Bonatti and the Ghosts of K2

Bonatti and the Ghosts of K2

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Critical analysis of Conefrey’s text in his book The Ghosts of K2 published on October 10th (Oneworld publications) challenging Bonatti’s story of the K2 1rst ascent and its revised CAI official version (2004).

Contradicting the 2004 statement published 50 years after the event by the Italian Alpine Club vetting Bonatti’s version of the K2 ascent, backed up by all the press and mountaineers in the world, Conefrey tries to convince us that this “new ‘official history’ is more flawed than the old one it was designed to correct”, and is typical of the “Machiavellian” mind of the Italians.     

He states that the “truth” still remains to be told and that it is most certainly along the one he uncovers, claiming with “facts” that Bonatti was wrong and that Compagnoni and Lacedelli were not the liars Bonatti was telling they were, and similarly that the plot against him which he repeatedly referred to in his books was but pure imagination.

 In a sort of preamble to his “facts” and speculation, Conefrey suggests that all this chaos is not surprising as Italy is
“a country where vendettas can run for centuries and legal battles for decades, where conspiracies and cover-ups abound and where, as Machiavelli puts it, many people prefer ‘to look at things not as they really are, but how they wish them to be’ 
I.e. for Conefrey Bonatti may have been possibly the “greatest mountaineer ever” but he was Italian and a paranoiac. The problem is that Conefrey’ “facts” are, including the one detail that no one before made any fuss about i.e. the colour of one of the oxygen bottles filmed on the top of K2, much more speculations, dubiously used statements and personal opinions than “facts”. Moreover, he gives little say to the man who fought for 50 years to obtain justice and the detailed analysis he made in his books over that long period of time. 

I can't believe that Conefrey did vet his full "fiction" with any knowledgeable mountaineer in the Bonatti's question' but relied on his own “conviction” as he stated in his blog: “the more that I look at documents from the period, the more I am convinced that Compagnoni and Lacedelli were telling the truth.”, concluding “it will be up to the public to make their own minds up. It will be very interesting to see what reactions it gets”. More a view from a journalist after a scoop to maximise his book sales than the work of a historian; that is what it looks to me. 

One issue is that the latest books written by Walter Bonatti on K2, particularly K2 Storia di un caso and K2 la Verita (3 editions each with additional texts) have not been published in English, and this is also the case of Reinhold Messner’s 2013 Walter Bonatti il fratello che non sapevo di avere, not to mention Luigi Zanzi’s K2 una storia finita. So the British climbers do not have access to all the detailed Bonatti’s views and analysis and that of his friends, despite the excellent The Mountains of my Life, superbly translated by the Australian Robert Marshall and incorporating in a specific Chapter his own text with the proof that Compagnoni and Lacedelli lied about the oxygen failing them before summiting. It is also unfortunate that Jim Curran's K2 The Story of The Savage Mountain published in 1996 was such a success - winning the Banff Best non-fiction award - as he outrageously summed up the whole affair with:

“It is quite possible that they [Compagnoni and Lacedelli] were not overkeen to leave the warmth of their tent when Bonatti was shouting to them, but once again it seems more like an example of the cock-up syndrome than a deliberate abandoning of Bonatti and Mahdi to their fate.”

Jim could be excused partially as his book contains only one Chapter out of 17 and 15 pages out of 270 about the Italian ascent so less than 6%. Obviously the Italian ascent and Bonatti’s fate was not his prime concern. Finishing writing his book in 1995 he had not read Cennachi-Lacedelli’s K2 The Price of Conquest (2006), but he could have read Walter's Processo al K2 published in 1985. I guess that not speaking Italian he did not bother. He also missed the article published in 1993 in Alp (Italy) with the photos of Lacedelli at the summit commented by Robert Marshall, Robert’s first public text in favour of Bonatti. Worse he did quickly mention the lawsuit against La Nuova Gazzeta del Popolo but did not mention the criminal accusations made onto Bonatti nor that it came from Compagnoni and he did not bother to state its outcome. Obviously Jim found no interest in contacting Walter nor Compagnoni and Lacedelli to check the whole story. Unfortunately his book otherwise well written was read by many British climbers, so his text became “the truth” for them. He therefore contributed to Bonatti’s “Verita” and drama not being recognized by the British climbing community. Somehow, he paved the way to Conefrey’s slanderous text. 
    It is also sad that the excellent The Challenge of K2 written by Richard Sale, published in 2011 didn’t sell much as in it Richard gives at last a well balance account of the events and all the credit to Bonatti that he so much deserve. 

    How could they “make their own minds up?” First reviews I have read have been written by journalists specialising in climbing who obviously have not read the above books and do not know well enough Bonatti's life, nor the 50 years ordeal he had to go through because of the K2 1rst ascent adventure. Without this knowledge, It is all too easy for the typical British layman to fall into Conefrey's cleverly-built fictional tale. 

This article is written to help the British reader to be better armed to "make his own mind up".

When challenging such a legend, one should have some minimal proofs which Conefrey does not provide.

Before reviewing his so-called key “new facts”, one must understand how and when the “Bonatti K2 question” began.


Unnamed Image
K2 Abruzzi ridge

The 1954 1rst ascent route 

1.1. The K2 Italian expedition

    Under the leadership of a non-mountaineer and geologist, member of the Italian elite, the 57-year-old Count Ardito Desio, the expedition team arrives at Concordia on May 14th, base camp is established on May 20th. An autocrat who will soon be nicknamed “il ducetto” by the climbers, Desio will remain all the time at base camp, acting like a well-organised army commander he will issue written orders every day. He had prepared the grounds, made a reconnaissance the previous year, prepared all aspects of his expedition before departing at great length. Benefiting from the experience of the Swiss (Everest 1952 expeditions) and the British (Everest 1953 expedition), the equipment was the best available then (Swiss Reindeer high altitudes boots, tents with inner walls etc…). For oxygen they selected masks and cylinders manufactured in Italy (Dalmine) which they had modified (lightened) for their use and a supply of masks and cylinders manufactured by Dräger (Germany), the most experienced manufacturer in this area then, used by the second Swiss Everest expedition in 1952 and a number of its cylinders left behind by the British in 1953 (with a mask adaptor designed for the purpose).

    The expedition had a strong team of 11 climbers, 8 professional guides and 3 experienced climbers, plus one physician and a cameraman, Mario Fantin. 4 scientists accompanied the expedition. 

Walter Bonatti is 24. He has climbed several of the hardest routes in the Alps and opened a new route in 1951 on the East face of the Grand Capucin considered then as the technically most difficult rock climb in the Alps. He is in perfect shape.

Gino Soldà is the oldest (47), one of the greatest Dolomite climbers and an active resistant during WW2.

Erich Abram is two years older than Bonatti, a strong and experienced alpinist who climbed with Hermann Buhl. During WW2 he fought with the Germans on the Eastern front (Caucasus, Greece, Czechoslovakia) and was a prisoner of the Russians until 1948. An engineer, he was put in charge of the oxygen sets.

Achille Compagnoni, 40 years old, an experienced guide and skier, younger than Solda and adapting better to altitude he will end up taking the leadership of the climbers.

Lino Lacedelli is 29, a squirrel from Cortina d’Ampezzo. In 1951 he pretended to have done the second ascent of the Bonatti route on the East face of the Grand Capucin with Ghedina in an 18-hour-day, which was disputed by Bonatti and also by Herman Buhl, Jean Couzy, Robert Paragot and Lucien Berardini (see appendix).

Pino Gallotti, 36, is an engineer and an experienced alpinist of the Mont Blanc range. 

Ubaldo Rey, 31, is an experienced alpine guide from Courmayeur.

Sergio Viotto, 26, alpine guide from Courmayeur.

Ugo Angellino, 31, Mont-Blanc range climber.

Cirillo Floreani, 30, Dolomites climber.

Mario Puchoz, 36, who will die from acute pulmonary oedema was an experienced Courmayeur guide who also fought on the Eastern front during WW2. 

Their Liaison officer is Colonel Ata Ullah from the Pakistan Army Medical Corp.

Riccardo Cassin, then the greatest Italian alpinist had accompanied Ardito Desio the previous year for a reconnaissance and went up to the first camp on the Abruzzi ridge. On his return, Desio had him rejected on the basis of a physical exam showing a weak heart! Desio feared that Cassin with his strong personality would steal the leadership from him. 

    At this time in Pakistan, there was no real equivalent to the Sherpas. 13 Hunzas were recruited for the load carrying to the altitude camps, half the number of the British 1953 successful Everest expedition. Two stood out of the group, Mahdi and Isakhan. They both will go up to Camp VIII and one, Mahdi will accompany Bonatti in search of Camp IX. However this weakness was compensated with the climbers sharing the load carrying (just like the Swiss during their two 1952 Everest expeditions) and doing most of it for the last 4 camps. Also two hand-operated windlasses, one with a 300 m cable and a second one with a 300 m rope, each with a sledge, were used to carry several dozen loads onto the Abruzzi ridge saving lots of time and efforts.

    After camp IV was established, one of the most experienced members, Mario Puchoz who contracted a throat-infection despite having been put under antibiotics and oxygen died unexpectedly of acute pulmonary oedema on June 21st. Then, the expedition was plagued with a long period of storms. Progress resumed with Compagnoni having taken the role of climbing leader. 

    On July 25th camp VII is established at 7,345 m. The weather prevents them to go further. They resume their ascent on the 28th. Four days later Compagnoni and Lacedelli will reach the summit.

1.2. The last four days of the ascent

    Let’s review the last key four days of the summit ascent, 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st of July 1954.

July 28th

    Erich Abram, Pino Gallotti, Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli established the first tent of Camp VIII, the second last camp, at the altitude of 7,627 m, 100 m below the plan’s target. Gallotti and Abram went down to Camp VII, leaving Compagnoni and Lacedelli who were supposed to establish, with a small “Super K2 tent", the last camp, Camp IX on 29th at around 8,100 m before coming down to Camp VIII where reinforcement in men and equipment would have arrived.

July 29th

    Abram, Gallotti, Ubaldo Rey and Bonatti start from Camp VII with the equipment and the two oxygen sets for the summit assault. Several Hunzas are also expected to come later from lower camps with equipment and food. Rey and Abram are forced to abandon 30-45 m above camp VII. Rey is so exhausted that he has to go down to base camp while Abram stays in Camp VII to rest with the intent to go back up to Camp VIII on the 30th.

    Gallotti is too tired to take the load of one of the oxygen sets which was carried by Abram. Bonatti decides that carrying one oxygen set only is not sensible. He leaves behind the second oxygen set he is carrying, exchanging it with the second tent vital for Camp VIII, food, an air mattress and an additional sleeping bag. They arrived late afternoon at Camp VIII to find Compagnoni and Lacedelli who during the day had only managed to go up 100 m, abandoning their rucksacks on the way down. 

The situation looks quite desperate

    They discuss at length the situation and decide that the only hope to reach the summit, is to succeed in bringing the next day the two oxygen sets of three cylinders each, left slightly above Camp VII, up to Camp IX, yet to be established. Bonatti was the fittest of all the climbers and the effort to go down and bring up the oxygen loads was thought far too great for Compagnoni and Lacedelli. So, finally they decide that Galotti and Bonatti will go down and carry the oxygen sets up to Camp VIII first and then to Camp IX before night. Meanwhile Compagnoni and Lacedelli will install Camp IX and await for them. Compagnoni tells Bonatti that eventually if he is not fit enough, he will take over him.

    One must know that no climber did use oxygen while carrying loads and in fact the only climbers who used oxygen during the whole expedition where Compagnoni and Lacedelli for the summit assault – six cylinders. In total only those were used out of the 151 they had brought (not counting two cylinders used to try and save Mario Puchoz)!

    They agreed that the initial site for Camp IX (below the band of red rocks) is too high for the party carrying the oxygen sets to reach it before night and should therefore be situated at around 7,900 m/8,000 m and not the initially planned 8,100 m, at least 100 m below the red rock band. It meant that Bonatti and his companions carrying the oxygen sets would have to descend first 200 m towards Camp VII and get up some 500 m (which in fact will be 700 m) with 19 Kilos loads. As Bonatti wrote: 

A folly, but considering the situation the success on K2 will result from this folly.” 

