Walter Bonatti

Walter Bonatti

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing, Toprope, Ice Climbing, Big Wall, Mixed, Scrambling, Skiing

One of the greatest climber

"The mountains have rules. They are harsh rules, but they are there, and if you keep to them you are safe. A mountain is not like men. A mountain is sincere. The weapons to conquer it exist inside you, inside your soul."

Walter BonattiWalter Bonatti

Walter Bonatti was born on 22th of June, 1930 in Bergamo, Italy. In the young days he lived in Monza which is not a city in the mountains. He said that in his young days every day that he spent it in mountains it was a feast day. His holidays spent by his uncles in the mountains of Bergamo were full of adventures. He spent every day by strolling in the mountains. At the end of his childish years he made a final exam of high school with a lot of problems. But this was necessary because he had to get a job. The Second World War just ended and it was hard to get a job. These were hard days for surivirval. Walter had many hopeless feelings about that kind of life. So he decided to continue an education. Across days he was working, in the evenings he was spending time in school. He made a diploma. It was really hard to come back to the people after spending the whole weekend in the mountains where he felt freedom. These trips to mountains became more and more infrequent. Soon he recognized that mathematical problems are not for him so he left the job of accountant. He realized that his life is written to the mountains. In year 1954 he became a mountain guide. Three years later he moved to Courmayer below the mighty Mont Blanc group. Here the real life of Bonatti started.

Grandes Jorasses   s North...Grandes Jorasses and its north face.
The magnificent Grand CapucinThe magnificent Grand Capucin.

He made so many amazing ascents that is hard to describe all of them. So I made a short list and describe the most important successes of his climbing career.
For start to mention how his climbing career started. He made his first ascents in the towers of Grignett, then climbed in Adamello group and he was soon successful with his first big ascent. This was a 1000 meters high southwest face of Croz dell` Altissimo in Dolomites. He made a first repetition of the direct route. Then he made some good ascents in the group of Masino – Bregaglia. This was in the year 1949 when he was 19 years old. But all these ascents were almost one year of preparing for first mighty face, the north face of Grandes Jorasses. His goal was a powerful Walker spur and the repetition of Cassin`s route. After some unsuccessful tries he came below the face with Andrea Oggioni (later his big friend and climbing partner), Emilio Villa and Mario Bianchi. Some days before with Oggioni and Villa he made a third repetition of the direct route in Aiguille Noire de Peuterey. After three days they climbed the famous Cassin`s route. I think this was the fifth repetition of the route. He was only 19 years old.
The next important ascent was over the east face of Grand Capucin in the year 1951. He was successful in the third attempt after for long days of climbing. His climbing partner was Luciano Ghigo.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen).Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen).
Majestic face of K2 (8611-M), KarakoramK2, Karakorum.

If we read his famous book The mountains of my life we knew he mentioned that a period of 15 months during service for alpine forces was one of the happiest moment in his life. He spent this period of his life all around the Alps and he found a new goal: climbing the wild north face of Tre Cime di Lavaredo in Winter! He became with hard training and his companion was Carlo Mauri from Lecco. The last goal and test before Tre Cime was a wild south pillar of Tofana di Rozes. They were unsuccessful because of the bad weather but they got the final important experience. In the february 1953 they went for some days below the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. They needed three days for climbing over the wild north face of Cima Ovest di Lavaredo over the Cassin`s route. When I was reading his book I was suprised and impressed that the temperature just before the sunrise was 24°C below zero. Now you can imagine how hard is to climb so hard route as Cassin` s route in cold Winter. After three days of resting they were also successful in the north face of the highest Cima in classic route Comici – Dimai.
Next big story is from the expedition on the second highest mountain in the world K2. Bonatti was at the centre of a climbing controversy regarding the first successful attempt by Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni in the year 1954, where as a 24 years old he helped ferry oxygen cylinders to the summiteers at Camp IX on the altitude around 8000 meters. Because of the bad weather and visibility Bonatti and sherpa could not find a camp. They spent a night at around 8000 meters outside standing in the face. It was a miracle that they survived.
Extreme close up of DruBonatti`s pillar in Les Drus.
Mont Blanc - Brenva wallMont Blanc - Brenva wall.

