September 15, 2011

In Memoriam: Walter Bonatti

Italian legendary climber Walter Bonatti has died at age 81. His record was impressive and amazing: at 18 he made the fourth ascent of the north face of the Pointe Walker on the Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc range, at 21 he made the first ascent of the Grand Capucin rock pinnacle, at 24 he was the youngest man to be chosen to join the Italian K2 expedition... a long track record of successes and achievements (see here, here, here, and here to get an idea).

And yet, to be honest, what amazes me most is the fact that, unlike most of his fellow mountaineers—at least as far as I know—he had not followed in his father’s footsteps, nor he was, in his early years, a mountain man, having grown up on the banks of the Po River, in the flatlands of Lombardy and Emilia. He was an outsider. “My character and personality were already beginning to form in my childhood home by the River Po: the great river was like an ocean for me, the sandy river banks like deserts and the Alpine foothills on the horizon the highest mountains in the world,” he said in a 2010 interview. But he used to spend his holidays by his uncles in the mountains of Bergamo… and thus it happened that he decided to become a mountain guide and to move to Courmayeur, below the mighty Mont Blanc group. And that’s where the real life of Bonatti started. The life of a man who reached out for the uttermost difficulty, the unexplored. He cobbled a philosophy from his passion: pursuit of the impossible, he called it. His was a story of independence and freedom of spirit: there is no such thing as the “destiny,” man is the master of his own destiny.

“He was among the greatest of all time, without a shadow of a doubt,” the British mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington (nineteen expeditions to the Himalayas, including four to Mount Everest and the first ascent of the south face of Annapurna) told the Guardian. And Doug Scott, one of the first two Britons to conquer Everest, called Bonatti “perhaps the finest Alpinist there has ever been.”

His memoir The Mountains of My Life, which was republished in English in 2010 to celebrate his 80th birthday, is certainly one of the best books in mountaineering literature.

Rest in peace, Man of the Impossible.



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