And they expected to stay the four of them in the Camp IX small tent.

July 30th

    Bonatti and Gallotti left camp VIII (7,627 m) at 8:00 am for camp VII (7,345 m) to collect the oxygen cylinders. They met Abram coming up with the two best Hunzas, Mahdi and Isakhan. They shared the loads and went back up to Camp VIII. Gallotti is exhausted, Isakhan is sick and feverish, but Mahdi is in great shape. Abram and Bonatti promise him a premium to go to Camp IX. Mahdi who had been with Hermann Buhl on Nanga Parbat the previous year will believe wrongly that Bonatti will try to attempt the summit on his own and without oxygen as he had seen Buhl do. 

    Abram who feels slightly better accepts to continue and to take turns in carrying one load. They made and shared a broth and leave Camp VIII at 15:30. At 16:30, they reach the Shoulder and have in full view the last part of the climb below the Bottleneck. They call Compagnoni and Lacedelli and hear some response but do not see their tent. They follow their tracks which then disappear. They call again and hear Lacedelli shouting: Follow our tracks. They pass the site at around 7,950 m where Camp IX should have been set up. The sun has now disappeared behind the K2 crest, the cold is already severe. Abram does not feel his feet any longer, Bonatti helps him undo his boots to friction his feet. At 18:30, Abram goes back down to Camp VIII. Bonatti and Mahdi continue on steeper and steeper slopes for 2 hours or so until full night is on them. 9:30 of effort for Bonatti without having drunk since 15:30! And Bonatti had been 23 days continuously in the high altitude camps.

    It is too late now for Bonatti and Mahdi to go down in the dark on those steep slopes. Compagnoni and Lacedelli were experienced climbers, they both knew that by setting up the camp some 200 m higher than agreed would mean that Bonatti would not be able to reach them, particularly if they hid themselves - 200 m away to the left of the site agreed and 30 m above - as they did. This would prevent Bonatti going to the summit or replacing one of them, most probably Compagnoni less fit than Lacedelli, in the assault to the summit as they had envisaged the possibility with Bonatti on the 29th.

    I will now quote Bonatti himself when interviewed by Charlie Buffet (Le Monde 2001)  

Bonatti young


 Charlie Buffet: “… But when he arrived near Camp IX which his two companions had placed much higher that was agreed the previous day, Bonatti felt anguish mounting: night was falling, Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni could hear him, he was sure of that, but they did not respond his calls. The thought of spending the night out at 8 100 m made Mahdi, the Pakistani high altitude porter who was with him, go berserk”.

 Bonatti stated:“We yelled, insulted them. Beside myself, I finally shouted: 'when I go down, I will denounce you'and continued :After some time, a light flashed not far away and I shouted:

- Bonatti: Why did you not get out earlier?

- Lacedelli: You don’t imagine that we are going to stay out all night to freeze for your sake. Do you have the oxygen?

- Bonatti: Yes

- Lacedelli: Leave it and go down.

Bonatti: we cannot. I could manage but Mahdi no, he has lost control of himself.

At that moment, Mahdi, as if hypnotised by the light, rushes onto the impossible slope which separated us, yelling

- No good, Compagnoni Sab, no good Lacedelli Sab’. 

The poor chap, this is all he could say. And his feet and hands got frostbitten… Then the light went off. I thought they would put on their crampons and come to help us. But nothing. We yelled again, we cursed them, with all we had on our tongue, but they did not show up anymore. If we are alive, it is only thanks to ourselves.”

And Walter concluded:

- That night I should have died.

 I hoped that when back down at base camp my companions would come to me and apologize with a slap on my shoulder saying:

’ Sorry Walter, we made a fuck-up.’ 

I was young and naïve! 

Not only those excuses never came, 

but my silence allowed this unjust and erroneous official version to impose itself on key essential points.

    Bonatti’s silence is explained because, like all the climbers, he had signed a contract before departing preventing him for two years to publish anything or to be interviewed. But even if he had talked, in the immense patriotic euphoria generated in Italy by their victory, his voice would not have been audible.  

July 31st

    At daylight, Mahdi wants to get down, Bonatti can only help him put his crampons on. Time is 6:00. Bonatti stays behind to clear the snow fallen during the night off the two oxygen sets to make sure that they will be found by Compagnoni and Lacedelli. Then he puts his crampons on and starts descending to Camp VIII. At one point, he hears a shout and responds by waving his ice-axe. Before the wall above Camp VIII, he turns around and has a good look at his bivouac (8 100 m) and around. He sees no-one. Time is exactly 7:00 am.

   Compagnoni and Lacedelli leave Camp IX (8,150 m) to get the two oxygen sets and climbing up the Bottleneck reach K2 summit at 18:00. 

They are back to Camp VIII at 23:00.

1.3. The immediate key reactions and the seeds of the future “Bonatti’s question”.

Mahdi’s feet are heavily frostbitten (Desio had not planned to issue the high altitude reindeer boots to the Hunzas. They were the same worn by Tenzing on his three 1952 and 1953 Everest expeditions, given to him by his friend Raymond Lambert) and reaching Base camp, he tells what happened to Colonel Ata Ullâh, the Pakistani expedition liaison officer, accusing Compagnoni to have caused them to bivouac in the open, causing his frostbites, adding that Bonatti tried to bypass Compagnoni and Lacedelli to the summit as he believed erroneously. Speaking Urdu only did not make any exchange easy with the Italian climbers. 

    This false accusation is repeated to Desio by Ata Ullah. Meanwhile the Pakistani press publishes Mahdi's complaint: The accusation of the Pakistani press was that Compagnoni had forced Mahdi to stop climbing just below the summit, cheating him of a share of the glory of the climb, and because his equipment was inferior to that of the Italians, causing his appalling injuries.” (Richard Sale The Challenge of K2, page 90). As Robert Marshall cleverly concluded in his book K2 Lies and Treachery (page 113-116) Compagnoni did put all the blame onto Bonatti when challenged by Desio. He accused him also to have used some of the oxygen to avoid frostbites and to have abandoned Mahdi to save his own life. Ardito Desio with the agreement of the Italian Ambassador in Pakistan, Dr. Benedetto d'Acunzo, and of Ata Ullah decided to keep the whole affair secret in order not to tarnish their success, the glorious image of Compagnoni, the climbing leader who had reached the summit, and for the good of the Italian/Pakistan relationship, using the young Bonatti as a scapegoat. 

As Robert Marshall wrote in his book, K2 Lies and Treachery (Carreg 2009) page 115 - "Bonatti was thrown to the wolves."

    This decision was therefore fully hidden to Bonatti and the public for the following 10 years until Nino Giglio's articles based on Compagnoni' vicious accusations were published. 

    Neither Desio nor the Italian ambassador did question Mahdi at the time nor after and Desio did not ask Bonatti for his account of the ascent as he did with all the other climbers. Desio who had chosen Compagnoni as his climbing leader for the final assault did rely on him and there is little doubt that he must have believed his accusations put onto Bonatti to be true. It looks that avoiding questioning Mahdi and Bonatti would allow the matter to remain hushed up. Desio had such an authority and aura that it does also explain why the CAI authorities who were put into the confidence would accept his version and reject for so many years Bonatti’ requests for revising the official story, notwithstanding the very damaging impact it would have had on the two "heroes", Desio and the CAI authorities themselves in the public.

    There are other points in the Desio account that the Tre Saggi foundhistorically unacceptable(Tre Saggi report page 224 K2: Lies and Treachery - Robert Marshall) which reinforce Robert Marshall's analysis of Compagnoni and Desio to have been accomplices in putting all the blame of Mahdi's misfortune onto Bonatti and to ignore him completely - the part just prior the assault : the description of which was given to him by Compagnoni:

  • Desio specifically mentions that the oxygen loads carried by Bonatti, Galotti, Abram and Mahdi are the cylinders and the “oxygen-masks” not just the cylinders (page 167-168, quoted 4 times in the English version, page 183-185 of the Italian version of Desio Ascent of K2). In the Chapter "The Attack on the summit" written by Compagnoni and Lacedelli, they specify page 171 (English version): " "...Go back! We shouted. Go back leave the masks! (respiratori) and again page 172: "We searched the snow-covered slope below for the oxygen-masks (respiratori) which Bonatti and Mahdi were supposed to have left there the evening before"
  • The altitude at which the bottles of oxygen were left above Camp VII which Bonatti with Mahdi and the help of Abram went down to fetch from Camp VIII and carried up to where he bivouacked in the vicinity of Camp IX. Desio states (page 168): Bonatti and Gallotti went down to collect the two oxygen-masks which their colleagues had left half-way between Camp VII [7,345m] and Camp VIII [7,627 m]", but the testimonials gathered by the Tre Saggi (includingBonatti’s) show that they were left some 30 metres above Camp VII. A matter of100 m down and up more that Bonatti, Abram and Mahdi had to carry on the 30th.
  • The site of Camp IX situated by Desio at 8,046 m while it was estimated at 8,100 m by Compagnoni and established at 8,150 m by the Tre Saggi and the site of Bonatti’s bivouac similarly assumed to be below 8,000 m instead of 8,100 m. All suspicious errors reducing by more than a fourth Bonatti and Mahdi’s feat in having carried for a total of 700 m up with 19 kilos on their back (and230 m of descent).
  • In the Chapter written by Compagnoni (and Lacedelli), Compagnoni does not give any explanation why he placed Camp IX 200m higher than agreed and in a place with a “traverse over a series of extremely treacherous rock-slabs” (page 170) making it impossible for Bonatti and Mahdi to reach their camp. He states that “As dusk was falling we heard shouts” (page 171) while it was already 10 pm and he does not mention the first vocal contact they had at 6.00 pm (confirmed by Abram who was then still with Bonatti and Mahdi).
    And to this one must add the other key “errors”of Compagnoni about the place of exhaustion of their oxygen (8,400 m in hisbook), the statement that: We found ourselves gasping for breath… Then we realized what had happened: our supply of oxygen was exhausted. At once we snatched off our masks, inhaled deeply…” (page 177) to find them on the summit stillwearing the masks they had snatched off! 
    In all, the sum of errors/lies in Desio's book about the summit days involving Bonatti is such that it is not possible to believe that it was not written deliberately to discredit the young Bonatti and that Desio and Compagnoni were not accomplices in writing up that story.

Once written in the official report, for Compagnoni it is a "proof" that will help him accuse Walter Bonatti in 1964 to have used some of the oxygen during his forced bivouac causing the exhaustion of their oxygen 200 m below the summit and nearly causing their failure. Luckily for Walter, his companions, Abram and Galotti will testify during the trial that Compagnoni and Lacedelli had the masks, not them nor Bonatti (in Bonatti's first book A Mie montagne, all his actions with Abram, Gallotti and Mahdi to carry the oxygen loads refer constantly to the cylinders, never to the oxygen masks and page 90 of the English version of his book (Modern Classics 2010): "We had plenty of rope, a couple of carabiners, and our ice axes, we also took a little bag of extra tools, that is, a couple of monkey wrenches, some spare valves, and other minor spare parts for the breathing apparatus which was in the rucksacks of Compagnoni and Lacedelli

Compagnoni not a compulsive liar?

