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The Mountains of My Life [Format Kindle]

Walter Bonatti , Robert Marshall
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Chaper 1: Beginnings

(1948)

When I was a child I used to get away from home on one pretext or another during the school vacations and go where I could watch the eagles fly. It really was so, because in those days eagles did fly in the skies of the Prealps, and a pair of these predators had chosen for their nest a rock just above the area where I played-Vertova di Valseriana, one of the valleys to the north of Bergamo.

Higher up the ridge was Mount Alben, the peak that, of them all, most triggered my imagination, thanks to its white limestone spires, which were often wreathed in mist. At that point in my life, Mount Alben was the best example of nature at its most austere that I had ever seen, and I used to idolize it with all the ingenuousness of a child, making it the very symbol of my aspirations to adventure. I was disappointed many years later, when from the heights of the Grigna I realized, seeing it from a distance, my fabulous Alben was lower and squatter than the peak on which I was standing.

I was still living in Monza in the years after the Second World War. They were hard times, too, for a boy with no prospects facing life in a defeated country. It was during those years that I came to know the Grigna, the slim rocky pyramid that overlooks the Brianza. And despite the fact that, in those days, I only went by the paths, I couldn't help but be fascinated by the spires and crests of that beautiful peak on which, with wonder and envy, I used to see climbing ropes at work. I would stand for hours on end watching those lucky people, then try to imitate them only a few feet from the ground on a nearby boulder.

One day my usual companion arrived with his mother's clothesline in his knapsack. This was the first time I ever tied on to a climbing rope, but from then on I tried to put into practice what I had been watching.

A real, genuine climb was to follow not much later, thanks to a sympathetic chap called Elia who was to become a friend of mine. One day, at the foot of the Nibbio, one of the Grigna towers, Elia came upon me raptly watching the progress of a rope pair that was busy on the rock face above. It must have rather touched him because he came up to me, decked out in all his climbing gear, and, with the air of an expert, said, "How'd you like to try it?"

"I couldn't think of anything I'd like more!" I replied.

Five minutes later we were climbing up by way of the path to the direttissima, which took us to the base of the pinnacle known as the Campaniletto (Little Bell Tower). We roped up and, after giving me some instructions, Elia set off. However, after no more than ten feet or so, my new friend seemed to founder and run aground. I watched him as he tried to go on, bending first to one side, then to the other. He curled himself up, then tried again, and yet again. But he stayed right where he was, ten feet from the ground, as I watched in silence.

Finally he decided to turn back.

"My soles are slipping!" he said to excuse himself, then added, "I'll try farther over to the left."

He repeated the moves as before, as I silently urged him on and encouraged him with all the intensity I could muster, but with no better result.

Go on! I said to myself. Keep it up! Or my first climb is going to vanish into smoke!

In the end he came back down to the starting point. I was terribly disappointed and was about to resign myself to failure when, amazingly, Elia said, "Go on! You have a try with those boots of yours!"

I was in fact wearing a pair of enormous army surplus boots with square toes, tethered to my ankles by a wide leather strap.

If Elia couldn't get up wearing climbing boots, I thought, how on earth will I be able to do it without a rope holding me from above? In spite of this, I wanted to try so much, I took his place. I don't know how I did it, but I somehow managed to climb that first difficult pitch. Suddenly I felt I was at the center of a delirious dream. When the rope ran out, Elia, now held by me from above, was able to come up and join me, but just as we were about to change places he said, "Great! Why don't you just carry on, right up to the top?"

And up to the summit I went. It was in this way I had my first encounter with a real rock face.

It was August 1948, and that first climb on the Campaniletto galvanized me. More climbs on the Grigna peaks followed, many of them, as many as I could accomplish between dawn and dusk on all the Sundays that followed.

I was now devoted heart and soul to rock faces, to overhangs, to the intimate joy of trying to overcome my own weaknesses in a struggle that committed me to the very limits of the possible. More than that, I came to know the satisfaction of passing where others had not been able to go. In a sort of direct communion between thought and action I discovered more and more about my own powers, my own limits. Perhaps I was repaying myself for what life had denied me in other ways, but it became clearer to me how up there, in direct contact with unsullied nature in an uncomplicated environment, I felt alive, free, and fulfilled-more and more every day. In this way I was discovering adventure, rich in everything that uplifts and exalts humanity. Above all, I was discovering my way of life.

As I gained experience, the climbs I attempted demanded ever more single-minded commitment. In this way I progressed from the easiest to the most difficult routes on the Grigna peaks. It was a brief but intense cycle, which lasted all winter and ended in late spring-that is, at the beginning of the real, genuine Alpine climbing season of 1949.

