experience was deep and broad. He went to Peru in 1986 – the first expedition he undertook with his partner, in life as well as the mountains, the New Zealand-born guide Julie-Ann Clyma. Among five peaks climbed, Roger made the first ascent of the South Face Direct of Rusac (ED+).

Over the next 25 years, Roger and Julie-Ann embarked on some of the most significant British expeditions of the last two decades, notably to the North Face of Changabang in 1997 with a strong team that included Mick Fowler, Steve Sustad, Andy Cave and Brendan Murphy. He and Julie-Ann, who had tried the face previously the year before, made a strong attempt, following the successful efforts by the other two rope teams.

In 1993, he and Julie-Ann had been part of a team on K2 along with Victor Saunders, who helped in the rescue on Mont Maudit this morning, and Alan Hinkes. Typically, along with the climbing, the team had a commission from Eastern Electricity to install micro-hydroelectricity in two local villages.

Later in the expedition, Saunders and Hinkes turned back from their summit bid to assist an injured Swedish climber, survivor of an accident the day before that left three others dead. Roger and Julie-Ann helped the Swede descend in bad conditions from Camp 3.

In 2003, he and Julie-Ann made the first ascent of the North Face of Mount Grovesnor in Sichuan Province, China, descending via the East Ridge. It was perhaps the greatest highlight of his long career in Asia, but he had a great enthusiasm for exploration as well as technicality, becoming one of the leading experts on climbing in Sikkim.

In 1989, he was appointed National Officer here at the BMC. It was a turbulent time for the BMC finances, but his dynamism and confident approach worked wonders and he revitalised his post and, later, the BMC as a whole.

He became involved in the many new developments that were transforming climbing: from climbing walls and competitions to mountain tourism and technical and safety issues. He was a key organiser in eight major international competitions, including the 1999 World Championship. He was also a champion of ski-mountaineering events and helped ice-climbing competitions become part of the UIAA – the world body for mountaineering.

Six years later, he became general secretary (the now-archaic term for the BMC chief executive) – and he found his natural niche. His enthusiasm became legendary – whether for tackling a daunting project, launching a bold new event, dragging unsuspecting staff out climbing or planning adventurous trips to the greater ranges each year.

Under his leadership, the BMC embarked on a period of strong growth in membership and reform, developing relationships with the outdoor industry and other organisations and government. He also oversaw the launch of the BMC’s Summit magazine in 1996.

In 1996, he was instrumental in setting up the Mountain Training Trust  to run Plas y Brenin on behalf of mountaineering, as an alternative option for Sport England compared to contracting out to a leisure-centre management company.  Without Roger and George Band acting for the BMC it wouldn't have got off the ground, and today Plas y Brenin would be a very different place.

Roger left the BMC in December 2001 and the following year became the first sports and development director for the UIAA. In this capacity, he was part of a movement to strengthen mountaineering’s links with the Olympic movement and United Nations agencies as well as the World Conservation Union. If climbing does eventually become part of the Olympics, then Roger will deserve some of the credit.

In 2002, he was part of a filmmaking project with UNEP and UIAA that looked at glacial meltwater flooding in the Everest region. That same year he organised a conference in Switzerland on mountain protection and the fate of Siachen Glacier in Pakistan.

There were few areas of the mountaineering world Roger didn’t influence – and for the better. Yet the overriding impression he leaves is of an unwavering and infectious enthusiasm for the mountain life.

His enthusiastic approach is best summed up before one of his – many – climbing trips to Pakistan. He worked in the BMC office until the very last minute – probably on one of his bombastic reports that he loved creating so much – before ordering a taxi to the airport in his distinctive booming voice. On reaching the airport and checking his many, many bags in, he found  the flight was delayed. But there was no question of relaxing in the departure lounge. He got a taxi straight back to the BMC to knock out a few more memos and talk to staff – and then nearly missed his plane.

Wherever you were in the world – in an alpine hut, a film festival in the States or a committee meeting in Manchester, you were pleased to see him. He will be sorely missed.

