Entity Type:
Bonington, Sir Christian John Storey (1934-)
Bonington, Sir Christian John Storey  (1934-)
By far and away the most famous mountaineer in Britain, Chris Bonington has arguably been the public ‘face’ of climbing for over four decades. Born in Hampstead, Bonington went on to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst after Public School and was commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment in 1956, finally finishing his military career as an instructor at the Army’s Aberystwyth Outward Bound school. Behind this official activity Bonington had begun carving a reputation as a forceful rock and ice climber in Britain, making the first ascents of difficult winter climbs in Glencoe and hard rock climbs on the limestone cliffs of the Avon Gorge. It was also during this period that Bonington began climbing in the Alps, making the first British ascent of the South West Pillar of the Dru with Hamish MacInnes in 1958. He followed this with the first ascent of the Central Pillar of Frêney (with Ian Clough and Polish climber Jan Dlugosz) in 1961. Bonington also accomplished the long-sought first British ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in 1962 with Clough, thereby confirming himself as one the country’s premier mountaineers. His first Himalayan venture was in 1960 when he reached the summit of Annapurna II (26,041-ft), followed by Nuptse (25,700-ft) in 1962. By now Bonington had left the army to become a management trainee at Unilever, but, faced with the choice between selling margerine and a life of adventure, he chose the latter. In 1963 he climbed in Patagonia, succeeding on the difficult granite spire of the Central Tower of Paine with Don Whillans. However, this was to be Bonington’s last climbing expedition for seven years as he developed a career as an adventurer. In 1970 however, he returned to the fray, masterminding the groundbreaking ascent of the huge South Wall of Annapurna; at 12,000-ft the biggest rock wall yet climbed in the Himalayas. The success set the pattern for equally ambitious attempts on Everest’s South-West Face in 1972 and 1975. Four other major siege-style expeditions had attempted this side of Everest before, and Bonington’s initial 1972 attempt joined them in failing to surmount the huge and difficult face. Undeterred, he planned to return for another attempt, despite mountaineering pundits predicting no more than a 1 in 7 chance of success. Bonington’s 1975 expedition, however, was a resounding triumph, albeit marred by the death of climbing cameraman Mick Burke. Everest ‘The Hard Way’ as it became dubbed, consolidated Bonington’s position as the world’s foremost mountaineering logistician. Despite its success, however, the expedition marked the end of enormously expensive siege-style expeditions for its leader and he returned to his roots, embarking on a series of lightweight ventures that he continues to pursue to this day. Among the highlights are his 1977 first ascent of the fearsome 23,900-ft Karakorum peak ‘The Ogre’ with Doug Scott, (which involved a nightmare retreat after Scott broke both legs and Bonington several ribs), while in 1981 Bonington led a team to the top of the very remote Chinese peak Kongur (25,325-ft). In 1985 he finally reached the summit of Everest, a mountain which he knew so well but had never actually climbed. In between there have been numerous climbing trips around the world, to Greenland, Antarctica, the Caucasus, the Karakorum and Himalayas. Despite this bulging climbing CV, Bonington has also found time to write numerous books, script TV documentaries, undertake exhaustive public speaking tours, serve on numerous official committees – and even hunt for the Yeti! Although now eligible for a bus pass, there seems little chance of Sir Chris (he was knighted in 1996) hanging up his climbing boots just yet. He continues to rock climb to a high standard pioneering new rock climbs in Morocco and spending winters climbing in difficult snow & ice in Scotland.
Standout climbs: Annapurna II, Nuptse (both Nepal); Central Tower of Paine, Patagonia; East Ridge of Changabang, Indian Himalaya; The Ogre (Baintha Brakk), Karakorum; Mount Kongur, China, Shivling South-West, India; 1st British ascent Mount Vinson, Antarctica (solo); 1st ascent of west ridge of Melungtse; 1st ascent Rongrak Ring, India.
Further reading: Chris Bonington, Mountaineer, Chris Bonington, Baton Wicks 1989.
2006-08-06 00:00:00
Maxine Willett
Access Points:
Bonington, Sir Christian John Storey (1934-)
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247b : Trousers
274h : Tape recorder
289 : Rib
294a : Oxygen cylinder
294b : Oxygen cylinder
301a : Sleeping Bag
301b : Stuff sack
B008 : Lakeland Rock Classic climbs with Chris Bonington
B009 : The Climbers - A history of mountaineering
B073 : The Next Horizon
B074 : Everest The Unclimbed Ridge
Related Entities:
BFI National Film & Television Archive
British University Film and Video Council