The final word on the 1954 conquer of K2 March 29, 2008Posted by dorigo in news, travel.
The italian alpine club CAI has just released the results of a re-analysis of the history of the italian ascent to Mount Godwin-Austen, the 8611-meter peak in Karakorum called K-2, the second-highest peak in the world. And it is a wholesome rehabilitation of the role and testimony of Walter Bonatti (right), a member of the expedition and arguably the strongest climber of the time.
In the vigil of the final push to the summit of K2, at camp 8 on July 29th, 1954 Lacedelli and Compagnoni, together with Bonatti, had discussed the plan of assault and had decided where to place the tents of the ninth camp: just above 8000 meters. Despite his excellent physical form Bonatti had been given orders from base camp by Ardito Desio, the chief of the expedition, to leave the glory of the final ascent to his two colleagues, and he had accepted the agenda. Together with a hunza he was to bring two air cylinders (19 kg each) to camp 9 for Lacedelli and Compagnoni, who would be waiting for them.
As he arrived to the agreed point on the evening of July 30th, Bonatti however found no camp, since Compagnoni had insisted with Lacedelli to place it higher – arguably because he feared Bonatti would join them in the ascent if given a chance. Bonatti and the hunza Mahdi were thus prevented to reach camp 9 and they had to bivouac with no shelter at an altitude of over 8000 meters, risking their life (and Mahdi losing all his fingers and toes). They were the first men to ever survive such an ordeal.
On July 31st Compagnoni and Lacedelli retrieved the cylinders where Bonatti had left them, and ascended to the summit, conquering K2 for the first time. They later claimed they had found the air cylinders almost empty, and blamed Bonatti for using the air to survive during that night. This, along with other allegations moved to the unguilty Bonatti, caused a huge controversy that lasted for decades. The official version for a long time favored the reconstruction of the events given by Compagnoni and Lacedelli.
The committee appointed by CAI has re-examined the whole story and has concluded that Bonatti had not lied: he did not use the oxygen which Lacedelli and Compagnoni later breathed in their final, 12-hour climb: this is probably the last word in the long-standing issue. A picture taken at the summit, showing the two climbers still with their masks on, is probably the clearest evidence.