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The portrait of Walter Bonatti, taken by Giulio Malfer for his book Sguardi dall'alto (2002)
Photo by Giulio Malfer
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Walter Bonatti, thoughts and memories from the world of alpinism

15.09.2011 by Planetmountain

The thoughts for Walter Bonatti which PlanetMountain received from the alpinists...

A thought for Walter Bonatti. We asked some alpinists to send us their thoughts in memory of Walter Bonatti, who passed away yesterday aged 81. These are thoughts jotted down instinctively, from the heart, which prove how much the alpinist and man Bonatti influenced us all.

As soon as new thoughts reach us, they will be added to this sort of virtual work-in-progress.


Marco Anghileri
Bonatti made me dream! He represented true adventure and I always saw in him a correct person, above all coherent with his choices and his way of being. In short: the courage and strength to live out his own ideas! Which is typical of all great men!

Hansjörg Auer
A few month ago, I sat at home and my brother came back from Chamonix. He gave me a French magazine and said I should read the story about Walter Bonatti's odyssey on the Freney Pillar. When I finished reading the article I was simply overwhelmed. It was hard to imagine what an excellent alpinist and climber Bonatti must have been. Walter Bonatti's achievements took place a long time before I was born. When I was younger I read about his routes and the first I climbed was up Grand Capucin, but to be honest, perhaps because of the distance that separated us, I never felt drawn to his first ascents and repeats. In my opinion the most inspiring detail of his way to interpreting alpinism was his powerful mind. He introduced a new way, or maybe a new style, of how to establish and repeat routes. Realising his vision was a massive step forward and combined difficulty and route finding ability with respect for other climbers and the mountains. To compare it to nowadays, we are just peanuts.

Herve Barmasse
During an interview Enzo Biagi asked Walter Bonatti how he would like to be remembered after his death. With hesitation, as determined as when he managed to breach walls others believed impossible, he replied "a man who lived life to the full.." I was fortunate enough to get to know him personally and understand fully that, apart from his great alpine achievements, what rendered Walter Bonatti the best alpinist of his era was his moral integrity, his infinite humanity and his great teachings. I like remembering one in particular "Nowadays technically everything is possible in the mountain, it's been proven. Dotted across the globe there are peaks and faces, unclimbed, which sooner or later someone will certainly climb. So, I say, at least in the mountains let's leave more room for man than technique, and let's distance ourselves from what reduces, confounds, impoverishes.

Nick Bullock
Bonatti climbed routes so far ahead of the time and lived a life so full of adventure, with drive, passion and skill that it makes me very sad that the world has lost such a great man. His death also makes me wonder if if today's Alpinists are, like Bonatti was, passionate enough to reach the heady standards that he reached and maintained throughout his life of climbing. A great loss.

Colin Haley
Although alpinism doesn't lend itself well to rankings, if one is asked to pick 'the greatest mountaineer of all time,' Bonatti is I think the obvious choice. Gasherbrum IV is certainly a more impressive mountain than any of the 8,000m peaks, and Bonatti and Mauri's first ascent puts them among the best in high-altitude history. Bonatti's solo on the Petit Dru clearly marked him as also one of the most technically gifted climbers of his era. Bonatti's visionary first attempt on Cerro Torre's West Face is testament to his ethics - unlike those who would come to the mountain soon after, Bonatti would rather not climb it at all if not in a small, lightweight team.

Alexander Huber
Like no one else Walter Bonatti is the father of modern alpinism. With great thanks I express my full respect for his life-time achievement. What an inspiration Walter has been to all of us!

Rossano Libera
I've always considered Bonatti not an alpinist but Alpinism; a discipline which may be considered unconventional, yet is useful for interior growth, perhaps more so than many (all) other sports, disciplines, ideologies and religions. I believe this to be the case because, if lived in a totalising manner (and we all know exactly how much Bonatti did so) then it encompasses all these. An accumulation and forging ground for scorching emotions, alpinism is born within us by a spark of these emotions. It makes us imagine, search for and then live. It comes to life thanks to a dream which nothing other than the greatest transposition of our emotions. First through his climbs (read undertakings) and then through his books, Bonatti simply made us dream. And this is no small thing... Bonatti was our dream. Bonatti was (and will always be) Alpinism.

Manolo Maurizio Zanolla
You never meet some people. They are distant, nothing more. They live on the same planet, in the same region, in the same mountains and share the same love, but they never even touch each other. It may seems strange, but on a planet where by now everything seems smaller and closer, we continue slowly to drift further apart. Despite having so many friends in common, I never met Walter. No! It's not true! I met Walter as we walked beneath the Dru, we climbed together on Grand Capucin and also the Matterhorn, together with his enormous tigers and his great days. Walter Bonatti was a giant with antifreeze in his blood and it is for this reason that they forced you to suffer for so many years. I have always been with you and I really liked you and you fuelled my dreams and … perhaps you were the only one to do this.

Simone Moro
Walter was a man without compromises, a man who didn't like saying things by half in an attempt to mediate or let things be. He never gave a tuppence about needing to be liked by everyone and in the end he became just this, recognised universally for what he had achieved, written and proven. Walter was also a friend, a fellow-countryman, a legend, inimitable but certainly a man who (in my own special way) inspired me and taught me to tread my own path, without necessarily choosing easier, more popular options. With Walter's death we lose the world's first Great polyvalent alpinist. Capable of living everything to a maximum intensity, he also managed to be a special envoy, a naturalist, explorer and narrator. The baton he has left us is now in our hands, ready to be taken onwards... exactly as he would have done. He explained how and in which direction alpinism should go. It is our task now to understand where it should rightly go...

