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Famous Mountain Climber Struggled to Forgive

Many mountain climbers regard Italian Walter Bonatti as the greatest climber of all time. In 1954, when he was 24-years-old, he was the youngest member of the Italian climbing team that became the first in the world to conquer K2, the second tallest mountain in the world after Everest.

Wikipedia says, "K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the difficulty of ascent and the second-highest fatality rate among the 'eight thousanders' for those who climb it. For every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying."

Mountaineer Reinhold Messner told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, "Bonatti was just a boy from Bergamo who in a very few years became the best climber in the world," and that he had been envied around the world because he was "too ahead of the curve, too alone, too good."

But when Bonatti died in 2011 at age 81, his New York Times obituary focused much of its attention on a controversy surrounding the 1954 conquest of K2 that dogged him for the rest of his life. Although two members of the Italian team reached the summit of the mountain, Bonatti himself did not. He and a porter were responsible to transport oxygen tanks to a camp at 26,000 feet, where they were to meet the other climbers who were waiting for them. Then together the entire team was to make the final, one-day ascent to the top.

However, when Bonatti and his porter arrived with the oxygen tanks at the agreed-upon location, no one was there. Bonatti and the porter had to spend the night camped in the open, where they almost died from the cold. The next morning, leaving the oxygen tanks in the snow, they rushed back down the mountain, and the porter lost fingers and toes to frostbite.

A few hours after Bonatti and the porter had left the oxygen tanks in the snow, the other members of the Italian team appeared, took the tanks, and proceeded to the summit and to mountaineering glory. Later, Bonatti accused them of deliberately missing their planned meeting place on the mountain. The others denied it, and the Italian Alpine Club sided with them. From then on, Bonatti did much of his climbing alone rather than with teams, and for the next 50 years the controversy over K2 lingered in the climbing community.

Then, in 2004, one of the Italian climbers who had reached the summit of K2 essentially admitted in a book that Bonatti's version of the events was true.

When Bonatti died in 2011 at age 81, his partner Ms. Rossella Podesta, age 77, said, "The K2 story was a big thorn in his heart. He could not believe that, even after all those many years, nobody had apologized or acknowledged the truth. This falseness has left a mark in his life."

In his own book, The Mountains of My Life, Walter Bonatti wrote, "My disappointments came from people, not the mountains."

Indeed, forgiving others can be more difficult than climbing the world's tallest mountains.

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