One of the his most amazing climbs was the ascent over the mighty southwest pillar of Petit Dru in 1955. He made many attempts to climb it but the mountain was always stronger. The big problem was the wild couloir between Petit Dru and Flammes de Pierre. Bonatti said this was for him the wildest couloir. You have to climb through the couloir to the start of the southwest pillar. The last and successful ascent was made solo. He came below the pillar from the end of couloir abseiling down. In five days he made a masterpiece. Climbing alone so hard route! After a huge rockfall in June 2005 the part of Bonatti pillar has gone.
Bonatti was living in Courmayer so he was homelike in Mont Blanc group. He made many climbs in the faces and pillars of Mont Blanc and its neighbours. I have mentioned some of the most important climbs. He opened a new route over the Pillar D`Angle in east face of Mont Blanc called Brenva`s face. He made many repetitions of the important routes in Mont Blanc`s face as Brenva spur, Route Major (solo), Piore (a pear), all the main ridges as Brouillard Ridge, Innominata Ridge and Peuterey Ridge. With his big friend Oggioni he made many repetition of the most important routes for this time. I have to mention also the route over the Red pillar of Brouillard. If you have not read his book The mountains of my life I really suggest you to read it. You must see how lovely he described the area around Mont Blanc. You can really imagine how he loves this area.

He was also successful in some expeditions in Andes. Very important is also a first climb on mighty Gasherbrum IV, 7980m in Himalaya.
Gasherbrum-IVGasherbrum IV, 7980m
From the summit of the...The mighty north face of Matterhorn - Monte Cervino.

The most tragical and sad story in his climbing was an attempt of the first route in very hard Central Pillar of Frêney in the face of Mont Blanc. He lost his greatest friend, Andrea Oggioni. In this climb they were caught (also four French climbers) in the pillar for 7 days (they were four nights in the same place in the pillar). Only Bonatti and two French climbers surivived.
After this really tragic and hard events Bonatti decided to stop climbing. But he could not refused visiting mountains so he decided only to travel around and visiting easy mountains.

But the last big adventure for Bonatti was in the year 1965. One hundred years after the first ascent on Matterhorn he climbed first direct route over the powerful north face of Matterhorn alone and in Winter. This was really an amazing achievement.

The mighty adventure was also a first tour skiing trip over the whole Alps in year 1956. This route that they (with three friends) made was 1795 kilometres long, with 73193 meters of ascent in 66 days. They also climbed on some popular mountains (like Ortler, Weisskugel / Palla Bianca, Mont Blanc and some others) This was really an amazing trip.

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 many books about climbing and mountaineering. After his end of climbing he has made many lectures about mountains and climbing. They are very interesting and well accepted by people.


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Gabriele Roth

Gabriele Roth - Oct 2, 2007 10:41 am - Hasn't voted

Re: you mentioned

"but these are interesting stories I think"
give a look to my article :)

alexander89 - Feb 3, 2011 4:08 pm - Hasn't voted


There is a small mistake in the article. Only one of the French climbers survived the great tragedy of Freney - Pierre Mazeaud. The other two survivers were Bonatti himself and the Italian climber Gallieni. Otherwise, a very good article about one of the greatest mountaineering legends.


Sgremazzoli - Sep 14, 2011 5:39 am - Hasn't voted

In Memory

Addio a Walter Bonatti, uno dei più grandi di tutti i tempi.

ericvola - Feb 1, 2012 7:06 am - Voted 8/10

Central Pillar of Freney drama

On the Central Pillar of Frêney attempt and subsequent drama (July 1961), Bonatti was with his friend and guide Andrea Oggioni. They had Roberto Gallieni with them as a client. The French were Pierre Mazeaud, Robert Guillaume, Antoine Vieille and Pierre Kholman, all highly talented French climbers, two in the middle of their guiding's course. All the French died but Pierre Mazeaud, the two youngest first. Andrea died as he sacrificed himself doing all the hard work being the last man going down, taking out the abseils and helping all the others to get down, this I believe to do his best to save the life of their client Roberto. Bonatti knowing best the area had to go in front to find the way down. Without him and his talent and strentgh of mind, they would all have died.


RAKESH KUNDU - Apr 23, 2013 12:17 pm - Hasn't voted

help me......

well I'm like into the books rather than into the trails... just trying to see or rather vaguely feel about all the excitement and thrills of these mountains through books.... reading Ed Viesturs,charles Houston,Graham Bowley & of-course Messner has rather fed the fire even bigger than before... so i will be obliged if someone help me to ensconce into the books of Bonatti and please let me know a great site from where i can find his books for download...... will appreciate any kind of help in this regard..:)))

Viewing: 21-25 of 25