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Walter Bonatti, perhaps the premier alpinist of the 1950s and early 1960s, will be honored with the first Piolet d’Or for lifetime achievement. The “golden ice axe” will be presented to Bonatti in Coumayeur, Italy, at the foot of Mont Blanc, on April 24, as part of a five-day Piolet d’Or festival.
The Italian climber, now 78, burst onto the stage in 1949 with an ascent of the Walker Spur as a teenager. Two years later he made the first ascent of the east face of the Grand Capucin, then the most technical route in the western Alps. In 1954, he played an instrumental role in the first ascent of K2, where he survived a forced open bivy at 26,600 feet. In 1958, he achieved his biggest success in the Greater Ranges with the first ascent of 26,001-foot Gasherbrum IV in Pakistan, one of the world’s most difficult peaks.
At home in the Alps, Bonatti completed extraordinary solo and winter climbs, including the five-day solo first ascent of the El Capsized southwest pillar of the Drus, the first winter ascent of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses, and a solo new route on the north face of the Matterhorn. The latter climb, in 1965, was his last major ascent, as he retired from hard climbing at age 35 and moved on to travel, photography, and other pursuits.
See a documentary (in French) about Walter Bonatti’s solo first ascent of the southwest pillar of the Drus, with great historical footage.