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Lino Lacedelli visited K2's BC during the 50th anniversary of the first ascent. He called Bonatti from BC, but Walter refused to answer the phone. Image onf Lacedelli in K2's BC courtesy of PlanetMountain/Scoiatolli K2 expedition 2004 (click to enlarge).
File image of Lacedelli and Compagnoni on their summit push in 1954, coutesy of Scoiatolli K2 expedition 2004.
Recent image of Walter Bonatti, who has not forgotten neither forgiven 5 decades of humilliation and lies. Image courtesy of Mountain-bookshop.de.

50 years of silence: Lino Lacedelli confess the truth about K2 conquest and Walter Bonatti, part 2 final

Posted: Jun 23, 2006 01:58 pm EDT
(K2Climb.net) Walter Bonatti always claimed Lino Lacedelli and Aquille Compagnoni left him abandoned at 8100m the night before they reached the summit on K2. For 50 years, team members kept repeating an official version and condemned Bonatti to isolation. Defamed and rarely mentioned, the climber took revenge in his own way: Solo climbs, first ascents, new technical routes all over the world, elegance in the itineraries and methods, Bonatti proved without a shadow of doubt that he was one of the best climbers of his time.

"Face the void to find myself"

A new generation of climbers took notice: Bonatti represents the true spirit of Alpinism: Commitment, exposure, tenacity, courage and self discipline. Those are precisely the values that brought us to the Magic Line, wrote the Spanish K2 climbers and winners of the 2004 ExWeb awards.

Face the void from the mountains to find myself...; those Bonattis words have a special meaning to us now, after living face to face with K2 for two months, the climbers ended their tribute to Walter Bonatti, planting a Jolly Roger flag away from the 50 year anniversary crowds on K2's normal route.

In K2's normal base camp meanwhile, an elderly Lino Lacedelli, one of the 1954 K2 summiteers, tried to call Bonatti - to apologize. He had just confessed in a book that Bonatti had been right all the time: Walter and Medhi were collateral damage in a quest for glory and ambition, obscured by five decades of silence and lies.

In todays final part of this series, researcher Pete Poston - a regular contributor with ExWeb - showcases some of the answers, contained in Linos book.

Spilling the Beans - Lino Lacedellis Book
Price of Conquest: Confessions from the First Ascent of K2, Part 2

By Pete Poston, for ExplorersWeb

K2 has been a source of humiliation and suffering for me, but sooner or later, if it takes a hundred years, the truth will have to be recognized by those to whom the verdict of history belongs. Walter Bonatti

The English edition of Lacedellis book Price of Conquest: Confessions from the First Ascent of K2 (published by The Mountaineers) is scheduled to come out in the summer of 2006, but the Italian version has been out since 2004. The Italian media has also produced several stories and interviews revealing details from the book, including a rather extensive one by Giuseppe Mendicino of the now 80 year old Lacedelli (1).

What happened on K2 and most of all why?

While I dont want to spill too many of the beans myself and spoil the release of the English version of the book (in particular regarding motivations, although Ill have to mention some), I do want to address the main issues of the oxygen running out and how it relates to Lacedelli and Compagnonis given departure time, and why the high camp was moved from where Bonatti and Mahdi were expecting it. Especially since Bonatti wrote that if these key questions about the first ascent were satisfactorily explained, then we would really know what happened during the first ascent of K2, clearing his reputation once and for all (2).

Lacedelli now admits leaving Bonattis bivouac site at about 7:30 instead of the 6:15 given in the official account written by Desio, so that fits in with Bonattis claim that they absolutely couldnt have reached it before 7 AM when he lost view of the bivouac site from Camp 8. So if they left the high camp immediately after it disappeared from Bonattis view, then that leaves 30 minutes to descend from Camp 9 to the bivouac site, throw on the oxygen packs, connect the regulators and head for the summit. This doesnt quite square with Compagnonis account given in his own book that it took them an hour to descend, but were talking about high-altitude memories here (3).

Summit without O2? No way

Now what about the puzzling claim that the oxygen ran out two hours or 600 feet below the summit? This translates to a climbing rate of 300 ft/hr (100 m/hr) without oxygen. Why then had it taken them 10 hours to climb the first 1000 feet at a rate of 100 ft/hr (30 m/hr) with oxygen, when they presumably were not as tired? Why would their climbing rate increase at the higher elevation without oxygen? Can this simply be explained by saying that the main technical difficulties of the route had been passed?

There seems to be evidence that the pair actually were breathing oxygen up to the summit, however. In 1983 Robert Marshall, the translator of Bonattis book The Mountains of My Life, suddenly recognized that the tell-tale circular patches of ice still on Lacedellis beard in the summit photos meant that he must have still had an oxygen mask over his face prior to the summit shot. This would seem to contradict their claim that the oxygen had run out two hours before at 4 PM. Lacedelli explained later in a Dave Roberts interview that this was to warm their breath (4).

What about Bonattis oxygen calculations? He claims there was about 10 hours available, and with a departure time of 8:30 as he claims, it would have run out at about 6:30, enough to reach the summit.

