Today’s image is of Les Drus, a 3733M peak in the Mont Blanc Massif. I’ve selected it in memory of Walter Bonatti who died on 13 Sept in Rome at the age of 81. This peak was the scene of an extraordinary solo first ascent by Bonatti – a feat that stunned the mountaineering world.
Bonatti was one of the greatest mountaineers of his generation, if not the greatest. His mountaineering career spanned some of the golden years in the development of Alpine mountaineering in the 1950s and ‘60s – forging first ascents of some of the hardest routes in the Mont Blanc massif. His skill and achievements, not only in the Alps but also in the greater ranges, were an inspiration to many, from hardcore mountaineers to people like me (who read about him as I grew up) whose mountaineering was at a much lower level and risk averse.
Les Drus like all mountains has many faces – some more dramatic than others, but this image shows the peak from Montenvers from where it is at its most dramatic – a thin cathedral-like spire of rock. In 1955, Bonatti completed a solo first ascent of the SW pillar of the Petit Dru – the eponymous Bonatti pillar as it became known. In the image, the route follows the slanting couloir from the bottom centre of the frame before tackling the lighter coloured Rt (West) face of the spire.
The ascent took 6 days and involved not only the climb but the haul of a 79lb bag of food and all the gear needed to sustain his efforts up the sheer granite wall. The audacity, determination, and mental and physical strength required was extraordinary and has been described as “one of the most remarkable exploits in the history of Alpinism”. The mountaineering world was stunned – suddenly Alpinism had been elevated to a higher level.
Sadly the Petit Dru is crumbling. In July 2005 a massive rockfall (estimated as much as 25,000 cubic metres of rock) wiped out much of the Bonatti pillar and other routes on the West face – the scar remains to this day as the long streak of light coloured rock visible on the West (Rt) face. Then on 11 Sept this year several further rockfalls denuded the face of a further 10,000 cubic M according to estimates. The route is no more.
Bonatti’s life was not without tragedy and controversy – and these issues are well recounted in the literature. But it is for his skills, boldness, tenacity and reputation as a mountaineer that I, and so many others, will remember him.
His Obit is well worth reading. Click here