    Obviously, none of the details of Bonatti's and Mahdi's ordeal nor their role in the success were mentioned by Ardito Desio, the expedition leader, in his expedition book The Ascent of K2 (December 1954) but for one sentence page 168 (English version): "... but for some time the north wind rendered their voices inaudible... The two men realizing that they could only descend at the risk of their lives, dug a hole in the snow and prepared to spend the night in it - a night which at such altitude was bound to be terrible beyond words." Nor did he use any detail of the Ambassador's report who, in Karachi (September 1, 1954), in order to sort out the accusation published in the Pakistani press that Compagnoni and Lacedelli "compelled Mahdi to stop only 100 feet lower down preventing him from sharing in their glory..." (K2 Lies and Treachery page 203) made an investigation of Achille Compagnoni, Lino Lacedelli and Walter in the presence of the following officials: Colonel Ata Ullah, the liaison officer, Commendatore Amedeo Costa, CAI Vice-President, Dr Guido Pagani, the expedition medical officer. And the same is true of the K2 film directed by Marcello Baldi who respectfully followed Desio's official account. As Reinhold Messner writes in his book Walter Bonatti il fratello che non sapevo di avere (Mondadori - 2013 page 139 of the French version ): "For all what occurred in the ascent from Camp VII to the summit, Desio only kept the version of the sole Compagnoni. The first official version [of the film] ignores Bonatti's contribution and sacrifices; the altitude, the position and the configuration of his bivouac in the ice are wittingly modified. And it is only a beginning...

    However Desio's book is full of praise of Compagnoni and Lacedelli "Some, like Compagnoni and Lacedelli revealed moral qualities of a truly exceptional nature... [Compagnoni] who proved himself to be a true champion in the matter of physical and moral endurance" (page 188-189 English version) and while he mentions Compagnoni and Lacedelli "severe frostbite... Compagnoni in the last three fingers of his left hand, Lacedelli in the thumb of his right hand." he writes nothing at all on Mahdi who lost all his toes and several phalanxes, but page 195 (English version): "In planning our departure we had to take into account of two minor casualties. Mahdi was apparently no longer in a fit state to walk and would have to be carried on a stretcher...".

    Bonatti remained silent until the publication of his first book in 1961 My Mountains in which for the first time, he described his terrible night at 8,100 m on a small platform dug in the snow, on which he could just sit, aside Mahdi, mad from anguish and suffering, – 25°C, the blizzard chocking them, a hole dug in the snow to put his head in. And this incomprehension: why did his companions abandon them to a sure death? He concludes his K2 Chapter with this sentence:  

This marks with red iron the soul of a young man and destabilizes his spiritual base yet insufficiently firmed up.”

    Meanwhile Bonatti has become the greatest and most famous Italian climber, already a legend in all the climbing world. In 1955 he stunned the world with his first ascent, solo, of the Dru and to mention some of his later key ascents, the first ascent of the Grand Pilier d’angle in 1957, Gasherbrum IV first ascent in 1958 by the very difficult South-east ridge, several first ascents in Patagonia and the Andes, the Red Pillar of the Brouillard in 1959. Jealousy will be the seed that will then trigger the "Bonatti’s question". 

    Jealousy from Achille Compagnoni, the great national hero, seen by himself and the Italian public as the Italian equivalent of Charles Lindbergh, and who, as Reinhold Messner wrote (Walter Bonatti il fratello che non sapevo di avere – Mondadori):

Achille Compagnoni feels crushed by this ubiquitous Bonatti who has now proven that he is the champion “all categories”, the one who pushes behind the shadows the K2 self-proclaimed “great” hero. Compagnoni has doggedly built his own legend: that of a hero who sacrificed his hands to ensure the success of the Italian nation on the 2nd highest mountain in the world. He never had the courtliness to thank Lacedelli in public for having given him one of his mitten on the summit (one of his gloves having been blown off by the wind)… Moreover, in an interview after his return, he suggested that it was him who dragged Lacedelli to the summit… Attacking the myth of the great Bonatti, already subject to a mounting jealousy, while reinforcing the epic aspect of his victory: what could be better? So was born the “K2 case”.

    1.4. The K2 Case

 This occurs with the publication, in July and August 1964 for the 10th anniversary of the K2 ascent, of two articles from the journalist Nino Giglio based on an interview with Compagnoni the first entitled:

TEN YEARS AFTER, THE TRUTH ABOUT K2 and subtitled: How Bonatti tried to get ahead of Compagnoni and Lacedelli and the 2nd "Ten years after K2 celebrated at Compagnoni's" and subtitled: "Our Karachi special correspondent confirms that the Hunza Mahdi made an attempt at the summit"

     This is really what started the "Bonatti's Affair". Without Compagnoni's intense jealousy and his rancorous desire to destroy Bonatti who had dared to dispute his "heroic great tale", maybe nothing would have been unveiled for decades if not forever.
     Compagnoni through Giglio was accusing Bonatti of felony and cowardice
              • having tried to go ahead of him and Lacedelli, 
              • to have used some of the oxygen which explain that they lacked oxygen 200 meters before the summit, nearly preventing them to reach it.
              • to have abandoned Mahdi to save his life and to have been the sole responsible for Mahdi’s frostbites.

     Stunned, Bonatti retaliated and went to justice. 3 years later, in 1967, he is cleared on all counts. Two members of the team testified in court, Pino Gallotti and Erich Abram (who carried with Bonatti and Mahdi the cylinders for the final assault but abandoned near 8,000 m with his feet totally numb) and confirmed that Bonatti did not have any oxygen mask and so could not use the oxygen, that he did not abandon Mahdi who reached Camp VIII before Bonatti. Mahdi’s written testimonial analysed carefully also cleared Bonatti of the accusation to have abandoned him and to have tried to go to the summit ahead of Compagnoni and Lacedelli.  

     Nino Giglio and his newspaper were condemned. 


    Lacedelli had remained silent and in so doing seemed to back up Compagnoni’ accusations, so Bonatti ceased all links with him. 


    And the controversy did not end. Bonatti was more unpopular than ever in Italy. The CAI and Desio refused continuously to modify the official K2 ascent celebrated every 10 years, just like Everest in the UK. It was just as if justice had made a mistake in condemning Giglio and his newspaper! Compagnoni could not have accused Bonatti of such crimes just out of his hatred and will to destroy him but knowing also that he had the back up of Ardito Desio and therefore the CAI representatives. 

    Progressively Bonatti will understand that the accusation of having abandoned Mahdi had been in fact put onto Compagnoni at the time of the ascent by the Pakistani’s liaison officer and transferred onto Bonatti by Ardito Desio in order to keep clean the image of their success and of Compagnoni and Lacedelli - the “heroes” - who had been to the summit, 

And that it had been kept fully hidden to him and the public. 


     In 1985, Bonatti writes his own story of the K2 ascent controversy (Processo al K2), then in his 1996 book K2, Storia di un caso, Bonatti incorporated the text written by the Australian Robert Marshall who not only demonstrated with the analysis of two summit photos published in 1955 that Compagnoni and Lacedelli still had oxygen when summiting and had lied all the time to discredit Bonatti purposely but also how the veil of silence had been decided by Desio and the Italian authorities. 


    Robert Marshall, an Australian physician so incensed after reading Bonatti's Processo al K2 will go as far as learning Italian in order to produce the best translation book of texts written by Bonatti Walter Bonatti The Mountains of My Life (Penguin) adding his own analysis of what happened on K2 with Bonatti's assent and with whom he became a close friend.

    The CAI still rejecting his request for revision before the 40th anniversary of the ascent, Bonatti publishes K2 La Verita in 2003, incorporating some further analysis. 

1.5. Lacedelli speaks at last 50 years after

  For the fiftieth anniversary of the fisrt ascent, a journalist, Giovanni Cenacchi, interviewed Lacedelli, aged 79, five years before his death, and published it in 2004 in a book, K2: The Price of Conquest (Mondadori). 

    In it, Lacedelli states (page 68): “… Bonatti wouldn’t have been able to use the oxygen because we had the masks.” 

    Too bad Lacedelli did not appear 42 years before at the Nino Giglio law suit to testify! 

    Then he confesses that the last camp, Camp IX, was purposely established higher than agreed the previous day with Bonatti and installed in a hidden place on rocks far left from the place Bonatti and Mahdi bivouacked. They did that to prevent Bonatti from joining them and attempting the summit the following day. He also stated that they lied about their timing: “The talk about 4.00 or 4.30 was certainly a mistake…. When Compagnoni spoke about the time we left, I confirmed it… I didn’t want to get into arguments, especially on television…” stating just before (page 68): “it could have between 6.00 and 6.30.... it took us about an hour and a half to get where the bottles were… With the 20’-30’ to fix the oxygen sets, this means a departure between 8.00 to 8.30 corresponding to Walter’s timing analysis. Adding: “I can’t be sure whether it was about 8.30 as Bonatti has written. I think we probably left for the summit at about 7.30.” (page 69-70), this to justify that his oxygen ran out just before summiting: 7.30 +10.00 = 17.30 and the summit was reached at 17.50; quite a precise calculation for a man that had been so “vague” about timings and altitudes before, but so convenient to justify that their oxygen exhausted some 20’ before summiting (i.e. 10-15 m below the summit at their average climbing rate). And as far as Compagnoni is concerned it forms a strong hint that he deliberately modified their departure time to prove that Bonatti had used their oxygen and caused its exhaustion 2 hours before summiting. 

     Lacedelli did put all the blame onto Compagnoni: I wanted to stop where we agreed, but Compagnoni didn’t want to(page 67), There was some sort of agreement between Desio, Compagnoni and Ata Ullah to blame Bonatti. They wanted to blame him for having forced Mahdi into going up to Camp IX. It is true that he pushed him, as all the others had done, but it was for a good reason, and certainly not because he wanted to take the summit away from Compagnoni and myself.” (page 80). 

    He confirms the strong relationship between Desio and Compagnoni with statements such as: “Desio’s book lacks any detail of what happened between Camp II to Camp VII… This is because Compagnoni wasn’t with us and Desio’s book, which has become the ‘official’ version of the expedition was only based on Compagnoni’s diary.” (page 83).

    He maintains that they lacked oxygen before summiting, just admitting that it could have been much nearer the summit (50/60 m) and not the 200 m Compagnoni's official account (Uomini sul K2 with a foreword byArdito Desio - 1958). 

    He does not give an acceptable reason why he kept silent for 50 years but for fear of Desio: Only Desio’s and Compagnoni’s views mattered and their word was law. The rest of us…” (page 90) and Cenacchi added: “Lacedelli is right when he says that telling the truth about K2 at the time would have been a waste of time. He would have been destroyed by Ardito Desio… He would have ended up like Bonatti, an isolated, Don-Quixote figure forlornly tilting at windmills.” (page 199). 

    Ardito Desio who had refused systematically to meet with Bonatti died in December 2001 aged 104 years. At last a revision of the "official/Desio story" became possible. In 2004, Annibale Salsa, the then CAI president after having received a letter from Roberto Mantovani co-signed by 24 other known Italians, decided to review the “official story” and appointed 3 “wise men” (the Tre saggi) who would confirm 3 years later Bonatti’s version on almost all counts. One of them, Luigi Zanzi wrote a book, incorporating their report, published in 2007, K2: Una storia finita. 

    Bonatti was given back his full honour and his full place in the story. Without Bonatti, K2 would not have been climbed by Compagnoni and Lacedelli.

53 years to have at last Bonatti’s version recognised as the truth and Conefrey stating Compagnoni and Lacedelli have not lied and that the whole story is a typical Machiavellian Italian cock-up as he wrote in an article published in 2015 in the AJ referencing to Jim Curran who also did not read Bonatti's books unpublished in English and did not bother to check with him what he wrote!
In 2007, Bonatti will publish a new edition of his book K2 la Verita adding his reaction to the "Tre saggi" report and incorporating a key testimonial from Eric Abram on the Dräger oxygen sets capability.


    For Bonatti and Robert Marshall, the Australian surgeon who was the first to find proper evidences, Compagnoni and Lacedelli did not run out of oxygen before getting to the summit as they stated. They lied about it, and if they did it does imply that they lied about the whole story, and it also explains why Compagnoni accused Bonatti in 1964 of having used some of the oxygen during his bivouac during the night of the 30th. Compagnoni did that to divert onto Bonatti the accusation of the Pakistanis journalists that he prevented purposely Mahdi to go to the summit and to have been the cause of his severe frostbites. In 1964, he made those accusations through Nino Giglio, in his hatred of Bonatti who had dared in his 1961 book to question his role as the K2 national hero. This constitutes for Bonatti their “base lie”

    Conefrey states first that Bonatti got his timing wrong and that Compagnoni and Lacedelli did start their ascent at 7:30 am and not at 8:30 am (as Bonatti evaluated) so their ascent would have taken 10:30 and not 9:30 implying that it explains that their oxygen bottles were empty before they reached the summit as they were supposed to last 10 hours only.

