Good bye Walter Bonatti


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Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 14, 2011 - 07:24am PT

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Sep 14, 2011 - 08:01am PT
A life well lived. RIP.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 14, 2011 - 08:09am PT
This is sad news indeed.

A gracious gentleman and an inspiration to all climbers.

I will miss him.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Sep 14, 2011 - 08:50am PT
Wow. RIP Walter.

One of my greatest early inspirations as a climber.

A life well lived indeed.


Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Sep 14, 2011 - 09:06am PT
Bonatti was born in Bergamo.

Famed for his climbing panache, he pioneered little known and technically difficult climbs in the Alps, Himalaya and Patagonia. Among his notable climbs are a solo climb of a new route on the south-west pillar of the Aiguille du Dru in August 1955 and the first solo winter ascent of the Matterhorn north face in 1965. At the age of 21, Bonatti in 1951 made the first ascent of the Grand Capucin, an extraordinary red granite pinnacle in the Mont Blanc massif, from 20 to 23 July. This was the climb that brought him to public notice. At age eighteen, Bonatti had made the fourth ascent of the formidable North Face of the Grandes Jorasses with very poor equipment over a period of two days.

Bonatti was at the center of a climbing controversy regarding the first ascent of K2 by Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni. Along with Hunza climber Amir Mahdi, Bonatti carried oxygen cylinders to Lacedelli and Compagnoni at Camp IX for the summit attempt. Bonatti was later accused by Compagnoni of using some of the oxygen, causing the climbers to run out of oxygen on summit day. Using this supplemental oxygen would have been impossible for Bonatti: he had neither mask nor regulator. Bonatti would cite two summit photos to support his theory that Compagnoni lied about running out of oxygen in route to the summit. Although Bonatti's account of the bivouac is supported by Lacedelli in K2: The Price of Conquest (2004), Lacedelli contends that the oxygen did in fact run out. However, he attributes this not to Bonatti's alleged use of the oxygen, but to the physical exertion of the climb causing the summit climbers to use more oxygen than expected.

Another aspect of the controversy was the Bonatti-Mahdi forced bivouac of July 30, 1954. Compagnoni's decision to place the final camp (IX) at a higher location than formerly agreed caused the problem. When Bonatti and Mahdi climbed up to deliver oxygen to Compagnoni and Lacedelli for their summit attempt, Mahdi's condition had deteriorated. Unable to descend with Mahdi, Bonatti needed the shelter of Camp IX's tent. The tent was placed high up, over a dangerous traverse to the left - not at the agreed upon location. Unable to safely traverse to the tent, Bonatti and Mahdi endured a forced bivouac in the open at 8100 meters; it cost Mahdi his fingers and toes. Compagnoni explains his decision to move the tent was to avoid an overhanging serac, a viable explanation.

However, it is argued that he also had an ulterior motive: to avoid Walter Bonatti. Bonatti was in the best physical condition of all the climbers and the logical choice to make the summit attempt. If he had joined the summit team, he would likely have done so without the use of supplemental oxygen. If he had succeeded, any summit by Compagnoni would have been utterly eclipsed. Although the Bonatti-Mahdi forced bivouac was not anticipated, Compagnoni intended to discourage Bonatti from reaching the tent. At 6:10 pm the next evening, Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli reached the summit of K2, using the supplemental oxygen Bonatti and Mahdi had brought them. Ardito Desio, in his final report, mentioned the forced bivouac only in passing. Mahdi's frostbite was an embarrassment to the expedition. The Italian government provided Mahdi with a small pension for his contribution and sacrifice on the first ascent of K2.

Walter Bonatti has never reconciled with Compagnoni, owing to Compagnoni's allegedly false accusation that Bonatti used the oxygen intended for the summit attempt.

Bonatti wanted to climb K2 "solo, alpine style, and without oxygen".[1] He might well have succeeded. Two decades later, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler astonished the mountaineering world by climbing Mount Everest without bottled oxygen.

Walter Bonatti was awarded the French Legion d'Honneur for saving the lives of two fellow-climbers in a disaster in the Alps. Bonatti is the author of a number of books about climbing and mountaineering.

He died in Rome in September 2011.
Patrick Sawyer

Originally California now Ireland
Sep 14, 2011 - 09:28am PT
What an inspiration, what a climber and what a human being. RIP. Wish I could have met him.

I use to have a number of his blue-gated biners.
Delhi Dog

Good Question...
Sep 14, 2011 - 09:29am PT
There was a man,
who put dreams
into actions,
and made those
dreams come true.


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 14, 2011 - 09:38am PT
Bonatti was the only climbing hero I ever had. It was an honor to be part of the Piolet d'Or delegation that presented him a lifetime achievment award a couple of years ago.
steve shea

Sep 14, 2011 - 09:40am PT
Sad, news. The Alpine world has lost a true pioneer and a good guy. RIP. He left us a legacy of treasure with his routes. His signature climbs will endure and I would say he was my only climbing hero as well.