My usual companions, neophytes like myself, were Oggioni, Barzaghi, Casati, Aiazzi, and, later, Carlo Mauri. The great Alpine peaks we now confronted bore prestigious names that put them in the top rank of the grades of difficulty: the direttissima of the Croz dell'Altissimo in the Brenta Dolomites, the north face of the Badile, the east face of the Aiguille Noir de Peuterey in the Mont Blanc group, and, in the same area, the Walker Spur on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. A straight flush of successes for a nineteen-year-old lad, which was all I was then, less than a year after that first timid climb with Elia on the Campaniletto.CHAPTER 2

Bregaglia:

Three North Faces

(1949)

The major preoccupation of the thirties for all the best European climbers was the conquest of the six most difficult north faces in the Alps: the Lavaredo, Badile, Dru, Matterhorn, Eiger, and Grandes Jorasses.

The Badile ("shovel") is a gigantic granite peak on the Italian-Swiss border, and its northwest face is indeed a smooth and almost vertical wall of rock closely resembling the back of an upturned shovel, including a huge central groove in its exact center that runs halfway up the wall toward the sharp transverse summit ridge. It was first climbed in 1937 by the great Italian climber Riccardo Cassin, accompanied by Esposito and Ratti. They succeeded in reaching the top on their first attempt, but it took them three days. Two Lecco climbers, Molteni and Valsecchi, were independently attempting the face, but were in difficulties and joined Cassin's three-man rope* after the first bivouac. All five reached the summit as a single team in a blizzard after two more terrible days on the face, but Molteni and Valsecchi both died from exposure soon afterward during the descent. These two young men were experienced climbers, and their deaths serve to emphasize what a serious undertaking the Badile was in those days. To climb such a face and survive took great skill and extraordinary endurance. Yet in 1949 Bonatti, still a teenager, tackled the northwest face of the Badile in his very first alpine season with his friend Barzaghi not so much as a goal in itself but as a training climb for the north face of the Grandes Jorasses.

Just beyond the Swiss frontier, on the borders of the Engadine, lies the most beautiful Alpine landscape I know: the Bregaglia, a typical Swiss valley where lush pastures, picturesque cottages, and dense conifers, overlooked by the rugged profiles of ice-clad mountains, typify the picture that has so often inspired painters of mountain scenery and is most eagerly sought by lovers of the Alps.

The whole Bregaglia is wonderful, but among the valleys that converge on it is one most dear to mountaineers, the Val Bondasca. It begins at the little village of Bondo on the left-hand slope, then rises, fantastic as a fairy tale, to the foot of some of the greatest granite colossi in the Alps. What mountaineer has not at least dreamt of knowing the clear faces of the Badile, the Cengalo, Gemelli, Sciora, Trubinasca, and many other peaks? Some of them symbolize stages in the evolution of mountaineering, and I wish to speak of climbing three of their beautiful north faces, the memory of which binds me forever to these mountains.

The first time I got to know them was in July 1949, when I set out for the northwest face of the Piz Badile: a gigantic granite rampart 2,200 feet high that had first been climbed in 1937 and ascended only once since then.

Together with my faithful friend Barzaghi, I set out with all the enthusiasm of my nineteen years. At that age, with strong muscles and burning ambition, it was easy to believe no mountain obstacle could prevent us from succeeding. We didn't know the area; it was the first time we had encountered granite mountains and, even worse, we had the unfortunate idea of reaching the Badile from the Val Masino-that is, on foot from Italy after crossing the extremely tiring Porcellizzo and Trubinasca passes. The principal reasons for this were a shortage of cash and a complete absence of passports. As if this wasn't bad enough, we were also given confusing directions: "Take the first pass on your right after you've crossed the Porcellizzo," my friends had told me. It actually should have been the first on the left, so we had to climb up and down four steep, diffic...

Revue de presse

"Bonatti's voice reaches us from another world. . . . It is enchanting to realize that the magic of the mountains can still return."


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Format:Broché
This book collects the classic writings of world-famous mountaineer Walter Bonatti (many from On The Heights and The Great Days). The cover is Bonatti's route on the south-west pillar of the Aiguille du Dru. The book has 26 pages of b/w photos, an additional 3 b/w photos, and 8 route maps.