     This timing by Conefrey is pure speculation, based on what Lacedelli stated in 2004 to the journalist Giovanni Cenacchi. As the original Compagnoni and Lacedelli's statement of having started at 4h00 and 4h30 from Camp IX was by then judged as totally impossible, Lacedelli corrected it stating it was "a mistake" - another one! - and that they must have started between 6:00 am and 6:30 am, arriving one hour and a half after to Bonatti's bivouac (K2; The Price of Conquest, page 68) so at 7:30 am or 8:00 am. And then he added that they must have started with the cylinders loaded on their back at 7:30 am. Why not 8:00 am when one knows that an operation such as connecting the cylinders to their masks at an altitude of 8,100 m would require easily 20’ to 30’? Another example of Lacedelli's very flexible memory and logic. 

Lacedelli, not a compulsive liar, really?

    Bonatti had a last look at 7:00 am behind him at the place he bivouacked and saw no one in the area (Time to get from camp IX to the oxygen bottles was estimated by Bonatti to be around 1 hour, confirmed this time by both Compagnoni and Lacedelli - Not a lie for once!). It is however just possible that Compagnoni and Lacedelli did reach the oxygen bottles a few minutes before 8:00 am and started their summit ascent a few minutes before 8:30 am, but they certainly could not have reached the Bonatti bivouac site at 7:00 am and started at 7:30 am.

     Compagnoni and Lacedelli changed their version many times, one of the worst and most ridiculous version was during an interview by a RAI Uno journalist in 1984 when they said that they started at 4h00/4h30 am, and so had taken 14 hours to get to the summit from their camp! [a photo taken by Compagnoni at camp IX – page 91 of K2: The Price of Conquest showing Lacedelli putting his crampons on is a clear enough proof that it was impossible as the first light on that day did not come before 5 O’clock and with the light shown by the photo it looks to have been nearer to 7 O’clock as per Bonatti’s timing – see right]. See Richard Sale The Challenge of K2 p 93: “Next Bonatti consulted an almanac and discovered that sunrise on K2 on 31 July 1954 was just before 5 am, an hour after Compagnoni and Lacedelli claimed to have prepared to climb. As there is a photograph of Lacedelli fixing his crampons outside the tent at Camp IX, which was clearly taken in full daylight, and as Bonatti did not leave the bivouac site until around 6.30 am, he was clearly correct in pointing out that the two had not turned on their oxygen until much later than the 6.15 am they claimed.” Just anything to justify their story of the oxygen having failed before the summit.

    In his book, Compagnoni writes that their cylinders emptied at 4:00 pm and 8,400m, 2 hours before reaching the summit and after 9:45 of usage (meaning that they would have started with the oxygen on their back at 6:15 am – which is impossible as Bonatti would have seen them) and suddenly without oxygen but with the heavy burden of the two empty bottles their rate of ascent would have been 100 m per hour against a climbing rate of some 45 m per hour with oxygen for the first 400 m! And this time their total climbing time would have been 11:45! Those lies are so incredibly daft that they can only be explained by the fact that knowing they were seen as the two heroes who made the 1rst ascent of K2 by the Italian public at large they could just say anything and be believed. It is also from Compagnoni a deliberate harmful act against Bonatti. In May 2004, Compagnoni, pressed by a journalist questioning him after the publication of the latest Bonatti's book K2 la Verita, will admit after 50 years:
Thirty minutes without oxygen, and then the summit"! (Corriere delle Alpi, 8th May 2004). At the rate they were going that means 15 to 20 m from the summit, a different matter than 200 m! And for Lacedelli, it could have been even less, 5 to 10 m.
    And Conefrey excuses them in stating that “The fact that they were vague and inconsistent and their story unlikely, does not however means that they were liars.” Frankly Conefrey has a strange way of looking at things. 

    Compagnoni and Lacedelli told contradictory stories continuously, even 50 years after the events, and that does not make them liars? Probably Conefrey is unaware that before K2, Lacedelli had some predisposition to lying as his “claimed” lightning 2nd ascent in 1951 of the Bonatti route on the East face of the Grand Capucin that Bonatti, Hermann Buhl, Jean Couzy, Paragot and Bérardini are convinced he never did (see appendix, Paragot’s report). 

Not a compulsive liar, really?

    Examples abound in the mountaineering history of climbers who lied and maintained their lies, up to their death and who were not Italians. One of the most notorious examples is Heinrich Harrer slandering Claudio Corti, accusing him to have caused the death of the two German climbers Corti was with on the Eigerwand. Even when years after, their bodies were discovered on the descent route, swept by an avalanche, proving that all the accusations made on Corti were totally imaginary, Heinrich Harrer never accepted to amend his widely sold book The White Spider (see Luca Signorelli article on UKC 2010). Compagnoni died after having repeated and increased his lies, year after year, to the point that like most of those “compulsive liars” he must have believed his lies to be true. 

    Lacedelli had some remorse and confessed five years before dying (K2: The Price of Conquest - 2004 Giovanni Cenacchi), but he blamed Compagnoni for the worst decision, the placement of camp IX 200 m above what had been agreed and in a place hidden from Bonatti and Mahdi, excusing himself of having participated actively in what happened and forgetting that he was the one who spoke to Bonatti, Mahdi and Abram while hiding himself. I guess the truth for him was so unbearable that he ended also believing in some of his own lies.    

    Strangely Conefrey does not quote the very precise analysis illustrated with photos that Bonatti wrote in his last book K2 La Verita published in 2003 with a revised version in 2007. Although this book was published in Italian and French it was not published in English. So his detailed arguments have not been read by English readers, just Bonatti’s timings diagrams mentioned in his book The Mountains of my Life. The photos are particularly clear even for someone who has not reached the Bottleneck on K2 and they go against Conefrey’s questioning himself, doubting Bonatti’s version: 

    “Is K2’s topography really so simple and regular that he could have had a completely uninterrupted view of the slopes above him, during the whole time of his whole descent?” 

    Has Conefrey published a clear enough photo as below with the photos produced by Bonatti in his latest book showing clearly the position of his bivouac, the line followed by Compagnoni and Lacedelli and the direction where they saw the light late the previous night? Even someone who has not been on K2 can see clearly from those photos that what Conefrey states is pure fantasy, or better an insidious way of presenting the issue to convince laymen of Bonatti’s paranoia.

Unnamed Image
To the summit - July 30th and 31th

K2 summit route
K2 summit route

Bonatti and Lacedelli’ indications all put on one photo as in K2 La Verita and K2: The Price of Conquest

B: Bonatti’s bivouac.

9: Camp IX

Large blue triangles line going left: line followed by Compagnoni and Lacedelli to camp IX

Small red dotted red line right:  line followed by Bonatti and Mahdi

Straight yellow dotted yellow line from B going left: direction of the light seen – July 30th

Small white dotted line: line followed by Compagnoni & Lacedelli July 3

     And even so, why did not Conefrey ask and quoted a known alpinist who climbed K2 for his opinion, and why not Reinhold Messner or Erich Abram who had accompanied Bonatti up to 8,000 m? Probably Conefrey believed that they would be too biased towards Bonatti, but then why not a British alpinist such as Doug Scott? 

    Conefrey reminds the reader that Dalmine cylinders had a 20% lesser capacity than the Dräger’s and states that at least one oxygen cylinder was used as one can clearly see in the footage of the expedition film Italia K2 showing one Red bottle behind a Blue one on the summit, thus for him it contradicts Marshall’s analysis[1] published in 1993 stating that the cylinders failed not during the ascent but on their way down. He mentions that a 3 Dalmine cylinders set would provide up to 10 hours of oxygen while a 3 Dräger cylinders set would give up to 12 hours, as per Erich Abram, the oxygen specialist.

    But that is not at all what Erich Abram stated in 2004 to Walter (Walter Bonatti's K2 La Vérité ajouts ultimes - Guerin 2007 page 285-286). He testified that he checked the cylinders selected for the summit assault and selected the Dräger intended for the higher altitude i.e. loaded with a 220-bar-pressure (the rest for lower altitudes being loaded with a 200-bar-pressure), a three-cylinder-set would provide up to 12 hours of oxygen while the Dalmine cylinders were loaded with a 200-bar-pressure and so the same set would provide only 10 hours of oxygen; he added that the Dräger could be expected to lose about 10% of their Pressure against up to 50% for the Dalmine. Therefore Abram selected six cylinders with the higher 200-bar-pressure higher; all the cylinders with a pressure of 200 bars or below, Dalmine or Dräger, were left at base camp. Were those 6 cylinders all Dräger? From the evidence pointed out by Conefrey, it looks that one set was Dalmine and the other Dräger. But does that change the whole story?

    So Conefrey’s new “fact” is this summit view in the expedition film showing clearly one Blue cylinder (Dräger) in the snow and behind one Red cylinder (Dalmine) which clearly clashes with Eric Abram's testimonial.

Unnamed Image

Circled Dalmine “Red” cylinder and next a Dräger “Blue” cylinder – Summit 

A fact not so new as shown by this photo Bonatti published in his 2003 K2 La Verita showing clearly not one but two Red cylinders on one of the oxygen sets and published in The Mountains of my Life, but in black and white.

    Conefrey has used his “discovery” to build his revised story, brushing away the CAI “new official” version vetting Bonatti’s, without any confrontation with their authors as a true historian would have done. 

     Basing himself on this summit footage supposed that "in the confusion of the last days, the plan to use only the Dräger went awry" and so "one of the oxygen sets on the summit was equipped with bright red Dalmine bottles"! 

    I guess he felt that it was better to write "the plan" and not "Abram". Because if Conefrey's story was true it would mean that Abram was a fool or worse a botcher. Being the sole survivor of the expedition members, even if 93, better avoid a personal attack!   

    The story about the oxygen could be simpler than it looks. Normally what impacts most the autonomy of the oxygen sets is the variation of the flow rate which would explain much more than the Conefrey “supposed” leakages that they may have run out of oxygen before the summit. But the German Dräger oxygen system differed from the system used by the British on Everest in 1953. The rate of flow was fixed and independent from the rate of inhalation.

   In his book, Ascent of K2 (page 82), Ardito Desio writes that the expedition had two different “oxygen-mask systems”, one “similar to those of the Swiss and the British… and an Italian model especially designedThe latter was so constructed that the flow of oxygen could be regulated in accordance with the wearer’s requirements and two of the three cylinders could be detached without any difficulty and thrown away as soon as they were empty, whereas in the case of the other type only one cylinder could be removed.” 

    Bonatti in his last revision (2007) of his book K2 La Verita, for the first time confirms that the masks used did not allow a change of the flow rate. Therefore from Desio, Erich Abram, and from Compagnoni and Lacedelli' statements, we can conclude that they were using:

a) The carrying system with two of the cylinders which could be jettisoned and

b) The mask-system which did not allow the flow-rate to be adjusted 

    This seems to have been the set-up of the oxygen system used and it would give a logical explanation of Compagnoni and Lacedelli having 2 oxygen cylinders at the summit: one cylinder still had oxygen and the second one could not be jettisoned. Some additional research and an explanation from Erich Abram who was in charge of the oxygen and did fix the flow-rate would be quite useful, but he is 93 now. 

     One thing certain is that Abram had carefully chosen the cylinders for the assault team, no confusion about that as he testified: he had a heavy independent manometer at base camp to test the pressure of the cylinders. With so many at his disposal, there is no reason to believe that he did not choose the best cylinders i.e. normally the Dräger with a pressure equal to 220-bar. "All cylinders with a lower pressure were left at base camp" as per Bonatti 2007 addition to his book K2 la Verita quoting Abram. Why then would he have selected a Dalmine-cylinder-set? 

