Walter Bonatti

Courmayeur at the end of the 60’s was a small mountain town. I had begin to win a few races and I would train skiing in fresh powder with a person that was trying to conquer the tallest peaks: Walter Bonatti. We were visionaries, looking for the absolute. We would confide each others’ dreams, we would talk about the mystery of life as if one day it could be unveiled. Walter loved the silence, the solitude, and the mountains: he would look at them with great love studying every step, every bottleneck, every handhold. In that period he was living with Bianca in a two bedroom flat, where between ski boots, backpacks, ropes and drafts of his book My Mountains, Emilio Fede and I would find a place to sit for dinner on an old sofa. His ventures were lived live with Emilio, he would wait for him at the end of every descent. Walter had no limits, and Emilio as well: they were great friends, they respected each other. For an interview held on its peak, they had also climbed the Mont Blanc together. Walter had an inborn elegance and kindness of the soul, you could sense the slyness of a jaguar, a strength of spirit that flows and gives life. In the toughest moments, his spirit would spur him and make him unstoppable, the superior force of his being would envelop him taking the best out of him. For my 18th birthday he invited me to have a toast on the top of the Grandes Jorasses. It was the 2nd of October and after resting for a few hours in the cabin, we had planned to reach the top the following early morning, but due to the conditions of some crevasses we had to take a different route, giving us a lot of delay. I was happily resting at a few meters from the peak, we suddenly Walter un tied himself from the rope and disappeared. After half and hour I started to worry, surrounded by the light wind, the immensity, the immaculate peaks, the sounds of the glaciers, and a cluster of dark clouds. Frantic, with the help of my ice axe and crampons, I climbed to look at the 1000 meters abyss of the north facade. That’s when I saw Walter 30 meters underneath me, he was happily looking for some carabiners – they had been left there years before, in his famous winter ascent with his friend Cosimo Zappelli. I started to complain and Walter reminded me to never let fear overtake you. To make the situation worse, the weather, as often happens in the mountains, had changed and it was now snowing. We difficultly managed to descent a dangerous couloir, where stones kept falling down from the top, also some bridges over crevasses were not safe to cross anymore. When we arrived at the rocks, in total darkness, it was easier to glide. We reached the Val Ferret in the dark night. My dad that already considered us crazy, had been warned by someone that had seen us with a pair of binoculars. I could see in the darkness also a few guides ready to rescue us, Walter had simulated a courtesy distant from his nature, but I appreciate it and thanked him for it. After that adventure we didn’t see each other for a few years, I was busy with the national ski team, he was travelling the world as a reporter for Epoca. Then life reunited us again casually in Chamonix, where he lived happily with an amazing woman, and our friendship triumphed with time. They would tell me about their beloved Kenya and the magic of Bali, but when their story ended, I realised that Walter was a myth and that he had surrendered to his solitary, and a little wild, nature. His language had changed, has that superhuman force that stimulated and fascinated me had slightly dozed off. We saw each other briefly in the last years, but it was as if Walter was contrived to more formal then tender greetings. I never read any of his books. After the big adventures, he descended to the valley giving a message of solidarity, consciousness and integrity. The Petit Dru pillars, one of his most beautiful endeavours collapsed signifying a symbol that the mountain had chosen him and had granted him the privilege of the first ascent. Goodbye Walter, wherever you are with your spirit, thank you, you have enriched our consciousness of universal values.