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1) Anonymous User
A sad day indeed.
We must never forget the respect mother nature commands as we pursue our mountaineering goals.
Anybody who understands how it feels to live for climbing and mountaineering will know that the rewards of a mountain life far outweigh these risks.
My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the people involved.
2) Anonymous User
An other picture of Roger, climbing the Munch in August 2009
<a href="" title="MON 106 by newnumenor, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="281" alt="MON 106"></a
3) Anonymous User
What a legend. It's such a sad day in mountaineering that Roger, and others, have lost their lives.
4) Anonymous User
with greatest respect to a legend a true legend in his sphere not a manufactured great we come across in other sports, thoughts with family and loved ones, visiting chamonix in August, it is then that I will pay my utmost respect on behalf of myself and others who love the mountains and fells.
5) Anonymous User
Tragic - an often over used word but the only one to use here. A climber who achieved so much and was deservedly respected. A sad day for mountaineering, his family.
6) Anonymous User
Roger was my Polytechnic Mountaineering Club President for three years and a fellow student. A more infectious, enthusiastic and generous guy you couldn't wish to meet. Sad, sad day for all who basked in his sun.
7) Anonymous User
He came to LAS (Leysin American School) every year to teach about avalanche danger and to share on his knowledge about the risks of avalanches and to his misfortune he has passed but the knowledge that he has shared will never be forgotten by myself and fellow students. He died exactly where he belonged and loved. On the Mountains. RIP Mr. Payne
8) Anonymous User
Roger was a real mountain enthusiast and a wonderful guide. You could not feel safer with anyone on a mountain. His knowledge of avalanches was second to none.: how tragic that he was to fall the victim of a freak avalanche.
9) Anonymous User
Thanks Ed. Words you never wanted to write, and we never wanted to read. Well chosen and placed, and I hope will bring some comfort to Julie-Ann, family and friends. Simon
10) Anonymous User
A beautiful and sweeping summary of a life lived loving the mountains. Knowing Roger as a guide, all this is so true: such a deep passion; a life unified by a focussed love of mountains; an utter professional living in complete awareness of the risks, and keen to make an impact on the world. Thank you Roger for the times we spent together. Never forgotten, and an inspiration for weeks to come in the mountains. Julie-Ann, our thoughts are with you.
11) Anonymous User
Roger taught Geography at my comprehensive school. He was very well respected by all his students being a bit of a hero to us all. Who else had a teacher who had climbed Everest? Died doing what he loved, thinking of his family at this tragic time.
12) Anonymous User
Thoughts to Rodger's family and the families of all those who died yesterday in Chamonix. They were taken by a chance event elevated above lives of mere humdrum existence.
13) Anonymous User
Roger loved life and his enthusiasm and energy inspired us all. Whether it was out in the evening or at some early hut start he was the same.
Will be greatly missed by all.
14) Anonymous User
In 2006, a friend and I climbed Mont Blanc. Roger was our guide.

He was brilliant: calm, cheerful and extremely knowledgeable. In fact exactly the kind of person a complete novice like myself needed.

I shall remember Roger with great affection and respect.
15) Anonymous User
From Holland I wish his family, friends and relatives all the strength to process this huge loss. In a couple of days I will leave to the Monte Rosa area for some mountaineering, and this tragic news makes me realize we share a beautiful but dangerous hobby.