    A suggestion from a friend of mine is that it would have been typical of Desio to require from Abram that one set be Italian so with Dalmine cylinders. In that case he would have selected the best Dalmine giving up to 10 hours of oxygen. So nothing went awry and if none of the alpinists ever mentioned this point, it must be because they had confidence in Abram's skills and choice and did not think it had mattered. A sentence written by Bonatti in his book The Mountains of my life, when at 7 o'clock he turned around a last time because he heard voices and had a full look around, substantiates this possibility: "… I could still see nothing except the multicolored oxygen packs…" and in the Italian version Bonatti used the terms "i trespoli d'ossigeno dai vive colori". In the morning light Red would correspond so Dalmine, not the dark blue Dräger. But this is a pure hypothesis and the possibility of an alteration in the colour in the summit footage still exists and is currently being researched.


See now the same poster photo (the one from the K2 film poster) which I modified simply by reducing their saturation level: Which ones appeal to you most?

Unnamed Image

    Obviously the photos with a higher saturation rate giving a "Red" colour are much nicer to look at and that is what happened. All climbers were provided with a black and white small camera. The K2 expedition film footage made by Mario Fantin on the lower part of the mountain up to camp IV was in colour and the film director Marcello Baldi had the climbers photos colorized before incorporating them in his film and used with the film posters. The film was shown in every Italian school for decades and brought much money in the CAI coffers to finance future expeditions. Black and white photos in the film or on posters were not an option. The editor of Bonatti's book K2 la Verita, Baldini Castoldi Dalai, can be questioned and would confirm that they used the colorized photos. The journalist from La Republica, Leonardo Bizzaro, who interviewed Conefrey last year, did state that that the black and white photos taken by the climbers had been colorized.  

   However Compagnoni and Lacedelli for the summit were provided with a small 16 m/m colour camera and so the film footage showing the "red" cylinder aside a "blue" is genuine.

    The solution lies with Erich Abram, the sole survivor of the expedition who selected the six cylinders for the summit party to use and that no one ever suggested that he was a fool or a botcher as he would have been if he had chosen the Dalmine cylinders with a lower than 200-bar-pressure knowing their reliability to be suspect with a pressure which could drop by 50% as he testified himself.

    Conefrey should have tried to contact him or discuss this point with the "Tre saggi" . If "something went awry" they would know and they could have explained why it did not change their conclusions.

    Let's suppose now, that one of the two summiteers had Dalmine cylinders and the other one Dräger’s, then one would have had a maximum of 10 hours of oxygen and the other one between 10 to 12 hours. 
    With Bonatti’s timing of 9:30 for Compagnoni and Lacedelli to get to the summit after having put the oxygen sets on their back, both would have had enough oxygen up to the summit with the Dräger.
    With Lacedelli/Conefrey’s timing of 10:30, the one with Dalmine cylinders would have missed at least 20’ before summiting (as Lacedelli stated to Cenacchi in 2004 that one time he was sure of was that they reached the summit at 5h50 pm), but not the one with Dräger’s. 
    But we know that this Conefrey/Lacedelli timing of having departed at 7:30 am is impossible. Even if we suppose that Bonatti could not see them on the first part of the rocky traverse, for a little while, maybe 15’, their arrival to Bonatti’s site could have been at most 15’/20’ minutes before 8:00 am and their departure at 8:10 am to 8:15 am, giving a total timing to the summit of 9:45 to 9:50 minutes so less than the 10 hours Dalmine oxygen set capacity without a loss in pressure though. 
    With such high differences between the two sets, one thing is sure, it is impossible that both climbers did run out of oxygen at the same time.

    In 50 years, Compagnoni and Lacedelli changed constantly their story about the heights of Camp IX and Bonatti’s bivouac, of the total time of their ascent to the summit, of when their oxygen stopped, starting from a nonsense 200 m before the summit to end up in 2004 to just 50 m from Lacedelli and even less from Compagnoni, not counting the “few seconds” interval (Ardito Desio Ascent of K2, page 177) before they each ran out of oxygen to "10 minutes interval" later on.  

With the 3 Dräger cylinders delivering 2 more hours of oxygen than the Dalmine? Nonsense.

    One must note that Conefrey took most of the arguments in favour of the oxygen running out before the summit from Lacedelli' responses to Giovanni Cenacchi' questions in his book K2: The Price of Conquest (page 109-114). Why did he then avoid analysing in detail the most important point of the book i.e. Lacedelli confessing the felony committed onto Bonatti and his desire to be pardoned? If that is not a prejudicial attitude, what is it then?

    That they took 9h50 to climb to the summit or 9h30, one summiteer having a Dalmine cylinders set and the other a Dräger’s, even if it is difficult to explain why they kept a useless and painful weight on their back in their last effort particularly on the summit ridge where it is easy enough to get rid of them, as Conefrey goes a long way to ascertain in repeating Compagnoni' arguments, it is somehow possible as the Tre saggi stated that the climber with the Dalmine cylinders lacked oxygen “just” before summiting for just a few minutes, even if Bonatti adamantly stated that this possibility goes against all arithmetic's. 

     As it was the Australian, Robert Marshall, who in 1993 was the first to analyse the summit photos showing Lacedelli with his oxygen mask on linked to his cylinders proving that he was breathing oxygen and so proving that Compagnoni and him had lied when they stated that their oxygen ran out 200 m below the summit, Conefrey had to demonstrate that not only Bonatti was a paranoiac but that Marshall was wrong. So he did write that those summit photos did not prove that Lacedelli was breathing oxygen giving a number of the typical "Conefrey's evidences". In 2014, Conefrey had already written an article along the same lines which was published in Geographical, stating that Robert Marshall's analysis was as "flawed" as Bonatti's. Richard Sale who has written his own book on K2: The Challenge of K2: A History of The Savage Mountain (2012 - Pen & Sword Books Ltd) sent a letter to Geographical in reply stating that: 

"Compagnoni suggested that the reason he wore the oxygen mask on the summit was to ‘warm and humidify the air’. But straps for the mask are under his hood  - why take the hood off to fit the mask if it was so cold? In an article in the RGS’s Geographical magazine (July 2014) Conefrey noted a 'precedent’ with climbers using an Arctic breathers, ‘mufflers’ to warm and humidify breathed in air, but the comparison is spurious. Wearing a mask increases the pressure drop and so make breathing more difficult, and if you leave the tubes attached to a cylinder as Compagnoni appears to have done, then the mask will fill with carbon dioxide and you will suffocate." Richard Sale never received a reply.


    Conefrey claims that they were unreliable and to prove it he states that historical evidence runs against this”:

3.1 Annapurna

    He first quotes the French not using their oxygen sets on Annapurna because they were too complex to use”. This is false as per Francis de Noyelle, the expedition liaison officer who explained that when Terray tried one of them at the Annapurna base camp, he suffocated. They had not tried them in France and there was no instructions for use, so Terray decided to put them back in their boxes. Also, it was believed at the time that oxygen would be useful above 8 000 m, not below, and it is because their original target was Dhaulagiri and not Annapurna that they took oxygen, so they did not think oxygen to be necessary when they changed their target to Annapurna.

3.2 Everest 1952 and the Swiss

    Then the first 1952 Everest attempt of the Swiss with Raymond Lambert and Tenzing who came back complaining that the equipment had let them down…” and that on the second attempt with better equipment from Dräger they did not even get as high as Lambert and Tenzing.” All this is completely out of context and proves nothing. On the first attempt, the Swiss team initial target was not Everest but Cho Oyu as Hofstetter and Asper told me and Jean Afanassieff for his documentary film Duel in the Himalaya: being just above 8,000 m it did not require the usage of oxygen in their opinion. It is only because when trying to find additional funds from the Zurich based “Fondation Suisse pour Recherches Alpines”, their future sponsor said OK but for Everest and not Cho Oyu that they decided to use oxygen. A set used in the US mining industry devised by a British Cambridge engineer was selected, but too late to be tested before departing and it was found to be totally inadequate on the mountain. They could only use it while sitting! The failure of the second attempt in Autumn was not due to the Dräger system then used which worked very well but to terrible weather conditions on the South Col. On the contrary to Conefrey’s statement, the Dräger system proved itself to be very sound and the oxygen cylinders left high on the mountain were key to help the British succeed the following year on Everest with the usage of an adaptation made to their masks by Dräger agreed with Griffith Pugh, the British 1953 expedition’s physiologist.

3.3 Hermann Buhl

    He continues with the Nanga Parbat Hermann Buhl success without the oxygen sets (Dräger again). But that is not a point. Hermann Buhl went for the summit solo so the lightest possible discarding the oxygen set because of its weight. His decision had nothing to do with the reliability or not of the Dräger system.

3.4 Everest 1953 and the British

     The 1953 expedition team having all sorts of problems with their oxygen sets? A topic Conefrey is supposed to be knowledgeable on. First the failure of the oxygen set worn by Evans on the first summit attempt. But Conefrey forgets to add that Bourdillon and Evans were using a closed circuit oxygen set designed by Bourdillon and his father which was totally untested and declared by the MRC and Griffith Pugh, the expedition physiologist, as too unreliable to risk the success of the expedition on. Instructions were given to Hunt accordingly by the Everest committee. Those sets were only used by Bourdillon and Evans. For Hunt, confirmed by Hillary, their attempt was a reconnaissance and not a true attempt. All the other sets were open circuit systems and worked satisfactorily. For most climbers of Hunt’s team, defrosting valves was not such a problem and was done fairly easily. Stating that they were unreliable is untrue.

  3.5 Griffith Pugh and the ascent of the 8000 m summits  

    What best demonstrate that Conefrey’s argument of theunreliability of the Italian oxygen system (to cover Compagnoni and Lacedelli’slies) is wrong is that thanks to Griffith Pugh who found the key solutions to the oxygen usage above 8000 m on which resided the 1953 Everest British success and which were then made accessible to all other expeditions worldwide (along with other major Griffith Pugh’ discoveries such as hydration and acclimatisation),  10 more 8000 summits were climbed within the following 5 years (of which one must exclude Nanga Parbat climbed without oxygen by Herman Buhl against his expedition leader' orders), the 13th 7 years after and the last 11 years after (Shishapangma – 1964) but this last one had been inaccessible to non-Chinese.

    With unreliable oxygen systems and without Griffith Pugh key findings, this would have never happened. All British alpinists at the time and long after, but Michael Ward, discarded all too easily the key contribution of Griffith Pugh to the British success and also of the other 8000 m first ascents. It is only when Harriet Tuckey wrote her book Everest The First Ascent published in 2013 that her father at last was recognized properly as the great scientist he was and how key he had been to the British success. Grifith Pugh had been recognized for its key findings by many alpinists in the world but the British and one who understood perfectly how to apply some of them was Reinhold Messner when in 1978, twenty-five years after the first ascent of Everest, he made with Peter Habeler the first ascent without oxygen having constantly in their mind one of Pugh's key principles. Every minute when they did not climb, they prepared themselves sugary beverages, repeating as a mantra: "We must drink. We must drink." (From Harriet Tuckey Everest The First Ascent).

3.6.  Dalmine cylinders

    On top of all those “proofs”, Conefrey mentions a strike in the Dalmine Company prior to the expedition. How could this have a relation with the quality of their manufacturing can only come from a very twisted mind.

    So his conclusion is that the Dräger or Dalmine systems used by Compagnoni and lacedelli must have malfunctioned on the final day. 

    He states that the Italians had no experience of using oxygen, and that seems to be partially true. Desio himself went in 1953 to Zurich “for the specific purpose of examining the equipment…” met Dräger' specialists and then went to London to look at the equipment used on Everest. Desio does not state that he met Griffith Pugh the physiologist who was responsible for the first time in the history of mountaineering of an efficient usage of oxygen high in the mountains, among many others things, which all were paramount in the 1953 Everest success, but it is most likely. In any case the “technical sub-committee” which Desio nominated to tackle the oxygen issue was at least aware from Dräger with whom Griffith Pugh was in close contact and from the appendix written by Griffith Pugh in John Hunt’s book The Ascent of Everest of the key oxygen flow-rate to be used as established by Pugh. Before going to Makalu, the French did send the best scientific brain of their climbing group, Jean Couzy, to meet Griffith Pugh. The result was improved oxygen sets and lighter cylinders and the whole team, 8 climbers and their Sirdar, summiting successfully. It could be that the measures taken by Desio’ specialists in charge, of whom Erich Abram, were partially less efficient.

