On the K2, patriotism at the top

And the K2 became “The mountain of the Italians”. It had been written since the Duke of Abruzzo’s first exploration in 1909 spotting the most obvious path to the top of the monster. It was still necessary to plant it, the transalpine flag, up there at 8,611 m. This was done on July 18, 1954. It must be said that the Italians had not skimped on the means deployed to tame K2.

→ Conquering the last 8,000 (1/4). The K2, a giant never conquered in the Himalayan winter

Because, then, the national honor is at stake. To forget the defeat and a quarter of a century of fascism, to shine with a new radiance in the eyes of the world: the mission is not thin for its leader Ardito Desio, charged by the ‘State and the Italian Alpine Club to conquer the most difficult of the Himalayan peaks. From the fall of 1953, the journalist and writer Dino Buzzati summarized the affair in the Corriere della sera: “Today, it is the French in Annapurna, the English in Everest, the Germans in Nanga Parbat, who are talking about them. Now it’s our turn, we Italians ”.

The tamed K2 and the exploits of Messner

When, after three months of efforts to prepare for the final assault, the Achille Compagnoni-Lino Lacedelli tandem reached the much-desired Grail at the end of the afternoon, it was all of Italy that swooned. Dino Buzzati is always enthusiastic about “A shock, a palpitation, a pure and disinterested satisfaction”. Ardito Desio will soon give a detailed account of it, sublimating the bravery of the heroes and setting in stone… a few lies about the exact unfolding of the events and the role of young Walter Bonatti (24 years old at the time) and of the Pakistani carrier Amir Mehdi. It will take fifty years to restore the truth, as the myth is almost untouchable.

“Despite everything, this conquest remains a very important date for the Italians, and for the 60th anniversary in 2014, several thousand of them made the trek to the K2 base camp again”, underlines Christian Trommsdorff, President of the High Mountain Group (GHM). It is true that after the exploit on the K2, other Italians will keep the flame alive, foremost among them Reinhold Messner, who from 1970 jumps from one peak to another, without the heaviness of great expeditions but by promoting the “alpine style”: total autonomy, a backpack and nothing else for the climber facing the wall.

The giant Messner is the first to complete the ascent of the 14 summits of the planet culminating at more than 8000 m in October 1986, with the K2 in particular, in 1979. However, it takes nothing that the bugger does not be preceded by another devourer of the peaks, the Pole Jerzy Kukuczka. He finished the mad race in September 1987, but with one sacred specificity: on his route, he achieved three winter firsts. The hallmark of those nicknamed the “ice warriors”.

Extreme quest

Because they established themselves on the international scene in the 1970s, the Polish mountaineers. All the great peaks may be defeated, but not at the worst time. So the Poles will make a place for themselves by specializing in winter conquests. That of Everest on February 17, 1980 was even applauded by Pope John Paul II and still remains a national pride. In less than ten years, they stacked seven, the Polish climbers.

But this extreme quest is obviously not without danger. And the exploits soon follow dramas. The mountain swept away Jerzy Kukuczka at 41, in 1989. The first woman to summit K2, in 1986, Wanda Rutkiewicz also died in 1992, at 49. And many others. A great void that no one wants to fill for a few years. Until the turn of the century, when the fever gradually resumed the Poles.


“These winter, more technical or taking new paths, did not have the same notoriety as the original conquests of the 1950s and 1960s., notes the sociologist Michel Raspaud, specialist in high mountains. Nevertheless, succeeding in K2, the last giant inaccessible in winter, remains very important for them because it would symbolically complete the loop and confirm national predominance ”. The Poles therefore returned to the winter 2002-2003, but without exceeding the 7,650 m, a mark that still holds. The 2018 expedition – named “K2 for the Poles” – said the national ambition, the result of the “program for Polish winter himalayan” launched in 2010. Las. It still ended in failure.

This year, the Poles are not really involved in the ongoing attempts. They are preparing instead on a nearby summit, gaining experience to return to the assault in the winter of 2021, hoping that others do not win the day. Because for them it is also written. K2 must also become “The mountain of the Poles”.


Such a long lie

For a long time, Walter Bonatti was silent. And then, in the 1980s, he began to recount “his” 1954 K2 expedition, which was significantly different from the official version. He tells of the “betrayal” of the two heroes of the ascent, who, for not having set up Camp IX in the planned location, forced Walter Bonatti and Amir Mehdi to come to bring them oxygen the day before the assault. final to an improvised and normally fatal bivouac at more than 8000 m of altitude. Both survived, the heroes were celebrated, even telling that they had completed the ascent without oxygen. Another lie. The truth only thawed gradually, before being made official by the Italian Alpine Club in 2004.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *