Bonatti’s memoirs finally published in the United States just two years ago take pride of place here over a number of towering works on mountaineering because (a) Bonatti was a god, a poetic soloist whose career included a controversial role in the first ascent of K2, and (b) he proves he can write as gracefully about a sunrise over the Alps as about an epic first ascent: “The horizon showed up sharply, enchanted peaks plucked clean by the claws of a freezing and frenzied wind,” Bonatti says of his 1962 ascent of the Alps’ Pilier d’Angle. “When I looked out I saw the most beautiful spectacle one can encounter at dawn on the peak of Mont Blanc: on the one hand the Italian flank flooded with warm and blazing light, on the other the Savoie still immersed in night.”
Take nothing away from Gaston Rebuffat’s 1954 Starlight and Storm, the Frenchman’s spare and lovely tract that made the case for climbing as a communion with, rather than siege upon, mountains. And we know as well as anyone that Maurice Herzog’s canonical 1953 Annapurna was the Into Thin Air of its day, inspiring Ed Viesturs and countless other next-generation alpinists to take up climbing. But in returning to Annapurna we found we’d rather skip Herzog’s press-release nationalism and hang out with Bonatti.
Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.