    Conefrey’s whole argument based on only one “discovery”: one Dalmine bottle used at least with one oxygen set is much more speculative than Marshall and Bonatti’s version. Even if Compagnoni and Lacedelli had taken 10:30 to reach the summit instead of 9:30, the climber using the Dräger would still have 1:30 or so oxygen to go. Hence this statement without any “proven evidence” of Conefrey: 

If you look in detail at the 1954 K2 expedition’s use of oxygen, it becomes even more likely that their oxygen sets malfunctioned on the final day.”

   If they malfunctioned, why then go such a long and dubious way in stating that Bonatti got his timing wrong and making Lacedelli’s timing his own to hammer his point with the Dalmine cylinders but which does not work with the Dräger’s, if it was not to discredit Bonatti?

    Conefrey missed one point which was mentioned by Compagnoni and Lacedelli and known by all the climbers, explaining why the only used oxygen cylinders out of the 151 which they brought were the six used by the summit party (not counting the two used to try and save Mario Puchoz's life). The oxygen in those cylinders was too rich. It wasn’t mixed very well… and it burned your throat breathing it. (K2: The Price of Conquest page 72). They felt better without it than with it! 

    It is not so surprising then that Compagnoni finally took over the leadership of the climbers and very successfully. This certainly cannot be taken out of him whatever his conduct towards Bonatti and Mahdi. It also goes a long way to show the mountaineering quality of those mountaineers who were, like the Swiss in 1952, doing themselves most of the high altitude camps loads carrying and without supplemental oxygen. 

But in no way does it contradict or change the major point of the ‘Bonatti’s question’ i.e. The felony committed by Compagnoni, with the complicity of Lacedelli, on Bonatti and Mahdi, his accusations of Bonatti having tried to get to the summit first, of having used the oxygen which could have prevented them from summiting and worst of all to have abandoned Mahdi and caused his severe frostbites, the “veil of silence” put on the facts by Desio and Lacedelli’ 50 years of silence.


    The argument of why would have Compagnoni and Lacedelli continued to carry their oxygen sets up to the summit while their bottles were empty?

    If they ran out of oxygen it could only have been very short of the summit and only for the man using the Dalmine cylinders set, possibly a few metres, not 200, 100, 50 metres,  as per Compagnoni many changing statements and as Lacedelli conceded in K2: The Price of Conquest at possibly 8,550 m or above as they were on the summit ridge on easy ground so around 15/50m below the summit. 

    Above 8,000 m, (in fact above 7,000m also) strange things can happen to the mind and minutes can become hours quite easily, and I would agree with Conefrey that this was the case with Compagnoni and Lacedelli. But I would add that they amplified their erroneous estimates purposely to suit their case continuously after, and, then, without their brain being deprived of oxygen. Their average climbing rate was 45/50m per hour, so that would fit better with their initial report used by Desio of their oxygen failing one hour before summiting, but for one of them. But as they were always vague with timings and altitudes, it could also be easily just 5/30 m below the summit or after summiting. Normally they should each only have one bottle left if not empty and no set at all if empty, and the summit photo shows the two sets with two cylinders each. Being that near the summit does not explain why they did not take off their back those the full set with the last two “empty bottles”, particularly since the summit ridge is not that steep to accept the argument put up by Compagnoni and Lacedelli that it was too dangerous to take them off. 

In fact it is far more credible to believe that they did not discard the second empty bottle because they still had one bottle going, and could not jettison the empty one because they used the carrying system which only allowed one cylinder to be jettisoned

    Everything goes against Compagnoni and Lacedelli’s version and if the oxygen failed it must have been just a few meters from the summit and only for the one using the Dalmine cylinders - if that ever occurred - as the Tre saggi said to have been possible but strongly contested by Bonatti basing himself on Erich Abram's 2004 testimonial. 

Whatever, this is a minor point compared to the real sordid decision taken by Compagnoni to move up Camp IX putting at risk the life of Bonatti and Mahdi in order to prevent Bonatti to participate in the summit bid, not to mention his accusations of being a “traitor” towards the summit team and a "coward" in having abandoned Mahdi. 

All this oxygen debate, as interesting as it may be is but a wrong track, A DELUSION TO AVOID TACKLING THE CORE OF THE "BONATTI AFFAIR".

    Bonatti used the argument of the oxygen to reinforce his arguments of felony but even if he and Marshall were wrong on this account, the felony remains.

5. A conspiracy as per Marshall (and Bonatti) or not? 

    Conefrey concludes without making any analysis of Desio’s conduct after returning to Italy that this is pure conjecture by Bonatti stating that:

     Elaborate conspiracy theories are just an attempt to bring order to the chaos of life”, 

 meaning that Bonatti invented it all, a true paranoiac!

5.1 This goes against the established Desio’s attitude to allow nothing to tarnish the success of his expedition and his own, and Lacedelli’s testimonial in his book published 2 years before his death, K2: The Price of Conquest. When asked by the journalist Giovanni Cenacchi: 

So you maintain that Compagnoni wanted to move Camp IX from the agreed position so that Bonatti wouldn’t reach it? He was concerned at…, worse, that he would be replaced by Bonatti who was in better physical condition?” 

    Lacedelli responds: 
Yes, but I understood this only much later…” 
    And responding to the question: 
You say Bonatti was the victim of an injustice. Was that more because of the events at Camp IX, or because of what happened afterwards back in Italy with the press?” 
    He responds: 
I would say afterwards…. I think he suffered the real injustice later, and I think that had more an effect on him. I cannot but agree with him.

5.2 It goes against the fact that Desio avoided in his account of the expedition any mention of ‘the Bonatti question’, the change of position of Camp IX, the fact that he did not mention Bonatti’s key contribution to the success and that he rejected all Bonatti’s latter revision requests,.  It is also forgetting:

a) The immense patriotic impact of the K2 success on the Italian people and

b) The links Desio had with the heads of the Italian state and establishment, including the then Prime minister, de Gasperi, who did heavily involve himself to obtain permission from the Pakistanis government for the K2 expedition.

5.3. As Richard Sale writes in his book The Challenge of K2, page 90-91) referring to Robert Marshall analysis of the management of the Pakistani press's accusations which threatened to disgrace the whole expedition and Desio’s repute:
For the Italian ambassador to Pakistan the accusations threatened to cause a full-scale diplomatic incident and the complete loss of the international prestige of the success of K2 had brought. The ambassador therefore held an immediate inquiry, interviewing Bonatti, Compagnoni and Lacedelli, as well as Ata Ullah and the expedition doctor Guido Pagani. The enquiry issued a statement which set down the basic facts of the situation. This refuted the suggestion that Mahdi had been left below the summit, and accounted for his injuries, and so put an end to the more hysterical press campaign
    But there was still the issue that while Mahdi had been severely injured, the Italians, Bonatti in particular, had not. In his book, Marshall suggest that to account for this Desio deliberatelyconcocted a story in which the blame for the bivouac was placed squarely onBonatti’s shoulders. To do this, Bonatti would need to be accused of trying tousurp the position of the pair at Camp IX. Bonatti had the oxygen sets and was known to have offered Mahdi the chance of going to the summit. What better idea than the ambitious young climber had therefore decided to make his own bid for the summit, taking the innocent Hunza along? Then as night fell, Bonatti, still intent on reaching Camp IX to carry out his plan, climbed up rather than attempting to get Mahdi back to safety. By the time darkness prevented Camp IX from being reached, it was too late to retreat and the bivouac was forced on the reluctant Mahdi. With his inadequate clothing, frostbite was inevitable - though not for the better-clad Bonatti.
    Marshall’s suggestion seems appalling, but it explains all the details of the aftermath of the expedition, and also accords with Desio’s known characteristics. A martinet with a clear disdain for the climbers, here was a man who was not going to allow some young man whose only ability was to shin up steep rocks faces stand in the way of a scientist of proven worth from receiving the just rewards for his efforts… 
    And it does explain the deliberate lies/errors inDesio’s book about the masks brought up by Bonatti and Mahdi while they were withCompagnoni and Lacedelli, the absence of Bonatti’s contribution to the success,and the accusations of Compagnoni made on Bonatti through Giglio ten yearslater.

    It may well be that the “veil of silence” put on the ‘Bonatti question’ was not just a decision taken by the autocratic Count Desio alone but was backed up by the CAI authorities and the Italian government considering the political and economic interests then Italy had with Pakistan and also the impact it would have had on the immensely positive image on the Italian public of this “nation’s victory”. 

    And it is ignoring all the attacks from the Italian press on Bonatti after the Vincendon and Henry Mont Blanc drama in 1956 when he was accused alongside the French rescue authorities to have abandoned the two French climbers (while he did the maximum to save his companion's life, Silvano Gheser, who suffered heavy frostbites but remained eternally grateful towards Walter) followed by the Frêney drama in 1961 when he was accused to be responsible for the deaths of his companions. This could not have happened without Bonatti having powerful enemies. This was particularly so among the then Italian CAI authorities due to Bonatti’s negative image given to them in private by Desio on his conduct as related by Compagnoni: having tried to get to the summit first, having used some of the oxygen causing him and Lacedelli to nearly miss the summit and to have abandoned Mahdi and caused him to lose all his toes from frostbite. But foremost it was the fact that he was questioning the "heroic" status of the two summiteers and the integrity of the expedition leader and the CAI authorities, an outrage which could not be tolerated. 

    Bonatti’s publication in 1961 of his first book, My Mountains, which uncovered his version of the K2 ascent accusing of felony Compagnoni and Lacedelli, the two K2 heroes, was viewed as scandalous and made Bonatti highly unpopular to many in Italy.

    At the same time France made him a knight of the “Légion d’honneur” for having saved Pierre Mazeaud, the only French who survived.

    Conefrey would have been much wiser if he had tried to find some evidence in those areas instead of trying to prove that Bonatti was a paranoiac without proper justifications.


    Finally, in wanting at all costs to demonstrate that Bonatti and Marshall were wrong about Compagnoni and Lacedelli’s oxygen usage on the summit day, Conefrey implies that the Bonatti’s accusations of felony have been imaginary, and in so doing, Conefrey forgets the essential. He forgets that the work of a historian is to describe a story as completely and honestly as possible, and when discovering a "new fact", to make a thorough check of it with the men who were involved, in that instance Erich Abram. Of what happened during the key days of the 1rst ascent, not enough is said, particularly of the actions conducted by Bonatti which led to the success. He should have at least paid more attention to what Bonatti stated many times publicly when speaking about his terrible night at 8 100m.

    In 1961, Bonatti publishes his first book My Mountains. For the first time he tells about his mind-blowing bivouac night, on a small platform dug in the snow, on which he can just sit, aside Mahdi, mad from anguish and suffering, – 25°C, the blizzard chocking them, a hole dug in the snow to put his head in. And this incomprehension: why did his companions abandon them to a sure death? He concludes his K2 Chapter with this sentence: 

This marks with red iron the soul of a young man and destabilizes his spiritual base yet insufficiently firmed up.”

   Bonatti attempted to find sponsors to go back to K2 in 1955 to make a solo ascent of K2 and without supplemental oxygen. He found none, all thought him to be mad, and instead climbed solo a new route which became "the Bonatti Pillar". As Reinhold Messner told him:" if you had been at the summit, you would have been 20 years ahead of me! And I am convinced that you would have made it, despite the difficulties."

