There is a good case that alpinist Walter Bonatti, born in Bergamo, Italy in 1930, was the greatest mountaineer of the 20th century. He called his climbing philosophy the pursuit of the impossible. In a short climbing career from 1949 until the mid-1960s Bonatti pulled off an amazing number of audacious ascents and more remarkably survived some horrific climbs that killed his partners. Some of his ascents include the Grandes Jorasses in 1949; a 1953 winter ascent of the north faces of Tres Cima Laverado in the Dolomites; the controversial Italian expedition to K2 in 1954, where he aided two other Italians who made the first ascent of the peak; an ascent of Gasherbrum IV in 1958; and in 1965, a solo winter first ascent of a direct line up the north face of The Matterhorn.
This quote comes from Bonatti’s 1998 book The Mountains of My Life, a collection of essays, memoirs, and articles about his greatest ascents including the true story who happened on K2. The book, cobbled together over 40 years, is an intriguing read about lots of great adventures. If you pick the book up and read it, it’s worth remembering as you read that Bonatti, besides being a skilled and bold climber, was a consummate loner and maverick. One of his reasons to climb was to avoid humanity. As he writes, “My disappointments came from people, not the mountains.” Echoes of that sentiment are in this quote.
“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.”
Buy books by Walter Bonatti:
The Mountains of My Life A classic collection of adventure stories from the master climber.