The book starts with his climbs on Grande Jorasses, Grand Capucin and Lavaredo in winter. He was then invited on the 1954 Italian K2 expedition, where Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni became the first to summit K2. Controversy struck when the expedition leaders accused him of turning back before delivering needed oxygen to them below the summit. After staying quiet for 50 years, Lacadelli finally published his view of what happened, collaborating Bonatti's story.

Bonatti continued on to execute many great climbs, including a solo climb of a new route on the south-west pillar of the Aiguille du Dru, Cerro Torre, the first ascent of Gasherbrum IV, the North Face of the Grande Jorasses in winter, an unprecedented solo ascent of the north face of the Matterhorn in winter, and the tragic story of the death of four mountaineers from exhaustion attempting to be the first to climb the Central Pillar of Freney in June 1961.

This is one of my top 10 favourite mountaineering books of all time. The photos are good. Bonatti packs his pages with a total punch, introspective, exciting, and dangerous. You can just about feel the bitter cold.

About a quarter of the book is dedicated to K2 and the aftermath. Walter Bonatti and Mahdi carried the oxygen bottles to Camp IX on July 30, 1954. But Campagnoni had intentionally moved the camp from the planned site so Bonatti could not try for the summit. Bonatti and Mahdi survived the bivouac at 8100m, but Madhi had frostbitten toes.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 étoiles sur 5  16 commentaires
12 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A classic of mountaineering by one of the greats! 16 février 2004
Par Anton - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Along with Ricardo Cassin, Bonatti is perhaps the most outstanding Italian climber of all time! How ironic that he should become embroiled in one of the longest lasting (almost 50 years) controversies in mountaineering history, and how gratifying that he finally is clearly vindicated in this fascinating book.
The book is an autobiographical account of Bonatti's major climbs, including several sections on the much-discussed 1954 Italian expedition on K2. Bonatti clearly comes across as a committed climber, seeking purity and excitement in his climbs, who is often at a loss when faced with public criticism (on several accounts described in the book). As is often the case in the lives of people with outstanding talent, Bonati's life is beset by other people's envy and underhanded tactics, most frequently by his own compatriots. Yet, the book succeeds in demonstrating Bonatti's passion, drive and determination, while retaining the purity of mind and spirit that the mountains bestow on all!
Aside from being a highly personal account by one of the greatest mountaineers of all time, three things make this book outstanding:
(1) The beautiful translation by Robert Marshall (an Australian, who learned Italian for the sole purpose of reading mountaineering accounts!), who introduces each chapter with a short summary of the significance of the peak or route undertaken. Marshall also plays a key role of an "investigator" pointing out several pictures, which show that Compagnioni's and Desio's accounts of the K2 expedition are clearly false and manipulative;
(2) The book finally sets the record straight about the 1954 K2 expedition -- the fact that Lacedeli and Compaginoni used oxygen all the way to the top; the fact that they recklessly (if not intentionally) abandoned Bonatti in the bivouac, just feet from their warm tent above 8,000 meters; the fact that they manipulated accounts of the expedition to go as far as claiming that Bonatti wanted to charge ahead to the top on his own, endangering others. Two pictures, ironically published by Desio in an article immediately following the expedition clearly show Lacedeli and Compagnioni wearing oxygen masks at the top -- pictures, which are subsequently removed from Desio's book; and are only by accident discovered and brought forward by Rpbert Marshall only almost 50 years later! What a horrible thought that such an incredible climber, only in his 20s, could have been lost high up on K2, and we would have never come to know Bonatti as one of the all time greats! What a great feeling it is to know that truth sooner or later triumphs!
(3) the book is a true mountaineering story; it shows the aspirations, achievements and excitement of climbing in the immediate post- WW II era in Europe and Italy -- a period full of what is best about mountain climbing -- hope, innocence and passion!
This is a highly recommended book for everyone! My compliments to John Krakauer for including this wonderful book in the new Exploration series!
10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Outstanding writings of a true mountain man 8 mars 2003
Par Kinlash - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Bonatti is one of the boldest and leading figures in mountaineering of the 20th century; he is also one of the most creative of his peers in communicating his feelings on the subject. This book is interesting in the context of the author's youth in post war Europe and the effects this had on his life. Unfortunately, the author was subject to a smear campaign regarding his contributions to the first ascent of K2 for reasons outside of his control and this book reveals the injustice and presents a convincing case as to how the whole episode originated. So, part mystery story, part eloquent ode to mountains and climbing. It's a winner on both fronts and Bonnatti emerges as a champion not only of technical mastery of climbing, but mountaineering ethics and of mans relationship to the outdoors. I rate this as a must read.
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Driven To The Extreme 9 décembre 2003
