Legendary Mountaineer Bonatti Dead at 81

Alpinist involved in controversial K2 climb


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Walter Bonatti, the famous Italian alpinist who notched first ascents in the Alps and Himalayas during the 1950s and 60s, died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 81. Bonatti began his climbing career at age 18 when he made the fourth ascent of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. He would go on to establish other hard routes in alpine style, including first ascents on Grand Capucin in 1951 and Gasherbrum IV in 1958, and the first ascent of a new line up the North Face of the Matterhorn in 1965. Bonatti’s most infamous climb, however, came in 1954 during the Italian expedition that made the first ascent of K2. Bonatti and Ahmir Mahdi were forced to weather an open bivy high on the mountain after fellow climbers Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli violated a pre-climb plan and established camp at a higher elevation, ostensibly to prevent the younger, fitter Bonatti from joining the summit push. Mahdi lost his fingers and toes from frostbite, and Compagnoni later accused Bonatti of using some of the summit team’s oxygen, events later chronicled in Bonatti’s 2001 book The Mountains of My Life. In 2008, the Italian Alpine Club officially confirmed Bonatti’s version of the climb.

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