   Conefrey should also have read Reinhold Messner (Walter Bonatti mon frère de Coeur 2014 – Guerin. Published in Italian in 2013 – Walter Bonatti il fratello che non sapevo di avere - Mondadori) who did his best in having the truth of the ‘Bonatti’s question’ established by the CAI authorities. In it he gives the major arguments listed in the “Tre saggi report” and Luigi Zanzi 2007’s book K2: una storia finita

    Conefrey writes what Compagnoni stated when they reached the bottom of the Bottleneck:

"Compagnoni didn’t like the look of it, neither as a potential climbing route nor camp site, so instead of pitching their tent at the foot of the Bottleneck as originally envisaged, they moved over to their left, carefully crossing some icy slabs of rock."

     And Conefrey forgets to give the full details of what had been discussed and decided one day before at camp VIII between Compagnoni, Lacedelli, Bonatti and Galloti as detailed above.

 A typical Machiavellian Italian cock-up?

     Conefrey forgetting all too easily the “felony” committed onto Bonatti becomes obvious when, dismissing Bonatti’s arguments, he states in a sort of conclusion:

Bonatti had served the expedition nobly, survived a bivouac that could easily have killed him and then come home to find his contribution first ignored then disparaged.”

This is brushing aside that the main issue for Bonatti was not just that his contribution was not recognised properly but that he was himself accused of felony and cowardice by Compagnoni who took a decision which not only equated to abandoning him and Mahdi, a most unimaginable decision from a mountaineer, but that could easily have killed them. I.e. for Bonatti as Compagnoni and Lacedelli did not admit to him afterwards to have acted foolishly, then this was not far from premeditated murder. At that time, bivouacking in the open without any protection at 8000 m was considered to be deadly and Compagnoni and Lacedelli knew it. On top of it, ten years later, in 1964, Bonatti was accused by Compagnoni through a journalist to have used part of the oxygen so putting at stake the success of the 1rst ascent and explaining why they had run out of oxygen before reaching the summit.

It is this felony of fellow mountaineers, the 50-year-silence of Lacedelli, all worsened by the ‘veil of silence’ imposed by Desio 

and the 1964 accusations of Compagnoni that affected Bonatti in such a way that it changed him completely into another being. 

It does also explain that he could not forgive Lacedelli, 

even if he had not himself participated in the decision for the change of Camp IX as he stated five years before his death when he begged Bonatti to forgive him.

7. Conclusion

    To sum it all, Conefrey has marvelled in his own “findings” never confronting his “facts” with the sole survivor of the expedition, Erich Abram who owns the key of the oxygen usage.  

    In so doing he has forgotten the essence of what mountaineering is and the most unique character Bonatti was. After having produced his documentary on K2 and written an article published on July 1st in Geographical, he was interviewed in July 2014 by an Italian journalist, Leonardo Bizzaro, from La Repubblica and then Conefrey stated at the end of the interview that he merely limited himself to state that Compagnoni and Lacedelli had not lied about the oxygen, which is very far from the “story” he wrote in his book. Ironically the Italian journalist was not fooled by Conefrey as he ended his paper by stating:

And then, this man who lives in Oxford but knows well Italy, smiled and did not say what he wanted to say: “If it had been British alpinists, such chaos would never have happened.”

    Also when one of the “three wise men” appointed by the CAI and the one who wrote the book K2: Una storia finita, Luigi Zanzi, was asked in July 2014, three days after the Conefrey’s interview, by the Swiss-Italian TV to comment on Conefrey’s discovery and statements, it made him laugh wryly: For him to point out that one cylinder was red on one photo was not a fact that could demonstrate that their assessment was erroneous. For Luigi it is a scandalous assertion and he reminded that Abram had told him that he had selected 6 of the best cylinders. Luigi may have rejected Conefrey's finding too quickly and should have checked with Abram, but he was right anyway for the rest of the ‘Bonatti question’.
Similarly, at the same time, in ashort article in La Gazzetta dello Sport, Reinhold Messner discarded the significance of Conefrey’s“discovery”, stating: “Abram, who had tested them all [the cylinders], has always said that the German ones (blue according to Conefrey) were more reliable… than the Italian's (red according to the documentaryfilmmaker) and chose only the best. Irrespective of colors, the oxygen did notend before the summit.”
    Conefrey had the chance to obtain prime information from very close friends of Bonatti and he could easily have discussed his whole argument directly with Luigi Zanzi (who unfortunately died last September), any of the other two CAI “wise men” and eventually Erich Abram. He could also have contacted some of the competent mountaineers who went a long way to have Bonatti’s version recognized as the truth. One of the most important being Reinhold Messner who went through the K2 story in great details in his book dedicated to Bonatti, Walter Bonatti il fratello che non sapevo di avere. But Conefrey discarded them all.

    In May 2008 Michele Dalla Palma in an article in Trekking, quoting thework of the Tre Saggi and Luigi Zanzi’s book K2 Una Storia Finita, wrote very sensibly: Even if all Walter Bonatti’s exploits were to be forgotten, he should be remembered for this - to have pursued for half a century the affirmation of historic truth, which is not a matter of emotions, sensations, misunderstandings and lies, but deeds and incontrovertible facts.

    This is where he has committed his whole being, even risking ridicule when many people have asked themselves ‘But what does this fellow Bonatti want?’ without understanding that the issue is not a squabble about dates and days but concerns the very essence of historic truth…

    This mountaineer, who has made integrity the only wall one must not violate, demonstrates to all of us that truth is a chimera worth fighting for with all our strength. Because at times it becomes reality.”

    Therefore I can only conclude that his revision of Bonatti’s version is biased, based on conjectures, assertions and on personal opinions but for a 16 m/m footage showing a Red "Dalmine" cylinder used with one of the oxygen sets. Although as Bonatti stated, it is against arithmetic’s, one could be inclined to believe that the oxygen of our two "heroes' ran out before summiting as they claimed and if so a few metres below the summit and for only one of them with the Dalmine oxygen set, which as Luigi Zanzi stated is insignificant, and I much prefer to believe Erich Abram' statement of having chosen the best cylinders, of which quite probably 3 Dalmine as Conefrey's finding tends to prove. At least of all the protagonists, no one ever reported that he made erroneous statements, lied or “improved” the story at his own will. And I remember that my "Master es climbing" the great Georges Livanos, as Erich Abram, one of the "I GRANDI DELL'ALPINISMO DOLOMITICO" thought highly of Erich Abram as a climber. He had done in 1952 the second ascent of the Vinatzer route on the Punta di Rocca 20 years after its first ascent by Vinatzer, one of the most brilliant creator of the "Sesto Superiore". Unlike Compagnoni and Lacedelli, Erich Abram had nothing to prove and as Georges Livanos and Walter Bonatti, such men did not lie. In any case the story of the oxygen is a very subsidiary point to the "Bonatti's affair".

    The way Conefrey puts all his “discoveries” and “historical facts” in a case against Bonatti’s version is not only dubious but quite perfidious probably to ascertain his own talent as an investigator, driven by a desire to write something new on this K2 story on which so many books have been written in order to maximise his sales and be seen as a modern mountaineering Sherlock Holmes. Conefrey missed out most of the human aspects of those strong Italian mountaineers who finally made a success of their expedition despite an inadequate and autocratic leader and their strong and potentially conflicting personalities - such as the great Gino Soldà who had fought with the resistance while Erich Abram and Mario Puchoz had been on the other side with the Germans - and on top he wrote a text which is slanderous towards the “Machiavellian” Italians climbers and Italians at large. But I agree with Conefrey when he states that "Today there is little appetite in Italy to revisit this dispute". 

    The "Bonatti affair" is an Italian affair. It is Italians who slandered him, accused him of all sorts of misdemeanours and only after 50 years gave him back his honour, his "Verita" as he was saying. For far too long he has been the "Guilty Conscience" for many of them. It is up to the Italians now to make sure that Bonatti's memory be not slandered once more.

    This expedition had a very ambitious target, and very ambitious men participated in its success, the leader first of all who was at all times pushing "his" men to their maximum capabilities and the members themselves, originally selected from two groups, the "occidentalisti" (the Dolomite climbers) and the "orientalisti" (the alpinists from the Alps). They all wanted to go to the summit and their competitive spirit was very high. Desio will decide, as for so many things, for the assault team to have one "occidentalista" (Compagnoni) and one "orientalista" (Lacedelli). And Compagnoni will lie again, stating, after the success, that "Desio did not chose us for the summit. It is the mountain who selected the strongest." Pathetic, but so revealing of the man. Conefrey missed it all.

     When one knows that at the same time the “official” story of the 1rst ascent of Everest was also flawed as is shown with “proven documents” by Harriet Tuckey in her book Everest The First Ascent published 60 years after the event uncovering that during 35 years the British “gentlemen” totally forgot their legendary “fair play” in order to climb what they considered to be “our mountain”, using their political power as the rulers of India and Prime regional Power to prevent any other country to make any attempt; not to mention "the veil of silence" put onto her father's key contribution to the 1953 British success by the expedition leader and his followers (see may article Everest Michael Ward, then one can conclude that "Machiavellianism" is a weapon well understood by the British.  
    The essence of climbing lies within the individual not the nation he lives in. It was a blessing to climbers when nation organized expeditions ceased.
    When Doug Scott climbed with my friend Jean Afanassieff or when I climbed with my friends Chris Bonington, Nick Escourt, Martin Boysen, Armando da Roit or Marcello Bonafede, we were climbers, citizens of the world, not British, Italians or French. We shared the same passion, the same fundamental need for adventure and the same ethics.
    To mountaineers who think highly of Bonatti, Conefrey's revised version of the “Bonatti's question” is continuing "the controversy" that the Italian Alpine Club had at last ended, 7 years before Bonatti's death and is felt as a disgrace. For his publisher one way of compensating his publication of The Ghosts of K2, would be to publish either Bonatti's latest book K2 la Verita and/or Reinhold Messner and Alessandro Filippini Walter Bonatti il fratello che non sapevo di avere. Then the British readers would have really all the facts to make their mind up and realize how great a man and mountaineer Walter Bonatti was. No climber ever had such demanding ethics as Walter Bonatti, a "fact" well recognized by the best climbers in the world through the Piolets d'or Bonatti award which, up to today, two of the greatest British alpinists have shared with him, Doug Scott and Chris Bonington.
For me, Walter is maybe a legendary hero, but above all he is a man of truth who simply has a heart.” 
Pierre Mazeaud

Adventure involves our whole being: it draws out all that is best and most human in us. 

When the cards have not been stacked to win at any cost, the game still exists and so do surprise, 

fantasy, enthusiasm for victory, and anxiety for defeat. 

This is the essence of adventure.” 

Walter Bonatti 


    A number of climbers and authors, friends of Walter Bonatti, have contributed to this article in checking some of it, particularly Mihai Tanase (Summitpost member as "Macintosh"), Ruggero Montesano, Luca Signorelli, Sandro Filippini and Roberto Mantovani. 
    Any confirmed information which could give additional light to this complex story is welcome and will be added.

[1] In 1993, the Australian, Robert Marshall, analysed photos showing Compagnoni on the summit wearing his oxygen mask and Lacedelli having just taken it off contradicting their story of the oxygen having run out. In 2004, Eric Abram added to it stating that he had selected six cylinders after having checked them they would deliver per set of three up to 12 hours of oxygen, the Dräger (against up to 10 hours with the Dalmine).