Iker & Eneko Pou
The maestro has left us. A "creator of impossible dreams" has gone forever. The alpinist who saw routes there where no one had seen anything. Or where others had seen, but were unable, he resolved. An alpinist of former times, one of those who never gave up, one of those who made the word "commitment" their religion. An alpinist who through his style put fire into the blood of generations of climbers. Now that the game of adventure is not in best health, we hope his example will continue to spread in the future.  We had the pleasure and honour of meeting him last year at Courmayer during the  Piolet d'Or. It was a unique moment. Getting to know the man, speaking to him, sharing our experiences. We were faced with a living legend of mountaineering, a hero of our youth. Our latest encounter was this summer, not with him in person, but instead with one of his masterpieces: the Red Pillar of Brouillard. During our first ascent of Classica-Moderna together with Hervé Barmasse we admired each pitch up his pillar and Bonatti was ever-present during our climb. We always try to emulate his style, his way of being, his cold blood, without ever wishing to diminish his achievements, knowing full-well that there is only one Bonatti. The alpinist of the Dru, Capucin,  Brouillard,  Freney and K2 has left us. The man departs, but leaves behind his heritage. Ciao Bonatti!

Simone Pedeferri
I've always been torn by the figure of Bonatti, a part of me loved him while the other part rejected him. Black or white, these are the colours I've always imagined for him, with his imagination and inventiveness which enabled him to solve impossible walls with an innovative and modern style, in contrast with his stubbornness towards situations and events in his life which were secondary compared to the grandiosity of what he had climbed, discovered, invented. Bonatti invented "alpine style" which has no compromises, it is either white or black! Just like him!

Marko Prezelj
It is very sad to hear this latest news about Walter Bonatti. Bonatti is and will remain one of the greatest people in the history of alpinism. With his personality and attitude, he is an inspiration for many of us. An honest man of principle and a true legend.

Emilio Previtali
I think that up until a few years ago, only a few really understood Bonatti. Everyone recognised his talent as alpinist, climber and explorer. Admiring that was easy. Many others, alpinists and non, enjoyed his ability to narrate, read his books and listened to his exploration reports. But far fewer, I believe, imagined that his romantic approach to adventures, intended in its most noble and essential form, could hold the key to the remote future of alpinism. By now we are all aware of the concept: exploration, internal and external. We should all know what this means. Thanks to him, today we know what it modern, what is cutting-edge and what isn't in alpinism, exploration and the art of story telling. We can pretend not to know, to ignore his anticipations, visions and instincts. But that's the fact of the matter. It's all clear. Walter Bonatti taught us that the quality and class of a man – beyond that of an alpinist – lie in extreme all-roundness, not in extreme specialisation. I admired his courage, his ability to listen to himself, his ability to tell stories and his genuine desire for knowledge and exploration. And his discretion. I admired above all, after his rise to fame, his life as a man capable of rising to other challenges, capable of waiting, of watching. For me he was a great. He taught me how to dream.

Ivo Rabanser
Walter Bonatt is a legend of modern alpinism, he who dominated all disciplines: from the limestone on Grignetta to the Dolomites, via the granite on Mont Blanc and that in Patagonia to the Himalayan giants, constantly pushing the limit of what was humanly possible. Above all though he was a man who sought adventure, who knew how to make a nation dream after a disastrous war. During this 80th birthday celebration – as a guest of Messner at his Juval Castle – he talked to me at length and enthrallingly about his “great days”. His words portrayed a clear picture of a life lived to the full, refuting all forms of compromises. He repeatedly underlined questions which which had embittered him greatly. This led me to think that perhaps a less steadfast coherency allows people to grow older more serenely. And I didn't have the courage to ask him why he soloed up the Dru pillar, without telling nor involving his usual climbing companions who, certainly disappointed, found out about the extraordinary undertaking from the newspapers. For behind every legend hides an individual, with all the contradictions which are an integral part of man.

Paolo Rabbia
Three years ago, while repeating the 1956 great traverse of the Alps on skis, I felt so ashamed by what I read in newspaper articles, by those who had taken the liberty of describing it as a challenge against Walter Bonatti and, in doing so, comparing a nobody like myself to a lving legend of alpinism, one evening close to Livigno I wrote him a letter of apologies. A few days later, perhaps I was close to San Gottardo at the time, my father read out his reply over the phone (written using a typewriter) . It was as if Pelé had put pen to paper and written to a footballer in the favelas in Rio... Perhaps, as Rossano Libera states, it is because those who take to the mountains are "different". Or perhaps, as Totò says, it's merely because "you're born a gentleman." I take my hat off to you, Mr. Bonatti!

Ermanno Salvaterra
I always liked that man, ever since I met him at Rifugio Brentei. He was in the company of my friend Bruno Detassis. Those two together. Two men of few words. I could see Bruno whenever I wanted to but he... The words I was fortunate to share with him weren't many, but they gave me plenty. His simplicity when talking and his heartfelt nature which I perceived in his words. I tried but failed to imagine his solitary adventures on the Matterhorn or the Dru. I too climbed alone and without a rope but his ascents were much, much more. I tried to learn from what he said, that "old way" of taking to the mountains. And I tried to keep this close to my heart, and still try to do so. Thanks Great man, thanks Great Maestro, thanks.

Ueli Steck
For me Walter is one of the greatest alpinists I ever met. He constantly pushed and developed alpinism. But what I also honour was that he knew when he had reached his peak! He finished being a professional alpinist as soon as he realised he had reached his zenith. We will sorely miss him, but he lived an intense and beautiful life until the very day he left us. Personally I don't have idols but I look up to his alpinism and what he achieved as a climber. Every time I repeat one of his routes I will remember him dearly!

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