Legendary Alpinist Walter Bonatti Dies of Cancer at 81

22 June 1930 - 13 September 2001

“Every climb I did was about challenging myself, about not knowing if I had what it took to survive. I seldom felt a feeling of great triumph when I made it to the top; that feeling came when I was on the mountain itself and I knew there was nothing that could stop me.”

Climbing legend Walter Bonatti died of cancer last night at the age of 81. Although he stopped climbing at the young age of 35 his iconic ascents of the Grand Capucin, Petite Dru, Gasherbrum IV and others have firmly established him as one of the greatest climbers of all time.

1949 – Fourth ascent of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses.                              1951 – First ascent of the Grand Capucin (with Luciano Ghigo, east face, VII/400m).                                                                                                                                     1953 – First winter ascent of the north face of Cime Ovest di Lavaredo.               1954 – Center of the controversy surrounding the first summit of K2. Survived open bivouac at 8100 meters with freaked out porter.                                                1955 – Epic, solo first ascent of the southwest pillar (Bonatti Pillar) of the Petite Dru.                                                                                                                                                    1956 – first ski traverse of the Alps (1795 km, 73,193m of ascent, 66 days)          1957 – Grand Pilier d’Angle du Mont Blanc.                                                                      1958 – First ascent of 7925-meter Gasherbrum IV (NE ridge w/ Carlo Mauri)     1959 – The Red Pillar of Brouillard.                                                                                      1961 – one of two survivors of a 7-man team’s tragic attempt on the Central Pillar of the Freney of Mont Blanc.                                                                                                   1961 – Rondoy North, Patagonia.                                                                                           ???? – Awarded the French Legion of Honneur.                                                              1963 – First winter ascent of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses.                   1965 – First winter solo of the north face of the Matterhorn.                                  2004 – Awarded the Italian honorific title Cavaliere di Gran Croce.                     2010 – First climber to receive the Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bonatti’s book, The Mountains of My Life is a classic in mountaineering literature and tells the story of his most famous climbs. The book includes his description of the controversial first ascent of K2 where Bonatti was intentionally abandoned by his partners Lino Lacedelli and Achille Campagnoni high on K2 after carrying the oxygen that would be the key to the pair’s successful summit. Bonatti refused to drop the high-altitude porter, Amir Mahdi, who had accompanied him in order to descend to safety and the pair heroically survived an open bivouac at 8100 meters on one of the deadliest mountains in the world.

Lacedelli and Campagnoni originally accused Bonatti of using some of the oxygen on the carry thereby jeopardizing their own summit bid and it took 50 years for Bonatti’s version of the events to be verified as the truth. Mahdi has been less fortunate and has still not recovered all his fingers and toes that were lost to frostbite in the ordeal.

“Perhaps the finest alpinist there has ever been.” -Doug Scott

“Bonatti was one of the greatest climbers of all time – the last true Alpinist, an expert in all disciplines. But more importantly Walter was a marvellous, tolerant, loving person.” – Rheinhold Messner

“He was a complex person, and a sensitive one too. K2 always preyed on his mind. But he was also a man of great integrity. And a great gentleman.” -Sir Chris Bonington.

“If in normal conditions it is skill, which counts, in such extreme situations, it is the spirit, which saves.” -Walter Bonatti

Walter Bonatti (far right) on the Italian side of Mont Blanc

Sources: Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti, The Guardian, UIAA, Alpinist

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2 responses to “Legendary Alpinist Walter Bonatti Dies of Cancer at 81

  1. Pingback: Legendary Alpinist Walter Bonatti Dies at 81 » Chamo...

  2. Great article about Bonatti! I am glad to see he was a legend not only for us Italians. I climbed the Matterhorn along the Italian ‘Cresta del Leone’ in 1995, with an alpine Guide, and I read all the Bonatti’s books!
    Paola Tavoletti – Rome, Italy

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