Appendix 1: Bonatti’s photos and Timings analysis

Unnamed Image

Appendix 2: Photos of the cylinders

Unnamed Image

Appendix 3: on Lacedelli climbing the Bonatti route on the Grand Capucin

    In reference to Lacedelli & Ghedina's claim to have "blitzed" the Bonatti route in an 18 hours second ascent, this is the account of Paragot and Berardini in their 1974 book Vingt Ans de Cordée (Twenty Years of Climbing):
    Towards nine I reached the long traverse at the upper end of those 130 feet. From that point on, the rest of the climb was supposed to be merely a formality. We had in mind the account of our predecessors (Ghedina and Lacedelli). According to them, beyond this point the difficulties diminished. So we had no worries.
    Lucien took over the lead again and started to plant some pitons in the overhanging crack above the platform (the great ledge) where we were standing. But suddenly, quite contrary to what we were expecting, everything became much more difficult and exhausting. We went on, but rather more slowly than we had hoped. We alternated in the lead. The difficulties went on and on. Time went by, repeating the monotony of stances in stirrups, blows of the hammer, pitons, stances, drowsiness, and thirst. Our water bottles had already been empty for some time, and we started to think night would overtake us before we could reach the summit.
    We both cursed the two guides (Ghedina and Lacedelli). Their story seemed to us absolutely unconvincing. How had those fellows been able to climb all this so easily, as they said they had, seeing that the previous evening we had completely smashed the time they had taken to reach the bivouac? How could they say they had descended by the same route, when to us this same stretch seemed scarcely practicable, barely believable?... Besides, we hadn't found any of their pitons, the ones everyone has to leave in place when abseiling from a loop of rope. There were neither pitons nor loops of rope anywhere to be seen.
    No trace whatever of a retreat was visible. So we had our doubts. I said to myself: 
"These guys are sellers of smoke - they never reached the top! They started up the Capucin, no doubt, but they sure didn't finish it!"
    As late as Buhl’s ascent on August 16-17 1955 (the fourteenth), he was still having to bivouac, and this with lots more fixed gear in place than earlier repetitions. The great Buhl declared the route "absolutely the most difficult climb on granite in the Alps".

2009-12-08 01:58:12

Latest notes

  • The last K2 survivor, Erich Abram died January the 17th 2017 in Bolzano.
  • Conefrey stated recently that he had tried to contact Erich Abram to no avail, which he had not mentioned previously. I did the same through the same contact and got the same answer from his wife. Obviously after Walter's death, Erich wanted to be left in peace. 

External Links

Le Pilier de la solitude - Bonatti on his Dru Pillar route

Other Photos


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Viewing: 1-14 of 14

macintosh - Oct 31, 2015 3:50 pm - Voted 10/10


42 readers, not one comment...


alpinbeta - Nov 1, 2015 5:11 am - Voted 10/10

Walter Bonatti crystal clear man

I have not read the book and I will not even read it.
I think that Walter Bonatti was a so great and unsurpassed mountaineer being able to arouse envy in poor poor men even after his death. The book is clearly defamatory, shames the memory of Walter Bonatti.
Writers like Mike Conefrey who wear clothes for mountaineers to become credible while are comfortably seated in an armchair would do much better to keep quiet...


ericvola - Jul 22, 2016 9:51 am - Hasn't voted

Walter crystal clear man

My British friends of whom Chris Bonington and Doug Scott have taken the issue quite seriously as the offense was committed by a British. Doug challenged publicly Conefrey at an Alpine Club conference where he was invited and persuaded the current AC president, Lindsay Griffin and the new ACJ editor Ed Douglas to publish my article in the next AJC issue. Well edited by Ed will make my article easier to read as in a much better English. I proposed to some of my contacts in Italy such as Sandro Filippini to write the article themselves for the ACJ, but they stated that my article was good enough as it is and that also they prefer to ignore totally Conefrey and his despicable revisiting history.

mick conefrey - Oct 5, 2016 6:34 pm - Hasn't voted

Some background

Eric Vola is my former translator. He translated my last book on Everest and initially was going to work on my K2 book. He was helpful at first but when we started corresponding via e-mail, it was obvious that it wouldn’t work; I wanted to take a fresh look at the early history of K2 and base my book on original documents, he had made his mind up long ago and wasn’t interested in any new thinking.

I researched the book in the US and Italy. Just before it published in the UK, Eric saw a copy of the proofs. He wrote to me saying that I’d got the Italian story all wrong and that I should have run it past people who knew about the story ie him. Of course this was all nonsense. I had talked to plenty of climbers and historians in the UK and Italy, and discussed the history widely.

Then he started trolling me, writing negative reviews and articles. This one purports to be for British readers who might not understand the Italian 1954 story because so many of the books about it were published only Italy. Really? The version he reiterates here has been repeated endlessly over the last decade, with the key books by Robert Marshall published in English long ago.

As for the substance of his argument, it’s the same old stuff mixed up with plenty of factual errors. His prejudices blind him to the fact that this is not a simple black and white story of heroes and villains, where some people tell the truth and others are liars.

Anyone reading this article with all its diagrams, chronologies and dates might think it was a neat orderly expedition, where everything was planned out in advance, and anything that went wrong was the result of a deliberate act by one or other of the climbers. Once again, this again is just nonsense. The events described took place at high altitude where exhausted climbers were operating at their physical and mental limits using primitive equipment which they were not familiar with.

I’m not going to go through it bit by bit and point out all the errors and misunderstandings. Eric still doesn’t get the photographic evidence, doesn’t understand the historical context, and lets his prejudices and pique get in the way of any objective analysis of a complex story.


ericvola - Oct 6, 2016 11:47 am - Hasn't voted

Prejudiced to Walter

Yes, I am prejudiced to Walter and we are many in the climbing world. Mr Conefrey at a presentation at the AC was challenged by no less than Doug Scott about the issue and his response was so unimpressive to Doug that he after insisted that my article be published in the AJ, along with key AC members such as Mick Fowler, the last AC president. It is now available in the 2016 issue distributed by Cordee.

The problem with Mr Conefrey is that he is no climber. When I used to climb in the UK in the early sixties, if you were adding a peg on a route opened without, you could forget about climbing and start a new sport, rowing, polo or else. Ethics it was called and still is. I believe Mr Conefrey should move on to another sport and forget about climbers.

Yes I am prejudiced towards Walter just like I am towards Chris Bonington, Doug Scott, Mick Fowler, Victor Saunders, Andy Parkin, Martin Boysen to name some of the best known climbers whom I know and some whom I climbed with and to add a French, Pierre Mazeaud, most faithful friend of Bonatti and even more prejudiced towards him than I. With any of those I would go or have gone climbing without any fear of being let down. A total lack of objectivity you may believe, but I'll risk my life on it anytime. Would you?

mick conefrey - Oct 7, 2016 3:52 am - Hasn't voted


This is an absurd position. So no author or director can make a documentary or write a book about something they haven’t experienced?

In my career, I've made historical films and written books about many different subjects. My K2 film won awards all round the world. The last book I wrote on Everest won two awards in Italy; that's partly why I was able to spend so much time there, researching this one.

The Ghosts of K2 is based on work that I’ve done over a 15 year period interviewing and researching in archives in the UK, the US, Italy. With regard to the 1954 expedition I came to a different conclusion than the prevailing ‘official version’, but what am I ultimately suggesting: simply that the two men who reached the summit of K2, told the truth about their oxygen running out on the way up. Is that really such an unpalatable truth, so impossible to consider?

Eric uses the words ‘liar’ or ‘lies’ almost 30 times in an article full of factual errors and fundamental misunderstandings. He vilifies others on the basis of what? Not research, not knowledge, not for any real desire to find the truth, just prejudice.


ericvola - Oct 7, 2016 9:31 am - Hasn't voted

Research really?

Generally I do not mind non climbers writing about climbers, some are good writers and will write good stories even on a subject they know little to start with, but that they really thoroughly researched and particularly when they like the characters they write about. But this time to see such a great climber as Walter Bonatti being disparaged, I do. Conefrey made a documentary film a year before the publication which was shown on Italian TV in which he only questionned the usage of oxygen by Compagnoni and Lacedelli as Bonatti had advocated. In return he had strong reactions of leading characters such as Luigi Zanzi who had been the president of the CAI commitee which rehabilited Walter in 2007 and of Reinhold Messner which I quote hereafter:

"La gazetta dello sport 26 july 2014

L’avventuroso di Reinhold Messner
…. Now the documentary filmmaker Mick Conefrey of the BBC reopens [the controversy which had ended in 2007]. Looking at the great images shot on the summit by Compagnoni and Lacedelli, he saw bottles of two colors. But Erich Abram, who had tested them all, always said that the German ones (blue according to Conefrey) were more reliable because they leaked less than the Italian ones (red according to the documentary filmmaker) and he chose only the best. Regardless of colors. Oxygen did not end before the summit: it is a fact that they had all the cylinders (three each) on the summit, despite the fact that it meant 20 kilos on their back. Just look at the pictures and not just at the movie."

Conefrey never tried to meet Reinhold, nor Luigi, nor Erich Abram, the sole survivor of the K2 Italian expedition, nor did he took notice of what told him a very close friend of Walter whom I had introduced him to when he started working on his book. What kind of research is that?

Conefrey in his book does not just suggest that Compagnoni and Lacedelli said the truth about their oxygen running out. He goes much further and makes of Walter a sick man, a paranoiac. But on just that point above, he forgets that finally in 2004 Lacedelli admitted that they did not run out of oxygen 2 hours before the summit but "maybe" just 30 minutes. And he has the guts to state that they did not lie when one of the two admitted that they had lied for 50 years? A matter of some 300 feet difference at the altitude of 8 500 m is of no signification for Conefrey and therefore it is not a lie!

mick conefrey - Oct 7, 2016 6:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Ignore all this

I didn't make a film a year before my book was published and it wasn't shown on Italian TV and that's not what Messner's piece was about. Fact.

And Lacedelli and Compagnoni didn't carry three cylinders of oxygen to the summit of K2. They had two, the middle cylinder of each set is missing. It's in the archives in Turin, in documents and photographs.

Eric talks of ethics but continually writes stuff that is untrue and unchecked. He has no idea who I did or didn't talk to in writing my book, and continually misreads and represents my book, writing things that I never wrote, and distorting what I did.



ericvola - Oct 8, 2016 4:24 am - Hasn't voted

No film in 2014?

Did RSI and Luigi Zanzi and Reinhold dreamed about this documentary film shown in Italy in 2014?

See Luigi Zanzi

Reinhold Messner

and Leonardo Bizzaro journalist at La Repubica: in which he writes: "...[Conefrey] after filming a documentary on the story of the K2 - last year [2013] it was also translated into Italian by Corbaccio..."

Yes Reinhold made a mistake about the number of cylinders, but that does not change his argument and it was a perfect justification to meet him to clarify and discuss the point with the man who had been so instrumental in having the CAI reassess the whole Bonatti K2 case.

And Abram was easily contactable then as this 2014 interview shows:

mick conefrey - Feb 24, 2018 7:20 am - Hasn't voted


Though Eric keeps on changing it, this article is the same old nonsense. When he published a version of it in the Alpine Journal, they were forced to print a prominent apology to me in the next edition because there were so many errors and inaccuracies (I counted 37) and a new article in which I explained what Vola had got wrong (see the Alpine Journal 2017). The AJ had the decency to admit they were wrong, Eric doesn't. Grudgingly he continually changes, but it's still full of nonsense. He cites all these people at the end who are supposed to have 'contributed' to this article, but when I spoke to them they disowned it.

paula - Oct 22, 2021 6:23 am - Hasn't voted

AJC articles


Is there a link to the AJC articles? I searched on the AJC website but could not find them directly. Many thanks.


ericvola - Oct 22, 2021 6:49 am - Hasn't voted

Re: AJC articles

I guess you meant the ACJ (Alpine Club Journal).

This is what you can do:
1. Alpine Club website access:
2. Alpine Journal archives access: select « Library » and wihin its drop-down menu select « Alpine Journal »
3. There you have three choices: a « brief » on the Alpine Journal of the year and on the Alpine Journal history , then the search function itself.
4. This function offers you three possibilities:
a) Search by N° (in fact by year), the oldest accessible is at this stage 1926, more is to come.
b) Search by geographical zone or summit
c) Search by key words allowing to go through the archives, for example the names « Paccard and Balmat » will give you 61 entries.

Hope this responds to your question.



ericvola - Oct 22, 2021 1:41 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: AJC articles

I forgot, my AJ article was published in the AJ 2016 "Walter Bonatti and the Ghosts of K2"


ericvola - Oct 22, 2021 1:47 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: AJC articles

and I also forgot that due to an action from Conefrey on the editor, they took out my article from their web site so it can be read only by reading the AJ book itself!

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