Trad climber
Sep 14, 2011 - 10:07am PT
The passing of a Era and a great man. What a inspiration to the rest of us he was. Goodbye Walter.

Trad climber
verona italy
Sep 14, 2011 - 10:09am PT
Truly sad news, and quite unexpected. I'd like to quote the words (my translation) of Annibale Salsa, former General Presidente of CAI (Italian Alpine Club) and one of those few in the institution who backed the efforts to clear Bonatti of the K2 allegations and to restore the historical truth:" I was deeply shaken by the news of the loss of Walter Bonatti, in particular because, since the day of his 80th birthday party in June 2010 at Messner's, where I had been invited, I was able to see a Bonatti born to a new life. A man reborn in body and soul, morally compensated thanks to his full restoration by CAI in relation to the K2 affair. Hence, my utmost happiness remains that of having contributed to give him back that peace of mind that He had been struggling for in the last 54 years. Dear Walter, now you can rest in peace amongst Your mountains after reconciling with mankind"
One of the latest TV appearances of Bonatti, here with Messner (;

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Sep 14, 2011 - 10:16am PT
Hard as nails and classy all the way.
Has anyone done near as many iconic routes?
rick d

ol pueblo, az
Sep 14, 2011 - 10:19am PT
one reporter writes:
"Two decades later, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler astonished the mountaineering world by climbing Mount Everest without bottled oxygen."

yea, except freaking Herman did Nanga Parbat a year before SOLO w/o o2.


(adios Walter, you were one of the best)

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Sep 14, 2011 - 10:34am PT
If there ever was a climber beyond the word hero, above the word inspiration, he was the one.

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Sep 14, 2011 - 10:36am PT
RIP! An exemplary climber.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Sep 14, 2011 - 10:50am PT
Bon Voyage Walter!

Much respect for the way that you lived and played the game on all levels!

Truly an inspired and inspiring life.

Rest well and return to us soon...

Trad climber
Placerville, California
Sep 14, 2011 - 10:51am PT
in observing these men whom stand so strong,

my poise is encouraged.

in that, walter was a hero to me.

but so are many of you folks.

Trad climber
Sep 14, 2011 - 11:05am PT
Surely one of the greatest climbers of all time.RIP
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Sep 14, 2011 - 11:14am PT
I am shaken, deeply. He was my friend. We stayed in contact,
after our first meeting in Buxton, England, in 1984, when we were guest
speakers for the national conference. As a boy at the brink of
climbing, I tore out articles I found in magazines of Bonatti,
with his dark black hair, for example, after he soloed the
North Face of the Matterhorn. That was a bold achievement.
He once said I could write a book about him, if I would come
to Italy and spend time with him. I then took three
semesters of university Italian but never got good at it.
My life was too much of a mess, it seems, then and later,
to get there, to Italy. I did make one trip, and saw Cassin, but
Walter was in Patagonia or somewhere at the time. In my heart
I worked on that book, wrote it within, an ongoing composition,
and felt I would make it to Italy again and see my now-white-haired
friend some day. He continued to write to me, in Italian. Each letter
I had carefully translated, one, in particular,
by two sources, my Italian-teacher girl friend Susanne,
and Reg Saner, poet/scholar. The two gave me virtually
identical interpretations, in which at
one point Walter said our meeting and time together in England
changed his view of "the younger generation." Interesting that
he would view me as part of the younger generation, when most
others saw me as representative of an era fading fast
into the golden dust. I can't tell you how much I cherish
that letter. One sentence of it: "Getting to know you has given
me the intelligence to remove from my mind certain pejudices --
or generalizations -- on the new climbing generations. You and
I speak the same language in the heart and soul." Imagine
receiving that, from the greatest alpinist of his day (if not
all time). I will never forget a three hour conversation we
had in the hotel in Buxton (just one of several long talks we
enjoyed during those three days). Merella Tenderini translated,
and then I played the piano for him. Walter liked that.
The music was a universal language and needed no translation.
After I finished my presentation, and Walter finished his,
we stood together to the side, but still in view of much
of the large crowd. Walter embraced me. With
hands on my shoulders, he said, in English, "You and I are
Alpha and Omega." According to Mirella, he had worked hard at
learning how to say that phrase and to be able to deliver it to
me. It had layers of meaning for him, I believe, not simply
the difference in our age, or that I was a pure rock
climber and he an alpinist, or that I was the first speaker
and he the last. Mirella delivered part of the sentence's
payload when she added later, "In the circle of life,
alpha and omega meet." It had to do with things
that could not be expressed.
What we share as climbers is sacred and beautiful. How lucky,
how blessed we are to have friends. How fortunate I have
been to meet and know the best.

Trad climber
The great white north, eh?
Sep 14, 2011 - 11:20am PT
Walter Bonatti was a hard man with a soft soul. He was a climber's climber and a true gentleman. He will be greatly missed by those who knew him and those who wished to know him.
His was truly a life well lived.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Bonatti. Rest well. You have earned it.
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