Exploits, Now Not So Daring
IN 1955, the great Italian climber Walter Bonatti became trapped by storms on the fifth day of a solo climb on the Petit Dru in the French Alps. He had traversed so far in one direction that he’d cut off all possibility of retreat. A blank wall rose above him. He was beyond rescue and knew it. So he fashioned an escape that has never been duplicated in mountaineering.
Mr. Bonatti tied three loops in his rope and attached a carabiner to each. Then he swung the rope up the cliff like a gaucho slinging a bolo. On the 12th throw, a carabiner snagged in an invisible crack 40 feet above, but a slight tug popped it loose. He tried again and again, until another carabiner finally held fast. He tested the rope with all his weight, then pulled himself up, hand over hand.
The ascent was later hailed by Doug Scott, the great British veteran of the Himalayas, as “probably the most important single climbing feat ever to take place in mountaineering.”
The point is, Mr. Bonatti, who died Tuesday at age 81, fully accepted the dictum of adventure that had been true for centuries, but that may no longer hold: if you get into trouble, you have to get yourself out.
In the last 10 or 15 years, all of that has changed — for the worse, in my view. Thanks to satellite phones, radios, helicopters, GPS’s and other technology, extreme adventurers not only can often be rescued from otherwise fatal situations, but they sometimes count on such a rescue as an emergency escape option.