Category Archives: roots

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

Ode Siivonen’s Big Mountain Shred Clinic: Lesson #1

Sharpen up those pencils, boys. You’re gonna want to take notes here…

And just because Ode makes this all look so easy, here’s that last couloir in Ode’s video as ridden by 2011 Freeride World Tour champion, Mitch Tölderer.

White Chamonix / Black Weekend

‘Nuff said.

Chamonix Premiére of Swift. Silent. Deep.

Back in the ’80s, Chamonix locs like Sylvain Saudan, Jean-Marc Boivin, Patrick Vallençant, Anselme Baud and Bruno Gouvy were blowing minds with their radical new concept of you-fall-you-die extreme skiing. Meanwhile, the hardcores in North America were simply trying to ski out of bounds without getting arrested. Swift. Silent. Deep. is the story of the  renegade Jackson Hole Air Force and the story of their attempts to push their own boundaries.

As the authoritative Homeboyski.com says about the movie

Although I have dozens of ski movies in my shelf I rarely watch them more than once. For some reason I find most of them boring after watching them once. You know lots of neck deep powder, huge cliff drops, spinning, flipping and funky music. . The same old story.

Hopefully there are ski movies that make a difference, and SWIFT.SILENT.DEEP is absolutely one of them. The story of the legendary Jackson Hole Air Force is so fascinating, inspiring and cool that I found myself watching the film over and over again.

So luckily for all of us the good crew at Salomon skis and LeVert Hotel have joined forces with the ChamonixInsider for the Chamonix premiere of Swift. Silent. Deep. on Saturday night, 13 March at 21:00. And to make it even more of a fiesta, Salomon is throwing some cash behind the bar to make sure everyone is good and loaded by the time the movie ends and the crazy mad percussion band Bodhizapha takes the stage.

Yes, it’s going to be a night to remember and no, you don’t want to miss it. In fact, call now and reserve a table for the killer 3-course dinner that LeVert serves up to make sure you’re not stuck outside the door while everyone else is inside swilling free booze, marvelling at the OG rulers ripping lines on their 110cm skis and dancing their brains out to Bodhizapha.

‘Nuff said. See you there.

Climbing Legend Riccardo Cassin Dies at 100

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Legendary alpinist Riccardo Cassin died last Thursday, 6 August, at the age of 100. Born on 2 January 1909 in the province of Friuli, Italy, Cassin was orphaned at a very young age and started work at the age of 13 as a blacksmith, a mason and then as a mechanic.

It was during this time that his natural ability and passion for the mountains enabled him to develop into a premiere talent. He began climbing with the Ragni di Lecco (Lecco Spiders) and opened his first routes in 1931 at the age of 22. In 1935 he astounded the international climbing community by climbing the north face of the Cime Ovest di Lavaredo (Italian VIII°/VI° /500m / A0 or 5.11d/5.9 A0) in the Dolomites. This route was coveted by the biggest names in climbing at the time and had developed a reputation as being unconquerable. Federica Valabrega describes the route in a Climbing magazine interview:

Cima Ovest Lavaredo (UIAA VIII- or VI-/A2)

Cima Ovest Lavaredo (UIAA VIII- or VI-/A2)

…a 500-meter line alternating overhanging sections with some more technical roofs, both requiring a large number of pitons. At that time, the ascent lasted over 60 hours, during which three terrible rainstorms lashed the wall, making snow condition very precarious.

July 1937 – Cassin leads the first ascent of Via Cassin, the northeast face of Piz Badile in the Bregaglia, Switzerland with best friend and climbing buddy Vittorio Ratti and Gino Esposito. M. Molteni and G. Valsecchi had reached the wall earlier and asked to rope in when the parties merged. www.Cassin.it illustrates the epic struggle:

Piz Badile (TD / 1200m / IV/6a)

Piz Badile (TD / 1200m / IV/6a)

In the evening during the first camp on the wall, Molteni asked Cassin to rope in. The second day of climbing was full of great technical difficulties worsened by the absolute isolation and the frequent stonefall.
During the night of the second bivvy a terrible rainstorm broke out that put the five alpinists to the test especially Molteni and Valsecchi who were already exhausted by the efforts of the climb.
On the third day the team conquered the wall after climbing many hours in rain that transformed into hail and then into heavy snow.
The descent down the Italian side was difficult due to cold weather, poor visibility and rapidly diminishing light. Molteni and Valsecchi, physically and psychologically exhausted, did not reach their salvation.

In August 1938 he followed with perhaps his greatest triumph. Along with with Gino Esposito and Ugo Tizzoni, the team climbed what was at that time widely known as the greatest alpine challenge, the Walker Spur (Italian V+, or 5.7) on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses (4208m). The team spent 80 hours on the mountain, 35 of which were spent on mixed terrain. Mountaineering in the Alps recounts the infamous story,

They knew nothing of the Chamonix district, had never been there before, and

Walker Spur (ED- / 1200m / 5+/A1

Walker Spur (ED- / 1200m / 5+/A1

in a vague fashion asked the hut keeper where the Grandes Jorasses were. Even more vaguely, the man made a sweeping gesture and said: “somewhere there”. He had not recognised the Italians and he thought their question was a joke. He was greatly surprised when, the next evening, he saw a bivouac light fairly high up the Walker spur; by the next night the light ha[d] crept up the face. On August 6th the party reached the summit ridge, where it was caught by a violent storm which compelled the men to bivouac on the way down.

Cassin’s comment on the climb?

“We climb straight up, on a line of pitons, without pushing the route unnaturally. We take the necessary material, we plan the bivouacs; only bad weather can come between us and our line.”

Many more remarkable achievements were to follow in the coming years:

Gasherbrum IV (7925m)

Gasherbrum IV (7925m)

1939 – Cassin and Tizzoni – first ascent, northeast face of the Aiguille de Leschaux (ED-/800 m).

1943-45 – Decorated for his actions with the Italian resistance movement which fought against German occupiers in Italy.

1947 – Began producing mountaineering equipment in Lecco including pitons, then hammers in 1948, ice axes 1949, carabiners 1950, the “first eiderdown duvet jackets for non-European mountaineering expeditions” 1950, his first harness prototype 1958, and the first titanium crampons in 1960.

Jirishanca (6094m)

Jirishanca (6094m)

1958 – expedition leader, first ascent of Gasherbrum IV (7925m) by Bonatti and Mauri.

1960 – expedition leader, Jirishanca (6126m), Peruvian Andes.

1961 – expedition leader/climber, Cassin Ridge, Denali (6,194 m. the most technical route on the mountain at the time).

1975 – expedition leader, unclimbed south face of Lhotse (8516m).

Riccardo Cassin is an honorary president of the C.A.I. section of Lecco, of the Spider (Ragni) group, an academician of the C.A.I., and a national climbing instructor. He is an honorary member of the Italian Alpine Club, French Groupe Haute Montagne, American Alpine Club, Club Academico de Montanismo Espanol, and Swiss Alpine Club Bregaglia section.

In December 1971 he received the honour of Commendatore della Repubblica and in 1976 the honorary citizenship of Lecco. He has been designated Grande Ufficiale della Repubblica.

Riccardo Cassin’s legendary achievements have been recognized in a book produced for his 100th birthday celebration, entitled Riccardo Cassin: Cento volti di un grande alpinista (“Riccardo Cassin: One Hundred Faces of a Great Alpinist”).

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"The mountain is a life teacher because it gives you the most fulfilling sensation you could possibly get from life and teaches you how to think without fearing. One who fears should not attempt to climb; nonetheless, you must have a little prudence when you climb. One without prudence is crazy." -Riccardo Cassin (1909-2009)

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