Adventurer Profile – Sir Chris Bonnington

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Adventurer Profile – Sir Chris Bonnington

Sir Christian Bonnington is a British mountaineer, known best for being the first Brit to climb the Eiger’s daunting North Face and later leading the first successful ascent of Annapurna’s treacherous South Face in 1970.

Now 80, his career has included nineteen expeditions to the Himalayas, including four to Everest.

  • Nationality: British
  • Known for: Being the first Brit up Eiger’s North Wall and first ascent of The South Face of Annapurna

Chris began climbing at the mere age of 16, before attending Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, moving into the Royal Tank Regiment for a few years then spending two years at the Army Outward Bound School as a mountaineering instructor.

SIR CHRIS BONINGTON  from Mendi Film Festival on Vimeo.

After he left the British Army in 1961, Bonington briefly joined Van den Berghs (Unilever) but realised his true passion and calling and quit to become a professional mountaineer and explorer.

Early expeditions included an Army team’s attempt to make the first-ever descent of the Blue Nile, the first British ascent of the South West Pillar of the Aiguille du Dru and the Central Pillar of Freney on the south side of Mont Blanc, as well as the successful joint British-Indian-Nepalese forces expedition to Annapurna II in 1960.

However the true challenge began a few years later. In 1968, Bonington started preparing for his attempt to summit the South Face of Annapurna.

Sir Chris Bonnington on Annapurna

At the time no wall on an 8,000-metre Himalayan peak had been successfully tackled and this 3,000-metre wall teetered on the boundary of what was even possible.

Despite its savagely steep rock and ice, after two months of hard work the team managed to put climbers Dougal Haston and Don Whillans atop the 8,090-metre peak.

The team hailed Bonington’s leadership, without which it never could have happened.

In 1977 Bonington and his climbing partner Doug Scott made the first ascent of the Ogre (7,284 metres) in the Karakoram Himalayas over the course of a troubling six-day descent in which they went without food for five days and fought through a blizzard.

Bonington and his climbing partner Doug Scott

Scott had broken both his legs soon after leaving the summit and thus crawled most of the way down and Bonington broke a number of ribs.

Not put off by this dramatic expedition, Bonington joined businessman Dick Bass’ 1983 effort to ascend the Seven Summits, making him the first person to solo Antarctica’s highest mountain, Vinson Massif.

Just two years later, Bonington realised a lifetime’s ambition, reaching the summit of Everest by the South Col route as a member of the Norwegian Everest Expedition.

After this attempt he briefly became the oldest known person to summit the peak (at 50 years of age) but was surpassed just months later by Richard Bass.

As well as some incredible climbing feats, he has written 17 books, fronted numerous television programmes and presented to public and corporate audiences all over the world.

Sir Chris Bonnington in Nepal

Honours include a chancellorship of Lancaster University, becoming Honorary President of the British Orienteering Federation and president (1988–91) of the British Mountaineering Council, as well as succeeding Edmund Hillary as the Honorary President of Mountain Wilderness.

Above and beyond all of this, Bonington received a knighthood in 1996 for his services to mountaineering.

Not slowed down by age, he is still active in the mountains, fuelled by the same enthusiasm and passion as he had at the beginning.

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