My sincere condolences to the people he leaves behind.
16) Anonymous User
All thoughts are with the families involved, very sad news. We all know the risks and its why we love the mountains, its very unfortunate this happened.
I will hopefully be there next year to do Mont Blanc and will also pay my respects.
17) Anonymous User
Me and my wife had the honour of sharing a rope and tent with Roger during a trip to Sikkim a few years ago. He was everything and more you could want from a guide. But what struck us most was his kindness, his friendship, his wisdom, his humility, and his overiding passion for the great outdoors. Thoughts are with Julie-Ann and others who knew him well. Rest in peace.
18) Anonymous User
I first met Roger at college and "infectious enthusiasm" sums him up. Stunned to hear the news yesterday.
19) Anonymous User
Professional mountaineers only exist because they have family and friends back at base. Roger, Alan Hinkes and Chris Bonnington plus many more have faced their demons and the she devils of the mountains to reach greater heights for mankind to understand the world in which we live. Accients happen!!! Risks are taken against good preparation, however being in the wrong place at the wrong time will not save you. I have much respect for Roger and his fellow mountaineers ( I climb and trek SOLO at the age of over 70 years) but someone hass to support them and these are the people who must now mourn their passing. If you do sports that are considered risky then be prepared to die.
20) Alex Messenger(staff comment)
Thanks for all the comments. If you are leaving a comment, please consider logging in or just leaving your name so that Roger's friends and family will know who's written what. Thanks.
21) Anonymous User
I worked at the BMC during the period that Roger became general secretary and I remember distinctly the energy and drive that he brought to the role (and indeed his whole life) and the way in which he confronted issues head on.

I was incredibly shocked at this news yesterday and my thoughts are with his family at this time.
22) Anonymous User
Inspirational, larger than life, strong and confidence inspiring are all words that accurately describe Roger but to this has to be added the amiability and cheerfulness that made him such good company.
I recall on one ski tour that he was leading jointly with Julie-Ann, his wife and fellow guide, wishing to consult he called out to Julie-Ann 'Darling, can I have a word?' and adding to the rest of us 'You don't often hear guides saying that to each other'.
His passing has left a huge and unfillable hole in the mountaineering fraternity and it is scant consolation that he died in the 'landscapes of imagination and desire' that he so loved.
I feel as if I have lost a brother.
My sincerest sympathies and condolences go to Julie-Ann and family.
23) Anonymous User
We all are shocked in Sikkim (India) we all Miss a great ambassador of mountaineering. You will be always remembered as a great teacher and a leader and Rodger you will always remain in the heart of Sikkimese people and at Sikkim Holidays.
24) Anonymous User
Thank you for the wonderful obituary and I'm so, so sorry that I haven't had the experience of getting to know and learn from Roger, (I was just about to book a ski touring course with him for next season). He has been truly great in what he's achieved, in all aspects of his work and in his relationships. Ali
25) Anonymous User
A very to sad loss of a lovely man Mr Roger Payne who taught me at comprehensive school and did his teacher training in my primary school leaving me with lovely memories. A teacher I always have remembered. R.I.P. sir! thoughts go to your family and friends.
26) Anonymous User
A terrible loss, shocked and saddened, thinking of the enormous loss for Julie-Ann.
It was always a pleasure to work with him as a tour coordinator. He was so knowledgeable about the terrain, but totally inclusive and asked my opinion about my local routes. We mulled over the map and with his expertise he saw a possibility that led to a series of fabulous long untracked perfect powder pitches. Who else would have made the effort to find and explore that.
He was the best, with his infectious enthusiasm, great sense of humour, awesome intelligence, philosophical bent, unfailing friendliness, quick wit and to top it all, always happy to taste not one but all the local schnapps!
27) Anonymous User
Thank you for writing these really good, moving words, full of positivity of a life well lived.
28) Anonymous User
A sad loss to a fellow student at Sunderland Poly. I remeber us singning him into lectures while he was absent!!! to climb in North america and New Zealand to pursue his passion to build his skills to become a guide. Roger has been an inspiration to so many and I still remeber sorties to Scotland in the college minibus with him singing the muppet song!!! I am sure the roof was a bit deformed when he had finished! He inspired me to visit Chamonix in the 1980s and this certainly gave me the bug to explore beyond the UK. In my work as a special needs head he helped me find options to allow the students to engage with the outdoors and develop fine motor skills through mobile climbing walls. A long distance friend but always there when you needed him. Even in the most difficult situations Roger had a smile that shone through and an infectious sense of humour. May I take this opportunity to send my sincere condolences to his family and so sorry for their loss. He will be missed. David Curry
29) Alex Messenger(staff comment)
Thanks for all the comments. Please do consider adding your name below your comment . It will help put your tributes in context and help anyone interested in Roger.
30) Anonymous User
I can still hear his booming voice through the dividing classroom doors saying '2C, will you please shut up' in his unmistakeable accent. A genuine, nice man with an infectious smile who introduced me to climbing, canoeing and skiing with his outdoor activities club. Thank you for the gift of your time. My life has benefited from experiences in the hills and mountains and so will my daughter's. He gave, he lived.
31) Anonymous User
I was lucky enough to spend a few climbing with Roger a couple of years ago. He was incredibly friendly, a wonderful calm, kind, safety-conscious, patient guide and teaher. We enjoyed excellent climbing, extremely stimulating and interesting conversation, and jovial beers in Leysin afterwards. A most tragic loss, very sad, my thoughts go to Julie-Ann. Warmest repects lie with Roger.
32) Anonymous User
Please live, not die, where you love
33) Anonymous User
↑ Blue Mountains
34) Anonymous User
Roger, as a fellow BMC member, we never got to meet despite being on Mont Blanc around the same time this week. My decision to return with my team will stay with me forever, a pure lucky fate choice, your memory will live on as a true Great Mountaineer and great guide to so many. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family and friends, the BMC will miss you dearly. Jason Smith & The Weston Super Mare Hospice Mont Blanc Challenge Team xx
35) Anonymous User
Very sad to hear of Roger's death. I have nothing but happy memories of him - from that massive grin of his to that crazy streak that led us to partying in 'skins' at a KMC Christmas bash to climbing at Hobby Moor on warm summer evenings. Roger was a fantastic guy who died doing what he loved most. All the best Roger. My thoughts are with you Julie-Ann.

