Our knowledge of Russian mountaineering was very hazy —there was, in fact, no information at all on which we could base an assessment of the standard of climbs which the Russians had been doing since the war. However, John Neill discovered that there was a Russian physicist, Alex Baldin, who was on a year's exchange visit at Birmingham University. Alex was a noted Russian climber—a Master of Sport—so we invited him up to Wales for a week-end. He came with borrowed boots two sizes too large, a pair of thin flannel trousers and a borrowed windproof jacket.
It poured with rain, but Alex in his rubber-soled boots, which he had never had an opportunity of using before, showed remarkable ability on the wet Welsh rocks. He asked us earnestly not to regard him as representative of the standard of Russian mountaineering. He had, he said, not touched a rock for at least two years and was very 'rusty'. But he climbed with ease and speed and had an uncanny eye for placing loose boulders in unlikely spots in order to assist his progress. If this was a 'rusty' Russian climber using unfamiliar equipment, we wondered just how good they might prove to be.
In the light of Alex Baldin’s ability and Charles Evans's words we became doubtful whether we were a strong enough party.
I strolled over to the Academy of Sciences Camp and talked to Alex Baldin, who was suffering from bad sunburn as a result of a training climb. He and his companions were preparing for a new climb on the north wall of Khrum-kol, a wall which Alex said was 5,000 feet high and at an angle of seventy-five degrees. It sounded formidable, and they were waiting until everyone was fully fit. Alex, besides his sunburn, had also slightly damaged his Achilles tendon.
He was an interesting individual. He was typical of the scientist-mountaineer, a combination of interests which is characteristic of many climbers both in Russia and the West. When I was President of the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club about 95 of our 120 members were reading science.
Alex was a very experienced mountaineer. He was born in Moscow on February 26th, 1926, the son of a clerk in the Ministry of Coal Industry. He started climbing at the age of nineteen when he went on a course at the Locomotive Camp in the Adyl-Su, not more than a mile away from Spartak Camp. Soon he became an instructor, and spent all his holidays there during his time at Moscow University. In 1952 he was made a Master of Sport after climbing four north walls in the Caucasus: one of these, Chatuin,won for him and his companions equal first place in the All-Union competition for the most technically difficult climb of the year.
Alex’s reasons for climbing were similar to those of many of my friends in England. No doubt this applied to many other Russian mountaineers. He was a brilliant scientist, but lived in a strange and complicated world in which he was dealing all the time with things and not people. He found the need to climb. And, in climbing, material things mattered little. He pitted his will and his skill against nature in the form of a mountain. Through that struggle he attained mastery of himself. So it is, in varying degrees, with mountaineers the world over.