Par Mad Dog - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
The Mountains Of My Life is such a dense and intense work that even the experienced alpine climber is likely to slip into a stupor while reading of Walter Bonatti's incredible climbs. The only solution is to plan on reading it twice. Otherwise, you can expect to miss some of the subtlety in Walter's economical writing style. I can now claim to have followed my own advice.
One can read here many details of the big climbs Bonatti did in the Alps and only get a hint of the level of suffering, fear and intensity of the experience, even though the text focuses much on just those aspects. Only by going out onto the big alpine walls and experiencing those emotions yourself can you expect to have even the slightest clue as to just how understated The Mountains Of My Life really is. But that's still only an approximation unless you climbed routes such as these back in the day, using the primitive gear that Walter and his partners had - and then only if your ethical stance was as strict as theirs. These dudes had mondo cajones, to say the least.
But you don't need to trust me - I've never climbed anything of significance. But would you dare not trust the opinions of Reinhold Messner and Doug Scott? Go read what they have to say about Walter's climbs. Then sit back and imagine what it was like to solo big routes back then. I've done just enough soloing to understand just how much more of a mental game it is.
I can't forget to mention how important Robert Marshall's role was in this book. Not only did he translate, but he played a key detective role in the K2 controversy. Once one has fully digested what transpired on the hill, then after, then one can begin to better understand just how driven Bonatti was, and why. This is an incredible story, but it is also incredibly sad to think how horribly one person can treat another. Even pursuits such as climbing are victim to those that are dishonest and apparently without a conscious. Clearly, evil men are capable of much greater evil when acting to conspire. I for one was happy to see all of the details of K2 be brought to the forefront, to have the liars exposed and for the truth to finally have its day.
The next to last chapter is the true gem of this book. Years after retiring from extreme mountaineering, Walter climbed a route on Mt. Blanc solo. The description of the landscape, the place and the space in this chapter are truly incredible. The reader is transported, smelling the air, sensing the dangers and feeling the coarse granite on the palm. This chapter is a true high point inmountaineering literature. I wonder if this writing was only possible after the wounds of the K2 debacle had adequate time to heal?
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Classic Stories from One of the Greatest Mountaineers 22 janvier 2002
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Walter Bonnati was born in Bergamo, Italy in 1930. By the time he was invited to join the Italian expedition that completed the first ascent of K2 in 1954, Bonatti had already completed a number of climbing routes in the Western Alps that others had deemed unclimbable or impossible. Bonatti often climbed solo and with a panache and minimalist approach that amplified the magnitude of his accomplishments. Along the way, he was inducted into the French Legion of Honor. Despite (or perhaps because of) his astonishing talent and climbing feats, Bonatti was controversial and often found himself at odds with others in the climbing community. Having accomplished much and become jaded with the climbing community, Bonatti moved on to a new career as photojournalist and explorer.
"The Mountains of My Life" is a wonderful translation of stories about climbs that few other climbers would even dare contemplate. The book also examines the controversy about events of the Italian expedition to K2 that reads with the intrigue of a "who dunnit." The book is illustrated with Bonatti's breathtaking photos of mountains and routes he climbed.
Doug Scott, one of the greatest British mountaineers, described Bonatti as "perhaps the finest alpinist there has ever been." Jon Krakauer considers Bonatti a "personal hero." Those are mighty strong statements, but after reading this immensely readable collection of tales, it is hard to argue with the assessments of Bonatti. Robert Marshall did a wonderful job in translating Bonatti's beautifully written stories. Definitely an important addition in the library of mountaineering classics.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Inspirational true adventure with a dash of mystery 4 juillet 2001
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Walter Bonatti is an Italian mountaineer, famous in climbing circles if not with the general public. This collection of his essays describing his most famous climbs - and discussing a nasty controversy involving the first ascent of K2 - is a terrific read. Anyone who has enjoyed best sellers such as "Into Thin Air" should give serious consideration to this volume. The clean, even elegant translation represents a wonderful example of the translator's art (and why doesn't the publisher give translator Robert Marshall credit on the book's cover?). There is an in-depth analysis of a famous (in Italy) libel trial over accusations against Bonatti that reads almost like a whodunit instead of a climbing saga. All in all, this book is inspirational, exciting, and a stirring way to get some sense of the thrill of extreme adventure without leaving the comfort of your centrally-heated home. This is the second book I've read in the Modern Library Exploration Series edited by Jon Krakauer (the other is The Last Place on Earth, about Scott's and Amundsen's race to the South Pole) and this series is a five-star winner for me so far.
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