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    The Mountains of My Life

    The Mountains of My Life

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    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, Lacedelli finally published his view of what happened, corroborating 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.

    About a quarter of the book is dedicated to K2 and the aftermath. There are 9 pages of b/w photos and 1 b/w photo in-line with text. Walter Bonatti and Mahdi carried the oxygen bottles to Camp IX on July 30, 1954. But Compagnoni had intentionally moved the camp from the planned site so Bonatti could not try for the summit. "'Lino! Achille! Where are you? Answer me!' Everything was silent." Eventually they responded. "'Have you got the oxygen?' the voice continued. '“Yes!' I replied. 'Good! Leave it there and go straight down!' 'I can’t' I protested. 'Mahdi couldn’t make it!' ... We waited in vain for Lacedelli and Compagnoni to reappear. We began to call again to ask for help, but no one answered us all night long." Bonatti and Mahdi survived the bivouac at 8100m, but Mahdi had frostbitten toes. This amazing event was only briefly mentioned in the official account by Desio.

    In 1964 a reporter printed a 10th anniversary article finally bringing out into the open Desio and Compagnoni's views of what really happened. They accused Bonatti of treachery, trying for the summit and using the oxygen. Bonatti filed a libel suit, which was held in Turin in 1966. Mahdi’s deposition was confusing, with conflicting statements. Bonatti and Mahdi did not have the respirators, so they could not have used any oxygen. Bonatti 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.

    Robert Marshall then does his own analysis, reviewing Mahdi’s story and figuring out how he could have been telling the truth. "Bonatti spoke neither English nor Urdu, and Mahdi no Italian. ... There seems no doubt that Desio genuinely believed that Bonatti was guilty. ... Mahdi was frostbitten and Bonatti was condemned, but the expedition would claim resounding success at all levels and the glory of Italy was intact. ... (Compagnoni) portrayed Bonatti as a devious and treacherous competitor for the summit, a cheat who used precious oxygen, a coward who gave none to Mahdi and then abandoned him to his fate, and a liar who then had the effrontery to pretend his loyalty to the team.

    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 Mahdi in serious risk by denying them help at 8100m while they carried the oxygen supplies to the last camp.

    This is one of my top 10 favourite books of all time. The photos are good. The K2 story is far better than anything Hollywood could dream up. It has tremendous physical achievement, intrigue, back-stabbing, analysis, and finally exoneration. Bonatti packs his pages with a total punch, introspective, exciting, and dangerous. You can just about feel the bitter cold.

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    • Language: English

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