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Should We Punish Russian Climbers?

Despite the war at least one Russian team plans to climb Everest.

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At least one mountaineering team from Russia is planning to climb Everest this spring. Angela Benavides of Explorersweb.com reports that Russian climber Alex Abramov will bring 10 paying clients and three guides to Everest Base Camp this spring with his 7 Summits Club guiding company.

“All the clients paid before the [war],” Abramov told Benavides. “The circumstances are difficult in Russia, but most of our members have decided to take part.”

Russia supports a thriving community of mountaineers, and Russian climbers have been mainstays on Mount Everest and other Himalayan peaks for decades. Climbers from Russia have carved out a reputation for their toughness and their willingness to take risks.

“They’re known for being strong and very capable, and they are definitely ones you want on the mountain if there is a rescue,” says Adrian Ballinger, owner and head guide of Alpenglow Expeditions, which offers guided ascents of the 7 Summits including Everest. “I’ve always felt a lot of respect for them throughout my career.”

The country’s recent invasion of Ukraine cast doubts on whether climbers from Russia would still launch expeditions in 2022. Economic sanctions have tanked the ruble’s value, and some countries have even imposed travel restrictions on Russians.

Ukrainian mountaineer Irina Galay recently told Outside that she would like the international mountaineering community to block Russians from the high peaks.

“I hope that Russians won’t be permitted to approach any single mountain this year,” Galay said. “I hope they won’t be allowed to raise the flag of their country on any mountain in the world.”

But Ballinger says that request may face pushback from mountaineers. He says he has not heard of any calls within the alpinism community to blacklist Russian climbers. Instead, he’s seen sympathy for both Russian and Ukrainian climbers whose lives are now affected by political forces they cannot control.

International climbing groups are already canceling expeditions to climb Russia’s Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe. Earlier this month, the United States issued a “do not travel” advisory for the mountain.

That warning, and other international decisions, are likely to isolate Russians within the international climbing community, Ballinger says.

“My choice is that I don’t want to bring money into Russia right now, and I won’t run trips there even if it stays open, and I support steps our government can take to short circuit this war,” Ballinger says. “But I would not turn away a Russian climber if I had one on my team right now.”