Walter Bonatti

Port explores the legacy of Italian climber Walter Bonatti, one of the greatest mountaineers of the 20th century

Italian mountain climber Walter Bonatti, who crouches with caution in a rock cave before continuing his climb on the side of Grand Capucin. © Getty Images

“The magic of mountaineering has died with the disappearance of the ‘unknown’ and the ‘impossible’. Progress has deleted these words; one of man’s fantasies has been extinguished, his poetry destroyed.” 

So declared the Italian mountain climber Walter Bonatti in February 1975. Ten years earlier, at the age of 35, after four days of solitary climbing at -30°C, Bonatti set foot on the summit of the Matterhorn in the Alps, becoming one of only a handful of mountaineers to have scaled the challenging north face in winter.

Born in Bergamo in 1930, Bonatti died in 2011, but remains one of the greatest mountaineers of the 20th century. Were he alive today he would explain how, on his many successful first ascents and solo climbs, he never used mechanical equipment – no expansion or pressure nails, no drills, no pulleys or fixed lanyards. He used nothing that would have been unavailable to the great climbers of the past, such as Edward Whymper, the English mountaineer who made the first ascent of the Matterhorn a century before Bonatti’s climb, and the Italian, Riccardo Cassin. It is only by using the same basic equipment as them, Bonatti would reason, that it would be possible to compete on the same level, and attempt to pass where everyone else had stopped.

Grand Capucin, red-granite obelisk of the Alpi Graie, photographed in a lateral view. © Getty Images

Many would say this made Bonatti a fool, but he would have preferred to have described himself as honest. Eschewing the lightweight advantages of modern kit, he would take on the rock, ice and frost, foothold after foothold, pitch after pitch, with a huge backpack that threatened to pull him back into the valley, at times even carrying a climbing partner on his shoulders. While his fellow climbers were increasingly dependent upon technical clothing, energy bars and safety equipment, he would achieve his incredible feats encumbered by old heavy boots, ropes soaked with water and frost, sustained only by bread, water and a canteen of wine.

Bonatti’s solo ascent of the Matterhorn would mark the last act of his brief, 17-year career, but his achievements are still as remarkable now as they were then. Though he would be plagued by tragedy and controversy – accused of attempting to jeopardise the 1954 Italian expedition to K2 by his fellow climbers, it later emerged that Bonatti, the strongest climber of the group, was the victim of a conspiracy to prevent him from making it to the summit first – today, in an era where no climb is off limits to those with enough money and equipment, Bonatti continues to be conspicuous as an icon of great talent, strength and determination.

This is an extract from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe, click here.

Massimo Vitali: Disturbed Coastal Systems

The Italian photographer discusses scouting locations, the politics behind his work and the changing status of Europe’s beaches

Massimo Vitali is known for his large-format photographs of crowded beach scenes. A former photojournalist and cinematographer, Vitali has committed the second half of his adult life to travelling across the globe. “At the beginning of the season I look up places to shoot,” he says. “Sometimes people I know will talk to me about new locations, sometimes I will want to go back to places I’ve been before.” It’s this tradition of visiting and re-visiting beaches that has reinforced his idea of them as places of perpetual change. “If you really wanted, you could go to the same beach for twenty years and every year it would be different,” he explains. 

“When I first started taking pictures, beaches had no connotations. They were places where people could not think about anything, and be totally at ease.” Today, the same beaches are still holiday destinations, he says, but they are also the troubling backdrops of the European migrant crisis. For Vitali, an artist who has spent the last two decades documenting holidaymakers along the coastlines of the continent, as well as further afield, the beach has become a looking glass into the heart of the lives of Europeans. Of the current political climate, Vitali notes: “There is a vague sense of doom.”

New work in the Italian photographer’s current exhibition at the Benrubi Gallery in New York, Disturbed Coastal Systems, was primarily shot on the beaches of Portugal, where over a million Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees first set foot on the shores of Europe. Vitali continues to look at the tension between the human habitat and the natural world with his latest photographs. Throughout the images, man-made saltwater pools and concrete piers break up natural scenery and hint at ways coastlines are occupied.

While at first glance Vitali’s photographs can seem almost saccharine, on closer inspection there is an unexpected depth beneath the bubblegum colour palette – something that feels both timeless and fleeting. “I try with my pictures to be in the middle, in the middle of something that is not long lasting, like walking on a thin line between what is already there and what is changing all of the time.”

Disturbed Coastal Systems is on show at the Benrubi Gallery in New York until 17 June

 

My Genius: David Attenborough

Aston Martin’s chief creative officer and design director, Marek Reichman, explains his admiration of the much-treasured broadcaster

Sir David Attenborough. Photography-Sarah Dunn, ©BBC
Sir David Attenborough. Photography-Sarah Dunn, ©BBC

Where I grew up in Sheffield, we didn’t even have a zoo. At around 13 years old I saw one of Attenborough’s first BBC documentaries, and it was a break from the bubble of my home and school life — I was blown away. Watching the deserts of Africa unfold before my eyes, and learning how people had adapted to survive in 50°c heat ignited my fascination with nature and adventure. It was through him that I learned about things such as the speed of a hummingbird’s wings, and a bat’s incredible use of sonar to communicate. His wealth of knowledge is peerless.

It inspired a trip I once took to Yellowstone National Park in the US, where I wandered for days without seeing a single person. The notion of wilderness is particularly fascinating to me, and I would love to visit somewhere like Patagonia one day too. Such a vast expanse of uninhabited nature truly captures the intrepid side of my personality.

This idea of discovery, and sense of finding out why, has a direct relevance with designing products. Just as Attenborough has championed awareness of global causes through his work, I feel good design also has the power to inspire profound change. We should be using our creativity to have a positive effect on nature and the world around us. Maintaining the balance of the world is so important, as we too are a part of nature — we should be doing all that we can to keep it on its course.

Aston Martin’s new strong on 8 Dover Street store, designed by Marek, is open now.