TRIBUTES have been paid to a Sunderland graduate who died in the devastating avalanche that killed nine climbers.
Roger Payne, one of the UK’s most respected climbers, died after the group of 28 were hit by a 60ft high wall of snow in the French Alps.
The tragedy happened as they climbed Mont Maudit, which means Cursed Mountain, in the Mont Blanc range, near Chamonix.
Mr Payne, who was an avalanche instructor, studied primary education at Sunderland Polytechnic – now the university – where he was also president of the Mountaineering Club.
He had climbed routes in the Alps every year since 1977 and this year was attempting to raise funds for St Leonard’s Hospice in York.
A spokeswoman for the University of Sunderland, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear the news that one of our graduates has died in such tragic circumstances and out heartfelt sympathies go out to his family at this very difficult time.
“Roger studied a primary education degree between 1979 and 1983 when the university was still a polytechnic.
“Alongside his academic studies, he was interested in sporting activities and became president of Sunderland Polytechnic Mountaineering Club between 1980 and 1983.”
He was ex-general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and led treks regularly in the area.
Dave Turnbull, BMC chief executive, said the mountaineering world was “shocked and saddened” by his tragic death.
He said: “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.”
British mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington also paid tribute to the climber, who had taken part in more than 20 expeditions to the world’s highest and most challenging peaks.
Describing Mr Payne as a man who had “devoted his life to the mountaineering world”, he said: “It doesn’t matter how good you are, how experienced you are, avalanches can occur.”
In a list of astounding accomplishments, Mr Payne and his wife Julie-Ann Clyma became the first to reach the summit of Mount Grovesnor in China, in 2003.
The group is believed to have left a climbing hut to attempt the route, the second most popular to the peak of Mont Blanc, after a 1am breakfast on Wednesday.
At about 5.20am, French authorities received reports that a “slab” avalanche had hit several groups of mountaineers, who were roped together on the northern face of Mont Maudit at 13,123ft.