In August of 1948, at Campaniletto in Grignetta, Walter Bonatti first put on climbing shoes and started an incredible journey. Within a year he had climbed the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses, considered at the time to be one of the hardest climbs in the world. In the following years Bonatti established himself as one of the greatest mountaineers ever, particularly with his many notable first ascents in the Mont Blanc massif. At just 24 years old he played a vital role in the Italian Expedition which successfully made the first ascent of K2, the world’s second highest mountain. Sadly, this was not a happy expedition, the arguments finally spilling over into the law courts Bonatti’s answer was spectacular. In 1955 he soloed the first ascent of a rock pillar on the Petite Dru. The pillar has since fallen down but the name “Bonatti Pillar” is still revered by alpinists everywhere. There are not many people whose name outlives the mountain. His stature as a Himalayist was confirmed on Gasherbrum IV, where he led pitch after pitch of very technical climbing at high altitude. At the age of 35 he soloed a new direct route on the north face of the Matterhorn in winter and then retired from cutting edge mountaineering to become an adventure travel photojournalist. What also makes Bonatti special is the way he transferred from the narrow world of mountaineering to embrace all aspects of exploration, and to make a successful living through his writings and photography from these journeys.
The repercussions of the K2 expedition were to affect Bonatti throughout his life, his name only being officially cleared by the Italian Alpine establishment in 2009.
In an article published in ALP Special Portraits, (CDA Vivalda), Michael Serra tries to explain Bonatti’s psyche:
Uno sguardo cristallino, Walter Bonatti
[…] He did not consider himself a “superman” but had his feet solidly on the ground, uncompromising, straight and strong like the mountains he loved so much, where a mistake is a mistake, no excuses, and a win is a win. Where every meter is a meter, every step a step. You cannot cheat a mountain or re-create it with half truths.
The relentless effort Bonatti put into having the official history of K2 rewritten stems from his desire to preserve the purity of the mountain spirit. I have often wondered, during conversations with Bonatti, if he was obsessive about K2. But I realized that for him, the situation was black or white. There are no half measures, no half-truths. For Bonatti, it is not opinions but physical properties, like the law of gravity, the temperature, the angle of the slopes, the consistency of the snow and ice, that matter. Someone who has experienced such extremes of rock, ice, wind, worn skin, blood freezing cold, has no time for hypocrisy, he needs the truth to come out.
Walter Bonatti published nearly 20 books, 4 of which have english editions.
1961 –On the Heights.
1972 –The Great Days
1984 –The Magic of Mont Blanc
1995 – Mountains of My Life
All books wrote by Walter Bonatti
1961 – Le mie montagne. 179 pp, Rizzoli Editore
1972 – I giorni grandi. Arnoldo Mondadori Editore
1980 – Ho vissuto tra gli animali selvaggi. 224 pp, Zanichelli
1983 – Le mie montagne. 181 pp, Rizzoli Editore
1984 – Avventura. 253 pp, Rizzoli Editore, Milano
1984 – Magia del Monte Bianco. Massimo Baldini Editore
1985 – Processo al K2. 123 pp, Massimo Baldini Editore
1986 – La mia Patagonia. 227 pp, Massimo Baldini Editore
1989 – L’ultima Amazzonia. 207 pp, Massimo Baldini Editore
1989 – Un modo di essere. Dall’Oglio Editore
1995 – K2 storia di un caso
1995 – Montagne di una vita. Baldini Castoldi Dalai editore
1997 – In terre lontane. 440 pp, Baldini Castoldi Dalai editore
1998 – Fermare le emozioni. L’universo fotografico di Walter Bonatti. 171pp, Edizioni Museo Nazionale della Montagna
1999 – Solitudini australi. 129 pp, Edizioni Museo Nazionale della Montagna
2001 – Una vita così. 510 pp. Baldini Castoldi Dalai editore
2006 – K2 La verità – storia di un caso. 282 pp, Baldini Castoldi Dalai editore
2008 – I miei Ricordi. 416 pp, Baldini Castoldi Dalai editore
2009 – Un mondo perduto. 463 pp. Baldini Castoldi Dalai editore
Wikipedia page of Walter Bonatti