Remembering Sasha Kolevatov


Maya Piskareva. October 17, 2013

A member of our community "Pass named after the Igor Dyatlov group", Mihail Antonov, told an interesting story. It would seem completely by accident that it turned out that his wife’s grandmother knew Alexander Kolevatov during her studies at UPI.

Here's how he tells it:

There was a dialogue: "And today we were at the cinema, about the Dyatlov group, where the students died..."

She interrupts: "I never liked Igor, he was too self-confident..."

I thought grandma was mistaken... It turned out not, she knew everyone from the photographs, didn’t remember everyone’s last names, but called them by first name. And she showed me the book given to her by Kolevatov "In the wilds of the Ussuri region" * by V. Arsenyev. Very epic and atmospheric.
* You have to see Akira Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala" based on this book - ed.

And there was an inscription inside the book:

"I give this book as a token of my great respect. May your life, Valya, be full of questions and endeavors, with many adventures, quests and challenges; remember your friends, travel and get to know your vast Motherland! It has no boundaries! Only forward! May 27, 1958 A. Kolevatov"

Book signed by Kolevatov
A book signed by Kolevatov as a gift to a girl who went on treks under his leadership.

According to her recollections, he did not intend to go on a hike with Igor Dyatlov; they had a trip planned for the spring - rafting on the rivers of Altai, but the group for Otorten was strong, and the level of the trek was highly respectable for an individual’s certification of achievements.

As a person, she said, he was quiet and extremely disciplined. Being the head of the group, he never spoke in a commanding tone or shouted, did not scold for mistakes, silently corrected the omission himself, and on the next trip he simply did not take the offender into the group. "For good reason, they feared him as a leader."

We were all so excited by the fact that we bombarded this woman with questions:

What languages did Kolevatov speak? Did he speak German, or did he just understand it? Why did she go hiking with Kolevatov?

Why did she like him, what character traits of Sasha attracted her and the group members in general?

Is it true that girls didn’t like Sasha Kolevatov? For what if this is so?

Was Blinov in their group?

For what occasion did Sasha Kolevatov give her a book?

Did Sasha have a girlfriend?

Did he ever talk about his life in Moscow, about his work there? Why did you return to Sverdlovsk?

Ask again, is it true that he always kept a diary and walked around with a book, writing down all the time?

Did he smoke a pipe on the treks?

Did you express an opinion about Moscow as a city, did you like what you did outside of work, did you make any acquaintances there?

Ask to tell in as much detail as possible about Alexander’s character, and everything that she remembers about him! Since we know the least about this participant in the fateful trek.

And so on October 15, a meeting took place with Valentina Pavlovna (she asked not to reveal her last name).

Melchisedek says:

"I was struck by the story about the so-called "nadya". Nadya is a device that gives a chance to survive during a cold night without a tent. The device requires 4 rotten logs of dead wood, moss, and spruce branches. A layer of moss is laid on the log, covered with the same log on top, the moss is set on fire and smolders during the night without emitting a large amount of smoke, but with a huge amount of heat. Do the same with the other two logs. Place two smoldering nadya parallel to each other at a distance of one meter, the space between them is lined with spruce branches. In one nadya two or three people hugging each other fit in. Kolevatov organized a nadya when his group did not reach the populated area until dark..."

My note - V. Androsov said this about node: "You can never make a nadya out of rotten logs; you take two very dry logs on the bottom and put damp birch on them overnight. It smolders well and is hot. Dry logs burn very quickly."

- 2 -

Here is a story about the meeting with photographs about Alexander, and the songs that he knew and loved to sing in the mountain.

Valentina Pavlovna studied at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering Technology. Valentina met Aleksander when she was enrolled in a group under his leadership in a hiking club in 1956. The group was formed from newcomers, and here Kolevatov appears in the not entirely familiar image of a mentor, open to helping novice hikers. So my first question was if the severity of his uncompromisingness was misjudged.

In the period from 1956 to the end of 1958, they had three large-scale treks: Sverdlovsk-Nizhny Tagil (on skis), Sverdlovsk-Mount Kachkanar (on skis) and rafting along the Sayan rivers. Valentina was not in the Sayans; she, as a political activist, was sent to virgin soil. During a trip to the Sayan Mountains, a dangerous incident occurred: a boat with equipment and food capsized, but no one died. The remaining treks were carried out for one or two days, taking into account the busyness of students at UPI. Arriving in Tagil, Kolevatov obtained permission to visit the local metallurgical plant and walked around the city with everyone for a long time. They managed to go to Kachkanar a year before the discovery of iron ore and the development of vigorous industrial activity there, visiting this place as pristine. Assessing the low level of preparation of the group, the route was worked out with a mandatory overnight stay in a populated area (during the winter holidays, rural schools were empty, and overnight stays were held in them). Sasha was afraid to take on the responsibility of a cold overnight stay with the "youngsters". He taught the children how to navigate in the taiga using triangulation towers, climbing up, looking from above to look for the other two, and checking the area with a map to determined their location.

Once, having made a mistake while following the route, the guys did not reach the populated area before dark, and being left in the taiga at night without tents, he resorted to making nadyas. Despite the successful outcome, Aleksander felt guilty and very depressed, while to the group itself it seemed like an adventure.

