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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Alpinists Reach Centenary Mark




They've fought the Nazis, climbed in the name of Stalin and Lenin, scaled everything from Mount Everest to the Ukraine hotel - and now they're 100 years old.


Russian alpinists are celebrating their sport's centennial this year with an exhibit at the Nicholas Roerich Museum. The museum is also hosting a series of related concerts, slide shows and lectures, including a talk by the members of the first Soviet expedition up Everest.


Called Gory Zovut, or "The Mountains Call," the exhibit is a potpourri of pictures, photographs and history. Among the works on display are little-known landscapes by Yury Vizbor, the Russian bard whose songs capture the life of alpinists and mountain beauty, photographs from the Himalayas, Tien Shan and Caucasus mountain ranges, and paintings by Bogdan Sadovsky, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and vice president of the Moscow Alpinists Society for the last 30 years.


The 100-year anniversary is somewhat misleading. Twelve years ago the Soviet Union actually celebrated the 200th anniversary of the first mountain climb in Russia, the ascent of the Kluchevskoye volcano in Kamchatka in 1788.


And if you go back even further, Peter the Great is said to have become the first Russian mountaineer when he spent the night on top of Br?cken in southern Germany in 1697.


The figure 100 marks simply the birth of the first Russian mountain society in 1900 - and the point when alpinism began to grow into the mass sport it was in the Soviet era, when 13,000 people annually visited 20 mountain camps.


At the start of the century Russian alpinism was limited to scientific expeditions, but a golden age began in the late 1920s and early 1930s with climbers heading to the highest mountains in the Soviet Union - Peak Stalin (renamed Peak Communism in 1962) and Peak Lenin in Central Asia - and making the first winter ascent of the east side of Mount Elbrus. In the 1930s, mountain-climbing schools began to open and the coveted award of Alpinist U.S.S.R. was created.


During World War II, alpinists were used to evacuate more than 1,500 women and children over the Caucasus mountains. A special war school was set up to train alpinists for the fight against the Germans in the Caucasus; Soviet climbers were eventually decorated for their part in the war effort. One of their most symbolic acts was the removal of the Nazi flag from the top of Mount Elbrus and the raising of a Soviet one amid fierce fighting in the mountains.


In the late 1950s Soviet alpinists began to be allowed to travel abroad to climb and proved some of the best in the world. In 1982, Soviet alpinists first climbed Mount Everest. Now, with diminished state funding, mountaineering is no longer the widespread sport it once was, but many of the country's top climbers are able to make a living, scaling Moscow's highest buildings to do repair work and clear snow and icicles from city rooftops.


The sport still enjoys a loyal following. At the exhibit's opening last week, participants described alpinism as not merely a recreation but a philosophy itself.


"You think differently about life," said Sadovsky, a robust 73-year-old who still goes to the mountains every year. "When you're in that situation you need to rely on those around you. If I go with you, then I place my trust in you."


By way of explanation, Sadovsky begins to quote Vladimir Vysotsky's famous song from the film "Vertikal," which says that if you want to know if a friend is a true friend, take him up a mountain. After the film was released alpinists claimed Vysotsky as one of their own for capturing their feelings about mountains. The words of the song are on display at the Roerich Museum exhibit.


"There are no bad people up a mountain," Sadovsky said. "Those who have been in the mountains want to return. ... Those who have been among nature are better, purer, nicer. Nature always works well on a person."


The exhibition runs until Feb. 6. in the Nicholas Roerich Museum. Address: 3/5 Maly Znamensky Pereulok. Metro: Kropotkinskaya. Tel. 203-6419.