36) Anonymous User
A great man, a great friend and a very sad loss.
To Julie-Ann and all his family and friends our thoughts are with you.
Rest in peace Roger
Steve Jones

37) Anonymous User
I am a former pupil of his from the time he was teaching at Biddick School. He was a wonderful teacher with an infectious smile. He had so much enthusiasm for his work.
I am one of the lucky ones - I had the pleasure of being taught by such a wonderful man.

Good night Mr Payne x
38) Anonymous User
My heartfelt wishes go to Roger's family. He was a true giant in the climbing world and very understated. As a fellow mountaineer and as a Buddhist I pray he passes on in peace.

David Lloyd Hudson
39) Anonymous User
I remember well Roger from Sunderland Poly Mountaineering Club, not least for dragging me up my first E1 but also his calmness (and subsequent glee) when the minibus we were in did a 360 on an icy road in Scotland. He had a big personality and I knew then, even as a teenager, he was the kind of guy who would make a big mark on the world. So it was. Deeply saddened and my thoughts go to his family and friends.
40) Anonymous User
I look back to my days in the 30th Hammersmith Scout Troop with huge happiness and memories that will remain with me for ever. Roger was my patrol leader and yes he always was a leader in the making. We climbed Cader and Snowdon as young teenagers and then off to Aviemore and the Cairngorms. There was always something happening with Roger leading whether it be climbing or music. I've followed his career from afar and all of the the tributes and kind comments are nothing short of what I would have expected from a truly inspiring person. Roger, thank you for giving me experiences and memories that I will never forget.
My thoughts amd sympathies to the Payne family
A new star will watch over the peaks tonight. I for one will celebrate his life !!
Mark Burgess
41) Anonymous User
Such as shock and loss for so many, but not least of which his friends, family and of course Julie-Ann.  To have shared two trips on skis with Roger in the Alps was a privilege. His modestly was in such contrast with all that he achieved in providing so much for so many.
 Michael Horner
42) Anonymous User
Sorry to hear about Roger. A great guy and a great climber.

