email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThe First Ascent of K2
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On that July morning, the Italian team’s climbing leader, 40-year-old Achille Compagnoni, and his partner, 29-year-old Lino Lacedelli, had ascended the mountain to establish Camp IX, an advance post for the final K2 summit push. Though Walter Bonatti, at 24, was the youngest member of the expedition, he had already forged a sterling climbing reputation by pioneering some of the most daring routes in the Alps. He was the strongest member of the Italian team. But he had not been chosen to make the first summit attempt.

Instead, accepting his role in support of the summit pair, Bonatti had set out that morning with Mahdi, the most experienced and respected Hunza climber of his day, on the dangerous quest to carry crucial oxygen cylinders up to Compagnoni and Lacedelli. Near the end of the day, the two men had at last reached the high, safe shoulder of snow at 25,900 feet where the whole team had agreed to place Camp IX the night before. The Camp IX tent, however, was not where it was supposed to be. Driving farther upward toward nightfall, Bonatti had now committed himself and Mahdi to sharing the inadequate tent with Compagnoni and Lacedelli. With the oxygen, however, the two men carried the only hope that their comrades could get to the summit on July 31. As night fell, Bonatti cried out to his teammates.

"Achille! Lino!" he shouted again and again. "Why don’t you answer?" It was now almost pitch dark. Mahdi had no headlamp, and Bonatti’s had ceased to work.

Abruptly, a light pierced the gloom. One of the climbers must have heard Bonatti’s cries. The light came from a camp that lay several hundred feet to the left of the main route to the summit and that was camouflaged by protruding rocks. Bonatti heard Lacedelli call out, "Have you got the oxygen?"

"Yes!"

"Good! Leave it there and go straight down!"

What could Lacedelli mean? "I can’t!" Bonatti yelled back. "Mahdi can’t make it!"

As abruptly as it had flashed on, the beam of light went off.

In absolute darkness, Mahdi screamed ("like a madman," as Bonatti later wrote), "No good, Compagnoni Sahib! No good, Lacedelli Sahib!"

"Lino! Achille! Help us, damn you!" Bonatti wailed. Not a word came from Camp IX.

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