Born in Bergamo in the summer of 1930, Walter Bonatti was quick to dedicate himself to the world of mountaineering, becoming an expert climber at the age of 19 after moving to “where the faint aroma of the Grigna and the Prealps could be detected”. It was in the Val Seriana, where he lived and studied overlooked by Monte Alben that seeds were first sewn – the nature and the luring peaks inspiring him into the outdoors, and then into climbing. Soon enough, Bonatti and his 'Skin and Bone' Club mates learned to climb by stealing their mothers' clotheslines, and sleeping out on the balconies of their houses in winter to accustom themselves to sleeping out on mountain faces.
Bonatti was soon heading west to the nearby Grigna peaks, completing his first climb in 1948. Located at the foot of Lecco's Grigna, near Lake Como, the Nibbio tower – a sheer, and at points overhanging, face of limestone - was where Bonatti had his first climbing experience - encouraged by a guy climbing there who let him give it a go. He was hooked from that moment and this climbing spot (photo below) holds an important place in Italian mountaineering history, with Bonatti, Cassin and Messner all passing this way on their route to bigger climbs. In my head, The Nibbio is some kind of unofficial, cliquey initiation, and standing at the foot of The Nibbio on our trip, necks cranked up to make out the top, it’s easy to see why: it’s an accessible, but (apparently) technical face, with routes ranging from 6a > 8a.
His obsession with the mountains, nature and challenge continued through his younger years, to the extent that every weekend as a fearless teenager, he and his climbing pals headed, using whatever pocket money they had, to practice icy bivvys out in the Grigna peaks near to where he lived - for Bonatti "there could be no better way to measure oneself against the cold and difficulties of the mountains." This experience, and his natural ability/mentality were undoubtedly reasons Walter Bonatti climbed to the heights of “greatest mountaineer of his time, and some might say greatest of all time...”