Putting the record straight on climbing in the Altai

In May I wrote about the fact that the explorer Samuel Turner had claimed to be the first person to climb in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. His book Siberia: a record of Travel, climbing and Exploration (1905) contains breathless accounts of his exploits in the region. However, Thomas Atkinson was there more than 50 years before him, having made two attempts to climb the tallest peak, Mount Belukha. Not surprisingly, without the benefit of modern climbing equipment, crampons, ropes, etc, Atkinson and his companions were turned back by the atrocious weather conditions.

I thought I was correcting an historical injustice and that no-one had spoken up for Atkinson when Turner’s book was published. I am therefore very grateful to Sally Hayles, who has just sent me a link to a letter published in the Scottish Geographical Magazine in 1906. The letter was written by William Graham of Edinburgh, who states that Atkinson “visited and climbed to the foot of one of the twin peaks of Bieloukha, the Belukha of Mr Turner, and gives a graphic account of its dangers and of the storm which drove him downwards with his two Kalmuck companions. The whole Altai region was explored by Atkinson at that time and his descriptions convey vividly to the imagination the grandeur in form and colour of its scenery.”

How delightful to find that not everyone had forgotten Atkinson’s achievements.


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