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 Italian expedition Everest/K2 2004 expedition

K2 2004 - 50 years later

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At 6.00 pm on July 31, 1954, Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni became the first people to reach the summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world (8,611m asl). Now, 50 years after the first successful ascent, Italians are returning to the Karakoram to celebrate that memorable moment with a new expedition titled “K2 2004 - 50 years later”. The expedition intends not only to repeat the historic endeavour, but also aims to reinterpret the values and challenges of the original adventure.

The ambitious and multifaceted project, coordinated by the Ev-K²-CNR Committee, is entrusted to a team of highly professional mountaineers including Alpine Guides and members of the Alpine Rescue Team, the Italian Alpine Academic Club (CAAI) and other elite climbing associations from all of Italy’s mountain regions. Technical and scientific teams will complete the group, reaching a grand total of nearly 100 people, to be led by Himalayan expert, experienced expedition leader and remote area scientific research coordinator, Agostino Da Polenza.

The mountaineering expedition

The mountaineering program includes an ascent of K2 by the Abruzzi Spur on the South face from Pakistan (the route used in 1954), and a simultaneous summit along the North Ridge from China.  Prior to that but in the same season, the climbers will have first ascended Mt. Everest along the NE ridge from the Tibet Autonomous Region in China.

Unlike during the 1954 expedition, the 2004 team will include climbers from all over Italy, not just from the Alps, and two female climbers, nowadays a common reality in most important expeditions.

Agostino Da Polenza, on his fourth expedition to K2 as both mountaineer and expedition leader, will lead the team made up of:

-Alpine Guides from the Aosta Valley,

-“Ragni della Grignetta” elite climbing group,

-Alpine Guides and professional climbers from the Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Abruzzo and Lazio.

The scientific expedition

The double ascent of K2 will be preceded by a scientific expedition to Everest, in a concluding salute to another Golden Jubilee: the 1953 summit of the world’s highest mountain by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa.

The team made up of climbers, technicians and scientists will leave Italy on April 7 and will attempt to summit Everest along the North-West Ridge as part of a series of physiological tests on physical and psychological reactions in extreme environments.  

Expedition research on physiology, geodesy, glaciology, environmental sciences and eco-compatibility is coordinated and financed by the National Institute for Scientific and Technological Research on Mountains, INRM, and will also be carried out on K2.  Italy aims in this way to “conquer” a new summit in the field of science, in the wake of the great Italian tradition begun by Ardito Desio continued today within the excellence of the Ev-K²-CNR Project.

This commitment also ideally corroborates the aims of the 1954 expedition, when for two months following the climbers’ return to Italy, Prof. Desio and his collaborators stayed on to complete their research on the Karakoram Valleys begun in 1953.  The vast amount of scientific data accumulated then still today represents an important point of reference for researchers world-wide.

Central Karakoram National Park and the Siachen Peace Park

“K2 2004” should not be seen as just a mountaineering and scientific project, its aims including also important humanitarian and environmental programs, for example the implementation of protected area management and environmental research around K2, in collaboration with IUCN (the World Conservation Union) and UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme). The Central Karakoram National Park around K2 was in fact instated by the Pakistani Government in 1993 but has yet to be implemented.  “With your assistance, the 50th anniversary will be a good opportunity to make it into a reality,” Javid Zafar, Secretary of the Pakistan Ministry of Environment, recently said.

The aim of these initiatives is also to aid in stimulating the declaration of a Peace Park on the Siachen glacier. The Ev-K²-CNR Committee has now invested months in networking organisations and international institutions to promote peace in the mountain regions around K2, where a disastrous conflict between India and Pakistan has been waged for decades. The Minister of Agricultural and Forestry Policies and honorary expedition leader, Hon. Gianni Alemanno, will lead the initiative in collaboration with Italy’s Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Together with the Italian Parliamentary Group “Friends of the Mountains”, an awareness raising campaign and actions to help promote dialogue in favour of the Peace Park has also been launched parallel to international initiatives promoting the peace process between India and Pakistan in the Karakorum and Kashmir region.

A medical dispensary

The “K2 2004” project in Pakistan began precisely one year before the anniversary of the summiting of the world’s second 8000 m peak with the inauguration of a medical dispensary in Askole, the last inhabited village along the route towards K2. The only health post in the Baltoro valley, the dispensary concept was elaborated following the 1996 expedition led by Agostino Da Polenza, when he and his team of climbers conceived this humble tribute to commemorate the death of the their companion Lorenzo Mazzoleni of the “Ragni di Lecco”. Mazzoleni fell from the western face of the mountain on his night-time descent from the summit on July 29, 7 years ago.

A Karakorum Museum in Skardu

On July 31 in Skardu, the capital of Baltistan in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, a museum named “Italy K2 – 50 years of Italian successes” will be inaugurated, as an outcome of the concept elaborated by the doyen of mountain journalism, Rolly Marchi.

The museum will host a photographic history of the successful first climb of K2 and equipment used during the 1954 expedition will be put on display.  The exhibit will also include reference to other Italian successes over the past 50 years, including images, documentation, products and memorabilia of 50 companies or individuals that have contributed to Italian popularity worldwide since the ascent of K2.

Media and communications

Media involvement has not been left out of this rich program. Live televised broadcasts of the expeditions will be carried out by a specialised communications team and daily on-line reports will be sent directly from K2.

RAI, the Italian TV, and RCS, editorial group, join the climbing team

Both are partners of the “K2 2004 – 50 years later” project. RAI will be actively involved, dedicating a series of live broadcasts and TV specials to the event, culminating in a live special on the summit attempt.  RCS will facilitate communication through its two national newspapers, Corriere della Sera and Gazzetta dello Sport.

Historical precedents

The summiting of K2 in 1954 was the culminating event of a project begun years prior by Ardito Desio, with the exceptional support of the Italian Alpine Club, the Italian National Research Council, the National Olympic Committee and the then Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi.  The summit of K2 can in fact be seen as the crowning glory of an Italian dream started years earlier, as far back as the beginning of the last century, when the first Italian effort to climb K2 was made 1909 by the Duke of the Abruzzi who repeatedly and unsuccessfully made attempts at the summit for an entire month.

20 years later, another Italian expedition set out for K2 with a new mountaineering and scientific agenda. Avoiding the possibility of a failed summit attempt, as potentially clamorous and tragic as that of Gen. Umberto Nobile and his trans-Arctic airship Italia earlier that same year, the scientific research became the real goal of the expedition. Ardito Desio took part in that expedition led by Aimone di Savoia, Duke of Spoleto.

Desio, involved in repeated rapid surveys on the glaciers, accompanied by an exploration team of scientists and mountaineers, later stated: “The sight of K2 was unforgettable, leaving a deep impression on my spirit and an indelible memory, full of desires and propositions.” These intentions would resurface 25 years later to be topped off by the success that put the Italian expedition in the limelight of the world.

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