Chris Bonington CBE
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Born in Hampstead in 1934, Chris was educated at University College School, London and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He was commissioned in the Royal Tank Regiment in 1956. He spent three years in North Germany in command of a troop of tanks and then two years at the Army Outward Bound School as a mountaineering instructor.
It was during this period that he started climbing in the Alps, making the first British ascent of the south west pillar of the Drus in 1958, and then the first ascent of the Central Pillar of Freney on the south side of Mont Blanc in 1961 with Don Whillans, Ian Clough and the Pole Jan Dlugosz. At that time, this was one of the most difficult climbs in the Alps and even today is considered one of the great classics of the Mont Blanc region.
He made the first British ascent of the North Wall of the Eiger in 1962. On leaving the Army in 1961, he joined Unilever as a management trainee, but after nine months realised that he could never combine a conventional career with his love of mountaineering.
Now married to Wendy, a freelance illustrator of children’s books, Bonington made the decision to go freelance and since 1962, has followed a successful course as writer, photographer and mountaineer. They have two sons, Daniel and Rupert.
Areas of Expertise
Having started climbing at the age of sixteen, Bonington reached a high standard of rock climbing while in his teens. In 1960 he was invited to join the joint British-Indian-Nepalese services expedition to Annapurna II (26,041 ft), and reached the summit.
Other outstanding climbs followed until in 1966, he was given his first assignment by the Daily Telegraph magazine to cover other expeditions – climbing the highest active volcano on the world, Sangay in Ecuador; caribou hunting with the Eskimos in Baffin island; a story from Hunza.
Bonington’s fast developing career as an adventure journalist and photographer reached a climax in 1968 when he accompanied an Army expedition, led by the then Captain John Blashford-Snell, in their attempt to make the first ever descent of the Blue Nile. This proved to be Bonington’s most exciting, and by far most dangerous,
Adventure yet and by the end of the expedition he knew he should get back to climbing, the activityhe loved and thoroughly understood.
In the autumn of 1968 Bonington started planning an expedition to attempt the south face of Annapurna. At this time, no mayor Himalayan wall had been climbed, and tackling this huge 12,000 ft wall was a step into the unknown, since it involved climbing steep rock and ice at heights of over 24,000 ft. Careful choice of team members and logistical planning was rewarded by success, when Dougal Haston and Don Whillans reached the summit on the 27th May 1970.
After the ascent of Annapurna, the ‘last great problem’ – the south west face of Everest – was a logical follow up. In 1972 he led the British expedition, which was defeated by the savage winds and intense cold of that autumn and winter.
When the opportunity came for a further attempt, in the autumn of 1975, Bonington led the British Everest expedition to success when Doug Scott and Dougal Haston reached the summit on the 24th September.
Two years later he and Doug Scott made the first ascent of the Ogre (23,900 ft) in the Karakoram Himalaya and had an epic six-day descent. Aided by Mo Anthoine and Clive Rowland through a blizzard, with Doug Scott crawling all the way, as he had broken both his legs soon after leaving the summit.
Bonington also had a fall and broke a rib, they ran out of food and when at last they reached Base Camp, starving and exhausted, it was only to find that their companies had given them up for lost and abandoned the camp.
In 1978, Bonington led a small team to attempt the previously unclimbed formidable west ridge of K2, which at 28,741 ft, is the second highest mountain in the world. This ended when, tragically, Nick Estcourt was engulfed by a huge avalanche which swept across part of their route.
Then there was a break of two years spent researching and writing his book, QUEST FOR ADVENTURE, which became an immediate best seller and was on the Sunday Times Best Seller list for over ten weeks.