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The Mountains of My Life (Modern Library Exploration) Paperback – March 6, 2001
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Walter Bonatti had been scaling mountains for only a few years when, in 1954, he qualified to join an expedition of fellow Italian alpinists making the first ascent of the forbidding Himalayan peak called K2. There, for reasons that are unclear, the 24-year-old ran afoul of senior members of the team, who accused him of turning back before delivering needed oxygen to them below the summit. Accusations and counteraccusations flew, followed by a libel trial from which Bonatti emerged victorious but ostracized. He went on to bag a few peaks, retired from "extreme" climbing in 1965, and became an accomplished explorer and photojournalist, writing memoirs of his earlier expeditions to mountains on nearly every continent that earned a small but devoted following.
In The Mountains of My Life, translator and editor Robert Marshall gathers those scattered accounts of ascents in the Alps, the Patagonian Andes, the Himalayas, and elsewhere. In his commentary, he describes and defends Bonatti's actions on K2, which, he insists, made it possible for the Italian team to reach the summit. The evidence he offers--including photographs--is convincing. For his part, Bonatti writes that all the mountains he has climbed, "with all the trials they brought me, are a precious, living part of myself." His book will be of interest to anyone who shares that passion for the world's high places. --Gregory McNamee
When the world's second-highest mountain, K2, was conquered in 1954, young Italian mountaineer Bonatti was not one of the two men who reached the summit; he did, however, emerge as the most famous member of the expedition. The controversy over his role in the ascent started almost immediately after the climb and reached its peak in the mid-1960s, when he sued the writer of a newspaper article for libel--mostly, it appears, for the opportunity it provided to set out his own version of events. The story of the author's attempts to win recognition for his role in the conquest of K2 constitutes a large part of this memoir, which collects many of his writings about mountaineering. He is an engaging writer, capturing the excitement of mountain climbing like few other writers have done, and Marshall's translation is remarkably graceful. The book, part of the Modern Library Exploration series, is thrilling from start to finish, and among the best of the many recent true-life adventure sagas. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This book contains accounts in the author’s own words of his most memorable exploits. The writing is obviously based on a journal or somesuch as the descriptions of the expeditions and routes are very thorough. The adventures are occasionally sphincter inducing, for example when Bonatti and a companion climb a new route on Mont Blanc over Christmas, are trapped by a blizzard and spend so long on a single narrow ledge waiting for a break in the weather that they run out of food. The book also includes a detailed description and analysis of a terrible controversy from the 1954 K2 Italian expedition that dogged Bonatti throughout his life.. The editor here makes a strong case that Bonatti’s was unfairly defamed for what was otherwise a heroic performance.
This is a book for climbers as well as armchair adventurers. I learned a lot about the man.As for the mountaineering stories, I gripped my chair page after page. Read more at http://bookmanreader.blogspot.com/ .
The central theme is however the controversial first ascent of K2 in 1954 in which Bonatti was not on the summit team, but had to spend a horrifying bivouac in the death zone. The controversy this led to in the aftermath of the expedition had an deep impact on Bonatti for the rest of his life, both as a person and mountaineer. The last part of the book is dedicated to a rather thorough re-examination of these events.
The K2 controversy not withstanding, MOML is a mountaineering book of the old-school style where the achievements rather than the accidents and controversies are in focus. It advocates a conservative style of alpinism where endurance and the skills of the climber himself are in the front seat rather than equipment and large, sponsored operations.
After reading several modern mountaineering books I found the book to be a great peak into the world of men and achievement of days past when standards were at a higher level. A heartfelt recommendation on my behalf.
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.
In 1964 a reporter printed a 10th anniversary article finally bringing out into the open Desio and Campagnoni's views of what really happened. They accused Bonatti of treachery, trying for the summit and using the oxygen. Bonatti filed a libel suit held in Turin in 1966, and was exonerated. Bonatti then does his own analysis and uses diagrams and charts to prove that the oxygen had not run out. In The Price Of Conquest from 2004, Lacedelli disagrees with Bonatti, saying that the oxygen had in fact run out.
Marshall concludes quite convincingly: "The whole affair started because Mahdi thought he and Bonatti were making an independent attempt on the summit. ... Bonatti made a very convenient villain and an ideal sacrificial goat. He was never able to defend himself because he was never accused directly."
In 2008 the Club Alpino Italiano recognised officially that Bonatti's version of the ascent was correct. Compagnoni and Lacedelli reached the summit with oxygen after putting the life of Bonatti and the hunza Madhi in serious risk by denying them help at 8100m while they carried the oxygen supplies to the last camp.
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