ďIíll be there too, Iím going back up, to Base Camp, to the foot of K2. I'll then let the strong mountaineers, my Scoiattoli, take the helm. Itíll be like meeting an old friend, someone dear.Ē
Lino Lacedelli with his nephew Mario, a member of the 2004 expedition.
1954 Lino Lacedelli climbing up to Camp IX
Lino Lacedelli, fifty years ago, in 1954, you reached the summit of K2. During that era Italy was going through a difficult moment in its history and recovering from the war. What did K2 mean to you? The difficulties we all encountered throughout those years were overcome by our immense desire to climb that mountain. Even today the Himalaya remain a great dream, even the more so at that time, when the only expeditions to the Greater Ranges were national. And so when we heard about the Italian expedition to K2 we all tried to do something important to be chosen. And I was truly fortunate, first of all because I was chosen to take part, secondly because I managed to see that exceptional pyramid, and lastly because I managed to reach the summit...you need a lot of luck on that mountain.
What was the group's true strength? Above all our immense desire to succeed and the team spirit. It was this excellent teamwork that enabled us to reach the summit. This is the most important thing: if you all work together you succeed, because together you are strong.
Sadly one member of the expedition, Mario Puchoz, did not survive. He helped you up to a certain altitude and then died. How did you react? It was an incredible blow. To lose a companion on that immense glacier is one of the saddest things ever. We also understood that there, in the Himalaya, you can die for almost no reason at all, a simple throat ache at 6000m can transform into pulmonary oedema. The problem was that there was a terrible storm. We had a sledge and, had the weather been better, we would have been able to transport him down to a different camp, because at a lower altitude perhaps he may have recovered... For a day after his death we didn't know what to do, that night we hadn't slept at all. Then we said to ourselves: tomorrow we'll continue to climb, we'll do it also for Mario's sake. And I think that he really did help us from up above.
What has changed since then for a mountaineer who now wants to climb K2?
Nowadays they are thoroughly prepared, and technology has advanced rapidly, while at the time we had to make do with what there was. We now know everything about the mountain, unlike yesteryear when we knew almost nothing at all. What doesn't change however is the weather, which remains extremely difficult and dangerous. The cold, wind and unpredictable weather... These remain the same: you have to be ready to retreat immediately as soon as the weather changes.
You will return to K2 this year with an expedition organised by the Cortina Scoiattoli, the mountaineering group to which you belong. Why will you return?
To salute Puchoz, he's still there. And to see that fabulous cone once more... and I don't think I'll see it again in 50 years time.
What do you think about these younger mountaineers who will try and reach the summit, just like you did?
There's not much to say to them because they already know everything, but I can give some precise information about some danger points, such as the Bottleneck and the Traverse. And continue saying that you can't be in a hurry on K2, you need to shift down a gear and go very, extremely slowly to acclimatise as best possible. Otherwise you won't ascend.
How do you regard your relationship with the mountains, as a wife or lover?
I have always regarded them as a wife, because as a child I escaped into the mountains, and even today I enjoy the mountains. One could say that for me they are my best friend, my lifetime companion that has given me great joy and satisfaction. The mountains have that aura of beauty that needs no words. You look around and see all that God has created, and this is the most beautiful thing that can happen to you, no matter where you are.
Why, in the last fifty years, has a great undertaking such as the first ascent of K2 often been remembered for its controversy?
All great undertakings are surrounded by controversy, small things. However you'll get an answer to your question in mid-July. We've written a book with the answers you're looking for.
But for you, fifty years later, has K2 changed?
No, the mountain doesn't change, only we do.
A weak ridge is situated over Afghanistan. It may at times affect the K2-area during the first days giving only risk of occasional showers. Then it seems to become more unsettled with frequent showers due to lows over Kashmir and Tibet.