When taking a new person in the group, he tried his best to smooth the edges between the old and new members. The attitude was paternal and mentoring; he could only scold one-on-one, realizing that a reprimand in front of the group spoils the atmosphere in the team, dividing it into those who are experienced and those who are not so experienced. The members of his groups had the feeling of his unquestioned authority as a group leader, and in conversations with each other they shared the impression that in front of his experience and knowledge they all looked like suckers (Valentina repeated this self-determination several times) despite the difference of only 2-3 years.

The efforts to form the group were not in vain; according to recollections, they lived more friendly than relatives. They did not celebrate birthdays on these expeditions, nor name days. "It was different. Now it is a celebration, it wasn't like that back then..."

It’s strange, but Valentina unequivocally and firmly says that Aleksander did not smoke, neither a pipe nor cigarettes, indicating that this fact would definitely be remembered by her, due to her terrible allergy to tobacco. Aleksander was indifferent and cold towards taking pictures, never posed, but also did not hide on purpose.

He did not keep a notebook with permanent entries, only a standard camp diary. Valentina herself did not keep a diary during her hikes.

Yuri Blinov was not part of her group in the period from 1956 to 1958. She did not see him in those treks in which she herself participated.

Regarding relationships with the female sex, Valentina talks about the attractiveness and cuteness of his image, as a strict, self-possessed and collected man to the limit, who at the same time does not put pressure on them with his authority and is open to help.

"Galka and I quietly went crazy about him," says Valentina, lowering her saddened eyes. This sympathy was shared by all the girls in the group, and she was very surprised by Blinov’s words that girls could not stand Kolevatov. He had no romantic relationships within the group, he behaved same way with all of the girls, strictly and warmly looked after everyone under his care. Outside of the treks, his successes on the personal front remain a mystery. On her hikes, Valentina "followed Sasha's shadow".

Sasha did not say a word to anyone about his life in Moscow, nor about working there, nor about dating.

Valentina names a possible reason for returning from Moscow as his love for the Ural nature and mountaineering, the vast taiga is incomparable with the central zone of Russia.

It’s unlikely that he knew spoken German; among the students of the physics department, the level of a foreign language was limited only to the ability to translate a technical text from a dictionary; the subject itself was considered humanitarian and "to know spoken German is a disgrace for a physics and technology department".

The book with inscription posted above was given just like that, and was not associated with anything, which speaks of the ability to make friends and give joy and kindness not only on special occasion, which is not popular nowadays.

Valentina considers Sasha Kolevatov to be a true altruist and a caring comrade, a person who does not light up the team and does not often joke, but is always engaged in a generally useful routine, a kind of gray horse, on whose unnoticed labors and merits the success of the event rests. It was like he specifically recruited a group of rookies for the opportunity to teach them something. This means that highly complex hikes were lower in his priorities than the desire for live communication and sharing his experience.

She doesn’t complain about the equipment at UPI; all the uniforms were issued by the hiking club, with the ability to select sizes and customize them. Kolevatov himself used this equipment, avoiding obviously unequal positions among the participants in the trek.

Valentina Pavlovna conveys greetings and gratitude to everyone for remembering Sasha and being interested in his life. "Tell the guys that they will never understand our generation. We had everything at the university, then we lived and were full of strength and hope. During the day we studied, prepared coursework, in the late evenings we put on skates, wrapped a rag around the blades so that the tiles rattled on the hostel watch. Then we climbed over the fences of the now closed skating rink, and spent the night skating there alone with friends, everyone thought that life would never end. We could sleep for 3-4 hours and got up full of strength. We were free, and now you have money, mortgages and loans..."

- 3 -

Sasha is second from left
Sasha is second from left. Valentina herself sits second from the right, reading poetry.

Sasha sitting on the rock
Sasha sitting on the rock.

Songs that Sasha loved to sing on hikes:

  1. "Belalakaya is in front of me..."
    According to the remark of group member Dmitry Levanov, this song was called "Cold overnight", lyrics by L.A. Sena, one of the founders of Soviet mountaineering, in 1937


  2. "People walk around the world" (R. Chenborisova - I. Sidorov)


    Dmitry Levanov notes A. Kolevatov could not sing “People Walk Around the World” since R. Chenborisova wrote it in 1962.


  3. "We are walking through Uruguay", author unknown.


    We are walking through Uruguay,
    Night, even gouge out your eyes.
    You can hear the screams of parrots
    A storm is coming (And monkey voices)


    This song was very popular in the 1950s. In all memoirs only one quatrain remains the same. Probably, the original version of the song consisted of this quatrain. There are many versions for the rest of the song.


    We are walking through Uruguay, Uruguay.
    Night at least gouge out your eyes.
    You can hear the screams of parrots
    And monkey voices
    Only the wild laughter of a gorilla, gorilla
    Disturbs the jungle's sleep
    And in the darkness of the dark night, night
    Sounds like a groan.
    Someone's eyes are glowing, eyes
    Through the marsh grass.
    And they scream in the pitch darkness, pitch darkness
    Blue cockatoos.
    Large rain knocks on the leaves, leaves,
    Water sloshes in the backpacks.
    This difficult path is rocky, rocky
    We will never forget.
    We are walking through Uruguay, Uruguay.
    Night at least gouge out your eyes.
    And none of us knows, doesn't know
    Will the storm end soon?

* * *

Maya Piskareva.

Published 10/17/2013, modified: 03/01/2015

An Oscar winning movie based on the book signed by Aleksander Kolevatov directed by Akira Kurosawa

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