Some calculations

Each oxygen set contained three 2.6 Liter Dräger bottles originally filled to a pressure of 220 atmospheres, and delivered oxygen at a normal flow rate of 3.0 L/min. So each set had 3 x 2.6 x 220 = 1700 L, which at a flow rate of 3.0 L/min equates to 570 min, or about 9.5 hours. The pressure of each bottle was measured at Base Camp, and none had more than 200 atm in them, so Bonatti must be assuming that the pressure drop was due to the lower temperature, but still contained the same amount of oxygen.

So yes, the oxygen would have run out at around 6-6:30 PM as Bonatti calculated if they had actually set off at 8:30 AM. To Bonattis vindication, Lacedelli now admits the O2 actually ran out just below the summit, which was reached at 6 PM. Allowing for errors in flow rates, etc Lacedelli and Compagnoni must have left sometime around 7:30 8:30 in the morning on their summit bid.

C8, a moving target

Finally, what does Lacedelli have to say about changing of the location of the top camp to a higher, more inaccessible spot, an action that led directly to Bonatti and Mahdis forced bivouac? Ill leave it to the book to fill in the details, but Lacedelli says that it was justified to move the camp horizontally out of the avalanche line below the Bottleneck with its fearsome overhanging serac band. But he goes on to say that Compagnoni didnt want to share the tent with four climbers in a two-man tent, and feared being replaced by Bonatti the next day (earlier Compagnoni had hinted to Bonatti that he wasnt feeling so well and might need to be replaced by someone).

One has to wonder what Achille Compagnoni has to say about all of this?

Silence out of fear

As is frequently the case when one gets older, the passage of time seems to have softened Lacedellis heart. And it can be claimed that it has lessened his fear of the powerful Ardito Desio also, who passed away in 2001. When interviewed by David Roberts, Lacedelli is on record as saying (4):

This was not war. Millions of people fight wars and shake hands afterwards. I hope one day to shake hands with Bonatti.

Bonatti dont forgive

Lacedelli, present at K2 as part of the Italian 2004 Fifty Year Anniversary climb, even attempted to call Bonatti from the mountain but was refused. Afterwards Bonatti had this to say after Lacedellis attempted phone call (5):

E i contatti avviati da Lacedelli per la rappacificazione? Inutili - risponde Bonatti -. Non c'è spazio. La nostra rottura è insanabile, irrisolvibile, definitiva".

Basic Translation: Reconciliation? Not a chance! Our breach is incurable, irresolvable, definitive. And who could blame him? Lacedellis confession came fifty years too late.

References:

(1) http://www.comune.bellusco.mi.it/comunicazioni/lacedelli.htm
(2) The Mountains of My Life, Walter Bonatti (Robert Marshall, trans), Random House, 2001
(3) Men on K2, Achille Compagnoni
(4) K2 at 50: The Bitter Legacy, David Roberts, National Geographic Adventure, September, 2004
(5)http://www.feltrinelli.it/FattiLibriInterna/id_fatto!3442

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Roxanne Espantman for pointing out to me the Italian literature, and to Sylvia Guistina of the University of Oregon for translations.

Background:

K2 was first summitted on July 31, 1954 by Lino Lacedelliand Achille Compagnoni, members in a large Italian team led by Ardito Desio.

The ambitious Bonatti, an Alpine legend, stands out in the controversy about the obscure events that took place during the night before K2's summit was reached for the very first time.

Bonatti was 24 when he joined Ardito Desios National Italian team to K2. Not only the summit was on stake, but the pride of a whole country struggling to find a first-line place in the history of alpine adventures.

When Achille Compagnioni and Lino Lacedelli left their highest camp on their summit bid, young Walter and Medhi, the only Balti porter still capable of climbing high, was ordered to get them some O2 bottles. Problem was that the high camp was not where it was supposed to be, but slightly higher.

Walter and Medhi arrived in the middle of the night and couldnt see the tents, and called out their mates names. A reply came; to leave the bottles on the spot and return to lower camps.

Well, they didnt. According to Bonatti, since they were too exhausted to move, the spent the night out in the snow. They survived the night at 8000m, Medhi losing all his fingers to frostbite.

Some time after the expedition, the press accused Bonatti of trying to steal the Oxygen to attempt the summit himself; he instead accused Achille and Lino: They left us out there to die. Bonnati was isolated for years, and his name is still somewhat of a taboo for some Italain expeditions.

Walter Bonatti kept on climbing, and became a living legend to several generations of climbers around the world. Solo climbs, first ascents, new technical routes all over the world, elegance in the itineraries and methods, Bonatti proved without a shadow of doubt that he was one of the best climbers of his time, if not in all of climbing history.

American Pete Poston is a long time contributor to ExplorersWeb. His are classics such as the "Chomolungma Nirvana - the Routes of Mount Everest", a 5-part series co-written with Jochen Hemmleb "The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine's Fate', and a 5-part series feature on Chris Bonington.


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