In Memoriam: Walter Bonatti, 1930-2011

image from There are a few names that are synonymous with historic, legendary alpinism: Messner, Kukuczka, Buhl, etc. And, sadly, one of the early legends, Walter Bonatti, passed away at age 81 yesterday in Rome, Italy.

His climbing resume includes some of the great ascents and peaks of the world:

  • The north face of the Grandes Jorasses (1949)
  • The east face of Grand Capucin (1951)
  • The north faces of Tre Cime di Lavaredo in winter (1953)
  • The southwest pillar of the Aiguille du Dru (The Bonatti pillar) (1955)
  • Grand Pilier d'Angle (with Tito Gobbi) (1957)
  • Gasherbrum IV (1958)
  • The Red Pillar of Brouillard (1959)
  • Rondoy North – Patagonia (1961)
  • The north face of the Grandes Jorasses in winter (1963)
  • The north face of the Matterhorn: solo and in winter (1965)

Bonatti was also on the famous first ascent of K2 in 1954, which resulted in a decades-long feud with fellow teammates (and first ascensionists) Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni over oxygen supposedly used by Bonatti, thus hindering their eventual summit bid.

I've long admired Bonatti for many reasons, not least of which is his unwavering belief in mountaineering not as a sport, or a contest, but rather a life and a philosophy. Stewart Green shared this Bonatti quote on his website:

For me, the value of a climb is the sum of three inseparable elements, all equally important: aesthetics, history, and ethics. Together they form the whole basis of my concept of alpinism. Some people see no more in climbing mountains than an escape from the harsh realities of modern times. This is not only uninformed but unfair. I don’t deny that there can be an element of escapism in mountaineering, but this should never overshadow its real essence, which is not escape but victory over your own human frailty.

There is far more of Bonatti's amazing life and climbing career to read about, so please check out some of these articles:

You'll be missed, Walter, but your spirit will live on.

Jake Norton is an Everest climber, guide, photographer, writer, and motivational speaker from Colorado.

  1. Mount Everest
    Mount EverestSeptember 14,11

    Walter was one of the best during his climbing years. I am sure he will be sadly missed by many.

    Mount Everest The British Story

  2. Jake Norton
    Jake NortonSeptember 14,11

    Thanks, Colin. He was amazing. I hope all is well with you!


  3. Sujoy Das
    Sujoy DasSeptember 16,11

    Were Gashebrum and K2 his only expeditions to the Karakoram? I wonder why he never climbed in the Himalaya?

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