Mallory was lost on Everest, but his favourite mountain was Mont Blanc. His mentor Graham Irving also thought Mont Blanc was the most magnificent mountain in the world. Geoffrey Young also loved Mont Blanc as did Walter Bonatti. If I were to die anywhere in this world, Mont Blanc would be the place I would choose!
43) Anonymous User
Every time I saw him he was smiling, enthusiastic, warm and welcoming. Doing the avalanche course one and a half years ago in Swiss Alps was incredible experience, he was fantastic teacher and guide, I felt so safe and right about everything, although mountains are not safe by their nature. He gave so much time, experience and enthusiasm to our atudents (in Leysin American School) and community. He will be missed enormously...! I can't believe we won't meet on the top of the Dents du Midi mountain where we used to take our students every September. RIP. All our thoughts are with Juli-Ann and his family. Marta&Daryl
44) Anonymous User
Teacher at our comprehensive school in the North-East (Biddick). A school with more than it's fair share of idiots at the time but even the more disruptive amongst us liked him. The only teacher no one ever had a bad word to say about. Haven't seen him for over 25yrs but just thought about him the other day and smiled. Remember him taking time out after school to take us on adventures when all sports clubs were disbanded due to teachers strike. A fine man and a great example to others. RIP Roger Payne.
45) Anonymous User
I was privileged to have spent 2 weeks clmbing in the Alps with Roger back in 1985 and 1986 when Roger was working with ISM in Leysin. I never felt safer than when I was being guided by Roger and his passion for the mountains was contagious and left a mark on my soul that remains today. I also recall a day of rock climbing with Julie-Ann and Steve Jones which also remain as one of my life's special experiences. My thoughts and prayers are with Julie-Ann and all of Roger's family and friends.
Alan Azzara, Maine USA
46) Anonymous User
Disbelief! Roger, an avalanche! Never! Then the word serac appears and it becomes a case of the lottery of the high mountains - wrong place, wrong time when all skill and strength are of little avail.
Looking back at the photos of ski tours with Roger and Julie-Ann one can only echo the tributes already recorded - He was a very, very good guy to be with!
Thinking of you Julie-Ann.
Chris Jonson.
47) Anonymous User
A great teacher who introduced me to climbing at achool which was a great escape for me. Fantastic memories of a lovely man with a heartwarming smile.
48) Anonymous User
I’m deeply saddened by the untimely demise of the climbers on Tragic accident on Mont Maudit France.
I would like to extend my heartfelt condolence to all .
May the god give strength to their family to fight this tragedy,
May the departed soul rest in peace.
Tshering Pande Bhote.
49) Anonymous User
Roger offered unique experiences to the pupils he taught. During his time as a Geography teacher at Biddick Comprehensive School during the 1980's, he decided to take a group of 13 year olds abseiling off the 'curly-wurly' pedestrian bridge (100m metres from the school). An amazing experience and in the days when a teacher could be spontaneous like that and not be put off by mounds of risk assessments.
Thank you Mr Payne for creating happy memories. May you rest in peace.
50) Anonymous User
I have read many of your wonderful comments to Roger's mother and brother. They take comfort in your kind words. Thank you so much for your wishes which we all continue to draw strength from.
51) Anonymous User
I have just spoken to my daughter who is in Africa at the moment and has just found out about the tragic accident on Mt Maudit. She is devistated as we all are by the loss of Roger. He helped her with her reaseach paper on mountaineering accidents and she saw him just 2 weeks ago on the Miroir d'Argentine and apparently they spoke of getting together to talk about some new research that Roger had done.
This is what was so special about Roger and Julie-Anne. The few times we met them, they were always genuinely interested in you, always enthusiastic about whatever you where doing, yet always so humble about their own acheivements. Truely wonderful people! Roger will be very much missed. Julie-Anne, We ttrust you will be able to celebrate Roger's life and your achievements together. Our thoughts are with you.
52) Anonymous User
I climbed with Roger in the Chamonix region only 6 weeks ago. It was a privilege to be led by such an incredible mountaineer and a true gentleman.
53) Anonymous User
Roger inspired me as a young inner city lad. I will never forget his words.....




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