Published on 07/12/2021
For about fifteen years, from 1950 to 1965, Walter Bonatti was certainly the best mountaineer in the world.
15 years during which he has opened, alone or in a rope team, some of the most beautiful routes in the Alps, made the first ascent of great peaks in the Himalayas and the Andes and participated (not without problems!) in the first ascent of K2.
An incredible career that he decided to end in 1965 with elegance and style. 1965 is the year in which the centenary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn is celebrated and it is on this mountain that Bonatti has chosen to say goodbye to Great Mountaineering.
In February, for 4 days, he made a new route there, right in the center of the north face.
On his return to Zermatt, he was interviewed by a journalist from Radio Télévision Suisse. A brilliant interview where, even after 5 bivouacs, the class and charisma of the great Walter leaped off the screen.
At the end of October 2021, with Aurelien Vaissière and Fanny Schmutz, we were returning from Nepal where we had tried to climb the north pillar of Chamlang.
Disappointed but acclimatized, we took advantage of a beautiful autumn day to climb this legendary route.Today we are very distant from Bonatti's approach. Even if the route he traces remains a great race, it is traveled very often when it is covered with ice ... Conditions that allow for a playful, pleasant and certainly faster climb.
In the vintage photos you can clearly see the black face of the Matterhorn, almost free of ice: during the opening, Bonatti had to choose drier conditions to be able to "secure" himself and hammer some pitons in the bad rock of the north face.
After our ascent, as we quietly descended to Füri, where the rocks and snow gave way to vegetation, I tried to imagine myself in this route, alone, with the 1965 equipment ... I tried to imagine the complexity of auto-belaying, alone, on the "crossing of the angels", to orient myself in this austere wall... Then my mind wandered and, by association of ideas, I imagined myself in Les Drus in 1955 and finally at K2, without oxygen at more than 8000 m looking for my companions' tent.
Then, I returned with my feet on the ground, on the peaceful path that brought me back to civilization and a good rösti!
A rösti enjoyed in front of the austere north face of the Matterhorn, where one of the greatest mountaineers of all time had decided to bow ...
Article and pictures by Damien Tomasi.
Other pictures: Lorenzo Belfrond for Grivel and Grivel archive.